Can you imagine a school, where the kids are free to do whatever they want with whomever they choose and as long as they want? An education environment where the borders and rules are set up and implemented together by kids and adults in a democratic environment? Can you imagine a school where kids have the same power in making decisions as the adults?
Yes, such schools operate all over the world. They are based on different educational assumptions from our schooling days, making them quite different from what we might be accustomed to. What is common across all iterations of this new type of schooling, is fully trusting the children. Trusting that these are competent people with their own ‘inner program’ for a unique saturated life. These kids want to discover who they are, how to live a meaningful life and are ready to follow their personal learning needs. And, of course, these kids take responsibility for themselves and their decisions, which is the other side of the freedom coin.
Free Democratic Schools
Many people are surprised to hear that such schools have existed for decades. These schools have good educational results and a deep appreciation from their alumni. The oldest school of this type is Summerhill, established in the UK by A. S. Neill in 1921. It is probably the most famous Free Democratic school due to the movie of the same name.
More and more such schools are appearing under different names, some of them using the term ‘Sudbury’, which is borrowed from another pioneer in this area, the Sudbury Valley School established at the end of sixties in Massachusetts. The value added by the Sudbury Valley School was by copying the US democracy, its’ institutions and procedures within the operations and principles of the school. This is the reason why this type of school can be sometimes found also under the title of ‘Democratic School’. The important features of the Free Democratic schools include:
Freedom and Responsibility given to kids based on trust resulting in self-governed learning based on inner motivation
Equal Rights of all members of the school community and decision making based on democratic procedures
Full age mixing in the school
The idea of Free Democratic schools in the Czech Republic is being promoted by the initiative ‘Freedom to Learn’ (svobodauceni.cz). It is also finding growing interest from start-up schools and groups looking for an alternative to standard education in this rapidly changing world.
Free Democratic schools can be perceived as ‘radical’ from the perspective of the prevailing schooling paradigm. They are based on trust, democratic procedures and self-management. Their radical educational approaches seems to mirror recent trends within society including the labor market and in the evolution of organizations. While these trends are becoming a new reality across our society including business, they are still very new in schools.
The intention of Free Democratic schools is to prepare children not only for today’s world, but for the future world they will co-create and inhabit. Real educational change is perceived as a necessity by many, and Free Democratic schools are becoming the choice for more and more people inspired to implement this change now.
This article is a contribution by Vladimír Dobeš and Lucie Dobešová, co-founders of the Free Democratic school Donum Felix in Kladno, which has the following motto for growing with children: “I do not know where you go, however, I want to help you to discover your unique journey and support you on it.”