By Team TECE
After many online meetings and much anticipation, Fellows in the AdB and Tisch College of Civic Life project, the Transatlantic Exchange of Civic Educators, met for the first-time in-person from the 5th to the 14th of November, 2021 in Germany. The group of 21 Fellows and four colleagues from the partnering host organizations descended on the Europäische Jugendbildung- und Begegnungsstätte (EJBW) in Weimar first, where they spent four days, before moving on – with a stop in Erfurt on the way – to stay with another AdB member organization, the Centre Français in Berlin for the remainder of the stay.
The goals of the in-person meeting were to:
1) get to know the German landscape of politische Bildung (discourse, major thematic focuses and structures);
2) further develop connections and explore potential partnerships among the group;
3) present an opportunity for peer learning and exchange of expertise; and
4) create an inspiring learning environment to prompt participants to think beyond their usual contexts.
To that end, the program incorporated a variety of formats, from group seminars and expert roundtables to site visits with relevant organizations and methodological workshops. Prominent features of the German field of civic education were focused on as key thematic through lines: right-wing extremism prevention; international youth work; non-formal education, memory and historical-political education, and discourse around decolonialization and anti-racism, among others. Participants had the opportunity to visit with a collective 21 organizations, among them: neue deutsche organisationen e.V., Licht-Blicke e.V., Stolpersteine Berlin e.V., Wissenschaft im Dialog, and the Berliner Landeszentrale für politische Bildung. Participants also got to know several AdB projects (e.g., Platform politischbilden.de and DIGIT-AL) and the work of AdB member organizations (e.g., EJBW’s international youth work projects and “Migrant*innen als Fachkräfte der politischen Bildung” and Lernort Stadion e.V.). A full program can be found here.
These external inputs provided inspiration and new information, but as one participant reminded us via a quote from John Dewey: “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” As such, reflection groups were another important element of the week’s program, where participants had the opportunity in consistent small groups to exchange with one another. Participants had another opportunity to work in small groups via four Thematic Working Groups, which were developed in online sessions over the summer and fall. There, Fellows had the opportunity to propose topics and form groups that would investigate more thoroughly specific topics of interest. Ultimately, the four groups focused on: historical-political education, digitalization and civic education, civic learning and neutrality in polarized societies, and youth empowerment. During the in-person meeting, each group led a session with the full-group to help advance their work on their topics. The work in these TWGs is ongoing, and Fellows will have the opportunity to further develop their small-group outcomes through the second in-person meeting in January.
As participants packed their bags and said their final goodbyes at the end of this demanding 10 days, thoughts turned to readjusting to life as normal. One participant’s remark stands out: “How can I possibly explain what this experience has been like to my colleagues and family back home?” As the first in-person professional development experience for many participants since before March 2020, the time together was a reminder of how rewarding and intense this type of exchange can be. Without doubt, participants and organizers headed home with a sense of connectedness, a head full of thoughts and ideas, and an eye toward our next meeting in Boston, Massachusetts and Washington, DC in January 2022. Los geht’s!