I am a father of two boys. I have been happy enough that my kids have been happy enough going through a pleasant primary school.
The two boys haven’t had a lot of problems with school. One likes it more than the other but, apart from not wanting to get up in the morning, neither one has had a tough time of it or struggled greatly with the school structure.
So why have I gotten involved in the project to set up a democratic school?
There are several reasons that my wife and I wanted to create a democratic, self-initiated option for kids. Both of us, along with the other members of the committee, are committed to getting it up and running but here I’ll speak only for myself and how I came to be involved.
Children learn naturally
I have come to the realisation through study and direct experience that children learn naturally and without the need to be coerced to do so. Think of the myriad of skills that a child has learnt before school begins and without coercion. I’m sure you can come up with 5 things off the top of your head and if you sit down with a pen and paper you may come up with another 20 things within a minute. Here are a few things that children learn through play and natural interaction with the environment, people and other animals.
- Rolling from back to belly and from belly to back
- Picking up objects
- Dropping objects
- Recognising faces and expressions
- Balancing to sit
- Reading emotions
- Many can read or do basic maths
What many go these things have in common is that not only are they learnt before children enter a structured school environment, but we generally have no idea how we would begin to teach them.
I started to question what school was for
School was invented to perform certain economic and political tasks; Primarily to train children to be part of the industrial revolution and to become workers in the factories which required a growing participation in order to stay productive.
School was not created to help kids to learn to think for themselves. Now school may have changed since the industrial revolution many of the structures which were in place then are in place today.
These school structures revolve around a few universal ideas:
- Children should sit still and concentrate on a teacher
- All children should learn the same thing at the same time
- Children will learn what adults feel they should learn
- Some learning is more valuable than others – physics trumps acrobatics, languages trump drama
- Children have no say in what they learn apart from selecting from a choice which adults have selected for them
- Children are to be tested to gauge their level of compliance to the norm
Seeing what school was for made me question if this is what i wanted for my children. The answer to this was a resounding no and I wished to see an alternative.
Luckily a friend of ours, Ciara Brehony, was looking into creating something different, and it was her initiative which brought me into contact with other ideas on how school might be. I started to research Summerhill in the UK and Sudbury schools in the USA and came to feel that the Sudbury Model might be the one to look at.
Ciara put together a group of parents who would become the start-up committee of the Wicklow Sudbury School.
I would like to trust my kids
I feel that my children know what they want and they are capable of making decisions which go beyond selecting from a narrow palette of subjects. They are learning all the time and most of what is important they learn is outside of school.
E.G. Skateboarding,fixing a skateboard and changing parts, piano, singing, football skills, film editing, looking after rabbits, Swiss-German are some of the recent things my kids have learned outside of the school structure.
Life is not a test and no-one knows the future
The idea that school is necessary to gain access to jobs and to be a healthy member of society is what keeps many of us in the current system.
In fact we do not know what our kids will need to get jobs in the next 5, 10, 15 years. Many jobs on the market now did not exist 5 years ago.
The more important skill, as I see it, is that children can grow up trusting their own ability to learn, become flexible thinkers and know they are resilient in their ability to adapt to a changing world.
This would be the outcome of perhaps the most important thing ; allowing a space were children can be natural, happy and can play. A place where they can mix with others of all ages, can ask for help, teach others and through all that learn the skills they need at the time when they are ready or right when they need it.