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"In democratic schools I haven't seen any bullying at all."

"All the problems in education you can relate back to the coercion in schools. To me the forcing of children is really against the rights of the child."

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On bullying:

“If you look at bullying: in schools there is a hierarchy, and there are the people with power and the people without power. In any setting, whether you look at prisons or armies or schools, you see there is bullying. Bullying is the result of the power distance and being powerless in schools. In our schools, in democratic schools, I haven’t seen any bullying at all, because children have equal power with the other people and if something happens, they can actually take action and they have a mechanism to deal with it…”

On starting a democratic school:

“I am trained as a mining engineer, nothing to do with education. And actually I wanted to keep it that way. But then, when our eldest daughter at the age of eight said that she would rather be dead than go to school, for us as parents that was really a trigger. We had to do something. You cannot accept that you are forced by the government to keep our children in a system which makes them completely depressed, and with this result. So we started to look around for alternatives…. We started reading the books of the Sudbury Valley schools. My initial reaction was: this is weird, it can’t be! But this I think was the way I was conditioned by my own schooling. When we started really reading it, we thought, this was really great, something I really believe in. But then of course it wasn’t around at all. So we actually had to start a school, and that’s what we did.”

On Yaacov Hecht’s democratic schools:

“He started the first one thirty years ago I think and now there are thirty democratic schools in Israel supported by the state and funded by the state. Because that is a problem with a lot of democratic schools: within the rules for state funding, democratic schools are not possible in most countries, so it has to be a private school. But if it is a private school, it is not accessible for a lot of people because it is expensive. But I think there is a major role for governments here to move away from the coercion in education and make alternative possible. People have to start thinking about what we are doing and what the democratic mechanisms are. Because democracy in schools is not about the choice of meals or the colour of the walls. It is about what do you do in schools and how can you prepare yourself for your future life.”

EUDEC*’s next step?

“The European democratic education community (EUDEC) was pleased to participate in the recent and very successful World Forum on Democracy and Education providing a keynote speaker, Lab. leaders, discussants, story tellers, film makers, and many participants including students and alumni from democratic schools. All the rapporteurs referred to democratic schooling, with one rapporteur beginning her remarks with the important contribution we made to the event. The Forum was united around the idea that for the effective learning of democracy and human rights to occur they must be practised and experienced in the everyday life of the school as well as being explained by teachers.

This does not happen in many schools in many state systems. The required transition from more to less authoritarian models is, perhaps with the exception of the Nordic countries, problematic. The democratic schools have developed both experience and theory in this area through a variety of models. We also have some experience of this change occurring at system level, though in most cases the democratic schools are private schools. It is our wish that they should be available to all through state funding and that our schools should work closely with state systems at local and national levels.

Our students already fulfil the requirements of the 2010 Charter on Education for Democracy and Human Rights (EDC/HRE) and develop most of the 20 ‘competences for democratic culture’ through their daily experience in our schools. We feel that we have an important contribution to make to the development of the EDC/HRE project. We and our students have practical knowledge to bring to planning processes which is substantially lacking in most state systems as they presently are. As a group we also have understanding of what can be achieved within state schools and how the required transitions can be made to the more experiential forms of learning of democracy and human rights that we all want to see.

Signed, Peter Hartkamp, Derry Hannam, Yaacov Hecht.”

* The European Democratic Education Community  (EUDEC) consists of,

  1. EUDEC  (European Democratic Education Community) -  which represents democratic schools in many countries including Germany, The Netherlands, UK, France, Belgium, Austria, Denmark and Spain
  2. Teachers and head teachers from state schools that are or have been especially participative and democratic, some with CoE EDC/HRE experience.
  3. Researchers who have explored the outcomes of democratic schools and state schools that are especially participative and democratic
  4. Inspectors who have investigated alternative approaches to inspection and assessment appropriate for more democratic schools
  5. Academics and practitioners who are developing theory around democratic schooling
  6. Experts from other states that have made particular progress in incorporating democratic schools and principles into their mainstream state system.
openDemocracy is at this year's World Forum for Democracy, exploring the relationship between education and democracy with a youth newsroom. More here.
About the authors

Peter Hartkamp is author of Beyond Coercive Education and founder of three democratic schools in the Netherlands.

RB, editor

Rosemary Bechler is a mainsite editor of openDemocracy, and a member of the coordinating committee of DiEM25.

Margarete Hentze is an artist and filmmaker. She is the director of Doing Nothing All Day, a film about the democratic education movement.

Read On

openDemocracy will be at this year's World Forum for Democracy, exploring the relationship between education and democracy (see the programme for more details).


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