TEF –Denmark, Copenhagen 2014

TEF – Copenhagen, Denmark 2014

Hans Christian Anderson’s bronzed Little Mermaid sits in Copenhagen’s dramatic and historic harbor, looking beautiful and a little sad. The water lapping at her human knees speaks of her lost dream to become an immortal soul, lost to her when her prince mistakenly loves another as the one who saved him rather than the Little Mermaid who had in fact done so. For this she had given her life in the sea and the freedom of her childhood and indeed her own voice, to gain his love and an immortal soul, forever. But as her prince marries, she faces her own death and the failure of all her dreams.  For she had been foretold by the Seawitch who had given her legs to join humans on land in return for the Little Mermaid’s beautiful singing voice, that it was only through his human love, now lost to her, that she could gain an immortal soul.

But her loving sisters, not wanting to lose her, sacrifice their own beautiful hair for a knife from the powerful Seawitch, a knife which the Little Mermaid must use to slay her beloved Prince before she dies and dissolves into seafoam forever.  Facing the moral choice to save herself by slaying him, gazing down on his and his new bride’s sleeping faces, she cannot find it in her heart to harm either and throws the knife into the ocean, following after, certain of her own cessation.

It is here that some argue Hans Christian Anderson meant to end his tale but in service to Victorian mores of that time, he turns it into a morality tale in which the “Daughters of the Air” inform the Little Mermaid, “A mermaid has not an immortal soul, nor can obtain one unless she wins the love of a human being.  On the power of another hangs her eternal destiny. But the daughters of the air, although they do not possess an immortal soul, can, by their good deeds, procure one for themselves.”  Particularly of interest is how they do this, “We fly to warm countries, and cool the sultry air that destroys mankind with the pestilence.  We carry the perfume of the flowers to spread health and restoration.  After we have striven for three hundred years to all the good in our power, we receive an immortal soul and take part in the happiness of mankind.”  Because of her kind and valiant heart and “good deeds” she is told she too can now join the daughters of the air and gain, in 300 years, her immortal soul.  Or, and particularly pertinent to TEF-Copenhagen, Denmark’s meeting in collaboration with TheBeLongingProjects, as one whispers to her, “Unseen we can enter the houses of men, where there are children, and for every day on which we find a good child, who is the joy of his parents and deserves their love, our time of probation is shortened.  The child does not know, when we fly through the room, that we smile with joy at his good conduct, for we can count one year less of our three hundred years.  But when we see a naughty or a wicked child, we shed tears of sorrow, and for every tear a day is added to our time of trial!”*

And thus the still enduring roots of the dangerous moral, social and educational value precepts of the “bad” vs. “good” child.  (You had to know we were going to get to Transformative Education, somehow :-).  And thus the shaming, blaming and labeling or “naming” of the differently intelligent child, or less conformist or obedient child, punished for not going along with the conventions or norms of her “sisters” or others’ social conventions, constricting to her own search of self, heart and soul.

Indeed, this is what TEF-Copenhagen, Denmark took as its fundamental issue, as its partner organization TheBeLongingProjects focuses on just this critical freedom to self-define and self-regulate within a classroom management system that teaches that responsibility to oneself along with, responsibility to all others in a shared working and “playing” learning environment.  Essentially, providing every child “the tools for developing the competences necessary for healthy social interactions, based on the universal functions and self-organizing principles found in Nature.”

This “happy” and natural classroom system, was evident in the primary classrooms involved in this model, that I visited and observed in Mirano, Italy as the children easily took over that classroom management from their teacher, eagerly and enthusiastically performing their designated and rotated roles that include “Tree, Sky, Dolphin, Earth and Possibility(Fire) Kids”. Again, its premises of sustainability, come out of nature itself. As its founder Lynnclaire Dennis, describes the BeLonging Project,

“BeLonging includes in its necessary definition of education in a school system, the concept of fun as functional – as fundamental- and as the very foundation of existence that should include the concept of ‘high play’. Being loved is an invitation to belonging – loving with learning is the key to living wholly and fully.”

The Transformative Education Forum group that met in Copenhagen, Denmark over 3 full days, couldn’t agree more and began looking into bringing this very kind of transformative education model into a local school district to move it and its growing diverse population, to a happier, more inclusive and creative model of student ownership and “belonging”.  The project is currently proceeding apace with school officials and teachers.

Its ultimate hope — that any that look to Denmark’s shores for acceptance and belonging in their love of learning sustainable ways for all to live, love and learn together on their shared planet or in their shared schools — can do so with a shared “morality” of love and acceptance, that allows and celebrates not only all creative and helpful differences, but utilizes them in concert without forfeiting anybody’s immortal souls; or their acceptance and responsibility, even love, to all others.

Even, we assume and hope, including all…little mermaids.

* “The Little Mermaid” (1836), Hans Christian Andersen

Welcome to the new home of the Transformative Education Forum


We’ve just gotten our new site ready, and will soon begin posting content about TEF. In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about us, please feel free to visit our sister site TEF-US, and read about the principles of TEF.

June Gorman, one of the original founders of TEF, has relocated to London and will be heading up this new website of the Transformative Education Forum as she continues to build TEF into an international forum aimed at advocating sustainability and the cause of transformative education.  Please check back with us soon and join us on our transformation over the coming


Keeping India’s challenging educational scenario in mind, the Global Challenges Forum  organized a Transformative Education Forum (TEF) in India from September 13-15, 2012. Focusing on the theme of “Transformative Education for Sustainable Development”, the TEF 2012 forum was built around the idea of integrating global concern of sustainability through educational initiatives at all levels.

RIO+20, The Cry of Birds

By June Gorman and Barbara Benish (bios at end of article)

When the Child Cries in want, do you not hear it?

When even trees gasp of air, do you not sense it?

When the last bird screeches on its flight down into the ocean, do you not see it?

When the Earth itself shudders in frustration of human denial, do you not know it?

When human hearts of a shared humanity break silently alone, do you not feel it?

June 20, 2012 5:58 am Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 17 hours before the Winter Solstice here, the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere –

Early morning, it’s hot/humid here and yet…pleasant against the skin.  We are in our small, shared apartment on Avenue Atlantique directly across from Cocacabana beach.   Tonight is the Solstice 11:08pm utc, the Summer Solstice at 4:08pm Ca, 7:08pm New York, the Winter Solstice at 8:08pm here in Rio.  It is June’s 6th day of the Rio +20 Conference, Barb’s 3rd, Joshua’s 8th. State Delegations have been here for 10, Head of Delegations arrive today.

There are 3 more days to get a meaningful agreement, few here remain truly hopeful.  Something will be signed, but little will be actually said and done.  And yet…..

It is a unprecedented gathering of humanity, trying.  An unusually high number of civic (non-governmental groups — NGOs) are participating at higher levels, in actual document-determining language in the Plenary sessions than ever before.  Youth is more clearly represented.  Women are vocal.  But the leaders, mostly unwilling to answer, are notably absent.

The US itself will send today a “substitute” Head of Delegation, not President Obama but Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, with EPA adminstrator Lisa Jackson, as second in lieu.  It’s election season, trying to save the planet does not look good to Republicans and apparently their tirades against “Agenda 21″ (the original document outcome of Rio twenty years ago, far stronger in language, far stronger in hope) are more feared than the actual planet decline. Myopicness of the worst kind, for humanity.  For us.

It is hard to remain hopeful; it is hard in the beautiful, soft against skin sun and air here, to remain sad.  The multi-colored faces of the fellow passionately concerned compatriots share smiles brighter than the sun itself.  We sit in rooms frustrated, yet learning and teaching each other on scales unprecedented.  It is in some ways one huge Transformative Education Forum. One could literally learn until one dropped, about: oceans pollutions and plastics, land deforestation, water rights, agriculturally sustainable practices, solar renewable energy models, “Investing in Natural Capital in Africa, Asia and Latin America”, Climate Change and Ocean acidification, “the Nagoya Protocol as part of  a Green Economy”, “Gender Mainstreaming and the Economics of Sustainability”, and the favorite phrase of all, the new “Green Economy” and of course, most important to many of us, “Education for Sustainable Development”.  For me, that has been the most exciting.

As for all the rest, it is both far too much and not near enough.  There is so much to learn, so much to do to avert real ecological disaster.  Leadership is needed  but what is most clear is that it will not come from our “leaders” — the real message of Rio + 20 — we must all become leaders now. Or follow them off this cliff of unsustainability.

We will (June, Barb, Joshua and others) send more soon.  We will send actual snapshots.  But on this hot morning entering into a new season wherever on this fragile planet you are —

Snapshots of note:  Severin Suzuki follow up to her world-resounding speech given at Rio of 20 years ago, when she was only 12.  Now at 32, still impassioned, a little less idealistic, an adult knowing the pleadings of a 12 year old are good press, but still not heeded for the truth they convey.  June and Barb and Jana (cohort from the Czech Republic) jumping in the early am ocean checking first to see if the pollution is low and there are the regular lap swimmers who check everyday in the paper to see.  Coming out of the ocean for cold coconut milk freed by the slam of the machete. Rising at a panel discussion, as from the audience the King and Queen of Sweden exit, while a 19 year old from rural china blogs on her laptop, unnoticing, seated.  Colors of all kinds in beautiful flowing batik clothing, a full-length headdress of feathers on a noble head. Long, long, long bus rides to and from RioCentro, a full hour and a half each way to meet and learn about a local politician from Chad, a solar expert from the Netherlands, a state delegation member from Uganda, a young girl from the Brazilian Amazonia region with a name of “SueEllen” because her mother loved the program “Dallas”.  Youth from all over Korea, Argentina, France, Japan, Denmark — June in a Youth Hostel for the first 4 days, sharing 6 bunk beds, making sure all learned each other’s “stories”.

It is a world gathered, but many sense — for a storm.  It will take a world moving to avert it.

(One of the panels June attended:  www.wideningcircle.org/keyIdeas/GCM.htm )

We will send more soon with promised pictures.  But one good blog in case you are interested, there are many, by the NGO Civicus: blogs.civicus.org/civicus/2012/

It’s morning in Rio but now, the day is cloudy.

by June Gorman,  co-founder, Transformative Education Form; former Education Chair, UNA-USA Council of Chapters & Divisions Steering Committee; Board Project Director for Outreach, International Model United Nations Association ; Steering Committee, (UNESCO/Global Compact) K-12 Sector for Sustainability Education and Barbara Benish, Director ArtDialogue, Center for Sustainable Creativity, Advisor UN SafePlanet Campaign and Chair of the Committee for Rio + 20, Transformative Education Forum (TEF – tef.nps.edu)