DSM: democratic classroom

From: Warren McMillan (warren@bmts.com)
Date: Wed Oct 31 2001 - 20:30:46 EST


I lost track of this thread so can't recall who originally raised the issue
of democratic classrooms in traditional schools but, whoever it was, allow
me tell you about my experience with this concept. First of all, I don't
expect to change your mind. Nothing would have changed mine 25 years ago
when I first attempted this.

In your attempt, you may be able to withstand the pressure applied by your
administration and fellow teachers. Even parent complaints may roll off but
it is the determined and insistent opposition by your students that you need
to be ready for. It was this last factor that finally doomed my every
attempt at democratizing the classroom. Children schooled for any length of
time in a traditional setting have bought the farm, so to speak. They have
learned how to exist in an authoritarian environment and have settled into
their passive roles. Democratizing the classroom entails asking them to
become active participants with responsibility for their own educations.
Most don't want this. It's harder and they have to think so they set about
sabotaging your plans by turning it into a joke or accusing you of not doing
your job.

There are, to be fair, a few who buy into the whole thing but these are the
ones you should worry about most. These keen ones learn fast and are soon
pushing the democratic process into all areas of your classroom. The
problem is they just don't know when to quit. They don't respect that
artificial wall you have built around your classroom and simply can't
understand why this democracy stuff can't work in the rest of the school as
well. They fan out like zealots, spreading the word of democratic freedom,
all the way, eventually, into the seat of power in the principal's office.
There, or somewhere along their path to freedom, they run into the reality
that their school is not democratic and, furthermore, will not stand for it.
Play your democracy game in your classroom if you wish but don't deign to
think you can influence the real order of the school. The door to freedom is
slammed shut in their faces and they are devastated. What's more, you are
to blame. You set them up with all your talk of democracy in education.
These are the ones who are now your most ardent opponents. They have come
to see democracy as a sham, an idea that doesn't work in the real world.

Here is my advice to you, for what it's worth. You can run a democratic
classroom if you are prepared to define democracy in very limited and
superficial terms so it doesn't leak out the classroom door, but, if you try
to establish a genuine democracy in action, be prepared for the backlash and
accept that the risk may be that you end up, instead, with a bunch of
disillusioned kids.

In my opinion, attempting democracy in a traditional school classroom is
trying to convince kids that they can be free as long as they stay within
the walls of the jail. In order to know freedom, you must be free. It's as
simple as that. If you must teach in a traditional school, don't play games
with your students. If you want to help them, tell them the truth about
their autocratic education system and help them to see how they are
conditioned by it.

Warren

----- Original Message -----
From: Joe Jackson <shoeless@jazztbone.com>
To: <discuss-sudbury-model@sudval.org>
Sent: Wednesday, October 31, 2001 10:46 AM
Subject: DSM: criticising convincing

> 'Sup, Malc.
>
> I didn't mean to imply that convincing people other than critics is not
> a waste of time as well, my mensch, just that I am familiar with the
> criticisms of Sudbury schooling, and do not feel that convincing critics
> is anything other than good sport.
>
> But in terms of the business of promoting the schools it's the whole
> idea that burning people-energy and money convincing people that Sudbury
> schools are good in order to help the revolution along is a waste of
> time in comparison to using those same resources to get the word out to
> people who need no convincing.
>
> That's why we set up a Sudbury school rather than trying to reform an
> existing one: so we wouldn't have to waste our time convincing people
> who aren't even going to take Sudbury schooling seriously until they see
> lots of people going to them. And that isn't going to happen until,
> say, forty million people in the United States know they exist and, say,
> the one out of every 500 of them who need no convincing go to one.
>
> And I would say that while it was less the end of a long hard day than
> the beginning of a hard days' night, I see the goals and methods of
> setting up a democratic self-initiated classroom in a conventional
> school as being completely different than the goals and methods of
> setting up a Sudbury school. The latter is where my experience and
> interest lies, but I know that William Van Horn is a right guy and I
> wish him luck in succeeding in whatever he attempts.
>
> Peace out bro',
>
> Joe
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-discuss-sudbury-model@sudval.org
> [mailto:owner-discuss-sudbury-model@sudval.org] On Behalf Of Malc Dow
> Sent: Wednesday, October 31, 2001 9:07 AM
> To: discuss-sudbury-model@sudval.org
> Subject: RE: DSM: convincing critics
>
>
>
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Joe Jackson
>
> >There are much, much too many people out there that are hungry for
> precisely what our school has to offer for me to waste much time trying
> to convince critics.
>
> It is never a waste of time trying to convince critics. Who else is
> there to convince?
>
> >>If, on the other hand, you are attempting to set up a "Sudbury-like"
> atmosphere in a conventional classroom, I cannot really advise you, and
> good luck.
>
> Sounds like the end of a long hard day Joe!
> But luckily there is advice at hand.
> Robert van Nood has a set of journals about setting up and maintaining a
> democratic classroom within an establishment school. You can get the
> e-text; "Welcome to Springfield - Population 23 People" in various
> formats, for free, from here: http://www.first-ask.de/abc/van-nood/
>
> (excerpt)
> " Another growing trend that is quite disturbing, is the use of children
> as scapegoats. No longer do they "have problems", they are becoming "THE
> problem". Any society that turns its back on its own children in such a
> way shows it's deep seeded sickness. While we continue to push our
> children to grow up faster and faster, we blame them for more of the
> ills of the society. While we continue to relinquish our control of our
> communities and our country to the will of the moneyed interests, we do
> little to protect our youth from the consequences of greed and fear. "
>
>
> Malc Dow
>
>
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