Der Tagesspiegel, 05.08.2005
"Learning when you feel like it"
World conference of democratic schools in Berlin
When Ellen Wagner comes to school in the morning she meets fellow-pupils who are catching up on their sleep a bit or chatting about their latest experiences. Others are busy in the school building, talking with friends about their school band or wondering how they can find answers to their own questions. Every day Ellen decides for herself afresh whether she will attend classes or do something of her own. After lunch there is movement and craft, all of course voluntary.
Ellen Wagner goes to the SchülerInnenschule, a democratic school in Vienna. But does she learn there, or is her school only an educational snuggery for lucky children? "Every day we have to make responsible decisions and decide for ourselves what, how and when we will learn," she says. For her that is the best way of learning for life. It is just the same for the school pupils from England, Japan, Russia, Israel and America, who came to the international Conference about democratic education in the Humboldt University on Thursday. About 200 participants from more than 28 countries have followed the summons of the Berlin youth group Krätzä from the Netzwerk Spiel/Kultur association. At the 13th international conference of democratic schools academics, school students and educationists are discussing learning without compulsion, "happiness research" and "communication with equal rights" - supported by the Federal Centre for Political Education and the Federal Ministry for Education and Research.
Although in a democratic school everyone can do what they want, pupils, parents and teachers together develop rules by which the school will function. Anyone who isn't coming in to school must let the others know. Although they have no marks, the pupils of democratic schools are well educated; many of them go on to further study.
"If children have to learn under pressure to achieve they do not develop," says Meghan Carrico, a teacher at the democratic Windsor House School in Vancouver, Canada. When they are supported in their freedom of choice, they learn to learn independently. Because every child is eager for knowledge and willing to learn of its own accord. The approximately seventy democratic schools world-wide are also a model for a Berlin parent group, which hopes to open such a school in 2006/2007. The initiative is based on the Sudbury School in the USA. The first one opened last year in Überlingen on the Bodensee.