Summary of things that can Help

Democratic Education And Free Schools

  • The personalized and dynamic nature of democratic education makes it difficult to define. There is no “accepted” definition of what exactly democratic education means (and, in our opinion, we hope no authority ever presumes to claim an exact definition). However, it might help to provide a brief description of what it is not as well as varying perspectives on what it is. Democratic education, as we see it and in the context of this directory, does not refer to an authoritarian approach involving a hierarchical structure and pre-determined course-work designed to create “citizens of a democracy.”
  • Democratic education is an educational approach grounded in respect for human rights and a broad interpretation of learning, in which young people have the freedom to organize their daily activities, and in which there is equality and democratic decision-making among young people and adults.

– A.E.R.O.

Specialized Schools

  • Schools that have their curriculum concentrated into one or a few fields and crafts, such as science or art.

Homeschooling or Unschooling

  • Homeschooling is when parents take charge of teaching their children. The trickiness with this type of education is that if the parents have been traditionally schooled, the child will suffer under some rigidity (required textbooks, or even insistence on taking tracking tests). There is also the slight concern that the parents may only be schooling their kids as a means to impose their own ideals and beliefs onto them, which doesn’t really help a child’s intellectual growth or social maturity. If homeschooling is taken liberally, and is not always conducted at home then that’s great. Even the parents can learn at that point.
  • Which leads to my next explanation: unschooling. This is “homeschooling” generally, but it is “child-led.” The kids make up their day in terms of what they’d like to discover or learn. Parents and others available, including fellow children then proceed to give the learner guidance. The things unschoolers do are different from person to person, even within the same household. It’s for all ages, and in the end gets counted down as life experience.

Holistic Education

  • Holistic education aims to nurture and develop the varied but interrelated capacities of the human being .  Thus while it addresses the intellectual development, it is equally concerned about the child’s development as a physical, emotional, artistic, social, moral, and spiritual being.  It aims to create a person who is well-rounded — in a broad sense — healthy, a human being who has developed each aspect of his or her humanity.  The aim of holistic education is not merely to fill the child with information, to develop academic  and job skills, and to prepare the child to fit into the prevailing economic and social system.  Rather it is to help the young person develop into a free, creative, compassionate being who can participate fully in the life of the community.  — Dr. Ron Miller, Goddard College, VT
  • This is why since I am being pressured to go to college right away, Goddard is one of my main choices. They value liberal education and intellectual freedom and diversity.

Liberal Boarding Schools

  • The Highland School is the closest I can find to a liberal boarding school. The biggest issue with boarding schools is money. Since we unfortunately live in a world dominated by an infinite and constantly unattainable supply of this inanimate object, life must be a struggle. If boarding schools were free, as all education institutions should be, they would suck, because the government just can’t take on that much financial responsibility in the realms of education. If they were also tax (or tuition?) free, then they’d really suck, because people would not spend their time donating to the point that all boarding schools can be highly sophisticated.
  • Secondly, boarding schools have to be strict since, before the student arrived time management and responsibility was handled for them in k-x years of schooling. They wouldn’t know how to handle the freedom.
  • Plus sides: You’re more likely to achieve specialization at a boarding school. You eventually gain more maturity once you get used to being away from your parents. The curriculum is more mature. It’s like mini-college (although I detest what colleges have become, I do acknowledge that it’s better than anything traditional k-12 can provide enforce).

Elimination of standardized tests. Intelligence is NOT a sport…unless you’re on a debate team. Trivia retention is, but remembering trivia is not learning, but merely storing. Learning should not be a big competition, because naturally some people will be left out and ultimately deterred from learning and will lose faith in themselves. It’s inevitable that we will have an average person with limited ability or skill, but if testing and competing is eliminated that won’t be of concern. The real deal would thus become a task of working with what you have and accepting differences.

There’s more to think about of course, but I’ll leave my ideas and opinions for another day. Oh by the way, I am now an academic tutor for an elementary school. What a fateful opportunity to go back and see how things are going on the lower levels of traditional education. I’ll be reporting.

Update – 2010: There is also A.S. Neil’s Summer Hill School in the UK. It is another democratic boarding school. A great one at that, that I hear has really influenced democratic education here in the States.


Posted on September 14, 2009, in Alternative Education, Democratic Education, Education, free skool, School, Unschool, unschooling, worldschool and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Z, I think your points are well articulated here. I’d direct the curious to this post as a jumping off point. I just have one comment:

    “The biggest issue with boarding schools is money.”

    Not for me (though money *IS* an issue!) I personally have an issue with boarding schools because of the fact that the role of parent, even guardian is being taken over by a (as you say necessary) strict, managerial group of strangers. I believe it is harmful to children’s emotional well being (though I can’t say it’s absolutely true) to be removed from loving parents and placed in a largely sterile environment which lacks compassion and safety. This has always been a struggle for me because I really LOVE the idea of Summerhill but can’t imagine sending my kindergarten age child off to boarding school (!!!). Is that a flaw with me? Don’t know. I’d love to hear your thoughts…

  2. It could be a flaw potentially, because other factors need to be taken into account, socio-economic issues being of prime importance. While I am not saying you are out of step for not ever wanting to send your kindergartner of to Summerhill, other people’s situations are different. In the case of boarding schools, some parents may have adventurous kids, or others may want to get their kids out of negative aspects of their community, such as a lack of academic resources or poorly funded programs. In the case of specialization that I mentioned in the post, some youth may have such a strong art or science or other leaning, that regular full curriculum public/private schools just won’t cut it. I agree that most boarding schools do have that unfortunate strict parent mentality, but in advocating “liberal boarding schools,” I was hoping to provide a suggestion for parents who could reasonably afford it and would like to put their youth in a better situation. The Highland School and Summerhill, being founded on the democratic model would be largely different in caring for youth I believe. I do think all in all that the youth should have a great amount of input. In tandem with that, communication about how the youth feels once they are in is important. You want to catch the problems fast, so that if you fail you can learn from it and re-strategize rather than it silently carrying on to the point of regret. And those are my thoughts. 🙂

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