Today I am going to describe how parties at Summerhill help the democratic community to work. If you are starting a democratic school or democratising an exisiting school, you want to give as much attention to the festive cycle of the year as to the academic cycle.
I described before how the “book goes around” for ombudsmen. There is a book for each of the committees in the school and they all work in pretty much the same way. Someone volunteers in the Meeting to take the book around. They get a list of names of everyone in the school and ask those who are eligible if they want to be on the committee. Then they write those names out on sheets of paper and go around taking votes from every member of the community. You get as many votes as there are people needed for the committee. The results of the voting are posted on the noticeboard opposite the kitchen.
Parties require committees to run them. There are three committees that have a particular importance for the parties: Gram, Bar and Picture. Gram Committee is responsible for running Gram, a quaint term that comes from when the only music system was a gramophone: now it is a disco style music system in the Lounge. The community has an interest in protecting its investment in this system: people will only vote for responsible and competent members of this committee.
Bar Committee is responsible for fund-raising for the party. They buy things in bulk at the supermarket and then run a shop. The small mark-up they apply alllows them to then buy provisions for the day of the party itself. At the party there will be a bar where people can go and get free food and drinks. There are also prizes in the games throughout the party. Bar committee members have to be responsible with money and willing to do the hard work of keeping the shop open for the public.
Picture Committee is responsible for decorating the Lounge for the party. This is a big deal for the end of term parties. The Committee gets together and decides on a theme. They cover the walls with paper and cardboard and decorate the whole lounge according to that theme. Sometimes they go to the local washing machine store and come back with cardboard to build elaborate sculptures. The Lounge is closed for a week before the party so that the Committee can get on with the work. No one is allowed into the Lounge until the unveiling, just before the party starts. Picture Committee members have to be prepared to work long hours. They do not need to have great artistic abilities, but they must be competent with a paintbrush.
When the party is approaching there is a Meeting that votes on the Slobbing days. These are days when you do not have to get up in the morning and there are no classes. At the end of term it is not controversial: there are two Slobbing days before the parties. EOT parties are a big deal. They go on all night and the kids head off for the airport bleary-eyed and sad that the term has come to an end. The Slobbing days allow people to hang out without the pressure of classes and they also have time to get their suitcases sorted out.
Slobbing days at half-term parties are more controversial as teachers are not too happy about losing so much time. In the autumn the half term party coinicides with Guy Fawkes Day and there are Fireworks. In the spring term it coinicides with Valentines Day and there are special games. Summer half term is the only party that purists will allow to be called half term. It is a special weekend when parents can come to the school, camp on the field and join in a wide range of activities including the Midnight Walk, toasting marshmallows in the woods and a summer auction where funds are raised for projects in the school.
In order to raise enough money for a party, Bar Committee has to start working almost as soon as the half-term party is over. This means that parties are always in the air. You arrive at the school in September and people start talking about Halloween and Guy Fawkes, then there is the preparation for Christmas; the cold days of January lead straight into Valentines and the spring term EOT; the summer term is longer- longer days, the pool open and more activities outside the school as well, but it follows the same rhythm: fund-raising, decoration, party.
There are additional elements that might be added to the parties: music events can be spectacular, theatre or dance performances. These are worked into a programme of events that the Committees decide upon. They can appeal to the Meeting if they do not like their slot, but it is basically the responsibility of the Committees to sort out everything.
I think you can appreciate how important the cycle of parties is to the functioning of a democratic school like Summerhill. Without the parties the school would be greyer and duller and there would not be the same range of possibilities for direct democracy either.