Sonairte in Winter is a short educational film presented by climate activist and nature educator Nicola Winters. The 30 minute film is available for private showings at schools and conferences, online and off.
“Sonairte [pronounced SON-ART-A] is an interactive visitor centre, located on the coast off Meath, promoting ecological awareness and sustainable living. The name Sonairte is derived from a middle Irish word meaning “positive strength”.
Sonairte was established as a charity in 1988 by members of the local community and concerned environmentalists to promote environmental awareness and education. At Sonairte we work with groups from all backgrounds, ages and abilities, including pre-schools, primary schools, post primary schools, third level institutions, tour groups and youth groups. We also provide facilities and programmes for the general public, community groups and interested individuals.
Our courses aim to provide information, education and practical skills on a range of topics, such as biodiversity, organic gardening and sustainable living. Our approach is holistic, and with small numbers on each course, learner focused.”
I shot and cut this wee video of the IRC’s wonderful thank you event for direct provision students and their sponsors. In Ireland asylum seekers are prohibited from working. A dysfunctional system can see children excluded from higher education, waiting for many years for an asylum claim to be processed. Despite often having come through the primary and secondary system, these kids are treated as ‘foreign’ students, and face fees of many thousands of euros if they wish to access third level education. The IRC have created a fund to help send some these very talented young people (as well as adult learners) into further education. Research shows that further education not only helps increase economic mobility, but also cultural integration. If you’d like to donate to help this incredible scheme, you can find more info here.
Wicklow Sudbury School is an experiment in Irish education. The first curriculum ‘free school’ in the country. A school where students spend all day long, pursuing their real interests. The Sudbury Valley model, pioneered in Massachusetts in the late 1960s, puts children in charge of directing their own education. A few years ago I organised some events along these lines in Dublin. Learning and teaching as self directed fun. Those experiences, and my time volunteering at Exchange Dublin – the democratically organised art space in Temple Bar forcibly shut down by Dublin City Council in 2014 – have shown me the power of learning as play. The importance of genuine ‘third spaces’, where people can explore through play to offer the kind of deep personal enrichment that bureaucratic curricula and educational measures cannot hope to define, let alone measure. These spaces are so rare in our contemporary societies, where every inch is commodified and defined, every intervention tailored, every creative work moulded and marketed to a constructed audience, that they can seem fantastical. They are spaces that literally remind us what it means to be human. Connection, creativity, love in action.
Last year I made a radio documentary, following a year in the life of the school – exploring in a small way the opportunities for more libertine forms of education in Ireland in general. This year, as I moved out of radio and into video production, I offered to head back to the school, to help with their crowd funding campaign. I spent a day at Wicklow Sudbury, shooting interviews and capturing the decidedly unconventional educational environment. I combined short interviews with three staff and five students with footage of the learning through play that makes this place unique. The end results are a ten minute mini-documentary and a two minute promotional video. Unlike the documentary this campaign is decidedly partisan. I’ve worked as hard as I can to convey the enthusiasm of staff and students for this new kind of education.
Hopefully these videos capture a little about what makes this school so different. This really is a place where kids can be themselves. A place to develop the kind of diverse talents that our rigid bureaucratic education system cannot accept, let alone promote. These kids are passionate, creative, and above all independently minded. They give me hope for a future less rigid, heartless and polarised than the present. This is the kind of place that any misunderstood, creative kid might have imagined into existence. It’s the sort of place that makes having kids worth considering. It’s that revolutionary. If you’re interested in learning more, Wicklow Sudbury staff frequently offer talks about setting up your own community school, and you can find information about these, and if you’d like donate towards the school (which naturally receives no government funding), at their website.
The Free School, Dead Medium Productions’ new documentary about Ireland’s first ‘Sudbury Valley School’, broadcast this morning on Newstalk. Wicklow Sudbury is an experiment in alternative education, bringing ‘free schooling’ and ‘unschooling’ to Ireland. You can stream the programme above, or download at our podcast link below. It will also be rebroadcasts at 10PM on Saturday 18th November.
Special thanks to all the staff and students at Wicklow Sudbury School, including Aaron, Ciara, Sonja, Isthara, Mia, Kashmira, Rick, Fionn, Ed and Faye; and to the national school students featured at the beginning and end of the programme Sophie, Conor, Emma, Aoibhin, Tadhg, Donal and their parents Clare and Keith; to Joanne Lane who was kind enough to speak to me while visiting Wicklow Sudbury; and to Emer Nowlan of Educate Together, and environmental educator Joesph Campbell.
Think back, what were your least favourite parts of school? Maybe math, maybe physics, maybe you just hated gym. Now imagine a school where you didn’t have to do anything you didn’t want to. A school with no exams, no homework, no classes, not even any teachers. What if I were to tell you that not only does that school exist, it’s right here in Dublin, in a regular semi-d near the cold unfinished boom era monstrosity of the Sandyford industrial estate. This documentary explores a year in the life of Ireland’s most unconventional school, ‘Wicklow Sudbury’. This radical form of schooling has been running in the United States for almost fifty years, but can it work here? We follow the first few months of the fledgling school. Listeners will meet students, staff and parents, and explore what they found lacking in conventional education. In the process we’ll see just what Irish education can learn from The Free School.
Wicklow Sudbury School is an experiment in alternative education, attempting to apply the principles of ‘free schooling’ and ‘unschooling’ in the Irish context. The first ever term has recently begun, and right now the school consists of eighteen students of all ages, learning together.
Free or democratic schools are organised around the principle that students should take a lead in deciding their own educational path. These schools take a radical approach to encouraging free thinking and agency in their students. Free schools offer an alternative to mainstream education. They share an emphasis on child-centered learning: Seeing the learner as an active participant who choses his or her own course of study.
For many Wicklow Sudbury students the mainstream educational system has been a failure. They or their parents haven’t found the education they’re looking for in standardised classes and subject based classes. Instead they’ve chosen a school with no classes, no subject, no homework and no teachers. We follow their first few months in the school and learn how radical education works in Ireland in practice.
Broadcaster: Newstalk 106 – 108fm When: Sunday 12th November at 8AM, repeated at 10PM on Saturday 18th November. Online: Podcast or soundcloud.
Broadcasting Bank Holiday Monday 31st October, 11AM on Newstalk.
Getting into the game is a new documentary aimed at kids who play games. Video games. Kids who play videogames and wonder maybe, possibly, perhapsily, if they’d like to make them. Growing up I remember getting those magazines full of strange impenetrable symbols that promised – if you could just type the whole book into your computer, without making any mistakes – you’d get a brand new, completely free game. These days games are everywhere, but they’re so damn fancy they can seem impossible to learn how to make.
This documentary will help open the lid, just a crack, to see what lies inside your favourite games. We’ve brought together people from every corner of the industry – artists, coders, indies, musicians, gamejammers, and developers of every age.
The programme is divided into five segments, each one looking at a different part of making games.
Learning the Art
We visit cutting edge computing research laboratories at DIT and IT Carlow and tour exciting games development technology. Lecturers and students explain the skills students should be building outside the classroom if they’d like to study videogames in college. Students tell us about their love of games and how they got into making their own.
Getting Covered in Jam
At DIT a group called ‘Global Gamecraft’ host ‘game jams’, competitions where anyone (over 18) can help make a game in just a few hours. Game Jams are an excellent way to develop the technical, artistic and collaborative skills sought by the games development industry. Jams are a fun and friendly way for young people to get a taste of game development. We speak to competitors and organisers like Vicky Lee, and provide a glimpse of the excitement and accessibility of ‘homebrew’ game development
Modern videogames simulate exciting and realistic physics. The most impressive game physics ‘middleware’ software in the world comes from an Irish company founded by graduates of Trinity College. Havok are an industry leader employing dozens of artists and programmers. We speak to staff at the company about the day-to-day work of making one of the key technologies underpinning some of the most exciting and popular videogames.
The independent game development community is a thriving segment of the industry. We speak with leading Irish indie developer Terry Cavanagh, creator of hit games like ‘Super Hexagon’, about running his own studio. Terry explains how new distribution methods make it easy for anyone to sell their homemade game on the internet. Independent game development is a part of the industry that is particularly important to present to second level students – since it can be used to develop skills, or even start a business while at school.
We try out virtual reality in the company of Bryan Duggan of DIT, exploring DEEP, the anti-anxiety game from Owen Harris. Deep uses unique breathing sensors, soothing music and a beautiful polygon virtual environment to teach deep breathing relaxation techniques.
We hear from David O’Reilly, animator and creator of fictional videogames for use in Hollywood films. David gives us a glimpse into a self-directed career involving art, graphic design, and filmmaking.
Coder Dojo is a place for kids to learn how to make games, websites, and even robots. Started in County Cork, the Dojo movement has spread worldwide. Amazingly, Coder Dojo events are completely free! If there isn’t a coder dojo in your area, you can even start your own. We meet some of the kids who are making coder dojo the coolest place on earth.
Getting into the game was produced by Dead Medium Productions. The programme was developed, researched and presented by Gareth Stack and James Van De Waal.
I’m teaching my first course in A4 Sounds, this coming February. The six week course, ‘Storytelling Through Sound’ won’t focus on sound engineering, but instead on exploring the role of sound in multimedia artistic practice. No experience necessary. Details below!
Aimed at storytellers in all media, from writers to filmmakers. The goal of the class is to start thinking about sound in a new way: As a basic tool of storytelling. The mechanics of a medium, it’s limits and unique capacities, it’s textures and its intrinsic qualities are all key to making the most of it as a creative artist. This course will examine ways of using sound to tell a story – ways of treating sound as a first class citizen in multimedia work. We’ll be listening to some of the best sound design and aural storytelling from radio, sound art and cinema. We’ll explore the various relations to the listener possible through the medium, and what sound can add to other mediums.
This is a review written back when I was studying psychoanalysis. These articles critiquing psychodynamic texts proved pretty popular (I’m assuming with students, or practicing psychoanalysts) when I initially posted them. Having recently uncovered a couple that had never made their way to the web, I thought why not release them. Hope you find them useful / interesting, despite the rather dense academese.
Inside lives (Waddell, 2002) attempts a phenomenological object relations account of psychological development, from infancy to advanced age. Margot Waddell considers the stages of life as states or meta-positions (Waddel, 2002, pp 8), contingent and dependent on earlier developmental negotiation, rather than inevitable developmental milestones. These states represent individuated matrixes of attitude and biological development, in which the positions articulated by Klien and others shift in the context of emotional and intellectual development, external stressors and interpersonal relations. The book examines the impact of biological changes, family of origin, adolescent affiliation, adult individuation and finally the difficulties of coping with degeneration and impending mortality. Continue reading “Inside Margot Wadell – Book Review: Inside Lives”→
Serious question: Why are we so comfortable with imprisoning children for 12 – 14 years? It seems the answer is we’ve constructed an economic system that requires both parents to work, for most of each weekday. Schools act in loco parentis, helping to tame children in preparation for an adulthood of service to industry. They take in creative, artistic, anarchic individuals and release obedient, ambitious conformists. But there is another way.
BBC News recently ran a great retrospective on the free schools of the 1970’s. Free schools, also known as ‘democratic schools‘ serve a caretaker role, without indoctrinating learned helplessness, conditioning obedience, and training respect for unearned authority. What the article doesn’t mention is that free schools, despite having almost disappeared from the UK, are far from extinct. In the United States Sudbury Valley Schools are an increasingly popular alternative, offering a playground for learning, rather than a cage for ‘education’.
Beyond Sudbury, ‘unskooling‘ (a secular equivalent of ‘home schooling’) is a growing movement in the US, as parents (wealthy enough to have the the choice) remove their children from an increasingly unequal, militarised public school system.
Here’s the thing. We pay lip service to entrepreneurship and ‘life long learning’, but if we really want a society of empowered creative individuals, we can’t expect it to emerge from a cookie cutter approach to ‘training’. People learn, dogs are trained.
A kind of amnesia occurs in parents, who forget just how stifling and uninspiring most of their time spent in school actually was. It’s precisely because the majority of school is spent ‘keeping the head down’, trying to placate capricious teachers, and stressing over exam results, that we remember the teachers who went against the grain and genuinely inspired us.
So what can well intentioned parents and educators actually do? After all, we need an income to survive, and fewer of us than ever have access to the extended alloparenting arrangements that our ancestors enjoyed. The answer isn’t simple or easy – but it’s clear. The twentieth century, 9 – 5 employee / business arrangement doesn’t work. It doesn’t allow us to be citizens invested in our communities. It incentivises employees not to rock the boat, as financial institutions mismanage and outright steal vast quantities of global wealth. It trains us to defer to higher authorities, even when they display no real concern for our best interests.
Years ago I volunteered at Seomra Spraoi, a consensus run communal space off Gardener St in Dublin. At the time, Seomra had a parent run Steiner playschool, where a group of volunteer parents put into practice the art driven principles of Waldorf Education. What they shared wasn’t any formal pedagogic education, but a real concern that their children should become rounded human beings.
Here’s the thing – we can all do this. Teaching doesn’t have to be a profession – in fact, I’d argue that (like political office) it should never be. Learning doesn’t have to be something you only do from age four to seventeen or twenty two. Anyone running a business or practicing a profession will tell you that the first couple of years at their job were far more informative than the dozen or more spent in the classroom.
No magic bullet is going to make our education system fit individual kids, rather than the amorphous mass of students. No curriculum (online or off) will erase individual differences, or inspire the way allowing a person to follow their innate interests and talents will. Learning and teaching need to become part of how we operate as people. It might be simple things like creating community education programmes, volunteering at libraries, or teaching as part of our businesses, studios and factories. It might involve working less, taking on less or no debt, and living a more modest life – accepting that we won’t own the latest consumer goods, but will have time to learn to teach and to create, in other words, to live. If we do these things – if we undermine the systems constructed to inhibit us, we’ll empower citizens capable of genuinely changing a system enabled by mediocrity.
Clearly not. That aside, ‘Am I Normal’ was the title of the sex education film shown to my primary school class around 1991, in St Joesph’s Christian Brothers School, Drogheda. The ever excellent Dangerous Minds just uncovered this ‘hilariously dated sex education film’. For years I’ve told people about this cringeworthy 1979 classic. Many didn’t believe the hype. Look ye upon it, and quake from a safe distance with po-mo irony. Then remember this is probably better information than many kids are recieving in Ireland (and in the US) today, where sex ed is still not universal and often distorted by loopy approaches like ‘abstinence only education’, that research has proven not merely ineffective, but actively harmful.
Anyway, here’s the best bit. There’s a moment in the film (around 11 min 50 seconds in), when they explain that “Many people of all ages masturbate… other people may not enjoy it. It is normal if you do it, and also normal if you don’t.” In our (single sex) classroom this was the point when they paused the tape, so the local priest could come in and tell us that actually it wasn’t normal. It was sinful, unclean, morally wrong and would damage and distort our sexuality. Amen.