I posted this video a while back, but now there’s a subtitled version. Definitely worth watching if you haven’t yet!
I went out for a drink with a friend in a Tel-Aviv pub, and got into a discussion about democratic education and disadvantaged social groups.
My friend works in a democratic school and is doing research on democratic education. She recently visited my school, Sudbury Jerusalem – her first real live encounter with a Sudbury school. We were at an outdoor bar on Tel-Aviv’s famous Rothschild Avenue, and it was the middle of the night. On tall wooden barstools, across a long and narrow wooden table, we sat drinking an Irish stout as she recounted her visit.
My friend loved what she saw at Sudbury Jerusalem and saw in it a place that truly lives the ideals of democratic education. But she also raised a concern: that Sudbury schools are too unusual to attract many families from disadvantaged backgrounds. All I could do is nod sadly.
Needless to say, Sudbury schools are open to people of all backgrounds. But Sudbury schools also completely reject traditional ideas of education – curricula, evaluation, adult guidance, etc. – approaching schooling from a radically different direction. It’s difficult for most people to understand, and seems to only attract few families from low-income backgrounds.
When you first tell people about schools like ours, the reaction is often one of shock and disbelief. “So they don’t have to take any classes? How do they ever learn anything? But children need structure!”
Other democratic schools can answer, for instance, that “students have a mentor who helps them identify goals and follow through on them.” This calms a lot of people down.
Sudbury schools, on the other hand, can only answer that the children learn to be responsible for their own time and identify what they want to do and how to do it. Continue reading Democratic schools and social gaps
What are the main ingredients of a democratic culture?
On August 25th, I’ll be giving a workshop and lecture in Greifswald. At the EUDEC conference in Freiburg, my host and I grabbed two plastic chairs and sat down in a sunny spot for a short interview, some of which is now on the fine poster ad you see here; at one point he asked me a question I haven’t heard too often: what are the main characteristics of individuals who are part of a “democratic culture”?
A democratic culture, as I understand it, is a kind of culture that develops within a group that makes decisions democratically; democratic culture makes democracy more than just a decision-making process – instead it becomes a way of life, something you notice in all kinds of interactions between people.
I came up with four main points:
- Communication at eye level (as opposed to talking up or down to someone) – regardless of age
- Respect for all other individuals
- Willingness to listen, even when confronted with a view you disagree with
- Willingness to reflect on one’s actions, recognize mistakes, and learn from them
To me, these are the things that people have to have in order to keep a truly democratic culture alive.
Without equal communication, respect, and willingness to listen, the discussions that are the bread and butter of democracy are impossible. Without a willingness to reflect, they’re pointless.
What do you think are the most important ingredients of democratic culture? Leave a short comment below!
The role of staff at Sudbury schools can be difficult to understand, and easy to misunderstand. I’ve heard that staff “aren’t allowed to offer classes” or even “aren’t allowed to express their own opinion.” But it’s not about being forbidden from doing this or doing that – what it comes down to is being authentic and respectful.
“Where do you work?”
“At Sudbury Valley School.”
“What do you do?”
-Hanna Greenberg, The Art of Doing Nothing
I was recently reminded of a discussion we had, more than a decade ago, when starting Sudbury Jerusalem.
The topic of the discussion was whether Sudbury staff are allowed to offer classes, and it’s one of the few discussions from the founding process which I still remember vividly today.
We were sitting in a co-founder’s airy living-room, spread out on several couches and stools, and we talked well into the night. It’s no wonder – the role of staff comes up again and again anywhere where people who went to more traditional schools are trying to wrap their heads around the Sudbury approach. Continue reading Thoughts about: the role of staff in Sudbury schools
Democracy is about allowing people to participate – even if only a minority takes an active role most of the time.
I’m often asked how many people really participated in School Meetings at Sudbury Jerusalem – as if it’s less democratic when fewer people choose to participate. But actually, low participation at meetings can be a sign that democracy is working well.
When we started Sudbury Jerusalem, for a few weeks we had a School Meeting every day.
Most of the proposals, at first, came from those who had been in and around the founding process – mainly staff and children of staff. I was a student and a co-founder, and one of the most active participants.
It took months – dozens of Meetings – for the process to become so established in the school’s culture that many other students made proposals. In parallel, as time went by, fewer and fewer students regularly took part in School Meetings. Continue reading Politics is not for everyone – even in a direct democracy
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of serving as interpreter to John Moravec, in his talk about the Invisible Learning project, in Halle (a town near Leipzig.) I had never done this before, but once I got into it it went pretty well.
You can judge for yourself – you can watch the talk (mainly English with my attempt at German translation) online:
I try to keep an eye on how people get to this blog, using WordPress and Google tools, and I especially take note of old posts that are still getting traffic.
Apparently the most popular of my old posts is one I wrote almost two years ago about university exams.
I’ve edited the post a little, and if you didn’t read it yet, you might want to check it out:
So why are exams a bad idea when you want to check whether a bunch of science undergrads understood what you taught them? Well, one part of the problem should be obvious to anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of science:exams are not very good experiments. There is no way to control for interference of irrelevant, extraneous factors. When scientists conduct a study, in any field and with any methodology, they seek to control for irrelevant interferences. For example, when psychologists test hand-eye coordination, they’ll do something like only taking right-handed people with healthy hands and eyes, in order to make sure that the results aren’t skewed by irrelevant differences between individuals.
You can’t do anything like that in exams.
I’ve also changed the blogs settings so that comments are now open on old posts, too (they used to close automatically after two months). Feel free to rekindle the discussion on the Tirade, or on any other old post.
I came across this piece on English-language Germany news site TheLocal.de:
Family puts kids in charge for a month
A German author and his wife put themselves to the biggest test of their lives last year by handing over the family power to their two children for a month. The biggest challenge? Managing the budget. Continue reading Parents swap roles with kids, discover humiliation of parental attitude
Sudbury and traditional schooling have something in common: they agree that young people leaving school should enter the world well-prepared for a successful life. For Sudbury schools too, this includes professional life – and that’s a good thing.
When talking about Sudbury schools, one point seems to get people a little worked up, at least in Europe. It’s not unusual for Sudburians to talk about students preparing themselves for a satisfying and successful life, including getting a good job. In progressive circles in Europe, a lot of people frown on this; “getting a good job” shouldn’t be so important to us, right?
I think this is all basically a misunderstanding. People don’t like to hear about school preparing children for the job market because traditional schools say they do that – but we don’t mean the same thing.
State education is no longer about making sure students acquire key skills – it’s only about giving the adults the good feeling of having really given it a go.
Traditional schooling and Sudbury schooling have one central idea in common: the result of schooling should be that young people are prepared for life as adults.
The similarities, of course, more or less end there.
One difference I find very curious. Continue reading Ignore the young