Re: [Discuss-sudbury-model] essentials of democratic schools (was: "setting limits")

From: Mike South <>
Date: Tue Oct 31 15:20:01 2006

On 10/30/06, Alan Klein <> wrote:
> Scott,
> With all due respect, you didn't answer the question that was asked, which
> I
> took to mean, "In your opinion, what practices and policies have a school
> live up to the definition of 'democratic' which you have given below?"

Let me preface this by saying that I was also thinking "um, and your
answer?" when I read the response, but he did say

'Virtually none of the schools in the "democratic schools"
movement actually invest students with equal political voice in a body
with supreme power.'

, which is pretty direct, and if you collect that with the indirect things
stated about equality and liberty, you get a pretty good picture. If you
wanted it in list form or something you might try:

1) Students' voices are equally as strong (e.g. one person, one vote) as
anyone else's.

2) The voice referred to in item 1 is a voice in the actual supreme law of
the school, not just in some auxiliary body that gets to decide between
three different school lunch menus or among any other limited set of options
presented by some other body that actually does have supreme power and will
veto anything the students decide that goes beyond what restricted freedom
they have decided to hand over.

Also, just to be clear, the original post asked two questions, not one. In
addition to the one about defining a democratic school, there was one
essentially asking what the democratic-in-name-only schools were missing.

I think you can get the answer to both questions from his response.
Something like "equal voice in the supreme law of the school" for the
definition, and "various forms of pretending to be equal but really giving
some external group of adults the real power in deciding what the students
will be allowed to decide." for the failure modes.

Of course they weren't my words so I might be overinterpreting.


~Alan Klein
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Scott David Gray I try to use words such that they can be easily
> understood. I try
> to apply words the same way that most people do. Which means, when
> possible, trying to use words carefully, to describe only the same set
> of things that most other people mean by the words I choose. The first
> definition of "democracy" in the dictionary in front of me seems like
> a good place to start when deciding if it is reasonable to call
> something "democratic," and it reads:
> "Government by the people; a form of government in which the
> supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them
> or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.
> In the field of education, however, people like to bandy about
> sexy words, defining them in ways that are convenient for making a
> feel-good claim, or a political point. If the founders of a school
> happen to like the concept of democracy, even if they are afraid to
> put it into practice, they like to apply the lable "democratic." If
> they like the concept of liberty, even if they are afraid to put it
> into practice, they like to apply the label "free." If they like the
> word "equality," even if they are afraid to let students have
> political equality or equality before the law, they like to apply the
> lable "equal."
> Virtually none of the schools in the "democratic schools"
> movement actually invest students with equal political voice in a body
> with supreme power. But "democratic" is a sexy term that many of them
> like to bandy about in their literature. Calling most such schools
> "democratic" is sort of like calling a yellow cake "chocolate" just
> because the person who baked the cake really *likes* chocolate.
> On 10/30/06, Henning Graner <> wrote:
> > Scott David Gray wrote:
> > > Well, I can't speak for any of the many, many schools that use the
> > > word "democratic" to describe themselves, but which are clearly *not*
> > > democratic by any reasonable use of the term.
> >
> > Which are in your opinion the essential characteristics which have to be
> > met so that a schools merits the term "democratic"? Which of these
> > essential characteristics are lacking in those schools, which call
> > themselves democratic but in your opinion aren't?
> _______________________________________________
> Discuss-sudbury-model mailing list
Received on Tue Oct 31 2006 - 15:19:23 EST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0 : Mon Jun 04 2007 - 00:03:15 EDT