Thursday, January 26, 2012

Must Schools in a Democracy be “Democratic”?

Proverb: Too many cooks spoil the broth. Is this true?
During the 1975 - 76 school year I helped coordinate a parent-run private pre-school in Philadelphia. We shared a building with an experimental private K-12 school, call it Walden, whose fundamental premise -- the headmaster told me -- was that everyone, staff, administration, parent and student, got to participate in decision making: everyone had a voice. And they all had a single vote in the community.

In September, I would see large numbers (over 100) of adults and children going daily into a commons room to discuss what was to be taught, and how. During the year I noticed many, many students playing in the schoolyard at all times of the day.

By the next May I saw far fewer people assembling in that same commons room. I asked the headmaster how things were going. “We have made some progress toward a general idea of what the curriculum might turn out to be; but we have yet to have classes. The students can’t seem to agree with their parents and the kids can outvote the adults.”

Considering that the State of Pennsylvania recognized Walden as a replacement for public schooling, I often wondered what the parents thought they were paying for and whether they got their money’s worth.

To examine these issues further, see Democracy vs Efficiency in Public Schooling

Cordially,
-- EGR