We think about our school’s mission statement
Jason: It’s a bird, it’s a plane it’s a …
1.to parents and outside bodies
2. to state the principles of the school that cannot be altered by teachers or parents
3. to guide the writing of all further documents.
It’s a Democratic School
It’s not my favourite expression but it is important to define it in terms that outsiders recognize. We say it is democratic because it will have meetings that resolve disputes and contribute to running the school. I prefer the word “free” but the Conservatives have spoiled that word in the UK by creating their own free schools.
Freedom is much more important to me than democracy. As I said before, I don’t want to be told what to do and I don’t want to create a school where children are told what to do either. Freedom not licence was Neill’s way of explaining how to think of it: you can have freedom to do what you want so long as you are not stepping all over someone else’s freedoms.
You can shout and scream, but if you are annoying someone they have the freedom to tell you to shut up.
Adults who work in these free schools have to have some unique qualities. They have to tread a tricky line between what is freedom for the kids and what is freedom for adults. After all, they are doing a job and providing an education for the children. Teachers can’t be free to do whatever they like. We will have to sort this out so that we don’t attract teachers who want to create a school without lessons!
Leonard: A Vision Sketched
I was giving a workshop to several principals of elementary and high schools in Vilnius, Lithuania and they were interested in adding some ‘freedom of choice’ and ‘democracy’ into schools. The Ministry had given them the green light re being able to ‘loosen up’. We talked about many issues but at the end I listed what I considered the basics:
1.Free Time cleared for students
2.Reduction in curriculum to clear that time ( optional lessons not being possible)
3. Appropriate spaces for activity in the time cleared
4.Appropriate resources for activity in the time cleared
5. Withdrawal/reduction of adult presence, decision making, problem solving during time cleared. Hand that back to the students as much as possible.
7.Democratic meetings to discuss and make laws and decisions re time, space, resources, new ideas as well as the general working and problems arising from freedom of choice of action in cleared time
8.A state school staff goal: to allow the students to practice having some control over, and real say regarding their school lives and work for as much of the weekly timetable as can be freed up
These basics, in a more sophisticated form, are also part of a my democratic free school vision.
Free Choice of Action in Democratic Community, with the democratic and community pointing to A.S. Neil’s Freedom Not Licence philosophy.
The adults in a Democratic Free School, like state schools mentioned above, are not students at the school. They are staff who are there to implement a free school curriculum for the students. It is not an adult democratic community, though hopefully it is a creative working environment.
In our democratic free school there is a timetable and a curriculum that features a core of literacy, numeracy and science. This and all other subjects offered are reduced to absolute essentials ( unless a student wants more). If a student should decide to go to all lessons she should still have tons of time to herself. And age appropriate spaces and resources for activity and play or hanging out.
Lessons in the free school are optional; the timetable makes it clear that numeracy and literacy are okay subjects to know about. To not have the courage to let this be casually obvious is like pretending that as a hunter gatherer learning how to hunt and gather doesn’t matter, or that in an agricultural society it doesn’t matter whether or not you know how to grow enough food not to die. You get the point.
In a democratic free school a child decides his action hour by hour and that allows the student to create his own developmental narrative, create ‘himself’ to a considerable degree. If a state school system, on the other hand, controls most or all of a child’s time, actions and curriculum then its aim is to control and mould the child whether the child agrees or not, into a particular range of useful adults: economic warrior in the global economy, determined consumer, passive acceptor, willing warrior, willing believer … whatever. All cultures want to survive, all nations want a competent adult population. But today’s education systems, in ‘democratic’ and non- democratic states, go way beyond acceptable intrusion boundaries.