Two in person workshops, July 2022, Devon, UK.

I’m really delighted to have two in-person events coming up in July, taking place on consecutive days in Devon, UK. Here is all the info and details to book:

Holding Consent-Based, Self-Directed Space – Experiential Training Day

Monday, 25th July 2022

9.30am-4.30pm

Nr. Buckfastleigh/Dartington, Devon, UK

This one day training session is ideal for people who either want to run/facilitate consent-based, self-directed education settings/communities, or who want to adapt their ‘one off’ workshop/session practice to be more consent-based and self-directed. This applies to spaces being held for children and/or adults. The focus will be on in person sessions, but what is learnt on the day can be adapted for holding online spaces such as Zoom too. 

The day will include: 

  • Creating your clear invitation, including identifying your intentions, frame, and fixed and moving parts
  • Opening meeting structure and practice, including agreements, check ins, plans for the day/session.
  • Risk management agreements
  • Conflict navigation
  • Facilitator role and identity
  • Closing meeting

There will also be a short theory introduction to consent-based, self-directed education at the start of the day, and the opportunity for trouble-shooting and Q&A throughout. Please bring a packed lunch. 

The participation fee for the day is £85. There are bursaries available to subsidise the fee, please contact me if you need this. If you would like to contribute to the bursary fund, please consider paying over the participation fee in order to enable other folk in different circumstances to you to join. 

There are a maximum of 14 spaces available for this training day. 

To book, please email: hello@sophiechristophy.com

Wild Power, Pride and Prejudice

Tuesday 26th July, 2022

9.30am-4.30pm

The Glade, Dartington Estate, Devon, UK

  • Have you ever been in a group where you have felt invisible to the facilitator, to your peers, or even to yourself?
  • Have you facilitated a group and worried that you have inadvertently excluded someone, or been concerned that your own social and cultural background limited your capacity to connect with others?
  • Have you ever been in a group where you’ve felt more influenced by group dynamics and peer pressure and facilitator expectations than your own inner knowing and needs?
  • Have you ever facilitated a group and in hindsight wondered about how consensual or ethical your practice was?

By using the wild world as a backdrop, we will explore some liberatory and inclusive ways of leading and facilitating groups. We will talk about consent-based practice as a way of overcoming patriarchal power dynamics and advancing social justice. We will ‘queer our work’ by looking to new networks of elders, teachers, and guides. We will find ways to counter our own fears and prejudices and to work from a place of pride in all that we are and all that we bring. We will invite you to bring your experiences from your own lives and work to these discussions.

This workshop is especially for people working in ‘wild spaces’, such as outside, nature/land based settings, forest spaces etc, and who are seeking to draw on nature connection and relationship to the animal, plant and elemental world in their work. I am co-running this workshop with Max Hope, and it is being hosted by Wildwise. For more info and booking click here.

MicroUMA Jan CBE 2022 – ‘Gap Year’ project, diversion to Ukraine.

So we just had the 5th session of the Consent-Based Education course. That session is called Living and Learning, Creativity and Flow, and as part of it I share the Unschooled Masters project with the group. Then as the optional between session activity to help deepen folks experience of the course, I offer up the idea to do a 2 week ‘microUMA’ – a self-directed inquiry in the spirit of the UMA. I like to take part in this endeavour as well.

If you are reading this because follow this blog, you might remember that at the end of last year my microUMA was all about steel tongue drums. This year it’s a bit different, because at the end of 2021 I decided to go on a virtual gap year. I wanted to take a bit of a break in 2022, and do something playful and new and learn some things outside of my usual range of study. At first I thought I might actually do some travelling, but I realised that wasn’t a good option so I would do it remotely. I wanted to go to South East Asia, as I don’t know very much about that part of the world, and I took the countries featured in Street Food Asia (Netlflix) as the inspiration for my itinerary (I reordered them to make them make sense as a geographical route). For the month of January I ‘went’ to South Korea. In February I was in Japan. I’ve been sharing all of my adventures on my personal FB page.

Anyway, my itinerary had me hearing to Taiwan for March, but just before I was due to go there, Putin invaded Ukraine and it all seemed a bit frivolous to carry on to Taiwan when a massive knowledge gap had become apparent to me about Ukraine. I just couldn’t carry on with my route as planned, in the event of this horrendous situation. So I made the decision to reroute my gap year, to Ukraine.

So, I’ve been exploring Ukraine for March, and this exploration is what I will be sharing in blog posts over the next couple of weeks, as my microUMA for this Consent-Based Education course cycle.

So far, I have been doing some reading about Ukrainian food culture and cooking, thanks to a beautiful book called Summer Kitchens by Olia Hercules – check out Olia’s instagram for info her activism for Ukraine, her brother is a civilian volunteer fighting there now and her parents are there also, and she’s being so generous with her sharing and campaigning.

I also came across Petrykivka painting, a democratic setting similar to the Cabin and the Lodge called One Crazy School, LGBTQ+ human rights activist Olena Shevchenko, and started to get into some history.

When I did my undergraduate degree (before I knew about unschooling and was still on a traditional path), I did my dissertation on Jewish resistance to the Holocaust – it focused on examples of protest and resistance mainly in and around concentration camps. I didn’t realise about Ukraine’s Jewish history, and I’m really interested to understand that better, so that is where my research is going to head. I’d like to understand more about the this, and how it’s intersecting with and influencing what is happening there now. And I’m going to start with learning about the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and this piece too.

Creating radical changes in education … is it more effective to work ‘within the system’ or innovate from ‘the outside’? A dialogue between Max Hope and Sophie Christophy

Max and I wrote another piece together, this time on change making…. (this post was originally posted on Write On Changemakers).

Authors: Max Hope & Sophie Christophy

Max Hope and Sophie Christophy share an aspiration to radically change the education system, but the journeys that brought them together have been completely different. Max started out as a youth worker and spent a decade as a university academic, researcher and lecturer and writer before becoming Director of Rewilding Education and Co-Lead of The Lodge. Sophie is a feminist and children’s rights activist, an unschooling parent and Co-Founder of The Cabin and The Lodge,two self-directed and consent-based settings for home educated children. They are activists and partners in work and in life. In this exchange of emails, they explore whether it is more effective to work within the system or to innovate from the outside and unpick some of the painful decisions that they – and others – must make when deciding where to position themselves and put their energies.

This dialogue follows on from a previous one about Rewilding and Unschooling.

Max: I want to radically transform education. I have spent many years trying to do this. Sophie, you know this, and we share so many of the same values and visions about how we want the world to be. But our histories of how we have done our work are different, and I’d love to dive into some of the debates that we have had about a) what is the most effective way to try and ignite and inspire change; and b) what personal choices we have made – and are still to make – about how we want to use our ‘wild and precious lives’.

My journey started as a youth and community worker for a radical charity that worked with young people who were on the margins of society. That job did not feel like I was ‘in the system’ at all, even though most of the young people I worked with had been involved in (or excluded from) mainstream school. After fifteen years, I left this job and started a PhD. I felt burnt out and exhausted from listening to young people who had been so battered by the education system, and I wanted to get to the root of the problem. What was going wrong with mainstream education? How could it change in ways that would be more inspiring, engaging, and useful for young people? What could be learnt from some of the more radical types of education that were happening in ‘alternative’ settings?

My decade as a university academic felt like I was trying to change the system from within. I spent time in mainstream and alternative schools. I worked with teachers and ex-teachers. I created projects which engaged with students and tried to support them to have increased agency in their schools. And the university itself, like it or not, was a mainstream institution. There were rules and procedures and formal outcomes. I was teaching, researching, and writing within this mainstream system, and trying to push at the boundaries of what I could ‘get away with’ so that I could practice in the way that I wanted. Eventually, I left, and although I miss some of the work that I was able to do, I certainly do not miss the stress and strain of being in that system.

Sophie, we met through Phoenix Education, a charity that has big ambitions about transforming education. At that point, you were home educating your children and had already set up The Cabin. You were firmly rooted outside the system. You were a pioneer. I was still inside the system, working for the university and undertaking research in and with schools. I was excited about all the amazing stuff that was happening outside the system but was still deeply committed to putting my energy into changing the mainstream.

Our lives have both changed. I would love to know where you stand now. What, for you, is the most effective way to operate? Is it as an innovator within the system or as a pioneer outside of mainstream? And what does this mean for you personally right now?

Sophie: For me personally, it is about finding ways to be a change maker that are manageable and sustainable in the context of my own life. Consistent, persistent effort, that can last a lifetime is part of my theory of change, and it influences the work that I do, how I use my time and energy, and how I care for myself along the way. As you said – when we met, it was as I joined the Board of Trustees at Phoenix. I was at the time and still am an unschooling, home educating parent. I’d just co-founded the Cabin the year before and was a few cycles in running the Consent-Based Education courses. I’d spent years before that running community-based projects creating spaces for children’s rights, establishing home ed community in my local area, and prior to that nature based space in the woods for families with young children in London.

I was already writing – a blog, and for the local paper and a local families magazine, about children’s rights in the family and raising awareness of home education as choice. In 2014-15 I had tested out the potential for making change via mainstream politics, by standing as Green Party candidate in the General Election. I had done some speaking and workshops, on change making and the political and personal transition from patriarchy to consent-based culture. I was deep in the experience of motherhood and parenting discourse. In all of this I was also doing my best to love and support my children in staying connected to and in-tune with themselves, to grow in a way that nurtured them and met their needs. That’s no small feat in the dominant culture in which we live. 

I think what I’m trying to say by sharing this is that I was in a period of experimentation, learning, agitation, and high activity. I was desperate at times, and up against deadlines such as the school starting age that put pressure on my activism and work, but I was determined. I always wanted to do right by my own children but not only them. I wanted to do right by all children and for society to change. I wanted social and environmental justice not some time but now, and I was serious. But I was also overextending myself and out of what felt like necessity in a burn out cycle that was not good. 

You asked about whether it’s more effective to innovate from inside or outside the system. I would say it’s most effective to start innovating from the exact place of where you are right now. To first experiment with yourself. To learn and understand as much as you can about your own values, and to try to live them in every small moment, action and thought. To understand your strengths and skills, to understand your gaps for learning and do that learning. And then use those skills, that learning, and yourself, to be impactful in your exact current circumstances. Wherever that is. And test that as far as you can go, until you know it’s time to start trying to do something else. What do you think?

Max: My drive for wanting to transform the education system didn’t come through my own experience of having my own children. I didn’t have to make a personal choice about whether to put my own children into school or to choose which school might be the most suitable option. Would I have been prepared to move house? Would I have home educated? Would I have set up an alternative like The Cabin? It is all hypothetical because my life’s path did not lead me to having to make those choices or to act from that place.

Instead, I encountered dozens and dozens of other people’s children in my role as a youth worker. I learnt so much from them and from my experiences of trying to develop innovative ways of re-engaging them with learning again. We had to create exciting, relevant, and fun activities that did not, under any circumstances, remind people of being ‘at school’. What I learnt, and this felt important, was that it was really not that difficult to find ways of engaging even the most ‘hard-to-reach’ young people if the relationships between us were respectful, genuine and trustworthy. Young people could smell inauthenticity. They knew when they were being conned. And, by contrast, when they were trusted to self-direct their own process and make their own decisions, they rose to the challenge and were eminently capable to doing so.

To me, this was not hard to understand. It was not rocket science.

I continued to be shocked that the mainstream education system continued to get it so wrong. Year after year, young people would tell me the same stories. Young people being bullied for being gay, sometimes by their own teachers. Being disciplined for wearing the wrong shoes. Kicked out for talking back. Forced to do certain subjects because they were not in the right group to choose other options. Made to stay in isolation booths for the whole day. On and on and on.

That was in 2007. That was where I was at in my own life. Tired and frustrated and angry.

It felt like a deeply personal move to leave youth work and head into a university. This was not about my career or professional journey or anything else. This was about wanting to make an impact in the lives of children and young people. I genuinely believed that this was my best chance to do that, and I never lost sight of that aspiration.

Sophie, you say that “it’s most effective to start innovating from the exact place of where you are right now.” I agree – and I don’t. I agree in that we can start from where we are at, whether that be as a parent, a youth worker, a policy maker, a politician. We can all do something from the place we are, and it gives us a sense if agency to know that. We can all do something – and we can often do more than we imagine we can. So yes, I do agree with that.

Where I disagree is that I also think that we can choose to position ourselves in a place where we believe we might have the greatest impact. I can choose to position myself in a university, a school, a policy institute, a picket line, a home education setting. I can be an anonymous blogger, a teacher, a journalist and so on.

We don’t all get to make the same choices.

This isn’t a competition.

But we get to make our own choices from our own unique circumstances.

Right now, I am choosing to co-lead The Lodge with you, the new setting which flows on from The Cabin. This is outside of mainstream and is aimed at home educated young people aged 10-12. This positions me as ‘outside of the system’ and I am finding it energising, refreshing, and healing. I love it. I am still holding an ambition that our practice might, in one way of another, influence mainstream practice but I am no longer fixated on trying to make this happen.

When I look at Two Loops Theory – which you introduced me to whilst we were at Phoenix – I can plot my own journey. As a youth worker, I was in a ‘hospicing’ role in that I was picking up casualties from a broken system and trying to help them get through. At the university, I was trying to innovate within the system itself, whilst also trying to shine a light on the work of pioneers in the hope that it would influence the mainstream. I am now more removed from the mainstream and less preoccupied with it and am instead focussing on pioneering practices which take place in the new paradigm, outside of the system.

I find it more energising and less exhausting to be outside of the system. There is a breeze out here and it feels hopeful and optimistic. We are creating and inhabiting the world that we want to see.

But Sophie, sometimes I also feel guilty.

Most children and young people are within the system. They cannot get out and play with us over here.

If we want to change things for a larger number of young people, don’t we have a responsibility to try and change the mainstream?

Sophie: You feel guilty? Why do you feel guilty? You haven’t done anything wrong or anything to feel guilty for as far as I am aware. I don’t feel guilty. I’m not going to carry the guilt of a system that was never built to respect children. That guilt deserves to sit elsewhere. I don’t feel guilty for making difficult choices at personal cost including extreme experiences of loneliness and isolation at times, in order to do what I thought was right for the health and well being of my children, just because I couldn’t extend that same opportunity to all children. I sure have tried to open as many doors as possible to other folk to make their own choices that included not participating in schooling. To create community other than school, which is one of if not the main draws of school for many people – a sense of belonging and the chance to be around other young people.

The fucked thing about this is the level of denial around the issue itself. It’s hard for people to stare in the face of the coercive and controlling dynamic of traditional schooling, the cruel methods of behaviour management, the marginalising and degrading of young people that don’t ‘fit’ for whatever reason, and let that sink in when they are part of it or dependent on it. Perhaps that comes as a reaction to the scale of the issue and the seemingly insurmountable challenge to create meaningful and lasting change, the sense of powerlessness that is felt. Some of it is because the system as it stands, despite being fundamentally unethical, still meets many needs of the people that are in it, and of parents and young people, that are hard to meet otherwise. The relationship between teachers, families and the education system continues, even into depths of unhealth and dysfunction. Each person propping it up in their own way.

Writing about this has made me feel upset inside. It provokes pain in me which comes out in harsh and confrontational tone. And that is because it is a painful thing, that just keeps ticking on, and on, year after year. You asked if we have a responsibility to try to change the mainstream, and I would say yes, we absolutely do. Not out of guilt, because I believe we are working hard and doing our best and shouldn’t take on guilt for that which is not our doing. But because everything else is peripheral, and what we ultimately want to see is widespread change and transformation, and for that to happen mainstream culture has to be moved. How that happens though is through a radical tapestry, a patchwork, of many, many activated change makers, all throughout the Two Loops Model. So the key is to reflectively position yourself always into the place in that process in which you can have your own maximum effect. And the best way to do that in my opinion, beautifully, is to inhabit consent-based and self-directed principles, in order to navigate to the right spot to be lined up for the unique contribution that you are designed to make.

What do you think the mainstream needs most from those of us innovating and experimenting outside of its limitations?

Max: Phew. I can feel an exhalation and a sigh of relief.

When you say that ‘the guilt deserves to sit elsewhere’, I can totally see that. I did not create the mainstream system and I do not do anything to deliberately reinforce it. To the contrary, I have worked to challenge it and change it, and now I am putting my energy into the creation of innovative new models which are healing and restorative. Isn’t it interesting how my default is to somehow feel responsible for harm and damage which is not mine and which I cannot control? I wonder if that is part of the how the system upholds and replicates itself? How many teachers and other educators are within the mainstream because they feel responsible for trying to make it better, for reducing the harm that such a system inevitably inflicts?

Now I have stepped away from directly trying to change the mainstream, I feel a renewed sense of enthusiasm to exploring the alternatives from the inside-out. Actually, when I say ‘alternative’, it might give the impression of ‘different but equal’. That is not what I mean. It’s not like ‘dairy milk and alternative milk’. Or ‘conventional medicine and alternative medicine’. What we are investing all our time and energy into creating is not simply an alternative. It is a new paradigm. We must find some way of explaining that in a more convincing way. Sometimes, alternative is better, and we need to be bold about that.

What do I think the mainstream needs most from us? First, I think that people in mainstream need to be respected and supported because many of them are genuinely doing their best within a system that works against them and their own values. Next, I think that we need to encourage mainstream folk – especially leaders and policy makers – to radically rethink their educational philosophy and values. What I mean I that it is not enough to simply tinker with the system, to make incremental changes, to go for small improvements. The scale of the change that we need is far bigger than that, and it needs to happen quickly. We need to rethink our whole concept of education and ask some searching questions about: a) what are schools even trying to achieve anyway? b) how can schools be reconstructed so that they are underpinned by a deep respect and trust in children and young people? c) how can teachers and other adults be in honest, authentic, and open relationships with one another and with children and young people?

This is, of course, where the role of schools and learning communities which operate within the ‘new paradigm’ come into play. Mainstream folk will often struggle with answering the questions I have outlined above because they simply cannot imagine how things could be different. In my experience, they tend to say things like, ‘this sounds great, but it would never work in practice’, or ‘it might work for certain kids but not for the ones that I have to teach’. We need to be able to hold up real-life, practical examples as case studies. We need to show them the new paradigm so that they can start to dream differently about their own settings and their own practices.

What would you say to a teacher in a mainstream setting who was choosing to stay there but also wanted to bring in consent-based and self-directed practices? I would love to know whether you think this is even possible, and if so, what your words of advice might be?

Sophie: I would say to them that it’s like beating a drum. But first, there is a need for people to be open to learning. To letting go, opening up, and being willing to learn something new from other folk actually doing this practice. Egos need to go to the side, and they need to be willing to admit what they do and don’t understand, and what they do and don’t need to work on to have integrity and authenticity in this work.

If they are willing to do that, and are committed to change, they can find out what their space of change and opportunity is in their lives and places of work, and then they need to start beating this new practice like a drum. Like a heartbeat. A strong, regular beat, with integrity, with commitment, with consistent repetition. It’s OK if the beat is quiet and light to start off with, but it needs to start. There needs to be a high level of conviction because this practice is standing against the tide of the dominant culture of school. Like trying to keep your footing standing in the middle of a river swollen and rushing with some kind of downpour. So they need to think about what they need and what they can do to protect and withstand that.  

Then you start to beat your drum in a determined space. What I mean by that is you try to create a space that is separate to and different from the rest, whilst still within that place. Call it a club if you want, a society, an extra, or a designated part of your week, but it must be marked as different to the rest, with its own set of ways. This is key to the new culture having a chance of integrity and surviving. Once you get you drum beating and the culture rolling, it is contagious. I have no doubt in that. It’s like you can’t unsee what you have seen – it’s hard to accept coercive control and dominator culture when you can feel and know that something else is possible, that it is a choice and not necessary.

So, the key is to getting it going and digging in. Understand why you are doing it, understand and believe in how important it is. Understand it as an ethical imperative and the right next step. There needs to be pride in this work, pride, and strength. And then you’ve got to keep beating that drum for as long as you can.

And there has to be an acceptance that there will be break down as part of this process. Transitions and change hurts and it requires facing up to things including dark and painful truths. So be ready for difficult and painful situations, within yourself, as a practitioner, and in your situation with others. Have a strategy for how you are going to deal with that, how you will process it so that it doesn’t trash what is happening.  Dominant systems try to protect and maintain themselves, so you need to have the resolve to be ready to deal with that.

I recently got a steel tongue drum. It’s healing. This drum of this practice is healing too.  But healing journeys bring up all kinds of things, including pain and trauma that needs to be processed and released.

What would be your go to first thing when working with someone in the mainstream system? What do you think the first step is in supporting them in this transition?

Max: The first thing?

For me, the burning core is about relationships between teachers and students. Some call it student voice. Others call it agency. It’s all kind of things, all wrapped together.

I would want to invite mainstream teachers into a conversation about the connections they have with students in their classes. We know, for sure, that small things really matter to students. Remember their names. Pronounce their names correctly. Use their preferred pronouns. Look directly at them. Smile at them. Connect with them as human beings, and more than that, as equals. Be interested. Ask them what they think. Listen to them. Care. Pay attention. Do whatever you can to respond to what they tell you. Do not assume that they all think the same thing. Do not assume that they are consenting because they haven’t said otherwise. Think about whether there are ways in which you can develop threads of authentic connection with them whereby they can start to feel seen, known, understood. Trust them wherever and whenever you can.

This may seem small, but this stuff really matters.

In your Consent-Based Education course (CBE course), you talk about Covey’s circle of concern and circle of influence. This makes a lot of sense here. Mainstream teachers have many things that concern them, but they get overwhelmed with the size of the task in radically transforming education. You know this. They get exhausted and they get lost in the problem.

Sometimes they think they have no control and no influence, but this is not true. Even people in the most difficult of circumstances have choices to make.

When people get overwhelmed by all the things in the wider circle of concern, they can feel helpless and hopeless and burnt out. I have been in this place myself and I still work hard to not fall back into it. It is not a healthy place to be, but more than that, it is also not an effective place from which to try and be a radical practitioner. As you said earlier, ‘the key is to reflectively position yourself always into the place in that process in which you can have your own maximum effect.’

For some people, being in the mainstream and working from that space of influence is a deliberate choice, and it can be a powerful place to influence change. I am grateful to all the folk who are choosing to position themselves in schools, in universities, in colleges and in other formal settings. There is no doubt that we need good people – radical people – to choose to be there. These folk are often hidden to the wider world as they are just doing their own things in their own places, frequently hidden from view.

But Sophie, where are you? What are your reflections on the place where you can have maximum effect, and does it help to circle back to Two Loops Theory in exploring this? You introduced me to this theory, and I am really into it right now as I think it is a brilliant frame for exploring these types of questions. Over to you.

Sophie: I think Two Loops theory is great. Not only because it can help people to identify where they sit in the process of change, but also because it clearly shows this process as a paradigm shift, with all that that entails. The old paradigm, and the care that needs to happen there as it descends. The walk out folk – those setting away from the old paradigm to investigate and innovate the new – and the ‘grey zone’ that they inhabit as they unlearn, unfold, deschool, deconstruct, reform, restore, and create the new paradigm. I love how Debbie Frieze talks about what is needed in this process also, around support and connections. Consent-based education is both an alchemy for this change and the change itself.

For me, my main place of residence in the Two Loops Theory is as deep into the new paradigm as possible. Inhabiting it, living it, breathing it, being immersed in it, in the practice, in the life. Making it normal life. This is how the new paradigm comes into being anyway. By being it, it becomes manifest. The more folk that make it to that place, the more along the process things become, the more we move through the diffusion of innovation process. The stronger, more robust and capable of carrying the transition the new paradigm becomes. I’m in deep, with good reason. My heart, and body beats that drum, and it’s what gives me integrity in my work and what helps me be of use to others and to create culture in community. I’m in the core. Your work exploring education through the lens of rewilding, and self-healing through nature based experiences, has inspired and been very permission giving to me to explore and use metaphors and examples from nature to make sense of and explain myself and my work.  I came across the word ‘caldera’ recently, it’s the bowl created after a volcano partially collapses after eruption. That’s where I want to be. I want it to hold me too, so I can rest, and feel held myself.  

From that place I can hold the frame and shape of the new way. It makes me useful to others, including in the mainstream, because such a solid grounding enables folk to trust in what is a precarious process. It’s stable. And that’s what people need when they are stepping through this – some kind of sense of anchoring in an intangible process of power transformation and reconceptualization of so much that is believed to be true. It makes me useful to mainstream leaders and folk, and those building outside. I hope it makes me a touchstone, that can feed oxygen to so much change.

I also know that no one sits in the process alone. The change is ecosystemic, and my ability to have an impact is massively supported and enabled by relationship, collaboration and community with folk inhabiting their own space in the process. I hope I can be a strong heartbeat, alongside other beats and commitments to build the new.

How about you? I love collaborating with you.

Max: I love collaborating with you too.

You are right that achieving the type of change we are striving for needs to be ecosystem. It won’t be achieved through just one person or one group of people. We need to simultaneously put pressure on the dominant system across multiple fronts. This means we need to share our visions and practices, to be willing to collaborate, to build a sense of solidarity and unity, and to keep communicating.

As for me, what will I be doing? Where will I position myself? How will I use my one wild and precious life?

Right now, I am playing with the idea of being a rebel academic alongside being a practitioner and an activist. A prac-ademic. A pr-activist. Playing with the words. Mucking about. I don’t know what words to use really. What I mean is that I want to integrate all that I know and all that I am and bring it all together. I don’t want to save one set of skills for one context and keep them separate from another. I want to feel whole.

My decade as an academic was super useful for what I do now. My time as a youth worker shapes my perspective every day. My experience as part of our home educating family adds such a lot of depth to the things that I already knew and believed, and also challenges me to think and think and think again. Life is rich and learning is lifelong. You know this. Life is about reflecting and changing and pushing and challenging. Always trying. Always fighting.

I don’t know whether I will choose to return to the mainstream. I suspect not. I am not saying that I won’t work with folk in the mainstream, or even that I won’t do shorter-term pieces of work for mainstream institutions. But full-time? I can’t imagine making a decision that would put me back into that energy. I will gladly work alongside folk in the mainstream but I don’t want to be there myself.

The place I stand right now feels good, and healthy, and sustainable. Being freelance, running my own projects, working with people like you, co-leading The Lodge. This is a good life, a wild life, a precious life. I’ll take it.

SOUL FIRE WRITING RETREAT – 18-20 MARCH 2022, DEVON, UK

I am really excited to let you know that in March I will be collaborating with Max Hope to host and lead a writing/activism retreat, at Selgars Mill, a beautiful setting in mid-Devon. The retreat is bringing together two projects, Write on Changemakers and Soul Fire, is inspired by the work of bell hooks, and will be run in a consent-based and self-directed way. We have put together a plan for the weekend, which includes guiding writing provocations, healing and liberating ‘deschooling the body’ and ‘find your power’ sessions, as well as fires, food, and circling.

There are a limited number of spaces available, you can find out all the details here. Would be great to see you there!

Rewilding and Deschooling: a dialogue between Max Hope and Sophie Christophy

Please note: this piece was first published on Write On Changemakers.

Authors: Max Hope & Sophie Christophy

Max Hope, Director of Rewilding Education and advocate of freedom is passionate about rewilding and is excited about how concepts of rewilding can be used to ignite radical educational change. Sophie Christophy, Founder of The Cabin and unschooling parent, is a feminist and children’s rights activist and originator of the concept of consent-based education. They are activists and partners in work and in life. In this exchange of emails, they discuss whether rewilding, deschooling and unschooling are simply different names for the same thing, and debate whether these look and feel the same in practice.

Max: I want to radically change education. For me, the formal education system in this country – by which I mean schools, colleges, and universities – is completely dysfunctional. It is rigid and constraining and it treats all children and young people as a homogeneous group. It distorts our experiences of our own selves. It shapes children’s self-esteem by valuing and prioritizing some types of learning over others (academic over creative, emotional, sensual, practical etc.). It sets children up against one another. It is obsessed by measuring and assessing. It totally separates us, as human beings, from the natural world. Do I need to go on?

I am increasingly drawn to the idea of rewilding education. By this, I mean bringing in the wild, connecting to self-will, trusting our inner selves, tuning into authenticity. I want us all, as human beings, to feel deeply connected to the natural world, to feel a part of an ecosystem. I want education to be offered in a way that enables freedom, space, spaciousness, trust, playfulness and spontaneity. I want to connect to the wild. I want to honour each individual and our place in the world. I want us all to belong, to feel connected, and to strive to make the world a better place.

You use the language of unschooling and deschooling. You invite me to use this language alongside – or instead of – the language of rewilding. Can you tell me more about what these terms mean to you? 

Sophie: There isn’t a big gap for me between what I understand unschooling to be and what you mention above in your description of rewilding education – deschooling is for me the process by which someone who has been schooled goes through in order to unlearn and decondition themself from schooled ways, beliefs and biases, in order to unschool and hold unschooling space and relationship for others. Unschooling is a movement and a way, a practical and actionable response to the problems that you identify with the education system. Unschooling acknowledges those problems, identifies them as being unacceptable, and then decides to do differently. For each of the issues (and more not yet mentioned), there is a response. Where the system is rigid, unschooling is dynamic, fluid and ever evolving. Where the system homogenizes young people as a group, unschooling recognizes that young people – like people of all ages – are unique people, with different needs, wants, interests, ways of doing things, paths, priorities, identities and more. 

Crucial to unschooling, and deschooling process, is recognising, valuing, and seeking to protect a person’s connection to themself. This connection is easily disrupted and damaged – especially in our culture that has little regard or care for a babies/toddlers/children sense of self. In childhood especially, when our need for relational attachment and security is really peaked and dominant for survival reasons due to our dependency on our caregivers, our connection to self and our own authenticity is especially vulnerable. We will surrender our selves before we risk rejection from those we are dependent on.  Part of deschooling is the healing work to reconnect to ourselves again, in order to then unschool. The language is confusing but there is an important difference between the work of deschooling ourselves, and the experience of unschooling.

Unless people in care giving roles make a special effort to recognise and honour the sense of self of babies and children, a ‘normal’ childhood experience in our culture leads to all kinds of damage, disorientation and separation. But perhaps I’ve strayed from your original question here. I’d like to know though, where do you think getting ‘unwilded’ starts? I am proposing it is as soon as we are born, and start to engage with the relationships and childhood culture in our society that discreetly starts to sever us from ourselves by 1000 cuts…

Max: I like the phrase ‘sever us from ourselves’, that’s a powerful image. If we define wild as ‘self-will’, then I can see that there is a clear overlap between rewilding, deschooling and unschooling. They are concerned with self-will, with authenticity, with deeply tuning into ourselves. They are trying to avoid the severance of human beings from themselves, or in the case of rewilding and deschooling, to enable people to heal from the severance and to re-connect with themselves. I can see that. Our underpinning agendas are similar here.

My question to you, though, is whether unschoolers are also concerned with our severance from the natural world? For you, is there a problem here, and what do unschoolers do about it? I watched a TED Talk by Logan LaPlante (aged 13) who defined his approach to education as ‘hack-schooling’ (which I took as being similar to unschooling) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h11u3vtcpaY ). He chose to spend one day per week in nature, and he talked about gaining a deep and spiritual connection to nature, as well as making spears and fires and shelters and having fun. This was his choice. He self-directed this experience. He wanted it to happen. Is he unusual in this, or is this a common thread for many unschoolers?

In direct response to your question, yes, I think ‘unwilding’ starts at birth. Or even before birth, if you have any interest in pre- and perinatal psychology. As a culture and as a society, we have in-built processes which disconnect us from ourselves and from the natural world. It is hard to imagine that any child, young people or adult has managed to avoid this.

Sophie: There are people who, in pregnancy, birth and the time that follows, have an awareness of the threats of ‘unwilding’, though they would use other language to describe this. People proactive in trying to reduce those risks, and push back, or rather, protect what could be called a ‘wilder process’. There are also birth workers active in this effort too. I’m saying this because it’s important to me that this effort not be erased. There is a history to this and an ongoing movement.  

In regards to your question, it is very common amongst unschoolers that I know (I live in a rural context, but am connected to broader unschooling community online) to be nature connected and environmentally aware. I also think that the power dynamic of unschooling – power with and not power over – doesn’t normalise dominator culture as school does, is potentially enabling to unschoolers in seeing that they are of nature themselves, not separate from or above it. 

What if we flip this question on its head, and ask why people become nature separated in the first place? I would argue that school and schooling separates us from and confuses us about our role in natural world and the land we live on. It also robs us of time to be in it. The film In My Blood it Runs tells a story of how this happens from an Aboriginal perspective of modern day (colonial) schooling in Australia.  Our system isn’t different, we just don’t have Aboriginal folk like Dujuan to point out its problems to us (although I think children here do to try to tell us in their own ways). 

I’m not saying that all unschoolers have a strong desire to spend a lot of time out and about in the woods (some might be more cave folk than tree folk 😉 for example), and family interests and priorities no doubt play a part, but unschooling creates a lot more time and space to follow your instincts, think about what is important, and to connect with nature at your own pace and your own way. My observations from the self-directed education setting that I co-run is that there is an innate drive in children to go out and be in nature. 

As a child did you ever, as I did, gaze longingly out the window and the blue sky and sun, whilst being stuck in a classroom for the fifth day in a row (and seeing that as normal)? Unschoolers can accept nature’s invitation. I think that humans are likely predisposed to seek nature connection, just like human connection, as a basic human need, but most are obstructed from doing so in a way that unschoolers are not.  What do you think?

Max: Did I ever gaze longingly out of the window? Yes, I am sure I did. I loved to go outdoors, jump over the stream, get covered in mud, play football, fly kites. I also loved to stay inside, watching TV, reading books, playing board games, watching more TV and chatting to friends.  As a child of my time, we did not have computer games, endless channels on TV, YouTube, Facebook or any of the other technologies that children and young people have easy access to today, and I cannot be sure what impact these options might have had on me. I think they might have enticed me to stay inside more often.

It is not just school culture that is responsible for separating children from themselves, from each other and from the natural world. There is a plethora of other influences too.

I understand your point about unschooling offering more opportunities for nature connection, for being outdoors, for following instincts. I can see that unschooled children and young people have more time for this, and they might be in a family culture which values these types of activities.

My question though, is whether developing a deeper connection with the natural world is necessarily an outcome of unschooling? If children and young people are genuinely and authentically able to self-direct their own experiences, I am yet to be convinced of the inevitability of them choosing to stay connected, or reconnect, with the natural world. They might utilise their freedom and self-will to pursue entirely different endeavours. Is this a fair conclusion to reach?

Sophie: Unschooling requires a deep connection to our core nature/self. I am using these terms interchangeably because that is how I understand them to be. What is rewilding if it isn’t about creating optimal conditions for ‘nature’ to be able to express itself?  Being ‘self-directed’ is being directed by our own nature – being ‘nature-directed’ – directed by our own nature. 

When it comes to being connected to or reconnected to the natural world, then that is an interesting question isn’t it. And deserves some exploration and considering as to what we actually mean by the ‘natural world’ and what we mean by being ‘nature connected’. I would particularly like to interrogate if we have a shared belief about what ‘nature connectedness’ actually looks like in practice, and what might inform the ideas about that. 

I think there are many, many different ways to experience nature connection, many different behaviours that can be demonstrative of nature connectedness. I also think that it isn’t a black and white situation – of either someone being nature connected or not. I would like us to bust open some assumptions and stereotypes here as well – like for example that being a gamer or utilising screen-based technology means by definition that you are not also nature connected. 

So, my question to you is, What do you mean by the ‘natural world’, and what does being ‘nature connected’ look like and mean to you?

Max: Being nature connected. Hum. The phrase ‘nature connection’ is used so frequently in the circles that I move in, and yet it is rarely defined. Now you have pushed me to explain it, I am finding it quite difficult. The obvious response is to talk about feeling a connection to the natural world, to plants and trees and birds and animals. ‘Nature connection’ activities often include fire lighting and sit spots and sleeping out under the stars. 

And yet, in this moment, I am feeling that this response is inadequate, because human beings are a part of nature, and not bystanders to nature. As your own 7-year old said a few weeks ago, ‘We are Nature’. And so, what does this mean for nature connection? Is it also about connecting to the nature within ourselves, to the wild inside? Is ‘nature connection’ about tuning into our own internal nature, and deeply connecting to this? Do we start with ourselves or with the wider, living world? Does connecting with one impact on our ability to connect with the other? As I said, hum.

I totally agree that this is not a clear-cut issue. Nature connected: yes or no? Deschooled: yes or no? Rewilded: yes or no? There are so many shades of grey, so many nuances. It is far more helpful to see these as spectrums where we can be further along, in different ways, and at different moments in time. I know that this is certainly true for me. My personal journey to rewild myself is long and complex and, at times, feels like one-step-forward-two-steps-back. I wonder if this is the same for your own personal deschooling and unschooling journey?

Back to education. In your view, if the process of deschooling and rewilding are the same thing, what are the implications for my aspiration to rewild education, or in your terms, make it more like unschooling? Can you imagine that it is possible for mainstream schools (or colleges or universities) to become any wilder? 

Sophie: Is it the same in my deschooling journey? With one step forwards and two steps back, as you say? I think that it is a journey for sure, with winding paths, experiences along the way and aspects that can challenge our progress. I think that as with journeys generally, there are different ways to approach them, different factors influencing them, and different experiences and outcomes as a result. I am very keen and dedicated to getting as far along as I can, as consciously as I can, and ideally, with as many other people as I can, and that dedication does affect my journey and state of deschooling I think. I would rather ‘rest’ than take backward steps if I can help it. I am aware of the things that can cause backwards steps and where possible, I really do try to be boundaried regarding those things because I don’t like to feel dragged back into more schooled way of being. I try instead to put myself in places that are encouraging me and inviting me on. 

On to your other question – is it possible for mainstream schools to become any wilder? Not without massive consciousness raising and shifting of those who hold power and influence. People in the mainstream have to break open like I have had to do, like you have had to do, in order to accept how dysfunctional the current system is, how badly it separates us from ourselves, and really understand the impact of that. How it currently does the opposite of what is wild, by dominating and colonising our bodies, hearts and minds, disorientating and distancing us from our selves. You can’t solve the problem if you aren’t willing to look at the problem, right to its edges, to its core and to the deepest parts of its roots. And we both know how painful and hard that experience can be, how debilitating even at times.

I think a question those of us wanting to see this change need to ask ourselves is: what part can we play in this? I believe that those of us that can see this problem are here and can see it for a reason, and have a profound, incredibly important role to play. I think we each have something miraculous and personal to contribute to the process, unique to who we are and as an offering from our own path. 

Max: What part can we play in this? What a great question. No simple answer though. The issue, for me, is that we live in a world in which mainstream schooling is the overriding culture, and where attending these schools is the predominant experience for most children and young people. Alternatives – elective home education, self-directed settings, private schools – are still only available to a tiny percentage of children. And so, if we want to affect change, which I know that you and I both do, we have to decide where to put our energies. 

When people live in built-up, over-populated urban areas, they might be tempted to conclude that they can’t do any rewilding of the land, that this is some sort of fad or trend that is only available to rich folk in rural areas. Not so. There are loads of fantastic stories of people who are rewilding urban spaces. People can make significant impacts in small corners of the world, within the space that is available to them.

I hope that this is also the case within mainstream education.

I absolutely agree that mainstream schooling culture needs to be radically transformed. The ecosystems within mainstream schooling cultures need to become freer, fairer, healthier, and wilder. Is the challenge too big? Is there any point in trying? I work from the position of optimism, of believing that individuals can make a tangible difference. I believe that we can work to rewild small spaces in education, whether this be within the heart of one teacher, or one classroom, or the culture within one bunch of teachers.

I want more, and I feel an urgency around this. But to some extent, this is a strategic decision. I wonder whether the language of rewilding might be more palatable than the language of unschooling? Do you think that inviting mainstream educators to ‘deschool’ themselves might be more confronting than asking them to ‘rewild’ themselves, even if you and I believe that these are actually a similar thing?

Sophie: I don’t want to get stuck in the problem – and trying to answer all of the questions that you raised risks doing that to me. We could try to answer them all, but how much time would have passed between now and then? Time when we could be taking actions in our lives to make a difference, rather than thinking about what actions we might want to take. I’ve felt this time pressure keenly because I had to make choices to do with my own children’s education and those choices couldn’t wait because they were forced by their age. I do really believe in being strategic and holding sight of the bigger picture. But I also think that what matters maybe more is getting on, from where we are, in our own lives, and not worrying too much as to whether it’s the best most fool-proof action that will change everything for the better, but trust that doing something will take things on in the process in a positive way. 

Everything takes energy – engaging with the nuances of the problem takes energy, and experimenting with creative solutions takes energy too. I think it’s really important that the balance of that is kept in check. And I think it’s important that in answering this question we make it as personal as possible, rather than hypothetical and generalised. What part can play in this change, what can I do? I take this issue so seriously I’ve been willing to put myself on the line for it. I’ve made decisions that have been perceived by others as risky, things that have resulted in a lot of isolation and have othered me. I’ve taken what would be considered by others as ‘risks’ in regards to my own children. And I’ve held that line. Creating the new in whatever way we can is what manifests the future and change that we want to see. 

That’s been my belief – make the future now by creating spaces and behaving in ways that are in keeping with what we are working towards. Making a commitment to this is crucial, and for me in my life, this commitment has had a very practical and life changing connotation. Commitment and action are two things that I think are needed for those of us working on this. Accept that things are fucked so you don’t keep asking questions about it or have to keep on convincing yourself over and over again in the problem phase or by convincing others or seeing others agree. Then decide what for you the answer is to this – what is it that the different way and future needs to look like, so things aren’t fucked. Commit to that vision so you don’t need to keep questioning it. And then act like you are making that vision come true now. As many decisions as possible made in the image and honour of that vision. And that is now new futures are manifest in reality. So, let’s try again and get personal AF – when I say, ‘what part do we have to play in that?’, what I mean is what part do you, Max Hope, in all your gloriousness, experience and passion, have to play in this, in real, actionable terms?

To be continued …

Last chance to book the Consent-Based Education Course

Hi folks,

This is a quick note to let you know that there are a few places remaining on the Consent-Based Education course that starts next Tuesday evening via Zoom.

This will likely be the last time I run the course until September 2022 at the earliest, so if you feel it will be useful to you in your deschooling journey, please do take this chance to register.

The link with the details are here.

To book your place, please email me at hello@sophiechristophy.com to let me know, and make payment of the course fee (£288) via Paypal here.

I will shortly be setting up the group for participants as we are soon to begin, so please book by the end of tomorrow, Wednesday 5th January, if you would like be a last minute joiner!

Authenticity

Following on my list of writing prompts, the one for today is Authenticity.

This is such an interesting subject. Something at once so simple and so hard, and so important for self-direction and consent.

I’m going to start by describing what authenticity means to me. To me, authenticity is the most honest and true expression of something. What is on the inside, is what is expressed on the outside. What is true and honest for someone, is said and is made known. That is what it means to be authentic. For me, authenticity sits along other words such as integrity, honest, true. For me, authenticity is about an honest and clear, direct expression of self.

It is obscured by coping strategies, stress responses, people pleasing/accommodating behaviours, or any other self-concealing things. One of the most tragic aspects of trauma is how it can scare and rob us of authentic expression. In some situations, this behaviour can be necessary for coping and even survival. Due to oppressive and discriminatory environments, discreet and explicit threats of all types of harm and violence, authenticity can be so damaged and compromised, not just in individuals but in the culture and environment as a whole. There are so many circumstances in which authenticity is broken. And in those places, and in that knowing, I still believe it can survive, that it is possible, that it can make it’s way. That there has to be a way.

Authentic expression to me is what is made known when a person has given themselves permission to, and continues to commit to, braving it as their truest version of them-self, with their bare self, intentions, ways and purpose made visible and freely expressed.

It is also the absolute centre point and guiding anchor for self-direction and meaningful consent. It is what gives the ‘self’ in self-direction meaning, and from which we can hear a ‘yes, no or maybe’ of consent. There is plenty in our world and culture to make us fearful and confuse us away from this centre point, and cause us to lose alignment with ourselves and therefore blur or mask our honest authentic expression. There are circumstances in which it may feel impossible and life threatening to be honest, true and free in our expression of ourselves.

But when we lose ourselves in this way, we also lose our lives. We lose ourselves, and everything after that is a mess because it’s based on a misleading and false sense of things.

How can you experience or engage in consensual living and relationships, if your way of being is wobbling all over the place when it comes to authenticity?

In order for something to be meaningful consensual, it must be an informed choice, freely given. If someone is behaving inauthentically, for what ever reason – is hiding, concealing, their real heart, centre of self, their true alignment and expression, then how can another come to then in a consensual way? They can’t see what it is they are really doing, in order to make an informed choice. And the choice isn’t freely given, if it’s been somewhat controlled by the presentation of information that is designed or limited in some way to sway through withholding.

It is true, that for many people it can be difficult to even locate this authentic centre. The dominant culture in which we live serves to separate us from our selves in many macro and micro ways throughout our lives from the earliest days. We’ve been grown in a soil of interpersonal and institutional violence against the self and authentic expression, where full range of emotional and other expressions of self are curtailed, limited, and loaded in various ways. This makes our engagement with our self and the world around us feel dangerous or alluring, influenced and biased in ways that lead us away from authenticity and can trigger experiences of stress and result in the adoption of coping strategies mentioned above.

And the dominant cultural resistance/erasure of the natural phenomena of lifelong learning, change, growth and evolution can stifle and limit us to a single version of ourselves, again cramping our authentic expression lest it in some way disrupt our lives or endanger relationships and foundations.

However, and this all being said. We can return to ourselves. We can find ourselves. We can work and and practice expressing ourselves. We can take risks. We can try, and practice, and work towards a new normal where authenticity feels natural and normal, and part of life. Where it just feels like us, integrated, and whole and free. Where we feel free and wouldn’t want to hide away ever again, because we love and treasure authenticity so much and know what the cost is of anything else, and all we can imagine is a world in which authenticity is in all the places and is the baseline for love and relationships. All we want is to feel the heat of that burning soul fire, that authentic heart and self.

Conflict

After my last post, I had a request to write about conflict. So here is a post unpacking conflict in consent-based, self-directed education spaces.

Firstly, conflict as a phenomenon is key to consent-based self-directed culture. Conflict as a situation must be expected and even wanted, as it is a sign that people are able to hold their own shape, stay connected to their true wants and needs, and sense of them-self. Conflict can be time consuming and hold up peoples ability to ‘get on’, so you ideally want a situation in which it isn’t constantly occurring (this would show some incompatibility between folks in the space and the guiding principles/culture, for example, or structural issues in the community that need addressing so that it is easier for people to navigate the space and meet their needs – more people in the community, for example). But you do want to see some conflict.

You certainly need people in the community to be working on healing any kind of conflict resistance or avoidance reactions that they may have. It’s normal that folk would experience conflict avoidance, given the punitive, non-consensual and shame-based history and character of the dominant culture in which most people have grown in (intergenerationally also), and that we are trying to step away from. But this must be addressed and healed in order to release into self-direction and consent-based life. You can not self-direct and experience consensuality of you are not open and willing to the possibility and experience of conflict.

To understand how to hold and navigate conflict in this new way, first we need to understand the root of the word. The root meaning of conflict is ‘together’ (con) and ‘strike’ (flict). In contrast, the root meaning of consent is ‘together’ (con) and ‘feeling’ (sent). Consent is when an experience feels ‘together’ or as one, one with our self and one with the other. A shared yes of something feeling right. As an individual, it’s that feeling of one and yes with an experience or environment. A feeing of sharedness and compatibility.

Conflict is where there is a strike, think of flints striking each other and creating a spark that lights up a difference. This is the energy of a conflict, a difference, a resistance, and discord of wants, needs, of energy. Conflict is when something together is not matched, it’s experienced as difference.

Now, conflict and consent occur for the same but opposite reasons. Consent occurs where their is a matched and shared understanding, and a match and shared need. Conflict occurs where there is an unmatched or misunderstanding, and a mismatch and not shared need. Neither of these things are inherently good or bad, they are just a reality of a particular situation at a particular time, an expression of what is true for someone or something in a given instance, a reality of two people coming into contact with each other and reacting due to having different needs and experiences.

Where consent occurs – things that are matched and compatible, it is easy to see what can happen next – they just get on with whatever it is they are coming into contact about.

Where conflict occurs, there is a different need around what happens next. And we have a massive cultural black hole in our experience and understanding of what to do in these situations, as the dominant culture mentioned above teaches us nothing about how to navigate this type of scenario, so we must learn.

It is easiest to work with conflict when it is caught early. When it is left untended, it can begin to morph into other experiences that then cloud and obstruct dealing with the actual conflict that is occurring, due to people feeling increasingly triggered, unseen and unheard, frustrated and upset. I’m first going to share about conflict when it’s addressed in it’s early stages of emergence.

The way to address conflict when caught early is by using the root origin of the word, and exploring the root causes of that particular situation. So, firstly, you can notice the conflict because something is happening that is striking up against each other, there is a halt in the flow of energy and a discord. Then, you want to find out the two things: What is the misunderstanding here? What is the unmet need here?

How this looks as a facilitator in a consent-based self-directed space would look like the following, lets say if the conflict is occurring between two people, either of whom have requested help to navigate it:

To each person:

  • What happened for you? – listen and learn from what that person tells you about their experience, what led into the conflict, what happened during, and up to now. This stage also usually deescalates agitation and the feeling of conflict, as the person will begin to feel seen and heard, a common stressor in a conflict situation.
  • What do you need now? – once you have heard from them what happened for them, you may have a sense yourself of the underlying unmet need that contributed to the conflict occurring, but they may also have new needs as a result of experiencing the conflict itself (for example they may feel wronged/harmed by the other and in need of an apology or some kind of restoration). So you are looking to establish the original unmet need, and any new needs caused by the experience of the conflict itself.
  • Can you meet the need of the other? – once you have heard this from both people, you can then see if those people are able to meet the needs of the other. If they are not (this maybe the reason why the conflict has happened, the work is to then find alternative options to enable the person to meet their needs and move through and on from the conflict situation).
  • What other ways can that need be met? – if the need can not be met by the other, what other ideas and ways are there that could meet the need instead. Crucially, this is a question to the person with the unmet need, as they are usually best at imagining alternatives that might work for them, but it can also be helpful to make suggestions or remind them of what is available.

Can you see how in this process is a curious and open approach, where the locus of power remains with those involved but with facilitation to help it be managed? Two key things are happening in the process: 1) by asking these questions, misunderstandings are hopefully being cleared up, and as information is shared personal and relational blind spots are decreasing and our understanding and knowledge of the other is increasing. 2) Unmet needs are becoming revealed, increasing the chances of meeting them in the process or of finding ways for them to be met.

In the situation of a conflict, if only one party is wanting and willing to go through this process, then it can happen 1:1 with a facilitator, who can support that person in making sense of what happened and understanding their options for what they are going to do next. Equally, this process can be held in a group, but using a meeting (see my previous post).

Sometimes, the misunderstanding that has occurred can be due to a gap in a persons cultural understanding of the community and it’s guiding principles. This can cause someone to hold unreasonable expectations or false notions about what is needed from them in the community, and/or to behave in ways that are in conflict with with the community culture. For example, a conflict may arise where one person in the community makes a sexist comment to or about another member of the community, not realising that the community holds the principles of children’s rights and social justice, and therefore, can not accept that kind of comment as normal. In that case, the conflict navigation process will need to include that person increasing their understanding of the guiding principles and the reasons why the community can not accept oppressive and discriminatory behaviour.

In this kind of scenario, the person on the other side may also need support in understanding how it is possible for someone to think sexism is normal, and something of the problematic historical and dominant culture reasons for this, in order for them to hold some space and compassion for the learning of the other who may be new to this being challenged. Sexism is routinely normalised and directed at children and prevalent in our society, this has an impact on people and family cultures and sometimes these biases need addressing in community. Conflicts that occur of this nature help us to see these usually hidden influences, and give us an opportunity to learn, grow and heal.

The Meeting

I’m going to write a few posts exploring different aspects of my work, and the first one is about The Meeting.

At the Cabin and the Lodge, the two self-directed and consent-based education settings that I co-run, we start and end the day with a meeting. You could also call this a circle, rather than a meeting, but in the settings we call it a meeting, and in this piece I will move between use of both terms depending on what feels right at the time.

The meeting is a crucial aspect of the healthy functioning of a self-directed, consent-based space. It is what opens and closes the space, it is what helps us establish the culture of the space. It opens and closes our container of being together. It also serves many important practical functions, that are key to the community being able to do what it wants and needs to during the day.

At the Cabin, we have a total community size of 23 people each day, and we meet in two circles. When we were 15 people and under, we met together in one, but we learnt that with more than 15 people you are giving your meeting a better chance to split it in two. Our current community size at the Lodge is 10, so we meet in one circle.

Now, what I am going to share about basic meeting practice for self-directed and consent-based spaces is as applicable to a meeting with 15 people in, or a circle of 1. And I mean that – this ‘way’ is a process that we can use alone, in navigating ourselves and the world around is, in a pair, or in a group. The principles remain the same and are important in creating a culture of self-direction and consensuality.

You start the meeting by choosing a Chair. It is their job to hold the meeting for the rest of the people involved. That is a real responsibility of service and care, and it is an important and honourable role in the community. Ideally, this role is shared amongst the community, with different people taking it on rotation and serving the community in turn. At the Cabin, we have Chairs as young as 5. The community is called on to support and help the chair in their service to them. And in turn, each chair receives this support and help when it is their turn.

In a circle of 1, you are the Chair. It is up to you to hold this process and space for yourself, and to take it seriously.

The Chair is there to hold the process, and guide the community and meeting through it’s stages, that then helps to lay foundations for creating the culture in which the community can thrive. The first step is to make, or remind, of the agreements that bind the community and meeting together. These are the things that the Chair and the rest of the community need, in order for the meeting to work and feel good (consensual) for everyone. Often times they include agreements about how people can participate, and reflect the cultural principles of the community – for the Cabin and the Lodge these are: self-direction, consent, ed positivity, democratic/collaborative decision making and children’s rights.

When practicing agreements as an individual, they look like a person checking in with themselves about what they need in any given process, including a personal decision making process. Again, this should reflect the persons values and guiding principles for the life and culture that they want to live. It might include things like: I will tune in to myself in order to make authentic and honest choices, I will make sure that the decision I make is aligned with my higher self, I will ensure to be open and curious in my considerations, I will ensure to know and protect my own limits, boundaries and needs.

Once the agreements are established, the next part of the meeting can take place. This is the Check In, where everyone in the circle has a chance to share to the rest of the group what is important to them at that point and circumstance. At the Cabin and the Lodge, this might include sharing about a person’s well being and needs that day, or what they hope to do that day, a sense of how they are arriving into the space, or anything else that seems like it is relevant and needs mentioning about themself. No one has to check in – it is a consensual process as you would expect, so if people want to they can pass entirely – knowing of course that if they do have any needs, wants or news, that this will go unknown to the community unless they make the effort to share it at another time. The key point of holding time and space for the Check In, is so that everyone in the meeting experiences that they are a person than matters in the community, who’s voice matters, who has personal power, who deserves their place in the community and will be listened too. It is knowing this that is important, rather than the check in itself (although of course the content of this is important too should they choose to take that time and space to share).

In a circle of one, a check in is still important, that is a check in with oneself. How am I doing right now? What do I need, what do I want, what do I have capacity for, what don’t I want. What is my intention? It’s a chance to connect to who we are and feel grounded and present in ourself and current situation.

After the Agreements and the Check in, comes the Hands and Plans – in other words, where the ‘business’ is done. At the Cabin and the Lodge, this looks like sharing the plans for the day, which are informed by the closing meeting of same day on the previous week. The plans are read out, and everyone has a chance to add or change as needed. It is also a chance for important whole community announcements or news, and a chance to make agreements around new resources, solve problems, for accountability and questions etc. Anything that the whole community’s presence is relevant and needed for, happens in this part of the meeting.

In a meeting of one, this is where you would start to address whatever question, decision, opportunity or problem you are dealing with, that led you to call the meeting with yourself in the first place. Perhaps it’s the time to explore and reflect on something to do with a relationship, a work issue, an issue of personal or relational accountability, a dream/aspiration, something to do with identity, spiritual connection, what ever it is that needs some attention, care and deliberation. You’ve set the ground for it by connecting with the agreements you have with yourself (your values and principles and the life culture you are working to create), you’ve connected with your wants, needs and intention with the check in, and now from that place you can start to consider and navigate the challenge/opportunity on your hands.

Once the business is done, the Chair asks the community: “Is there anything else?” And pause – is there anything left to come? Ask again: “Is there anything else?” Perhaps there are one or two things left in the circle that still need to emerge – it’s important to double check. Once the Chair is satisfied, the meeting can be closed. At the Cabin and the Lodge, we know there will be another meeting at the end of the day, in which we will check out and propose plans for next time.

In a meeting of one, or where you don’t have another meeting with yourself lined up for later in the day as follow up, you might close your meeting with a check out after the ‘business’ is done, which could look like answering the questions: “How do I feel now? What is my next step now that I’ve done my ‘business’? What do I need now?” and using that information as direction for what is to come next in your life after the meeting.

And then the meeting is complete and the circle can close.

January 2022 Consent-Based Education Course!

I’m excited to share the dates and information for the January 2022 Consent-Based Education Course! There is a waiting list for this course, and place offers will be sent out shortly. If you would like to be added to the waiting list for this cycle (subject to availabilty) or a future cycle, please email hello@sophiechristophy.com

2022 is the 5th year that the course has been running, and I can’t wait to get to work with a new cohort of change makers on this journey!

The course will take place via Zoom, time and dates are as follows:

Time:

7-9pm (GMT)

Dates:

Tuesday 11th January

Tuesday 25th January

Tuesday 8th February

Tuesday 22nd February

Tuesday 8th March

Tuesday 22nd March

Communication during the course:

Once booked on to the course and before we begin, I will add you to a private Facebook group, which we will use for the duration of the course. This is where I will share the resources that lead in to each session, the plans for the session, other important info, and it is also a community space that will exist after the course cycle has finished.

What is the course about?

As parenting evolves beyond the traditional authoritarian, patriarchal model of ‘power over’, and families make the choice to live together in more mutually respectful, socially just ways that acknowledge the personhood and agency of children, essential questions arise as to what that means in regards to our relationship with ourselves, others, and our outlook and interaction with the world around us.

Consent-Based Education is a response to this tension. What happens when authoritarianism/patriarchy is stripped away, and we become more questioning, self-directed and empowered in our own lives, and desire this for the children in our lives too? What does it look like to move beyond patriarchy, to embrace our own personhood, agency and autonomy, and question the education, socialisation, social norms and values that we’ve experienced until now? What does consent, voice and agency mean to us, and how do these things relate to authenticity, self-direction and self-actualisation?

This course is designed for parents and people who live/work with children, who want to explore and go deeper into their understanding and practice of Consent-Based Education, for their own personal development and to support life-long living and learning in a consent-based way. It is especially suited to unschooling parents and those working in/practicing self-directed education.

The course is made up of the following six sessions:

Session 1: What is Patriarchy, its impact and effect?

Session 2: Breaking Cycles – the Process of Change

Session 3: What is Consent-Based Education?

Session 4: Love and Relationships, Boundaries and Freedom

Session 5: Living and Learning, Creativity and Flow

Session 6: The Bigger Picture

Each session will last for two hours, and include the following:

Agreement making (how we are going to work and play together),

Check-ins,

Me sharing on the theme of the session,

Chance for reflection, questions and deepening the inquiry,

Exploring putting the theory into practice,

Check out.

As you would expect, the sessions/course is run on consent-based education principles, so that it experiential as well as content based. Basically, I’ll be practicing what I preach in the way the whole thing works!

An important note about the transformational nature of the course:

This course has a transformational quality to it – it has been described as “life changing” by multiple participants. It is designed through the lens and process of my own journey, which has been profoundly transformative and impactful to every part of my life. Every time I have run this course cycle so far, it has again had a deep impact on my life, and been catalystic of change. This has included the ending of important relationships, changes in family relationships, personal growth, loss, grief, liberated creativity, experience of self-actualisation, deep personal alignment and spiritual expansion. I have witnessed this also happen in the lives of those that have taken part. You will be encouraged to manage your participation in the course in the way that you feel ready for and is right for you (consensual engagement), however it is important that in booking on to the course you do so knowingly of the impact it may have, and that change in yourself and in your life may be catalysed as a result.

A note on partners:

I run the course with my partner, Max Hope, present in the sessions. This is for my own development in running the course (she gives me great critical feedback), for support during the course (it’s a very intense experience that is transformative for me too), and to support her own journey and process in this work (it’s super helpful to be in the same process together and sharing what is going on). Where partners are enthusiastic to be part of this course together, it can be an amazing experience and I highly recommend booking two places. If you have a partner(s), who will not be taking part, you may wish to consider how you can ‘bring them along’ your journey in some way, outside of the sessions.

To book: A place on the course is £288. People on the waiting list will be contacted in order shortly with booking details. If you would like to be added ot the waiting list for this course (subject to availability) or future course cycles, please email: hello@sophiechristophy.com