As in many parts of the world, several studies in terms of “critical education” are conducted in Turkey as well and constantly tried to produce complementary solutions to the shortcomings of the existing education system. There are already a plenty of well-known critical education schools, and serious discussions on whether these schools make any differences or not are ongoing.
In this paper, I am going to share an experience, a “critical education” adventure, with you that I have personally gained in the summer of 2019 in Turkey. But the difference of this critical education model from others is that it is at the local level and all the teachers work on a voluntary basis.
“eğitiMeci” is a combination of the words “eğitim” (education) and "meci" (collective work). "Meci" is a word in Laz that is used by the Laz living in certain parts of the Eastern Black Sea region in Turkey. In the Laz culture, “meci” means “helping those who in need without waiting for a response, sharing life and solidarity”. “eğitiMeci” is also set off with this slogan in Fındıklı district of Rize. It is a community of volunteers who have adopted sharing knowledge, learning together, and solidarity in education. “eğitiMeci” is an initiative established by some adults living in Fındıklı, working generally in the field of education and others. It is supported by the local government (municipality). These adults work in “eğitiMeci” on a voluntary basis.
During this process, we had 14 workshops such as "Children's Rights, Outdoor Education, Drama, Photography, English, Laz Language, Fairy Tale, Play, Health, Rhythm, Art, Stone Painting, and Agriculture”. All the volunteers were professionals in their fields. Among our volunteers, we had teachers, a lawyer, an agriculturalist, academics, a musician, a theatre player, master's degree and PhD students. The workshops took 5 weeks, from July 1 to August 3, 2019. Totally, we had 15 volunteers and 46 students. These numbers changed during the process. We received full municipal support. The municipality allocated space for us. They provided transportation for children. They also arranged the meal. As volunteers, we were only concerned with the education part of the process.
“eğitiMeci” explains its philosophy as follows: “eğitiMeci is a “collective work” of education with its voluntaries who intersect in Fındıklı while dealing with different fields; and who do not see themselves as superior to any living and inanimate creature in the universe; and come together to shed light on each other and also with children. In the current education system, students, as the learners, are objectified. We want to transform this situation and therefore it is our priority to focus on the process, to keep environmental awareness superior, and to take advantage of the beauty of the differences. Every experience is equally important to us. Therefore, we use process-oriented learning methods through research and analysis, which are based on learning by doing and living. At the same time, we support “learning through work” “learning in the flow of work” system based on production.” Based on this philosophy, we conducted a series of workshops with children for 5 weeks from July 1 to August 3, 2019. With children aged 5-15, we conducted workshops such as "Children's Rights, Outdoor Education, Drama, Photography, English, Laz Language, Fairy Tale, Play, Health, Rhythm, Art, Stone Painting, and Agriculture”. Besides, we organized environmental and nature trips every week. Before each workshop, we gathered around a tree and talked about what we would do with the children during the day at the "Circle Clock" event, and at the end of the workshops, we also made circles and made evaluations about the day. At the end of each week, adults (families) and children came together in “Criticism Days” and expressed their criticism and suggestions about the workshops. We, also, were inexperienced in different practices, but we still managed to create difference and awareness at the end of our hard work.
eğitiMeci is an organization that adopts a democratic and participatory structure rather than a hierarchical structure. It is not a structure where the teacher and the learner are sharply separated; on the contrary, it is a sharing environment based on learning together. Contrary to the common form of education, it rejects the system which consists of a particular teacher and a particular learner. This makes eğitiMeci an informal learning arena in which everyone constantly learns from each other.
eğitiMeci was not only a critical education environment for children but also an informal learning setting for adults. The “Family Education Workshop” for adults was the best example of this. This workshop aimed to ensure the active participation of the families in all these education workshops and to have knowledge in the field of child development. Adults were expected to have a basic knowledge of child development, communication with the child, and child participation at the end of the education process. At this level, participation was very important. Families were asked to participate in all the parts of training. The training spanned five weeks, and during these five weeks, topics such as “Social Development in Children”; “Emotional Development in Children”; “Communication with the Child” and “Child Participation” were discussed. In the closing week, a question-answer and a general assessment of all these topics were discussed.
As parents of children attending the workshops, adults were involved in informal learning, both by contacting other adults who attended the workshop and by consciously attending the "Family Education Workshop". Adults came together once a week and share their views about the lives of their children, the current education system they are in and the problems they experienced at home, as well as the “eğitiMeci” experience of their children and themselves. Thus, they shared and transferred information continuously. They gave examples of the information conveyed by the workshop coordinator from their own lives and questioned the education system with examples and turned to new searches.
Apart from this, the active participation of adults as parents was requested throughout the process. There was an adult who wanted to run a workshop among them and she added the "Stone Painting Workshop" to the workshops of eğitiMeci. She conducted this workshop for two weeks.
All of these workshops attended by adults as parents and adults discovered new things in nature with their children. In the process, instead of being parents of the children attending the workshops, they were asked to exist as “free” adults, apart from their responsibilities of being a “parent”. This made it possible to have a different experience for adults.
Besides, as workshop coordinators, we participated in this informal learning process as an active learner, sometimes by actively participating in workshops and sometimes by combining two different workshops. Thus, we learned by experience that learning is a lifelong adventure beyond some limitations such as time, place, and age. By learning while teaching, we practiced this unique experience both as a “teacher” and a “learner”.
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