Democratic schools are emerging around the world in response to parents seeking alternatives for their children.* Many, like ours, are inspired by the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts (as shown in the video below). Democratic schools offer an alternative to the standardized system of compulsory education as well as to the isolation of homeschooling. A democratic school offers the best of both worlds: the freedom and wonder of unschooling along with the socialization and responsibility of participating in a school community.
Immersing children in a daily, direct experience of democratic decision-making and leadership can increase their aptitude for active citizenship and lifelong learning. Staff in democratic schools observe that students’ learning is authentic and motivation is intrinsic. We believe that children learn through experience - that like Edison and Einstein, they learn from experimentation - from failure more than from success. In a safe non-judgmental environment, these failures serve as valuable lessons, and students develop skills for self-evaluation and self-improvement. Kids practice a new skill, or pursue a challenge, when they choose it themselves, all the more vigorously. Mastery of that skill, and success in that challenge, is far more rewarding than any GPA or gold star.
Staff in democratic schools help students find resources, provide feedback when asked for it, and lead by example. They are conversation partners, good listeners, community leaders, and practitioners of various skills and hobbies. Staff are caring adults who often teach more by what they don’t do than by what they do. Like a parent who responds to childhood questions with “look it up in the dictionary,” democratic school staff resist the temptation to provide “the right answers.”
Kids in democratic schools spend their time hanging out, playing, exercising their imaginations, reading for pleasure, cooking, creating, debating, and otherwise learning about life. Younger children look up to and learn from their older schoolmates, who can effectively challenge them to reach their next level of development. Older children develop empathy and leadership through these interactions with their juniors. Together with staff, students of all ages take turns serving on the judicial committee, and directing the entire school through the school meeting.