Democratic Schooling:
Nurturing Every Child,
Not Just Playing The Odds

by Don Berg, Founder
Attitutor Services

Intro, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Series Introduction

Democratic schooling represents a miniscule proportion of schools in America. ***

Mainstream classroom schooling of today is only marginally different from the industrial educational system despite a century or more of sound criticism of it's un-democratic character.

I suggest we take a new look at this odd situation by comparing the typical images of democratic education communities with that of normal mainstream classrooms from a new perspective.

Democratic schools are usually seen as bordering on wildness with children and adults freely roaming about doing things that are normally considered recreational.

Even if they are observed doing something educational they are likely to be doing it in a manner that is normally regarded as recreational.

Link to audio about Village Free School in Portland, OR, USA

Link to a Seattle Times article about Clearwater School in the U.S.

On the other hand, the typical classroom is located in an industrial-style school and is generally regarded as the very archetype of adult imposed order used to get children to participate in educational activities.

And, even if they are doing something that would normally be considered recreational they will do it in a manner that is supposed to make it educational.

Link to a video showing a first grade class under complete teacher control.

Link to National Education Association web page on advice about maintaining control of classrooms.

In the mind of the average U.S. citizen today an industrial classroom is considered the ideal learning environment, whereas a democratic community might be considered a strange arrangement for children because it seems to lack the necessary leadership of adult authorities.

These images and the usual judgments that result are very ironic and would be funny if the personal and moral stakes for each family weren't so high.

The judgment demonstrates a fundamental confusion about what education is and how schooling can serve to bring it about.

In this series I shall compare these two distinct styles of schooling to give you a clear view of this confusion.

While both forms of schooling can be functional strategies for the perpetuation of society, the moral obligations of parents and communities towards individual children suggests that more democratic schooling options are generally preferable and various forms democratic power should become a central feature of mainstream schooling in the future.

The first part, Schools Are A Reproductive Organ, considers schooling as the reproductive function for complex literate societies.

This metaphor suggests that there is a continuum of trade-offs to be made between

  • investing in the highest quantity of symbolic information delivered to young people (the industrial schooling strategy)


  • investing in the highest quality of social structure to protect and nurture each young mind that will perpetuate their social heritage (the democratic schooling strategy)

There is no question that all the strategies along the entire continuum between these extremes have proven successful at producing productive citizens, but it is time the consequences of the trade-off became part of the public debate on education.

The second part, The Illusion, takes a deeper look at the illusion that education results from adults imposing order on children's lives.

In the third part, Stewardship Of A Child's Mind, I examine how the moral obligations of parents and neighbors towards an individual child interact with their moral obligations to perpetuate society.

In the fourth part, Dispelling The Illusion, I conclude by examining how we can move forward towards a preferred future by breaking the spell of the illusions that most people seem to have about education.

*** My use of the term 'Democracy' in this article is meant to designate a broad range of power structures that engage students in making meaningful real-world decisions about the operations of their school, including participating in the formal resolution of conflict through some form of student dominated group often called a 'justice board.' My use of the term does not recognize any distinction between democracies and republics.

Democratic Schooling: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.