Re: re[2]: DSM: democratic classroom

From: Alan Klein (Alan@klein.net)
Date: Thu Nov 01 2001 - 07:44:15 EST


Hi all,

My experience was more like Jesse's. In two circumstances I ran
"democratish" classrooms in public schools. Note that I am NOT saying that
these experiences were exactly like that of being a staff member at The
Highland School. They were compromises, for sure, but in a very real way
offered my students a clearly different experience than that of others in
those public schools.

1. A public elementary school (1976-1978) in which parents chose either a
"traditional" or an "informal" classroom approach. A colleague and I had
about 58 kids from grades 2-6 together in a wing of an old school building
(sort of a school-within-a-school). We had weekly governance meetings (a la
School Meeting, though this began before SVS existed) in which the entire
group, on a one person/one vote basis. We all decided on what rules (laws)
we wanted and what should be done (a la JC) when people violated those
rules. We created classes on topics of interest to the kids and they worked
on "basic skills" on an individualized basis. Curricularly, of course, we
were required to make sure they "did" certain things (though we often
violated that dictum!) While this is a major difference from a true
democratic school, it is true that all democratic schools exist in certain
systems. SVS and Highland need to follow the laws of their respective
states. We needed to follow the laws of our School Board. I know which
system I prefer, but that does not for me invalidate the more limited
experience of democracy these students (and I) shared.

2. Harlan said, "I tried it, and the approach a number of students took with
me was, "If he
isn't going to grade, then I'll put my time into other subjects where I will
be graded."

In a public alternative high school Psychology class we taught the students
the basics of group dynamics. We then said, "Here's the deal. We have to
give you grades. We can't give you all A's (we checked). We can't just let
you give yourself grades (we checked). We will not play God and bestow
grades upon you. Therefore, we all need to come up with a grading system."

The group had a lot of discussions and came up with a devastatingly simple
scheme that was in keeping with the notion of "make sure the process is a
good one and the content will take care of itself." We created a one page
"scoresheet". On it we had one-to-ten scales asking such things as "Did the
person ask questions when needed?", "Did they help others get into the
discussion?", and "Did they use humor appropriately?" At the beginning of
each class session, everyone (staff, student, visitor) paired up and took
two forms - one for themselves and one for their partner. During the class,
they observed their own and their partners' behavior. At the end of class
they filled out the forms and placed them in the appropriate individual's
folder. At the end of each marking period, we took out the forms, totaled
the scores, and displayed them on the blackboard (no names). It was always
obvious where the "breaks" were between the A's, B's, C's, etc.

Notice that there were no questions (and no tests) that had anything to do
with content. We were certain that, if people attended (they got no points
if they were absent and lost points if they were late) and if they followed
good group process, that they would learn. Therefore, as a group, we focused
on those things, not on content.

Again, would I have rather been in a democratic school at the time?
Sure...but I wasn't and so I (we) did the best we could under the
circumstances.

The postscript, of course, is that I left this kind of work and helped to
found The Highland School, a democratic school in West Virginia, in 1981. We
found SVS a couple of years later and have always marveled at how parallel
our philosophies, practices, and experiences have been.

~Alan Klein

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jesse Fisher" <freedomworks@burgoyne.com>
To: "Sudbury discussion list" <discuss-sudbury-model@sudval.org>
Sent: Thursday, November 01, 2001 12:12 AM
Subject: re[2]: DSM: democratic classroom

>
> Actually, I had a successful go of it -- giving students a healthy dose of
self-government on a class basis, not on an individual basis.
> Democracy = self-government, and a class can be self-governing, even if
the individuals unfortunately can't be.
>
> Taught my 8th grade US Government classes basic Parliamentary Procedure
using a game I created. Also explained how PP protects the rights of each
individual to be heard. Then acting as constitutional conventions each
class came up with a fairly good constitution for a student association
whose aim was to create a free democratic school.
>
> I did chart out their real position in a very top-down authoritarian
heirarchy to help them see the value in a democratic school [sure felt like
a traitor in the enemy camp! Expected the PC Thought Police to barge in
anytime and yell, "Treason! Treason!" and haul me away]. I had originally
hoped to have them bang out a constitution for a Sudbury-style school, but
they weren't up to that. I figured if they ever were to be self-governing
in life in groups, they would need to understand how self-governing
organizations function. Creating a constitution for the student
associations did the job.
>
> If I remember correctly, it took about a month and a half for them to
finish their association constitutions. I would instruct them for roughly
the first third of class about constitutions, preambles, etc., then we would
call the convention to order and get down to business. I personally found
it very rewarding. The kids were very much into it. In fact, my
neighboring teacher reported that the kids pleaded for using parliamentary
procedure on occasions in her class. She had no problem, since it helped
maintain order and protected individual rights.
>
> I did reserve ultimate veto power, but rarely had to use it. After
several days, I braved letting the elected association President be chair of
the convention. They usually did a remarkable job.
>
> Guess my point is this: Although a public-school teacher might be unwise
to grant children intellectual freedom, en masse -- giving them a real
opportunity to practice self-government at least prepares them for political
freedom much more than they otherwise would be.
>
>
> Jesse Fisher
> Freedom Preservation Foundation
>
>
> > Good points from all. I also worry that the kids will not buy into it.
And
> > there is no real democracy because they are stuck in that room for
those 50
> > minutes. But I do think that a teacher can help foster a positive
change
> > in
> > a student, even in a traditonal classroom. It may be severely limited
but
> > encouraging free form thought (somethig that I think art is a good
tool
> > for)
> > can help change attitude and the way things are percieved. This is
like
> > convincing those that Joe mentions that don't want to be convinced.
>
> > William
>
>
> > On Wed, 31 Oct 2001 20:30:46 -0500, discuss-sudbury-model@sudval.org
wrote:
>
> > > 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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>
> > William M. Van Horn
> > wmvh1@excite.com
> > http://www.angelfire.com/art/inmystudio
>
>
>
>
>
> > _______________________________________________________
> > Send a cool gift with your E-Card
> > http://www.bluemountain.com/giftcenter/
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>
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