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What is IDEC?

IDEC Description

By David Gribble


David Gribble is author of Considering Children, A Really Good School, Real Education, and others. He taught at Dartington Hall and founded Sands School in England. He has been involved with IDEC since it began in 1993.


IDEC stands for International Democratic Education Conference. It is not the name of an organisation or a group. What happens is that at each year’s conference a school volunteers to run the conference for the next year. (In practice there has sometimes been delay in finding a volunteer, and for 2000 there had to be a choice made between several schools.) At intervals calls have been made for an official structure of some kind - another one came at Summerhill in 1999 - but in practice the autonomy of individual schools in arranging their own conferences has made for exciting variety.

Once representatives of a school have agreed to run a conference, everything is in their hands - dates, participants, cost, accommodation and style of conference. The length of the conferences has varied between two days for the first one to a fortnight in 1997. Students from both the host school and visiting schools have nearly always played a large part; the conference at Sands in 1997 and the Tokyo conference in 2000 were in fact run almost entirely by students. The longer conferences have included days of sight-seeing and varied social and cultural events. Sometimes there has been a full programme of prepared talks and workshops, and sometimes the programme has been entirely decided by the participants after they arrived; sometimes there has been a bit of both. Some conferences have been funded entirely by the host schools or by outside agencies, but some schools have had to charge a fee. All decisions about such matters are taken by the host school.

The first conference was in 1993, in Israel, at the Democratic School of Hadera. A few teachers and students from democratic schools found themselves at a large conference in Jerusalem, called "Education for Democracy in a Multi-cultural Society." The participants were mostly philosophers, professors and politicians, so the teachers and students hardly had any opportunity to contribute. A small group was invited to Hadera for two days after the big conference, and the discussions were so stimulating that it was agreed to meet annually.

For the first four years it was known as the Hadera Conference, and David Gribble sent out a newsletter two or three times a year. There were few contributors, and eventually it was abandoned. The hope was expressed that the internet could provide a substitute, and Jerry Mintz now offers an IDEC listserver (idec@edrev.org).

There are differing views as to the purpose of the IDECs. Some see them as an opportunity to discuss shared problems in a supportive atmosphere, where you know that other people share your values. Others hope to spread the idea of democratic education by inviting possible converts and attracting favourable publicity. Others see the conference as a means of bonding schools so that they can offer support in times of crisis, on the "united we stand, divided we fall" principle. Some see them as a way of improving the public perception of the host schools in their own countries. The purpose of any given conference is decided by the school that is organising it.

The host school also decides who is to be invited. Usually you can get an invitation by simply expressing a desire to attend, but for the second conference at Sands a limit was set to the number of people from any one school, and it was suggested that at least half the delegates from each school should be students.

The 2000 IDEC in Tokyo was organised by a committee consisting mostly of students, and attracted around one thousand participants.


The best way to demonstrate the development of IDEC is a simple list of the conferences and the countries represented there.

1993 The Democratic School of Hadera
Israel, Austria, Israel, UK, USA


1994 Sands School, England
Austria, Israel, UK


1995 The WUK, Vienna, Austria
Germany, Hungary, Israel, Norway, UK, USA


1996 The Democratic School of Hadera, Israel
Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Palestine, Ukraine, UK, USA


1997 Sands School, England
Austria, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Palestine, Turkey, New Zealand, Ukraine, UK, USA


1998 The Stork Family School, Vinnitsa, Ukraine
Germany, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, UK, Ukraine, USA


1999 Summerhill School, England
Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Gemany, Greece, Japan, Israel, Netherlands, New Zealand, Palestine, UK, USA


2000 Tokyo Shure, Japan
Australia, China, Germany, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Israel, Korea, New Zealand, Palestine, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Thailand, UK, Ukraine, USA


2002 Tamariki School, New Zealand


2003 The Albany Free School in association with the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO)

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