"Any citizen should be able to open a school."

Ramin Farhangi in conversation with Rosemary Bechler and Arleen Pimentel at the 2016 World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg.

Arleen Pimentel Ramin Farhangi
15 November 2016

On French democratic schooling:

“In France, we went from two schools last year to 15 democratic schools this year. So there is some kind of explosion going on there. And a lot of interest. Maybe it does come accompanied by quite a bit of frustration from some parents with the conventional system. It hasn’t transformed much in the past few decades whereas in other European countries there has been a bit more effort to improve the pedagogy and the wellbeing of the students in the classroom, as well as the relationships between the teachers and the students. Finland is the best example, but in Germany and the UK I feel there has been more progress and that we [in France] are still a quite traditional system. We have a very vertical transmission of the curriculum, of explanations and theories, and not much relationship-building and doing stuff together.”

On questioning the French Minister of Education:

“ The question I asked the Minister of Education was about my school, which gives full power to the people in the school on a one person: one vote basis, which gives as much power to a ten year old in my school as to me… Her answer was, “Yes, you are right, this is really the ultimate place to get to, and for now what she has started in state schools is to have a bit more democracy with some students’ meetings who decide on the meals, and some parties and associations.

Well I think it is really insufficient. When you don’t involve the students in real responsibilities which have to do with transforming their own environment, and it is just about projects and modifying some tiny things in their environment, they do not really acquire the wisdom of what it is to exercise power. They can’t just learn in theory, in my view, they have to practise power in my view to be able to gain such wisdom.” 

Concerning the Paris attacks:

“ It calls ever more for the need to transform the design of our schools. These attacks were done by people who felt excluded and isolated in society, who were pining for some kind of meaning in life, and who found it through some radical extremist networks they probably saw on the internet. They made connections with these terrorist groups and developed as terrorists.

If we don’t offer these people any other hope, and we don’t give them care and love, and we don’t give them an importance in a collective setting in which they have a voice and they have some power, we will not get out of this situation where children feel unimportant and many of them suffer in a system that is quite violent.” 

On private schooling:

“What I would really see as the best scenario is that private schools don’t exist any more. My school is private so it is a bit weird for me to say this. But I don’t believe in private schools. I believe all schools should be state funded, period. And the criterion to start a school should be, well, there are some parents who trust the school that you are opening. Any citizen should be able to open a school and as long as the children are being respected in that school and the school reflects the values of the Republic and of democracy and human rights – then any school should be able to open, whatever the approach is… This is Article 26c of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the parents have the priority in choosing what’s best for their kids. I’m soon to be a parent, I want to choose what’s best for my kid.”

openDemocracy is at this year's World Forum for Democracy, exploring the relationship between education and democracy with a youth newsroom. More here.

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