When Leslie Ocker became a student coordinator in Wittenberg’s
Community Workshop, she had no idea that her time there would
lead to a life of service around the globe.
“The Community Workshop under the direction of Deborah
Dillon was the single most influential experience,” Ocker says. “We had the chance to take real responsibility for real projects that
affected people in the ‘real’ world: disadvantaged kids, illiterate
adults, nursing home patients. We found people who needed us in a
different way than our friends and professors.”
Now, 18 years after graduation, Ocker has spent years in service,
first as a VISTA volunteer in Salt Lake City, then as a tutor at a school
in Cape Town, South Africa, followed by work as a medical assistant
with Planned Parenthood. Today, she lives in Germany, where she
is once again helping others as the coordinator for the first-ever
European Democratic Education Conference (EUDEC).
“In democratic schools, learners direct their own education,” Ocker
explains. “Curiosity replaces grades as the driving motivation behind
the learning process. All school decisions are made in the school
meeting, where students and teachers, regardless of age, have an
equal vote. Children come to you by their own will to learn, which
is a dream come true for any teacher. I’ve watched my own children
thrive in this environment.”
As part of the EUDEC project, Ocker, who also teaches English
in a democratic school, has the opportunity to work with “incredibly
motivated young people and adults,” from Germany, England,
Finland, Austria, Denmark, Poland and the Netherlands.
“They come together every few months to collaborate on creating a
network of schools,” she says, adding that “meeting and working with
these people has been the most rewarding part of the project.”
With each endeavor, Ocker is also reminded of the education that
made her life so meaningful.
At Wittenberg and especially the Community Workshop, “the
world opened up, and education become something that didn’t
stop when you left the classroom. I left Wittenberg feeling