Themes and Key Issues
What can be learnt from the experiences of democratic schools? What difficulties do they face? - The IDEC should help us to clarify successes and to identify and solve problems. We have devised a format and a number of questions which should stimulate all the participants. The following list may be long, but it is only a suggestion it can be made even longer. We encourage sceptics and critics in particular to send us their questions at email@example.com or use the feedback form.
In this part of the programme we want to go into the relationship between society and democratic education, for example: What do democratic schools expect from the state, and what can they offer it? What are the effects of religion and cultural tradition? How does the transfer into other kinds of education work?
- The Usefulness of Democratic Schools
What advantages do democratic schools offer to society? What would change in the long term?
- Social Acceptance
How do democratic educational systems try to gain acceptance in society? How can we bring the concept into the scientific and political debate?
- Legal Position
What is the legal position in Germany? Can we learn from other countries?
- Education Authorities
What causes significant conflict with the education authorities, and in what ways do we co-operate successfully with them? What could and should be the responsibilities of a local or central education department?
- Exam Results
What is the consequence of the lack of comparability with the academic results in state schools?
- The Financial Challenge
How can we bring state authorities to the point where they will adequately fund democratic schools? How can we guarantee the independence of the school from business and private interests? What are the dangers of dependence on such sources?
- Founding Schools
Are there tips and tricks for founding a school?
- Democratising State Schools
Do state schools allow themselves to be democratised? Is it thinkable that one day all schools will be democratic schools?
- Developing Countries
What particular problems face developing countries or countries under undemocratic regimes? Can a pluralistic school system suddenly arise in times of social breakdown, taking the place of traditional forms of school?
- Discrimination and Violence
What influence do social attitudes to sex discrimination and violence have on the genesis or existence of democratic schools?
- Poverty, Religion and Social Class
What are the effects of religion, poverty and social class?
Is there a problem of elitism? If so, how can it be avoided?
- Political Neutrality
Are democratic schools politically neutral?
- Social Minorities
What fundamental conditions do democratic schools nowadays offer to disadvantaged groups? Why are there hardly any social minorities in the democratic schools we know of?
In the structure section the topic is the relationships within democratic schools. How do democratic schools organise their days? What relationship do they have with parents? Who makes what decision? Etc.
What are the essential elements of a democratic school?
- School Meetings
What forms of school meeting are there? What can they vote on?
- Partial Democracy?
Are there "half-democratic" schools? Is democracy divisible?
- Duties and Rights of Staff
What particular duties and rights do staff and teachers have? - How can students have influence on them?
- Hidden Hierarchies
What hidden hierarchies are there in the schools? Are the dreams of democratic autonomy being realised? Where are the limits? What is decided behind the back of the school meeting?
- Rule-breaking and legal systems
How do different schools deal with rule-breaking? Does there have to be a justice committee or a court of arbitration?
- Empathy and Communication
How do interpersonal communication and empathy work? What are the consequences of this for the organisation of a democratic school? How are outsiders, "black sheep" or loners dealt with?
- Size of School
What is the effect of student numbers on the day-to-day running of the school? Are there "unreasonable" student numbers?
What role do parents play? How does the school behave when there is a conflict between parents and students?
Is it permissible to offer lessons in democratic schools - or do they damage the students' self-motivation, or even interfere with their process of self-discovery?
- State laws
How are external laws dealt with, for instance laws about the age children can see certain films or drink alcohol?
- School fees
How do the schools take the differing financial circumstances of families into account?
- Staff Contracts
How is the staff contract decided?
We want to give particular attention to the individual student's learning of skills and acquiring of knowledge, and in doing so to take into account discoveries in brain research. What effect does autonomy have on learning? Are students in democratic learning establishments happier? Etc.
- Waste of Learning Potential
Are there methods which make learning particularly effective (for instance in foreign languages)? How are unnecessarily roundabout ways of learning to be avoided? Can learning potential be squandered? What connections are there between age and learning capacity?
- Success in Learning
How can success in learning be assessed and compared - or should the judgement be left to the learners themselves?
- Sadness and Happiness
What effect do sadness and happiness have on the learning process? How can happiness be deliberately and/or consciously promoted?
- Group Dynamics
What role is played by group dynamics, and, for instance, the mixing of different age-groups?
- General Education
Are there worries about the risk of an inadequate "general education"? (Or has there not for a long time been a world of people with an unbalanced education, because everyone has forgotten most of what they learnt in school?)
What actually is autonomy? Are people not guided by their social and genetic conditioning?
- Reading and Writing
What role should reading and writing play? Does the danger of alienation from inherited culture arise from the over-emphasis on (western) knowledge?
There are a few questions and ideas which will not fit unambiguously into the previous three categories. We want to keep space for them too.
- Children with Disabilities
What do democratic schools do about children with severe disabilities?
What innovative ideas are there about finance or publicity?
- Sudbury Schools
What distinguishes a Sudbury-model school? Who may use the name?
- Democratic Businesses
For people who have left school, are democratic businesses conceivable?
- Collaboration of Democratic Schools
How can the existing democratic schools co-operate better?
- Student Network
Do we need a separate student network? Why should teachers be excluded?