Democratic schools are often accused of being elitist, available only to a privileged few. It’s something I’ve heard again and again, in Israel as well as in Europe. This argument is mostly flat out wrong. Sometimes it’s good old circular logic: the Israeli Ministry of Education used the elitism charge for years as a reason not to give my school funding (which it is entitled to by law), because the school charges tuition. The main reason to charge tuition was, of course, that the school had to fund its operations without government assistance. But there is some truth in saying that democratic schools’ students are privileged.
I feel highly privileged to have spent four years in Sudbury Jerusalem. It was a rare privilege to spend time in an environment where people of all ages, be it 4, 14 or 40, are treated with respect and given liberty. It was a highly unusual privilege to be involved in crafting and developing the environment in which I spent my time every day. It was terrifically empowering to be part of an organization in which I truly had a say, where the limit of my influence was the level of energy I was willing to invest in influencing things. It was a precious opportunity to have control of my own time in those years and learn how to manage my life starting at age 14. My little brother is even more privileged: he has been at the school since the first grades, for eight years now (and counting).
My experience, the experience of any young person who has had the chance to spend time in a democratic school, was a privilege. It was an enriching experience that has had a powerfully positive effect on my life, and it is something only a very very small percentage of people in my generation (or any generation so far) has been able to enjoy.
But in my experience with others who have enjoyed this amazing privilege, none of them want to keep it to themselves. Nor do I. Most of us would love for this not to be privilege anymore. The reasons can be selfish — explaining democratic education to everyone you meet gets old, very fast; one day I hope it will not need explaining — or altruistic, having had a good thing and wanting other people to have it as well. If we “democratics” (as we call it in Jerusalem) are an elite, then we’re a very unusual one. We’re a group of privileged people who don’t want to be privileged. We want to be normal. But instead of giving up our privilege, we just want everyone else to have a chance to benefit from it if they want to.
Everyone could be privileged like I have been (or more, for longer). And everyone should be. Wouldn’t that be good?