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

From: Joseph Moore <>
Date: Wed Nov 1 13:03:01 2006

My 2 cents:
The distinction between 'real' and 'pretend' democratic schools being
made here is vital: kids can smell a rat, and, if you tell them they are
responsible for their own education and lives, then hold back real
power, they will know it. Pretend democracy destroys the trust upon
which Sudbury model education is built.
On a practical level, it is typical for a kid who comes to our school
after having spent a few years in 'regular' school to spend a good chunk
of time testing who is really in charge, by doing or not doing things
which, in other schools, would have gotten them called on the carpet.
They'll sleep all day, or leave messes, or whatever, just waiting for
the adult staff to jump in and intervene. One of the hardest things to
get across to some parents is that we will NOT intervene (beyond the
remonstrate/write 'em up steps available to everybody), that some kids
need time to absorb the idea that, no, we really mean it - you are in
charge of your life! YOU make it work. Democracy is the framework under
which both personal rights and the interests of the group are protected.
It's got to be real - the kids have to be able to make the rules, spend
the money and fire the staff. If not, it's just pretend, they aren't
really in control, and they'll resume trying to game the system somehow
in order to preserve some shred of dignity.
Seeing kids accept responsibility and then watching what they do with it
is a source of great satisfaction.


[] On Behalf Of Mike South
Sent: Tuesday, October 31, 2006 12:16 PM
Subject: Re: [Discuss-sudbury-model] essentials of democratic schools
(was: "setting limits")

On 10/30/06, Alan Klein <> wrote:

        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

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

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,
        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
        definition of "democracy" in the dictionary in front of me seems
        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
        supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by
        or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.
             In the field of education, however, people like to bandy
        sexy words, defining them in ways that are convenient for making
        feel-good claim, or a political point. If the founders of a
        happen to like the concept of democracy, even if they are afraid
        put it into practice, they like to apply the lable "democratic."
        they like the concept of liberty, even if they are afraid to put
        into practice, they like to apply the label "free." If they like
        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
        like to bandy about in their literature. Calling most such
        "democratic" is sort of like calling a yellow cake "chocolate"
        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
> essential characteristics are lacking in those schools, which
> themselves democratic but in your opinion aren't?
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Received on Wed Nov 01 2006 - 13:01:09 EST

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