I want to see some change. When we started Summerhill Democratics it seemed like the perfect moment to set up a consultancy for democratic education. There were so many people so evidently unhappy with their children’s education and the educational system itself was so bad, so bureaucratic and so out-of-touch with parents and children, that it seemed like it was time for a change.
- Not only that. There are changes in the broader world. Twenty years ago people could call you a crank for saying that play is the best way for young children to learn and grow up. The arguments about play have been so heated recently that a study of studies was set up at the University of Virginia to investigate the issue. We need a subtler approach to the theme, not the drum-banging and flag-waving that has characterized the debate up to now. Time for a change?
- Not only that. Technology is changing the way that everything works. It hasn’t changed schools yet because the whole system depends on the structures of authority that technology now challenges. It can’t be long before we recognize that school is a very expensive way of getting very bad results and change what we are doing. Time for a change?
- Not only that. The Brexit referendum in the UK, the hung parliaments in Spain, the increasingly strange presidential election in the USA, the undemocratic bullying of Greece by the EU have all given people pause for thought. Why don’t young people vote? If we want democracies that work we need to work for democracy. Time for a change?
It has been difficult to get projects off the ground. One of the problems is that we at Summerhill Democratics say kids in the age 9-14 are the best for starting a democratic school. The really little ones benefit from aware parenting and sensitive teaching but they are not ready for the full responsibility of running a democratic community. It is when kids hit the bureaucratic and social nightmare of secondary school that they really start to kick back. Yet there are dozens of “democratic” projects for the little ones. I can understand that parents don’t want to send their lovely little ones to school age 5 and want to give them a homelier environment, but these schools for little kids are going to catapult their leavers into the inflexible brick wall of secondary education without the resources to deal with it. It is scary.
Pre-school and primary schools are easier to set up. They have less legislative and administrative burden and even the grey-faced bureaucrats are nice to their children when they are younger so they tend to be more understanding. But I don’t want to mount a school for little kids just because it is doable. I want a school for those older kids who are starting to kick against the absurd rules and vacuous curriculum of secondary education. I want to do something for those veteran kids who have a yearning to “get real”. They go the full range from those who are bored shitless because it is all too patronizing and easy, to those who find the focus on exams crushes their spirit and leaves them with no options.
The problem is that secondary schools are hard to get going. The financial and administrative requirements are greater than for schools for younger children. We worked on a project for a school in Lithuania and when our backer realized that the capital outlay to get the thing going was going into the millions, he withdrew. This is the reason that governments and crank foundations have a monopoly on secondary education. It sucks. It sucks the more because some of those crank organizations, like the Jesuits in Catalonia, are introducing methods that look a little democratic. I can’t believe a school run by priests will be genuinely anti-authoritarian, but it takes the biscuit that even they recognize that it makes educational sense to open up a little and give children choices.
We have thought about this problem. One of the solutions we have come up with is to launch a democratic summer camp. We feel that this will at least offer children an experience of a different way of living, and will hopefully give them tools to go back into their ordinary school lives and make better choices. Having the opportunity to live in a democratic school environment, even if it is only for the summers of your school career, will help you realize that you can make decisions for yourself, you can follow your interests and you are capable of more than school insistently tells you.
This is a project we are working on right now for 2017. If it is successful we are going to spread the model to offer the same experience to as many children as we possibly can. The idea is that, if we cannot get in through the front door, we will go in the back door or the side door. You see, we cannot accept that it is not time for a change. We cannot accept that it is inevitable that children in school will have so many bad experiences due to illogical, old-fashioned and centralized educational policies and practices.
If you think this is a good idea, we would love to hear from you. We need support. Moral support is great. A donation would be even better. We are a non-profit association so any donation we receive goes straight back into the work of supporting and promoting democratic education on the Summerhill model. We have a team of ex-Summerhill students working on this project and we want to pay them.
We would also like to know if you think Summerhill-style summer camps would work in your area. For 2018 we are looking to expand.
Get in touch and let us know what you think. And follow the blog to keep updated with the latest news about all of our projects.