TEF –Denmark, Copenhagen 2014

A Personal Tale of Two Worlds: the Transformative Education Forum (TEF) at the First Ever Eco-Versity “Un-Conference” held at Tamera Eco-village, Portugal and at the Education and Development Forum Conference (UKFIET),held at Oxford University, England.

This summer, representing the Transformative Education Forum-Global at two nearly back-to-back but very different educational conferences — one held in the hot August summer sun of the Portuguese “Eco-Village” of Tamera, the other in the already cool September rain of the ancient University buildings of Oxford – I felt more than ever the split in my two educational minds, and far more than ever, how that split had rendered my heart.

For me, it was the cutting contrast between the left cognitively-dominant rational and thus “over-rationalized” mind and the right brain empathetic far-seeing and feeling ability to truly hear and understand i.e. to more completely “learn”. As an educator and educational theorist for the last 40 years focused on the enhanced education of emotional, social and thus cultural “intelligences”, I had increasingly begun to believe that our over-dominance and over dependence on the Left-brain hemisphere increasingly reinforced in Western Enlightenment education for “problem-solving” narrowing in nearly exclusively on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) was actually endangering our ability to problem-solve more complex, human, interdisciplinary and interpersonal global sustainability issues. That these issues, demanded both Left and Right brain Hemisphere abilities and skills sets CONNECTED together across the Corpus Callosum(1) and that the increasingly Left-brain imbalance focus of this modern education was causing literal atrophy of Right-brain hemisphere more global, full human emotional, empathetic and creatively diverse abilities for complete problem-solving for sustainability on a shared planet. Essentially, in the students, standardized testing regimes, and subject matter constriction towards STEM, I had increasingly begun to believe more actual evidence-based understanding that we are more often adding to destroying rather than creating healthy, sustainable life on our shared planet. That indeed it was this cognitive dissonance actually reinforced by standard Western Enlightenment models of education, that was interfering with arriving at any holistically complete and truly “connected” systems solution absolutely necessary to real sustainability of all peoples and our planet at this critical point in human history.

At Tamera’s hosted “Eco-versity” there were not the 550 participants that I would gather with in Oxford a month later, but rather a tenth of that number in the hot August sun of Portugal. There was also no 65 page Programme with 300 separate presentations in multiple parallel sessions from true dominant “leaders” in the field of International and Comparative Education from several universities worldwide along with UNESCO, UNICEF, DFID and many acronymic others coming from 60 countries and every continent, in attendance at Oxford. But at Tamera, though the numbers were far smaller, the diversity of “voice” actually heard was far greater, and the average age overall, younger.

It was a voice that requested, gently but persistently and with no gavel or “Plenary Speaker” rights, to be heard. Simply, to be allowed to tell its own story in its own words and in its truly experientially-informed and embodied voice – this one from the Zapatista indigenous struggle for their own lands, that one from a Palestinian refugee trying to grow up in Jordan, another so gentle and so clear from a half indigenous Amazonian and half German split in herself, struggling to speak the wisdom of her grandmother through her own “higher” educationally trained and brilliant-as-a-light mind, trying to bridge these two worlds. There were some there also trying to teach us from the spiritual traditions of the indigenous Hawaiian peoples, from a Zimbabwean “learning village” working on premises of “personal, community and sustainable leadership” and from a besieged communal peace-village in Colombia formed in the midst of armed conflict from all sides.

And thus in Portugal, for those many of us so trained by the Western Higher Education system and other Western “educational” conferences we’d attended before, it was at times a difficult and many times excruciatingly uncomfortable listening-learning of these experiences and empirical realities and the request to listen, always gentle — sometimes barely whispered through the felt pain — had to be made more than once. More than twice. More than in just one language. More than in just abstracted, de-emotionalized, academic and cognitive terms.

This was a “curriculum” spoken more in fragments, broken more by tears or the need to gasp a breath, than power-point text on screens and floating disembodied words. There was no technological back-up, no slides, no video and no emotionally abstracted escape, though many – deeply uncomfortable at not moving directly over that pain to offer solutions – tried. Sincerely and from true honest intention, trained to jump directly to the scientific, rational and thus “possible” solutions. That’s what our Western education had been most excellent at trying to teach us to be able to “do”. But it was also, it was being suggested if only we were still capable of hearing it, perhaps why our “solutions” had not and could not possibly solve the problems in a world where we refused to listen long enough with open hearts, to fully understand. That our “solutions” would never be true “solutions” if we continued to refuse to validate the critical evidence of lived and felt experiences, available to us only through empathetic, Right-brain rather than only Left-brain, cognitive, disconnected understanding, thus missing the most important “felt-facts” necessary for true resolution.

This learning, so long invalidated by our Enlightenment models of education, was not ours to dominate. It was only ours to perhaps learn more about from those whose experiences were lived more closely to their peoples, their long history and their land on these issues. And more often their experiential, hard-earned knowledge trumped our degrees in political science, economics or scientific and technical education. It was a humbling, discomfiting experience filled with awkward silences of the kind I never had to long endure at other educational conferences, so quickly filled with the same type of dominating voices every time any silence or breathing space opened.

At Oxford, where there were papers/speakers and presentations in multiple parallel sessions — my own presentation was a “Pop-up” presentation. After giving papers at the two previous UKFIET Conferences on Transformative Education and the work of TEF to promote a definition of the difference this kind of cross-brain/cross-heart education would embody – I was interested in attempting this “new” model of a more provocative discussion, a more interactive discourse on a less research-scaffolded topic. For that reason I used a metaphor from Frank L. Baum’s book, “A Wizard of Oz” and made it a statement rather than a question, for this had been mine and so many others’ unspoken experience in Western Enlightenment Education and its so narrow definition of “intelligence” in our world. And under those very definitions, so rarely a discussion allowed: “The Scarecrow May Have No Brains, but Modern Education has no Heart and thus no true Sustainability”.

It was simply an attempt, in the spirit of the Transformative Education Forum itself and part of its main focus in raising these same questions in all their multiple and necessarily much more diverse facets — definitely on both sides of the brain, from multiple experiences and perspectives and using the heart and spirit as well as the mind. A question to attempt to open up a conversation about the kind of education that might indeed INCLUDE the whole world and all its diversity of thinking, being and feeling; enough to actually be a real attempt at re-balancing learning to sustainability for all. Interestingly, and not unexpectedly while important to understand, 80% of those who attended this particular conference were female, from all over the world.

Yet essentially, what both conferences had most in common was a sincerity in purpose – a diversity in people from all over the planet truly concerned about the clearly unsustainable direction it was continuing to take, despite overwhelming evidence on all fronts – cognitive, scientific and empirical in experientially-lived crises. Notably for me, both conferences were also ultimately trying to consider this evidence in terms of a more “systems thinking” approach – that which had always been intrinsic to how nature and our planet has clearly functioned, in ways far more intricate and complicated than we in our “silo-educated” arrogance had ever fully understood.

But ultimately what both Conferences brought ever more clearly home, was the critical understanding of the diverse emotional, social and cultural intelligences so necessary to open up “systems and effects based thinking” to address humankind’s interconnected, interdisciplinary challenges. That for truly humane solutions to complex-human-systems -understanding, rather than purely mechanical or technical systems thinking, these might be the key to any true “systems’ education” that could ultimately connect and balance these different ways of knowing and problem-solving. Subsequently that might mean an educational system intricately and emotionally connected to the value of all life around it, locally and globally, and “tested” by its humbling understanding of the impacts and outcomes that it actually created in life. This despite all the cognitively dissonant words and “values” it has claimed to date, but which glaring evidence of planetary destruction, human systematic inequity, cruel and life-destroying rather than life-sustaining “political-economic systems”, seem to consistently and overwhelmingly disprove.

1) The corpus callosum is a large bundle of more than 200 million myelinated nerve fibers that connect the two brain hemispheres, permitting communication between the right and left sides of the brain. Abnormalities within the corpus callosum have been identified in maltreated children. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/corpus-callosum#:~:text=The%20corpus%20callosum%20is%20a%20large%20bundle%20of%20more%20than,been%20identified%20in%20maltreated%20children.

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 years.


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)