Arguments for democratic schooling are mostly psychological (theory of learning (Gray, ‘Learning Requires Freedom’)) or anthropological (learning in hunter-gatherer tribes (Gray, ‘Children Educate Themselves I’)). I want to confront democratic schooling with selected perspectives of philosophy of education: Eugen Fink’s understanding of human, challenges of Zdeněk Kratochvíl and the analysis of the crisis in education by Hannah Arendt.
Democratic Schooling in Summerhill and Sudbury Valley School
In democratic schooling (as seen in Summerhill and Sudbury Valley School), a school is run as participatory democracy where children have an equal vote to adults. Students are free as long as they do not violate rules. There are no grades or curriculum. Courses only occur when students organise them. (Gray, ‘The Natural Environment for Children’s Self-Education’)
Adults have no formal authority (anti-authoritarian education), no power over children (Štrynclová). They are responsible for creating a suitable environment. Democratic schooling supposes that such an environment is sufficient for the education of children (Gray, ‘Children Educate Themselves I’): “Children’s education is children’s responsibility, […] Our task regarding education is just to stand back and let it happen.”
Democratic schooling is very liberal. It emphasises individualisation, self-determination, a free exchange of ideas, discussion and free age mixing. (Štrynclová; Gray, ‘The Natural Environment for Children’s Self-Education’)
The Perspective of Philosophy of Education on Democratic Schooling
Fink refuses education as a simple process of accomplishing predefined goals. A human is not a homo faber, imago Dei or animal rationale; therefore education is not a tool (pedagogy) to fulfil such a determination. A human is an openness who has to educate entire life. (Pelcová 190–94) Democratic schooling agrees with Fink: children self-educate, and there are no curricula.
Kratochvíl’s arguments (based on postmodern philosophy – J. F. Lyotard) also refuses predefined goals in education and relying on a method (K. Feyerabend). He wants education to be philosophy itself. (Kratochvíl 10) We see a parallel between education in democratic schooling and philosophy because both emerge from amazement.
Furthermore, Kratochvíl introduces challenges to contemporary education (Kratochvíl, ch. Soudobé výzvy výchově): ignition of the psyche (by a suitable environment without any outside pressure); plural ontology (education to introduce different perspectives); authenticity and individuality (help with self-determination). Democratic schooling follows these challenges closely. It helps through a proper environment, does not force, and it respects the individual needs of children.
Arendt criticises creating a school as “a child’s world and a society formed among children that are autonomous and must insofar as possible be left to them to govern.”1 According to Arendt: “[c]hildren cannot throw off educational authority,”2 because the absence of authority of adults causes tyranny of the majority. Moreover, Arendt stands again children learning through play because “he is debarred from the world of grown-ups and artificially kept in his own”3 (Arendt, ch. Krize vzdělání). However, observation in democratic schools provides evidence against Arendt’s arguments. (Gray and Chanoff; Gray, ‘The Natural Environment for Children’s Self-Education’) Therefore, there probably are some mechanisms again the problems (e.g., free age mixing and informal authority of adults).
Democratic schooling can be philosophically supported by Fink’s understanding of human and offers solutions to Kratochvíl’s challenges. Nevertheless, from Arendt point of view, democratic schooling should be aware of an essential role of authority (responsibility and role model).
Arendt, Hannah. Mezi minulostí a budoucností: Osm cvičení v politickém myšlení. OIKOYMENH, 2019.
Gray, Peter. ‘Children Educate Themselves I: Outline of Evidence’. Psychology Today, 16 July 2008, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200807/children-educate-themselves-i-outline-evidence.
—. ‘Learning Requires Freedom’. Psychology Today, 9 July 2008, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200807/learning-requires-freedom.
—. ‘The Natural Environment for Children’s Self-Education’. Psychology Today, 3 Sept. 2008, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200809/the-natural-environment-children-s-self-education.
Gray, Peter, and David Chanoff. ‘Democratic Schooling: What Happens to Young People Who Have Charge of Their Own Education?’ American Journal of Education, vol. 94, no. 2, The University of Chicago Press, Feb. 1986, pp. 182–213. journals.uchicago.edu (Atypon), doi:10.1086/443842.
Kratochvíl, Zdeněk. Výchova, Zřejmost, Vědomí. Herrmann & synové, 1995.
Pelcová, Naděžda. Filozofická a Pedagogická Antropologie. Karolinum, 2000.
Štrynclová, Gabriela. Summerhill: Model Antiautoritativní Výchovy. Univerzita Pardubice, 2003.
“dětský svět, společenství vytvořené dětmi, které jsou autonomní, a kterým se tudíž musí pokud možno ponechat rozhodování o sobě samých.“ (Arendt 186) ↩
„[d]ěti nemohou odvrhnout výchovnout autoritu,“ (Arendt 194) ↩
„dítě se vylučuje ze světa dospělých a udržuje se uměle ve svém vlastním světě“ (Arendt 189) ↩