On Saturday, the Urban and the Village met in a chaos of progression unlike anything I have ever experienced in India – or anywhere else for that matter: The Pune Urban Village UnConference.
Perhaps an UnConference is a foreign term to you, as it was to me. To give you a short answer to what it is: It isn’t. An UnConference is by nature undefinable and has no topic. It is a conference undone. But that doesn’t mean, of course, that we did not do anything productive – quite the contrary! And even an UnConference has rules to be followed:
1) Whoever comes, are the right people
2) Whenever it starts, is the right time
3) Wherever it happens, is the right place
4) Whatever happens, is the only thing that could have happened
5) When it’s over, it’s over
Some of these rules may seem pretty obvious, but I believe they are all very important indeed. In order for us to really separate ourselves from the rigidness of a traditional conference, we must recognize what it is about rules that keep us from exploring everyone’s full potential. That’s what these rules are doing; if we follow them, we will no longer be limited by expectations of time, attendees, etc – Unrules for a successful UnConference. Much in the same way we, as UWCMC students, have separated ourselves from the traditional idea of a school where one simply writes an exam and is ‘learned’, to seeing education as an interaction between the student, the teacher and the material from which we will grow as people. But this is a work in progress. Who knows, in some years, or maybe just months, we might just realize that what we know and conceive as unrules must once again be rethought for us to reach all that we can be.
But before I take you to the peacefulness of the UnConference, let me tell you the story of how we, the ‘hill-billies’, went from the village to the urban. As a kind gesture to our planet, a small group of us had decided to take the public bus. We crawled down the hill, caught the bus, and after an hour and a half we reached the ThoughtWorks office in the suburbs of Pune. The long ride was a positive distraction that allowed us to clear our minds from the clutter of boarding school life.
Perhaps you are still not quite sure what we found, but the ‘structure’ of an UnConference may help give you an idea of this abstract event. We began by gathering in an ‘opening circle’. To be honest, I was a bit sceptical in the beginning, as we danced around singing welcoming songs. This changed quickly, though, when I had a cup of coffee and the conference was plastered on the wall, piece by piece. And I mean this in the most literal of ways, however strange it may seem. See, this is the beauty of the UnConference. No one is designated as a speaker, no one as a listener. The time/venue table is written on a white board, and if anyone has something close to their heart they want to discuss, say tiny monkeys in Cambodia or how to educate a third grader in French, they put it up on a little piece of paper in a timeslot. In less than 15 minutes, an entire day of talks, discussions and presentation was created by everyone and anyone.
So in the spirit of the unrules and the whiteboard, I went to the right talk at the right time – and it truly was! My first discussion/presentation was by a physics teacher from Pune, who had taught students from 9th grade to PhD level. Quite a range. He talked about the importance of using experiential learning in a way that brings you to the depth of knowledge. Some of his, rather brilliant to my ears, statements included, “The person who put the word Geiod in a 6th grade text book should be put in prison,” and “An 8th grader is smarter than a 10th grader, is smarter than a 12th grader, is smarter than…”. Maybe a bit pessimistic, but his answers to these issues on the understanding of an education were quite enlightening. We must use experiential learning as a means and not an end, and use it vigorously – something I greatly hope and believe will be brought to use through the Project Based Diploma in the upcoming academic year at UWC Mahindra College.
After this bombardment of new thoughts and ideas, I took a stroll through the landscape of stalls. There were organic vegetables, vegan cinnamon buns, upcycled bottles gone plant holders, et cetera. I even found myself a Lonely Planet India book at the abundance table – a table for the stuff you want to get rid of and others might need. It may be from ‘93, but I’m sure some of the caves still stand.
I also participated in a circle of chatter about the Swaraj University. I will not go into detail about who they are for two reasons: 1) I’m not entirely sure, and even if I were 2) it would take a really long time. They’re quite intriguing though. To give you a little teaser, they do experiential learning via internships and the likes and are situated in Rajasthan. But check out their website (as linked above), it’s grand.
The first day of PUVU came to an end sooner than expected and as a superb circular narrative, we found ourselves in an ending circle. It was strange how, looking around at the people I had spent the day with, I felt an overwhelming familiarity. These were people I had spent 7 or so hours with, probably without having spoken to half of them. Yet sitting there we felt like a community, a special union of like-minded people. Maybe that is the true magic of the Urban Village – a true community in the most unlikely of places.
Laerke (Class of 2016)