Democratic schools: trusting kids to direct their own learning


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But how can they No Child Left Behind without relentless testing?

Oh right - private school. Poor private school kids, I suppose they’re being left behind. Who will think of the private school kids?


@doctorow I also went to a democratic school, and am grateful for the many ways it still influences me.

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

It’s things like this that make this sort of thing impractical. Yes, fancy private schools can offer this sort of thing, just like fancy private colleges can, but it just can’t scale. There are nearly 50 million kids in public schools in the US. What, are we going to have 50 million teachers so that each special snowflake gets their own one-to-one class?

That’s not really what one to one means.

You don’t hire a whole teacher just to teach one kid one class, the teacher would do other things.

Like independent study in college. The independent study is one to one but the same teacher is teaching intro writing to classes of 50 students per class and/or grad seminars at 10-15 students per class. Class size scales to the content requirements/ level of study.

I’m not quite saying it’s feasible now for public school teachers to take even one class block to teach one student but that is what is being discussed, not having one teacher per student by a long shot.

And independent studies are available even at cheap state schools, currently.


I went to several of these schools, from grade school through high school, and while I found that they provided a lot of important skills, there were also some significant deficiencies in the programs. Maybe things have changed in the last couple decades since I was in high school, but one problem I’ve noticed in several schools is that the teachers drawn to these programs tend not to be the strongest STEM teachers, and as a result it’s easy for students to be uninspired if not insufficiently instructed in these topics. Also I think it’s imortant to recognize that just as there are some kids who are more apt to take to rote learning, and those who don’t learn well that way at all, there are some who are better served by “free schools” and others who are not. Just as NCLB high stakes testing doesn’t serve every child, nor does the democratic model.

That said, I don’t think I’d change my educational background one bit. Though it caused some problems when I went to major in math and science in college, the basic skills I gained in my early education has served me very well.


This worked out so well for the Republic of Haven.

I’d be curious to know how they manage to counter the tendency to sadistic depravity in the student body. The people I went to high school with would have worked out; but middle and elementary would have been democracy with Lord of the Flies characteristics…

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It’s worth noting that sending two kids to Fairhaven will set you back almost 20K a year.

Fairhaven does have a tuition assistance program, though:

I think I read that the school has 60 kids and 5 staffers… that’s a 12 to 1 ratio. Any public school would kill for that ratio.

ALthough it is much maligned (and often rightly so) the Boy Scouts actually adhere to this type of education. Kids in troops, at least the good ones, plan their own hikes and meals. The adults are only suppose to be their to guide them and keep them from falling off a cliff.


I hope so! We could spend less on military-industrial complex employees and more on education employees!

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I generally find that anyone that uses the term “special snowflake” has no business discussing child development or educational policy.


Riiight. Because the people who try to convince you that your child is special and gifted and needs to go to a private school away from all those scruffy proletarian yokels (who might be Meth heads or something) in the public system in no way are trying to make money off of you out of your pride and fear.

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“Fear” isn’t really the main motivating factor for choosing a democratic school, or any other kind of alternative education, really. It’s a simple, human desire to have the kind of educational experience that will be most gratifying. There are a lot kids who hate being in conventional school, not because they’re afraid of it, but because, for them, it just sucks.

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Interestingly, it still spends less per-pupil than lots of public schools do. I know that’s because they’re not “doing” as much, but that might be worth looking into, as well.

Considering that there are lots of kids in public school for whom this model would work better than the conventional one, experimenting with making it available to some public school kids (the miserable ones, the ones who are at risk for dropping out) could be a win-win.


Well, like it said, “some of the classes are one to one,” not all of them. Also, as this model, like all models, won’t work for all students, it wouldn’t be something that all students experience. Considering that millions of kids are very unhappy in conventional schools precisely because they don’t offer the things this model does, I think it’s certainly worth looking experimenting with it.

Actually, thanks to some innovative teachers and administrators (not to mention, students), it already is being tried on a small scale in some public schools.

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This kind of feedback is essential to the improvement of this kind of model. If the schools you attended are still operating, I hope you share it with them. If the teachers aren’t strong in STEM, they should know how important it is to have the right resources at the ready for kids who lean in that direction.

My “computer” teacher in high-school took an approach like this with me. Mostly the class was doing clerical type computer, word processing, spreadsheets, database stuff. This was the late 1980s. She could see that I got all of that stuff real easy and she let me do assignments ahead of the class. When I got really far ahead, she started giving me teacher-edition versions of programming textbooks. These were samples sent to schools, that she was not going to use because they were too advanced for everyone. From there she just let me go nuts and learn what I wanted. I ended up writing my own photoshop-like art software that won first place at a state-level competition! She was an awesome teacher! I’m afraid there aren’t many like her who would let students take their own path. Even worse, she was always being confronted by the gestapo-like troll of a vice principal who wanted everything to be like the military, with absolute by-the-book rule following. Pfffffft that guy was an ass.


Considering this school does not have to deal with disabled kids or the volumes of paperwork for failed programs like NCLB that politicians (not teachers) burden public schools with, that is not too surprising.

I’m sure there are some schools would love to try some of this. Who’s going to stand up for them when the state gives their school an F because their kids didn’t do well on the standardized test or the crazy parent rants to the school board about how reading, writing and 'rithmatic was good enough to him?

We created our current public school system by taking the power out of the hand of professional teachers and giving it to politicians, PTAs, realtors, city government, just to name a few.

The teacher load can be lowered by transferring some to selected students.

Own experience. As an 8-grader I was sent to some health-resort-ish thingy in mountains, with a little one-classroom school. One of the three teachers was sick, and I ended up teaching chemistry and some parts of math.