Section VIII: Reimagining and Reinventing Education

Track 1: Home and Community-based Education
(Carol Toben and Harrison Smith)


It is incredibly difficult to collectively change the ideas we share about schools, what they are for, and what kinds of learning are most valuable. Careers, institutions, commerce, ways of life, work, and family organization are all bound up in the way we think of schools. But courageous and creative alternatives abound, and deserve to be acknowledged as legitimate, valuable, and in many ways repeatable. These examples of healthy, effective and compassionate learning communities and life ways are our hope for the future.

Schools for children too often punish mistakes, and sometimes arbitrarily define what a mistake is. Unfortunately this makes personal reflection and re-direction on a course of action and its outcome quite difficult, as people do not learn or behave well when upset and ashamed. An atmosphere of comparison and harsh evaluation does not lend itself to empathy or effective communication. When learners are afraid of being judged inadequate, it is hard to attend to the feelings and needs of others.

This is often why parents seek alternative learning settings. They seek an environment with freedom and support to make and learn from mistakes. Learners also need practice and direction to understand, respect, and value their own feelings and learning inclinations, and those of others. When the main activity in school is sitting at a desk listening to a teacher, or reading, writing and figuring, relationship enrichment lands on the back burner (if it is even in the kitchen.) Discovery, affection, and deep learning need time and a safe enough space for exploration, development, and reflection.

Families may choose home school and approaches vary widely, from organic ‘unschooling’ that is radically student driven, to more prescribed methods with set curricula. Or they might choose an alternative school where children and adults interact respectfully as kids discover what the world is like and what interests them. The voices of students, parents and teachers experienced in teaching and learning outside of traditional schools are enormously valuable as the world moves into recognition of our inextricably intertwined interrelatedness.

Stories of healing and thriving from alternative learning settings offer inspiration and courage to others who are pained by the harmful brokenness inherent in traditional schools. In this track we will share some of these stories and their lessons with the aim of advancing the life-giving power of these practices and ideas in our complex contemporary world.

Summary schedule: track 1 and track 2 sessions all held jointly 

  1. B. Flannery, D. Ramshaw Fri 2pm

  2. John Sweeney  Fri 4pm

  3. Shilpa Jain Sat 11am

  4. David Marshak #1 Sat 2pm

  5. Moe Zimmerberg/ Harrison Smith Sat 4pm

  6. Tom Welch #1 Sun 11am

  7. David Marshak #2/Tom Welch #2 Sun 2pm

  8. Carol Toben/ Harrison Smith, Sun 4pm

    1. wrap-up




Session 1

2:00pm -3:30pm Brian Flannery and Dane Ramshaw

Session 2

4:00pm-5:30pm John Sweeney:

All We Need, The Earlier the Better: Process Philosophy, Early Childhood Experiences, and Alternatives.

John Sweeney retired from the Center for Process Studies in October 2013, after working there since Jan. 2000. John also served as an adjunct faculty in process theology at Claremont School of Theology, 2003-2013. Currently Sweeney is living in Huntingdon Valley, PA where his spouse, Rev. Dr. Sharon R. Graff, is senior pastor at Gloria Dei Church, and John is teaching occasional introduction to process theology classes. Sweeney received his Ph.D. from Claremont School of Theology (1993) and his dissertation published under the title “I’d Rather Be Dead Than Be a Girl” (2009).



Session 3

11am-12:30pm Shilpa Jain:

Stories From Shikshantar; Trusting Ourselves to Create Organic Learning Communities

Shilpa Jain worked 10 years as a learning activist at Shikshantar: The Peoples’ Institute for Rethinking Education and Development, based in Udaipur, India, where she coordinated the Swapathgami (Walkouts-Walkons) Network.

Shilpa lives in Oakland/Berkeley, CA, and serves as Executive Director of YES!.  She was Education and Outreach Coordinator of Other Worlds  Her publications include: A Poet’s Challenge to Schooling, Reclaiming the Gift Culture, Other Worlds of Power, Paths of Unlearning, Unfolding Learning Societies Vol.1,2,3, and several issues of Vimukt Shiksha (“Liberating Learning”) and the Swapathgami newsletter “Making Our Paths of Living and Learning”. She co-authored the “Connect. Inspire. Collaborate” facilitation manual.

 Shilpa’s work with young leaders in India, Jordan, Senegal, Lebanon, Egypt, Thailand, Canada, Peru, Pakistan, Puerto Rico, Turkey, and the US has birthed the Global Youth Leadership Collaborative, a movement of international gatherings for young changemakers. This work has distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to small-scale grassroots social change innovations worldwide.

Shilpa left academia and the path of “professionalism” to more directly facilitate healing of the world through listening, speaking from the heart, and connecting to nature. Her work supports personal courage to resist traditional institutions and live in sympathetic relationship with our communities and the natural world.


Session 4

2:00pm – 3:30pm David Marshak:

Ecologies of Learning with Freedom for Community and Family Educational Values

David Marshak is a member of the Board of Directors of the SelfDesign Learning Foundation, which operates the SDLC. He is also the founding president of the SelfDesign Graduate Institute, a low-residency Master of Arts Program authorized by Washington State ( David is an emeritus professor at Seattle University and the author of one of the classic holistic education books of the late 20th century, The Common Vision: Parenting and Educating for Wholeness. He is also the author of the forthcoming book, Evolutionary Parenting. David lives in Bellingham, Washington. 

David Marshak, President

SelfDesign Graduate Institute

1807 McKenzie Ave.

Bellingham WA 98225

(360) 676-1635


Session 5 This session will be shared between Moe Zimmerberg and Harrison Smith

4:00pm – 4:45pm Moe Zimmerberg:  

A Crisis of Relationship: The kind of relationship that moves us toward ecological civilization can be taught, and learned.

Moe Zimmerberg was training to be a scientist at MIT when, after his first degree, he shifted gears and went through his own unschooling process.  This lead him to work at The Tutorial School, a small democratic school in Santa Fe, NM, where he has been since 1990.  “The Tutorial School embodies healing people emotionally and psychologically, healing our relationship with the planet, ending war and oppression, and promoting gender equality – everything I believe in.”  “It is our job to love and nurture children.”  For Moe, the paths to academic, emotional, and personal success in life require practice, “Practice in managing freedom, responsibility, self-determination, and leadership.  It also requires taking the long view – profound change takes time.”

4:45pm -5:30 Harrison Smith:

Schools With a Heart: Schools that practice social and emotional well being along with reading, writing and arithmetic are essential for our times. Real life stories of schools with heart.

Harrison Smith is interested in the theory and practice of education that honors the whole of children’s humanity. He holds a Master’s of Education and BS in Environmental Science from University of Arizona. He co-founded a democratically run school in Phoenix at the age of 20, and since then has worked with kids in formal to informal settings, teaching calculus and science by planting seeds, collaboratively building life-size science simulations, and exploring the wild. Harrison has served on the boards of Kino School and Dunbar Springs neighborhood association, and regularly volunteers in his community. He believes our best hope in solving our world’s emerging crises is in listening to and empowering young people.

TED Talk: Sir Ken Robinson: “How Schools Kill Creativity”

Tags: education, self-directed, community, learning, empowerment, nurturing, relationality, experiential, self-determination



Session 6

11:00am – 12:30pm *Tom Welch

This is a joint session with track 2 of Section VIII.

 Whitehead in the School Setting


Session 7

2:00pm – 3:30pm this session will be shared between David Marshak and Tom Welch

This is a joint session with track 2 of Section VIII.

2:00 – 2:45 David Marshak

The SelfDesign Learning Community: An Elegant Example of Thriving Home and Community-Based Education

A presentation describing SelfDesign and how the SDLC operates, and a conversation about this program and issues inherent in home and community-based education.


In the United States today as in most of the industrial world, governments seem bent on stripping public schooling of anything but passing tests and preparing for jobs in the commercial and industrial sector. In the US, the “back to basics” movement of the 70’s reacted to the creative energies of the 1960s that focused on liberation, justice, and human potential. The standards-and-high-stakes-testing paradigm of the past 25 years look like an even more nakedly hierarchical and industrial model.

The same spirit of fear has given us Common Core, PARCC, and Smarter Balanced. I believe that this will change as Millennial Generation members move into roles of policy and political leadership. In the meantime, choosing to educate one’s own children and the children in one’s community outside of public schools makes very good sense.

One example of enlightened, non-school education today is the SelfDesign Learning Community (SDLC) in British Columbia. The SDLC ( is funded by the government of British Columbia at the level of less than $4000 Canadian per child per year. This is such a modest cost that many US families could afford this out of pocket. The SDLC in 2015 engages more than 2200 Canadian families.

2:45 – 3:30 Tom Welch

Learning in a Pando Environment: Reimagining a New Ecology of Learning.


Session 8

4:00pm -5:30pm Carol Toben

Joy Matters: Why Empathy for Ourselves, One Another and the Natural World are Essential to Learning

Carol Toben travels, listens, reads, writes, gardens, hikes, and volunteers in Tucson, Arizona and around the world. Process relational thought has provided her with a worldview respectful of science, reason, faith, and spirituality. Carol has worked as an instruction assistant with Rita Marie Johnson in the Connection Practice at the UN University for Peace in Costa Rica, lectured on home schooling in China, served as a Unity spiritual leader, mother, Girl Scout leader, Unity Youth Ed volunteer, homeschool teacher, and engineer in the semiconductor industry. She holds an MDiv from Claremont School of Theology and a BSEE from the University of Illinois.


Completely Connected by Rita Marie Johnson