A diverse group of forty five educators, parents, administrators, and concerned citizens gathered on April 30 at the Taconic Retreat and Conference Center near Red Hook, New York, to consider the harmful effects of recent education reforms and what to do in response to them. These include the push for Common Core learning standards, high stakes testing, and digital personalized education. There were representatives from local universities and public, private, and home schools in attendance.

The gathering took place just days after statewide Common Core related Math and English Language Arts tests were given in New York State to students in grades 3-8. Similar to last year, hundreds of thousands of families opted their children out of the tests in protest to what they considered to be age-inappropriate and poorly designed testing that detracts from real learning.

Morning panelists focused on the harmful effects of high stakes tests, overreach of government in education, and planned changeover to an artificial intelligence-based education system. From left to right: Katie Zahedi, Gary Lamb, Bianca Tanis, and Helen-Ann Ireland.

The day-long event revolved around two panel presentations. The morning panel focused on the harmful effects of high stakes tests on students, overreach of government in education, and the planned wholesale changeover to an artificial intelligence-based education delivery system that would “virtually” eliminate teachers and grade levels.

The four presenters were Helen-Ann Ireland, Waldorf educator and education researcher and co-author of the recent research study, “Assessment for Learning in the Waldorf Classroom”; Bianca Tanis, a school parent and Special Education Teacher from Ulster County; Gary Lamb, Projects Coordinator for the Avalon Initiative; and Katie Zahedi, Ph.D. a Red Hook Middle School Principal and Adjunct Faculty Member at SUNY New Paltz.

Afternoon panel focused on ways to counter the alliance of corporate and political interests dominating education reforms. From left to right, Patrice Maynard, Marla Kilfoyle, and Nicholas Tampio.

Afternoon panel focused ways to counter the alliance of corporate and political interests dominating education reforms. From left to right, Patrice Maynard, Marla Kilfoyle, and Nicholas Tampio.

The afternoon panel focused on what is being done and still needs to be done to counter the alliance of corporate and political interests dominating education reforms, including voicing opposition individually and collectively to the reforms, opting out of end-of-year tests, preserving education autonomy through local standards, and developing a new future of education narrative and map.

The panelists were Marla Kilfoyle, Executive Director of the Badass Teachers Association, an education activist organization opposed to the corporate takeover of public education; Nicholas Tampio, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science at Fordham University and school parent, and Patrice Maynard, teacher educator and Director of Publications and Development at the Research Institute for Waldorf Education.

Round-table conversations transformed into Adirondack-chair circle conversations before lunch.

Round-table conversations transformed into Adirondack-chair circle conversations before lunch.

The conference participants were seated at round tables of 5-6 people per table, which had a mixture of public, private, and home school representatives along with education consultants, foundation representatives, and researchers. Both panels were followed by table conversations inspired by the presentations. After the morning panel, we took advantage of the beautiful setting of the Taconic Retreat and Conference Center and moved our conversations outside utilizing picnic tables and Adirondack chairs next to a pastoral lake.

Participants enjoyed singing, clapping, and snapping to “Bim Bam Bim” as a balance the intense conversations.

Participants enjoyed singing, clapping, and snapping to “Bim Bam Bim” as a balance the intense conversations.

To balance the information shared and intense conversations, attendees enjoyed two singing sessions of “Bim, Bam, Bim,” replete with finger snapping and hand clapping taken from the Waldorf tradition led by Patrice Maynard and Jane Ried.

In the final session, each conversation table was asked to brainstorm its own ideas of what can be done to save and renew the soul of education.

The sharing of these ideas in a plenum resulted in the recognition that there are three areas that need to be more deeply considered by both public and private schools.

They were:

  • The funding of education

  • Social values in a pluralistic society

  • Learning standards

Patrice Maynard shared a Future of Education narrative and map.

Patrice Maynard shared a Future of Education narrative and map.

Following the conference, the ideas generated by the conversation groups of how to “save the soul of education” were recorded on 3×5 cards, transcribed, and sent out to all the participants. These will be taken into consideration when the Avalon Leadership Group gathers later in the summer to plan the coming year’s activity.

The Avalon Initiative, an education think tank and collaborative venture of the Research Institute for Waldorf Education and the Hawthorne Valley Center for Social Research, hosted the event. If you would like to keep informed about Avalon Initiative activities and perspectives on current issues in education, and have not already done so, please sign up for our newsletters and blogs and like our Facebook page. Also, visit our new “Hearts Speak” online story platform for teachers, parents, and students.  Summer is a great time not only to read stories but also to share your own stories about your experiences in education on our new site.


Comments from the “Enough Already!” Conference Participants

Every minute was engaging and thought provoking. – Suzanne

The organizers’ creative and intelligent concern for children and education clearly runs deep. – Ed

I appreciated the shape of the conference: round tables where we got to engage in listening and sharing…good opportunity for the arising of new thoughts. – Beth

It was a great day. The Avalon Initiative plays an important role in NY education debates. An oasis of sanity. – Nicholas

My table mates and I shared our perspectives, and I loved hearing everyone’s stories. During our brainstorming sessions we imagined what the culture surrounding education and school life could be. I felt inspired by the camaraderie and shared vision of my group despite our different backgrounds. The conference was extremely well organized in a beautiful setting, and I left with renewed confidence that we can empower each other to make a difference! – Diana

I realized how important it is to awaken communities to the inherent dangers before us, and I will always support the efforts of the Avalon Initiative, working to ensure a healthy form of education. – Sarah

We have to create a new vision for learning and assessment in NY public schools. I think the Waldorf/public collaboration will provide crucial wind in [our] sails from philosophy to everyday practice. – Lance

Everything worked together well: a diverse mix of the people holding varying perspectives; the content of knowledgeable and engaging presenters; the respectful, yet earnest group conversations; and the whole group singing sessions. It was remarkable how the three of Avalon Initiative facilitators were able to provide content, guide us through the day, and hold the space in a sensitive way. – Ursula

It was so refreshing to participate in an event with teachers from both the public and private realm coming together to talk about our common passion, which is the education of our children. We seemed to have found our network of grace, one in which we can use the joy of our connection and shared love for our vocation to help us sense our way through these dark times, so we may re-imagine and create the educational model of our desires. – Dina

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