Democratic MeetingsFirst summary

We finish off the first of two weeks about Democratic Meetings with some remarks about the podcast

Group against the Individual

We started our conversation on Wednesday by talking about freedom.  “Why not just have a separate talk about freedom and get right down to talking about meetings?” you might ask.

There are many varieties of democracy and countless styles of meeting.  We think it is important to place the emphasis on freedom above the democratic meeting.  We do not want to make a school for politicians; we want to make a school where children can experience freedom with all its challenges and rewards.

Not This !


Leonard did a series of interviews with Zoë Readhead a couple of years ago and agrees.  He said that she was not completely happy with the definition of Summerhill as a democratic school.  In the UK the term “free school” has been appropriated by what the Americans call charter schools, but free would be a better definition than democratic for Summerhill.

It depends where you put the emphasis.  At Summerhill the children have freedom and that freedom inevitably leads to conflicts that are resolved through the Meeting where everyone has the same right to speak and vote.  This is an entirely different proposition to a school council, for example, which may be democratic but its agenda will not arise from the day-to-day concerns of the children.

Who comes together to meet?

The question of who the meeting is for was the next point we touched on in our discussion.  The meeting should reflect the lived reality of children who are struggling to understand the difference between freedom and licence.  Do the children in the school feel free?  If they do not feel free to do what they choose then there is not much purpose in the meeting.

As I said in my Monday blogpost, no one loves a politician.

Designing a School

We are working broadly within a Summerhill framework, but emphasise that it is neither likely nor desirable for a new school to just copy that model.  Summerhill has a century of experience with a strong culture that is reinforced through successive generations of adults and children.  Even if you slavishly copied that it would be different.

Don’t ! Impossible.

A new school has to create its own culture and there are several factors that will mean it cannot simply copy the Summerhill meeting:

  • The age range of the school may be different; without the older kids it is hard to see how the Summerhill meeting would be the same
  • The school will be a day school; there is less time to play with and the feeling of community will not be so strong
  • Some of the lessons may not be entirely optional, unlike Summerhill

Taking into account the constraints of the situations we are likely to find ourselves in will make this design process more realistic.

Not a handbook, but a process

This series of podcasts is not intended to offer a guide or handbook.  We think the business of designing a school is a process.  We use our intelligence and creativity to design the structures and systems that will allow children to experience something like the freedom of children at Summerhill.  

We will use our intelligence and creativity !

The democratic meeting in a free school will place the freedom of the children before the precise structures of that democratic meeting. This is an essential preamble to the more concrete points we shall be making next week in the continuation of this important subject.

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