Work Smart Not Hard

How Democratic Education Applies This Motto

April 27, 2015  |  By Ana-Maria Gatejel, Romania

Work Smart Not Hard

Untill a month ago, the term “Democratic education” meant nothing to me. From the context, I thought it meant an educational system based on a political curriculum to prepare young children for a career in politics. But coincidences are everywhere, so after my first encounter with this term I started being surrounded by content on this specific subject. Out of curiosity, I followed the matter back to its roots and I discovered that the concept is quite historical and popular for the West European countries.

If Wikipedia is accurate enough, it is said that the first ones to understand that knowledge should not be acquired as a burden but as a delight were the Illuminists, which makes total sense owing to the fact that the Age of Reason was a breakout from the conventional. But from theory to practice is a long way that took about 300 years. In 1921, the first democratic school was opened. Summerhill in England still exists and has been an inspiration for many others.

Such as home-schooling, progressive or democratic education is still seen as an unconventional way of educating young and naive minds. This is why many people do not trust this revolutionary way of approaching serious matters as schooling because they probably do not understand it. As I said before, don’t let the name put you in difficulty. The ‘democratic’ term refers only at how the school is organised. As someone said: ‘Democracy is a tool for creating something else: a community where free learning is possible, as much as such a community is possible.’

Why was I so captivated by the subject? Well, it’s maybe because I am part of an educational system which terrorises generation after generation. Even if some changes have occurred through the traditional system, I am personally not pleased by the way I am being taught in school. From my point of view, conventional education focuses on the amount, not on the quality of information. Hence young minds are not encouraged to think for themselves, thus becoming another brick in the wall.

First of all, what is more appealing for the democratic kind of education is that the curriculum is not mandatory. Forced learning could be seen as a violation of its democratic character. Therefore students choose what they want to study, and this personal choice determines their involvement.

Second of all, everyone who is part of this community administrates these schools. At some schools, administrative meetings are compulsory, but in some schools they are voluntary. Anyway, all decisions are taken democratically through a one person – one vote procedure. It’s important to note that the students are included and encouraged to participate in the voting.

There is an initiative to open such school in Brasov, Romania, but the project is still in its early stage. To find out more about it I interviewed one of the founders, Andreia Piticas. She is a teacher at a democratic school in Germany and wants to help this movement to grow in her home country too. Why? Because even if she had good grades when in school, that wasn’t due to the educational system. After graduating from University she decided to change something in the way the pupils are taught. This is how she came across the democratic education concept.

The project has already started, but just on paper. Nothing is certain yet because there are some concerns about legal aspects, funding and public opinion. The school is expected to bear fruit 2 years from now. Legally speaking, there is a problem regarding the curriculum. Education Law provides credibility just for private schools that respect a certain curriculum, but this is contrary to the democratic principle.

The school will most likely be funded by the parents who decide that an unconventional school based on democratic practices is better for the sanity of their children. What is ardent in this case is to re-educate the public opinion regarding educational expectations. As Andreea said: ‘Parents who decide to offer their children this type of education have to trust their children’s ability to decide for themselves.’

As far as I am concerned this initiative means a lot for our country’s status. After a long time, the signs of social improvement are starting to be seen. I personally see this educational project as a breath of fresh air and I honestly think that it will have great success among the new generation of parents. This school will serve as a milestone for the progressive times yet to come.

What is so unique at a democratic education is that the pupil is in charge of his own development. He depends on his own ability to make decisions on what subject he wants to specialise in. Therefore he becomes fully aware of his strengths and weaknesses from an early stage. By living in a democratic environment he will not let himself be fooled by the system.

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