Democratic schools: trusting kids to direct their own learning

Maria writes, "Freedom and responsibility are considered two sides of the same coin at democratic schools, where students direct their own learning. Students are involved in hiring staff, deciding school rules and enforcing them."

The Fairhaven School in a Maryland suburb of DC is one such democratic school, aimed at helping kids discover the intrinsic joy and reward of learning by giving them the space to direct their own educations, within frameworks that the whole school develops to ensure everyone can learn.

I went to a school like this in Toronto and I credit it with a lot of who I am today.

The adults facilitate but don't drive anything for the students, McCaig explains. "The hard work [the students] do here is learning how to become agents of their own lives and how to make things happen, whether it's something academic, or organizing a fundraiser, or another event." Technology, he says, "has increased efficiency and opportunity for our students; nevertheless, the liberty, respect, and community the school provides seem far more important and valuable than laptops or smart phones."

The staff members organize classes when students request them. Staffers will teach the classes or hire someone else. Some of the classes are just one to one. If students lose interest in the subject and stop coming to class, there is no penalty, but there is a consequence. "I will say we're done," McCaig explains. "I don't want to spend time preparing for something and not have the social contract met. … That is part of our job, to give students the reality of how to do things."

One staffer, he notes, describes Fairhaven as a place to "practice life." Students are given the opportunity to "practice the skills that one succeeds in life with, such as communicating with people, taking on jobs, learning how to cook. Academics may be just a part of that." He adds: "A lot of what happens seems almost invisible. … Play and conversation, broadly defined, are the two most common categories of activity here, and seldom do these 'look like school.' Nevertheless, our students are constantly practicing life itself, and the rewards of this practice are as profound as they are difficult to measure."

How Students Lead the Learning Experience at Democratic Schools [Luba Vangelova/Mind Shift]]

(Thanks, Maria!)