Do you know what is good for children? You are wrong!
I have heard people say things like, “children love structure” or “routine is good for children” or, on the other side, “children need to be left alone” and “freedom is the best tonic for children.” I don’t believe any of this because I don’t believe children are all the same. Even in our sad, homogeneised culture, which tries to process us into thinking the same way, children are unpredictable: long live the differences!
People are not the same, but should be equal. It is a principle of democratic process that each individual has a vote that is equally weighted. Equality in politics is a way of reconciling differences of opinion. It does not mean that those differences do not exist.
Equality does not equal sameness.
Sameness is not the same as equality.
This is not contentious. However, there are teachers who act as though equality were sameness. They exist as much in democratic education as they do in the mainstream and suffer from the same failure: they “know what kids want”.
In the mainstream I have covered classes in Special Needs French that were pointless. The justification for inflicting hours of tedium on those children was that they had an equal right to learn a language in spite of their academic ability. How quickly rights turn into obligations! Does it do the kid with learning difficulties any good at all to study a foreign language he is never going to be able to use?
“At least he will feel that he has not been marked out as different,” the apologist says.
“Not so,” say I, “because, by the very fact that he is studying Special Needs French, you are marking out his essential difference. He might have unique talents that you will not discover in a French class.”
Are we going to say, “Hurray for Demed!” then? Not so quick.
Democratic schools have their own ways of squashing variety by making generalisations about children.
“Kids don’t like classes!” It’s just not true.
“Kids learn better through project-work!” Not the loner who hates working in teams and wants to do his own thing.
“Boys like to rough and tumble.” Really? All boys?
“There’s something wrong with you if you are shy.”
“We should all be happy!”
Children are as varied as adults are: they don’t have the same interests, they do not socialise in the same way and they do not relate to grown-ups in the same way. Yet many Democratic teachers offer only anti-academic learning methods, expect all children to be social and have a cultish insistence on happiness.
The great thing about Summerhill is that children have the right to say “No” to classes, peers and adults. They can also assert their own independence in a community that values their difference.
The challenge is to provide opportunities that may or may not be taken up, to provide a safe environment where experiment and change can take place and not to allow one group of kids or adults to have too much influence on what takes place.
I think it is really no good to create an educational system that is just another kind of belief-system: what do you think?