Last year at the AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization) Conference, I had the opportunity to meet and see Yacoov Hecht speak. Yacoov Hecht is a prominent figure in the democratic education movement, the founder of the Democratic School in Hadera, Israel, and author of the book, Democratic Education: A Beginning of a Story. However, his most exciting work is his current project in Israel, called Education Cities.
An Education City is a city that has redesigned its school system so that, instead of the school being a separate entity, the entire city is the school, or rather, the education system. On Yacoov Hecht’s website, he describes an Education City as the following:
An Education City perceives the education system as an essential instrument for a citywide development, and the city as a central instrument in the education system’s development.
This idea is exciting to me for several reasons: First, he is re-imagining the idea of a school. Why can’t an entire community be a school? Why shouldn’t it be? Why are our schools segregated, not only away from the rest of the community, but into specific age groups? Second, in order for this to be successful, the mayor and the citizens must be on board, and be a committed part of the planning process. And third, each city is different. The Education Cities model recognizes that a single method won’t work for every city, just as a single method won’t work for every child; each community needs a method that fits its ideas, strengths, and passions.
In his Keynote speech, Yacoov Hecht talked about several cities that he is working with to transform into Education Cities, each with a method that fits that community. I will give a brief overview of three of these cities. (Disclaimer: These ideas are drawn from my notes on his lecture, I do not guarantee that they are one hundred percent accurate, but rather they give an idea of what these cities’ education methods are like).
In Tiberias, they have developed a program that encourages students to identify a life dream. The students also identify stepping stones that will help them to reach their life dream. They call it a “personal development path” and it is achieved through classes at school, individual work at home, and by connecting the student to a mentor who has already achieved the same, or a similar, life dream, and can help them on their path.
In Hadera, the entire city has become a school. Various areas of the town have become learning centers, each with its own specific topic. For example, an area may be a farming and agriculture center, which is where students go if they would like to learn about those topics. There are many learning centers with various topics and themes, and the students pick where they would like to go each day.
In Natanya, the Education City movement is just beginning. They have started by implementing a program in every school, where one teacher, parent, community member, or student comes in to teach a new topic. For example, they could teach guitar lessons, gardening, or a form of dance. Each school will offer an area of study that the students had not previously had access to, and as it grows the schools will offer more diverse areas of study, giving the students access to a wide range of skills.
As I heard about these cities, I was struck by how different each one is. I am continually surprised and inspired by the many educational methods and philosophies, and the number keeps on growing. Each of us learns differently, and each of us has the capability to design our own education, or design a method that will benefit a child, a parent, a school, a community, or more. There are as many ways to learn as there are people, and Yacoov Hecht has taken that knowledge and ran with it.
If you would like to learn more, I have provided the link to Yacoov Hecht’s website. On this website you will find more information about his accomplishes, history, and continued work.