It’s impossible to imagine a more welcoming and warm-hearted location for an intensive programme than Budapest. For ten days the ReCreaDe-project returned to the beautiful Eötvös-Lorand University, in which we had already convened for our first exploratory thoughts.
The idea had been to contemplate together how democratic thinking and action can be revived in times of the frequently invoked crisis of democracy. This time, we were joined by thirty students from not only eight but ten countries, who all brought in their individual perspectives and experiences. Already before the programme they had chosen one text in their country groups and which they then introduced during the course, giving inspiring food for thought for all present. But in general, the typical classroom atmosphere was soon broken – the chairs remained in neat rows only for the first day and soon found themselves constantly rearranged and tumbled into the good-natured group conversations that characterise a joint learning process.
It is incredible just how intensive the Budapest intensive programme turned out to be. There were workshops on emotions and diversity, human rights, learning environments, democratic songs and anarchism; reflections on how society turns into tyranny, evaluation in the era of creativity, democratic place-making and the visualisation of society in schoolbooks; we had case studies of democratic school practices and most of all we had discussions in almost every form imaginable. All the while it was incredible to see thoughts, ideas, questions and critique coming to life in the students’ reflective sketchbooks.
Highlight of the ten days were the school visits, in which all the theoretical thoughts could find their way into a tangible setting – either by showing the potential of democratic schools or the lack thereof, but in any case, motivating us all to rethink the habits we are so used to.
Getting involved in the topic, it became an increasing challenge to face up to democratic practices in our own classroom as well. Who gets involved in discussions and who doesn’t? Who has the authority to be get heard and who has the ability to truly listen? What were our own hierarchies at work, our own habits we should reconsider? It would be too much to say we succeeded in establishing a truly democratic atmosphere, but it was an amazing experience to at least try. And it was not just about carrying the thoughts into action during the class, discussions were carried beyond the time and space of the university as the students shared their stay in Budapest: exploring the city, staying in one hostel and even organising to cook together in the evenings. Spending ten days together so intensively, exchanging experiences and understandings, brought the participants very close together.
The last two days were dedicated almost entirely to activating our creative energy through drama. This also found its way into the final presentation of the students, who were wonderfully inventive with their ideas of expressing their reflections of the course and courageous enough to bring them onto the stage. They showed us that critical and creative thinking are not at all opposed but can be combined to fuel each other. Looking back at these ten days, it is difficult to do justice to all the different experiences, perspectives and emotions. But the time together has certainly stirred a lot in us all – the task now will be to carry at least some little part back with us into everyday life.