The Prado Democratic Free School is a new school based on an old idea. It all came about when two ex-Summerhill teachers got together and started talking about starting a school. We didn’t want to repeat it. But we did want to extend some of the benefits of Neill’s big idea to children who can’t go to a boarding school in Suffolk. You can read Neill for yourself.
What were we after? Well, we often talk about the reduced curriculum and that is a pretty good place to start, because we both ended up at Summerhill after completely different experiences. Our schools filled up the little spaces in our lives with a load of fairly meaningless activity. We wanted to reduce all the guff that teachers and school administrators force-feed children and let them get along with living. That is what we would have wanted and there didn’t seem any good reason not to have a school that gives children back their lives.
Of course, if you are not filling children’s heads up with your stuff you have to back off and leave them alone. And when you leave children alone they have to sort things out for themselves. They have to find their own interests, sort out their own problems and organize their own time. Lessons are not the be-all and end-all. We couldn’t make them completely optional, as they are at Summerhill, but we went as far as we could. And we have a Meeting where kids can sort out the problems they inevitably get into when the adults aren’t wandering around like prison guards.
We don’t have a vision about teaching. This school does not have a method. The trouble with methods and grand theories, we find, is that teachers who follow a method always want to prove that it is working by measuring the results. I guess you could say that, at the heart of it, we are against that vision of children. We don’t think the results you get tell us much about who you are as a person.
Having said that we want teachers who know something about teaching. We want free choice but our perception is that, if the lessons on offer are badly-organized, ill-prepared and chaotic, that is a reduction in choice. So, we expect teachers who work in this school to be professionals- just professionals of a different sort. It isn’t a workers’ collective. There is a management structure and all new staff have to go through mentoring. We want it to be open, friendly and cooperative, but we aren’t going to put up with time-wasters or egomaniacs.
What can you expect? Well, you can expect to have small classes, and you will have to be prepared to put up with it if kids sometimes choose not to attend. You can expect to work long hours, because we don’t knock off at the ringing of a bell at 3:30. We really want the community to work and that takes time and energy. On the other hand, you can breathe a sigh of relief that you do not have to be a policeman in this school. You can be a great teacher, but there may be times in the day when you are not playing that role as well.
If you don’t think this is cool, then the school is probably not for you.