"Discipline is nothing, discussion is everything"
In Berlin educators disagree as to whether it helps children to let them decide for themselves about their learning.
Berlin taz: When David Gribble left his libertarian school project in Ashburton in south-west England he thought: "In the whole world there may be three for four really democratic schools." After travelling round the world for several years he now knows: "You can't count how many schools there are that put the children's wishes at the centre." Since yesterday many of the educational radical democrats have been debating at the Humboldt University. In doing so they find "that democracy is rather hard work."
For at the world conference of democratic schools in Berlin, which ends this evening, things are done as they are done in the schools themselves; there is no teacher who stands in front and directs; as a basic framework there is only a rather vague timetable, and it is often ignored in favour of an interesting conversation. And there are plenty of objections to schools in which the pupils decide everything. Over three hundred participants from 28 countries gave a perfect demonstration of this. What happens to the leavers from your schools? Are they only happy or are they successful as well? David Gribble from Sands School counters such doubts. The is a rather old study which showed that democratic schools have produced many writers, artists, journalists and other successful people. Mike Weimann, from the Berlin Krätzä project - the group that demands votes for children - added, in an irritated way, "Everyone has achieved what they wanted to achieve". And Paul Sell, from Weimann's children's rights protesters, says defiantly: "I think it is a pity that I didn't got to a proper, democratic school." Already, a year after her school-leaving exams, she is noticing all that she missed at the normal school, scornfully described at the conference as an industrial school or a place which hinders learning.
But the unconditional school democrats are not as unconditional as all that. Among the themes in the workshops is not only perfect freedom to learn or not to learn, but also questions about "the essential curriculum." They are discussing the danger of distraction by television and computer games under pupil-based democracy or the questions about where intolerant, aggressive school communities might be led by the principle of total school democracy.
The world conference has some top-class people to discuss these issues. Zoe Readhead, for instance, the present head of Summerhill, the mother of all alternative schools. Or Wilfried Steinert, Federal Representative of Parents and head of an alternative school. Or Hartmut Glänzel, who is talking about his high school "City as School", which has made the whole of Berlin into an exciting place of learning. And David Gribble, of course, who - as the title of one of his books implies - "is on the children's side". According to Gribble discipline, curriculum and exams are unimportant for the development of the child. What is essential is care, respect and freedom.