Learning to Be Free
There is something magical about creating a democratic school.
What if everything we force children to learn passively, they were able to learn it through their own natural impulses?
What if they were able to learn everything they needed to flourish by freely exploring their interests?
This has been going on for decades in schools that are still very confidential or not well understood. Children learn to read, write, count, and know what they are made for, at any age between 3 and 18. When they want, when they are ready. No predefined curriculum… because in the end, it’s not about what they learn, but who they become.
I was so inspired by this that I used it as a starting point to rethink school.
Learning to be free.
So with my compulsive idealism and optimism, I set out to open a democratic school.
And at first sight, opening a democratic school is SO simple. Caring adults and lots of interesting stuffs, toys, games, nice outdoors spaces, and you let children choose what they want to do, all day.
We live on a small Island in the middle of the pacific. Any trip abroad costs a lot. And when you are a young mum, it’s even more difficult to travel and go to other schools so you can get inspired, and you see the REAL reality. So even if we were in contact with two other schools in USA and in France, and with one French “expert” who was planning to come to New Caledonia. Even if we contacted Summerhill Democratics to have some insights and share their knowledge. There is still more.
Here are the simple thing I’ve learned (the hard way) and nobody told me before:
Children are not ready, from one day to another, to be free to make their own choices!
Not because they are too young, just because they are not used to, in a society where children are passive in their learning, and rely on the authority of parents or other adults to make decisions for them, and regulate their relationships and emotions.
As Peter Gray (I love him), a professor of psychology at Boston University and an advocate of self-directed education, has pointed out, “Children are not born ready to be autonomous. They need a safe and supportive environment where they can learn to make decisions, face the consequences of their choices and gradually become more independent.
Opening a democratic school, or a school where children take charge of their own learning, requires a process of adaptation.
I will tell you next time how I did it when I reopened my school. And how things were different for the children and for me.
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