[Video] Democratic Schools: Where are they Heading?

I participated in a panel at IDEC 2010 titled “Democratic Schools: Where are they Heading?”, moderated by Yaacov Hecht. AERO filmed the discussion and posted it (and other workshops) on the AERO blog.

Below (after the jump) is the part with my thoughts about the future of democratic education. I talked about EUDEC, the power of networks, collective outreach, and suggested we should be emphasizing that democratic education is a human rights issue. Let me know what you think.

7 thoughts on “[Video] Democratic Schools: Where are they Heading?”

  1. Hi Michael,

    Daniel Greenberg in his essay “Five Myths about Democracy” writes: “‘Democracy’ seems to mean many things to many people. To the regimes of Eastern Europe it designates an autocratic one-party rule conducted for the presumed benefit of the masses; to the New Englander it designates universal suffrage in an open town meeting; to the Founding Fathers of this country it designated a complex system of representation and checks and balances. And so on it goes. When the Sudbury Valley School was founded as a ‘democratic school’ we naively thought that there would be widespread understanding of what this meant. It turned out that different people had quite different conceptions of what kind of institution a ‘democratic school’ should be, and that even the members of the school community differed considerably on the question.

    Does that imply that the word ‘democracy’ is essentially meaningless, and that it cannot be used in ordinary conversation or written communication to convey a definite meaning? I do not think so. I think that there is, in fact, a core of meaning that this word conveys to all who use the English language discriminatingly, and that difficulties arise only through carelessness (or occasionally through conscious deceit). I think that for the most part our own problems with this word in the school arise from our failure to explore its meaning in depth. As a result, we have too often been satisfied with vague definitions that missed the mark and led to controversy….”

    And, that is the question: “To be, or not to be,” or….. what to be.

    Cheers, ….and welcome back,
    ~ David

  2. I just read your post entitled ‘Conversation and Happiness’ after happening upon your blog. Very interesting and illuminating. Your explanation of the correlation in the study is one of conversation leading to happiness. While this is also the case, like many correlations, the opposite direction, in the correlation, also accounts for much of the phenomenon. Meaning that Happiness, in my opinion, also leads to conversation. A while ago I read a study of how happier people were more inclined to take risks, risk failure, be independant,…. Well, think of what a deep coversation is. It opens the persons ideas up for criticism; thus, a person is risking their ideas as well as whatever emotion and self is connected thereof. Also they risk being wrong. Now, a happy person is more apt to converse in such a manner because the happier person is not skating on thin ice, so to speak, emotionally. However, the person who is less happy, is already emotionally fragile, and therefore cannot take a blow to his/her ideas or a challenge that makes them think and possibly expend emotional energy; nor do they have the emotional reserve to deal with being wrong. Thus, while it is quite valid to contribute a portion of the – happiness/conversation correlation – to conversation as a factor leading to happiness, I would not minimize the reverse as also playing a major part, since the happy person has a far easier emotional time when conversing since he/she is on solid ground,amotionally speaking. Lastly, there is a third option regarding the correlation, which is that who converses more? People who are in, or have good relationships (with parents, siblings, friends, spouse,…). And therefore, if you have these good relationships then you tend to be happier, or possibly happier people foster hese relationships as well; thus, this third way indicates another logical path that can be followed in terms of explaining the makeup of ( at least a goodly percentage of) the correlation.

  3. To – ‘Another David’ – Democracy is meaningless without a constitution or a map of parameters. Without these preset rules for the game, a democracy will inevitably dissolve into a tyranny of the majority – a 51% dictatorship, if you will. So, a democracy needs to have the rules of the road, in writing, before the game is played. These rules must contain things like minority rights (basic inherent rights that cannot be taken away by the majority), a framework for exercising the democracy i.e. who calls an election, what process is used, can appeals be made, how much time for debate….., also the basic intelectual and emotional foundation should be written in the constitution; an example of this could be what Michael said in the video regarding a child having the God given right (he called it human right, though, if a human gives it then a human can take it away)the right of free choice, as much as can be accomidated given the reality of their maturity and the society. Without such a constitution or charter or written, pre-determined rules by which to play, democracy becomes meaningless and may dissolve into either anarchy or authoritarianism or rule by the oligarchs. So, Constitution/Charter + Democratic process + the rule of law = The fair application of a just, and harmonious, and stable Democracy, with the foundation to last a long time.

    1. I agree with you Jason. Daniel Greenberg in one other of his essays, “Subtleties of a Democratic School” writes:

      “…..Item 5: Protecting the Rights of individuals

      This school has a strong tradition that there exist rights belonging to every individual member of the school community, and that these have to be protected in every way possible…..”

      And the other four items: Political neutrality, The existence of rules of order, The rule of law, and Universal suffrage.

  4. About “democracy”:
    In EUDEC, we decided to create a clear (but very open) definition of what “democratic education” means to us. It’s by no means a perfect definition, and many schools can fall under it without being entirely democratic communities, but it clarifies some basic conditions. David and Jason are both right that it takes more than that to have a democracy. But actually I think democratic schools are a special case, in a way. One of the protections Sudbury schools have against tyranny is their staff — the staff is selected, amongst other things, for being committed to the school democracy. I don’t remember where the SVS people wrote this, but I know it’s something Sudbury Jerusalem adopted as well: if the school’s democratic nature is threatened by internal forces, the staff should threaten to quit. The school depends on them, and if they really quit the school is likely to split into two schools. Although having a constitution really is important, the involvement of the Assembly, which includes parents, who are not part of the democratic daily life in the school, makes it a little more complicated to maintain the democracy; the staff are a sort of living constitution for emergencies.

    Jason: I replied to you about conversation and happiness in the replies to that post (thanks, David, for relocating Jason’s comment.)

    As for “human rights”, the term does not mean “given by humans” but “inherent to all humans no matter what”; human rights are the rights of humans because they are humans. A constitution does not create them, but gives them a special, transcendent status, within a legal system.

    (Sorry for the delayed response, I’ve been busy. :)

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