Below are pictures of the original school buildings of successful Democratic Free Schools. None were designed or built to purpose. All were found objects. The first and last are the same school … 1990 and now 2020 with 180+ students. That last building is very attractive on the inside, by the way.
The buildings are in the United Kingdom (3), Turkey(1), Germany(2), Canada (2) and New Caledonia in the South Pacific. They range ‘school’ era from 1921, 1971, 1972, 1978, 1987, 1990, 2015, 2016.
Why Found Objects ?
There are many reasons for Found Object Schools. They can be donated, they can be rented to you by friendly people, they can be in houses where people still live, they can be empty and offered by a state school district. They allow a couple of teachers to get started quickly, or a group of parents to get up and running … without serious capital. Although, as bureaucracy moves relentlessly forward such found spaces can be expensive to bring up to ever-changing, ever growing building code and safety standards. ( Generally, factory model standards are demanded for a small group of children in a small safe place). When I began a school in 1970 the Fire Inspector wandered about, asked how many children would be enrolled and said, ” Well, if I made you come up to unnecessary standards you couldn’t open … here’s a list that will make the place perfectly safe. Do these and I will give you the permit. “We did, we got the permit and the Fire Inspector enrolled his child. Those days of personal responsibility and common sense are … long gone in most countries. When I tried to start another school in 1982 I found a great building but the cost to bring it up to ‘standards’ was $100,000. So no school. ( The economic starvation of Democratic Free Schools still has not been overcome. It’s a perfect control mechanism. Makes them all too often hand-to-mouth operations while simultaneously being targeted as elitist.)
Getting a building fast is also a concrete way of showing prospective parents where their children will be. They can walk about with you and the child and know that the school is not just a crazy idea but is … probably going to be a reality. That helps a lot.(“Here it is, and this is what we will be doing here” … hand out brochure !)
I would say that creating a purpose-designed democratic free school is more likely to happen, if ever, at a second stage rather than before a school exists.
But Not Us !
Our Design a School Project blogs are the rough notes for what will be a Design a School book. And Prado School, as we call it, will include a purpose built model. We, of course, are not architects. Our model is what we would take to an architect, and then we would work from there towards a final product. We want you to be able to think how you would do that. In a home grown manner. A certain number of kids, a timetable and a designed space you can imagine the students inhabiting … what will they require, those age groups, for 6 hours a day at your school ? When the adults share authority and when students have Free Choice of Action in Democratic Community. It’s a habitat.
With a Found Object you might know what you need but you are immediately constrained regarding what all that has to be fitted into … so a lot of thought and compromise happens with energy spaces, movement of people, timetables changing usage and so on.
With our Prado School we want to provide a designed model that will illustrate a democratic free school in an optimum way. From which you can take away what you want for a Found Object or, as an example for your own purpose built school.
One of the interesting things that I did in a Spanish power-point presentation was to compare the activities and activity spaces/areas in my democratic free school of 1971, my 1980’s large state school Clubhouse classroom and my three area Class 2 at Summerhill. The age range was always 9 to 13+ but the areas, some simple, some more elaborate, were basically the same. It’s also nice to know that the essential areas for student activity are similar in Summerhill, the Leipzig Free School and many other schools you may care to visit.
So we are not inventing what’s required for a Democratic Free School, especially at the 9 to 13+ level, although we are determined to develop some innovative ideas around basic themes for the senior school. We begin a discussion of that in DAS The Model 2
Check it out.