An alternative education conference is coming back to Long Island this summer.
Jerry Mintz, founder and director of the Alternative Education Resource Organization in Roslyn Heights, is preparing for the annual AERO Conference Aug. 2-6 at Long Island University’s Post Campus in Greenvale.
“Our mission is to make learner-centered education possible for children everywhere,” Mintz said. “What we do is we help network these schools, we help parents and teachers find them, and we help start new ones.”
Mintz said the organization is responsible for helping to start more than 100 schools internationally, including the Brooklyn Free School as well as Pono and the Agile Learning Center in Manhattan.
Children are all born with a natural interest in learning, Mintz said, and giving children more of a say in what they learn helps foster and continue a love for learning throughout school.
“If you let them follow their interests, they can learn at lightning speed. If you force them to learn things they’re not ready for, that they’re not interested in, it tends to extinguish that natural ability to learn,” Mintz said. “After about seven years of this, they seem like kids that are not natural learners and need to be motivated.”
The conference will have seven keynote speakers, including Boston College professor Peter Gray, who is an expert on the effect play has on students, Met Schools founder Dennis Littky, home-schooling specialist Akilah Richards and Jonathon Kozol, author of “Death at an Early Age.”
Mintz said the conference will feature 30 workshops in categories like democracy and progressive education alongside seven mini-talks with education experts.
Mintz will also debut his new book, “School’s Over: How to Have Freedom and Democracy in Education” at the conference along with three educational documentary premieres.
“One of the basic concepts is we supposedly live in a democracy, but why don’t kids grow up in democratic schools to get ready to participate in the democracy?” Mintz said. “The reason is that’s traditionally what school has been since the public school system was created in the 1800s following the Prussian model, which was actually set up to make people into followers. It’s been that way, more or less, ever since, and it’s totally outdated.
“Everyone knows it doesn’t work anymore, but no one knows what the positive solutions are. We do. They’re right in front of us.”
Mintz said anyone registering from the New York area who learns about the conference from this article can skip the $300 registration fee and opt for a pay-what-you-can option.
“It’s frustrating because we have people coming from all over the world, and people in the New York area don’t know about this,” Mintz said. “We left and had our last conference in Portland, Oregon. I wanted to come back and try it again, we did it before here at LIU Post, but one of the reasons we left is because in Portland, lots of local people came to that conference, but it’s falling on deaf ears here.”