re[4]: DSM: democratic classroom

From: Jesse Fisher (
Date: Sat Nov 03 2001 - 18:36:13 EST

Dawn, I just realized you were addressing me! (My name is Jesse, not Jeff -- easy mistake -- many do it).

I think you misinterpreted my meager efforts and misjudged my motives. I was attempting to give my Eighth grade classes a glimpse of the reality of their situation as incarcerated students -- I was very specific in how they were trapped in an autocratic social institution, being denied all the rights they are expected to wield later as adults. I showed them how the same philosophies which resulted in the greatest tyrannies of the last century were the same philosophies behind public education. I also wanted to give them a glimpse of what was possible (ala SVS). Was it 100% democratic? Certainly not. More like 15-30% -- which is quite a bit more than they were getting otherwise. Wouldn't you agree that even 15% is better than none? After I left, they went back to having none.

Would you also criticize the motives a person who out of compassion for the captives in a concentration camp, takes a job as a guard, shows the inmates some mercy, lets them have a small measure of self-government (at the peril of his own job and life)? Would you call his efforts manipulation?

I paid a price for my efforts. The stress of it all ruined my health, I still have effects from it 5 years later. I had to act contrary to my conscience to remain a public school teacher -- caused me immense intestinal turmoil. I truly felt like a traitor in the enemy's camp -- because I was. What I did was treasonous to public education -- it was intended to plant seeds which would some day contribute (in some small way) to bringing about the end of the unjust power of the system over students. At one point, I simply had to stand up to the system, job or no job -- I let the principal have it with both barrels -- telling him that every fiber of my being told me it was wrong to compel students to learn what they haven't choosen to learn, it robbed them of their dignity, it sapped them of their natural initiative to learn, it in no way prepared them to be members of a free society. I told him that I had tried to give them a taste of freedom hoping, praying, that they might see enough of the light to kn
ow it was good, to know that it was worth striving for. Needless to say, that act weakened my career as a public school teacher, but it certainly strengthened my resolve to be a voice for freedom and democracy in education.

Dawn, maybe you could tell us about your efforts in the battle.

Jesse Fisher, Founder
Freedom Preservation Foundation

> Now Jeff, I don't know where you get your definition of democracy, but it
> doesn't ring true to me. The following definition comes from

> 1.Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected
> representatives.
> 2.A political or social unit that has such a government.
> 3.The common people, considered as the primary source of political
> power.
> 4.Majority rule.
> 5.The principles of social equality and respect for the individual
> within a community.

> Nothing about your classroom experiment sounds like democracy to me. With
> your ultimate veto power it sounds like Soviet style democracy, yeah sure
> everyone has the right to vote, but you can only vote for big brother and
> you can only vote for what big brother wants you vote for. To me, it is
> irrelevant how much your students professed to enjoy or learn from your
> exercise in manipulation, that's still exactly what it was, more of the
> same
> old classroom manipulation of students by teachers. I believe these kinds
> of experiments by authority figures/teachers are ultimately harmful to
> students since it blurs the lines between freedom and incarceration. If
> traditional school teachers want to teach their students about democracy, I
> think they should get up every day and point out all the ways kids are
> enslaved by the traditional school system. And then they should apologize
> for profiting from it.

> Dawn Harkness
> SVS parent

> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Jesse Fisher <>
> To: Sudbury discussion list <>
> 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


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