According to the European democratic education community (EUDEC), democratic education rests on two basic principles:
- Self-determined learning
- A learning community based on equality and mutual respect
Now many state schools in Germany would claim that this is the case in their school, and it is true that education has generally moved towards a more student-centered approach and also respects students more than in times of corporal punishment in the last century.
But this is not enough. In state schools we still have a curriculum, classes are mandatory, time-frames are set and leave no room for self-determination. Teachers and students are not equal meaning they do not have the same rights in decision-making. In my opinion, this is due to the assumption that students would establish unreasonable rules. How are students supposed to learn that their voice counts when it doesn’t? To distinguish “truly” democratic schools, EUDEC proposes seven questions that have to be answered with ‘yes’:
- Do students have free choice of whether or not to participate in scholastic and other activities?
- Can students easily initiate and suggest scholastic and other activities?
- Can students offer, lead and run scholastic and other activities?
- Can students ‘vote’ on the school’s rules?
- Can students ‘vote’ on the consequences of breaking rules?
- Can students and staff equally participate in the decision making process (in reference to school meeting)?
- Can students be involved in the hiring and firing process?
For me, democratic education is a continuum, where some schools are on the rather traditional end and others on the more radical end (or “progressive end”). I have worked at the rather traditional end and somewhere in the middle, but now I want to experience the other end (e.g. Sudbury model) to see how it works.
I think that we should move towards the radical end because 21st century problems are just as radical, and because future is loaded with uncertainty. Therefore I completely support this quote by A. Einstein:
“Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.”
Here are some people who experienced democratic education first-hand:
The broader idea of self-directed learning, which includes democratic schools but also free schools and unschooling:
And another video, by Peter Gray: