Turns out, many public school students don’t think democratic education is realistic or very beneficial. That’s contrary to research, which shows that democratic schools have many benefits for youth, but nevertheless, most public school students simply don’t seem to believe that democratic education could work.
Which brings us to one of the biggest benefits of democratic schools – democratic education results in youth who believe they can think and learn independently.
I know youth in traditional schools CAN think and learn independently, however, there’s an important distinction between having the ability to learn independently vs. really believing you can think and learn all on your own if necessary.
Most kids I know who aren’t in public school, for example democratic school students, unschoolers and many homeschoolers, do believe they can learn independently. Like any kids, they need support and guidance when it comes to learning and other situations, but they’re not stuck on the belief that learning and living only happens when it’s forced.
Many kids in public school seem to think differently. In my own life, I’ve met plenty of public school kids who make statements like, “My teachers tell me what to think” and, “If I didn’t have a teacher to tell me what to do, I wouldn’t learn anything.” While this is just my experience, there’s other proof out there that shows public school kids are very reluctant to think or learn on their own.
The best example I’ve seen of this phenomenon recently, was an article at the The New York Times. The Times has a education student opinion series they run, where they ask questions and students can leave a comment where they answer the question. This year, one of the articles, gave an introduction to a New York based democratic school, then asked students, ”How Would You Do in a ‘Free School’?”
The answers were nothing short of horrifying. Over and over kids left comments about their inability to think or learn independently. Below is a sampling of comments the kids made…
Note, I tried to correct all the spelling errors, but otherwise left the comments as the kids wrote them and didn’t put them in italics to save your eyes some strain.
When asked, “How would you do in a free school?” most kids were not on board:
“I would do terrible in a free school. I already get distracted in normal school. If i went to this so-called ‘free school’ I would probably flunk out of college.”
“I am a lazy person, all the way around. I know what I will do if not given directions to do something, like work for example.”
“This would not be a good idea for most students because they wouldn’t take the opportunity to learn about what they want, they would rather do nothing at all.”
“I don’t agree with this at all. If you had one of these type of schools all the students would not learn a single thing.”
“I am usually a very self motivated person, but not with school work, even though I dislike schoolwork and homework, having a teacher there to keep me in line helps me keep focus. I don’t think I’d do too good there, I need someone other than myself to tell me what to do.”
“These students have no good future because they are not being taught properly. Someone should ban these types of schools..!!”
“At the age of middle and high school students, many simply are not mature enough to take responsibility for their learning.”
“I think that a “free school” is a horrible idea. There is no way that a student would be prepared for college by directing their own education.”
“It would be so hard to self – motivate to actually do something.”
“I think that going to a free school is a not a very wise idea. If you want to actually do something in life that will give you a lot of money. This will not teach you anything. It is better to have a regular school where people actually teach you, and you have to do what they tell you. ”
“Without teachers pushing or helping students, they’ll just lay around and play games all day. Kids these days are very lazy.”
“I think that I would be dumber than a rock (stupid.)”
“The people who go to this type of school wouldn’t do as well in the real world.”
“Without someone telling me what to do I would be really lost.”
“I need someone who force me or tell me when is the due date for the assignment.”
Some kids had mixed opinions:
“Personally I don’t think I would want to go to a “school” like this. I know that I would not end up doing any work, and would be wasting my time there. I would much rather go to a school were I am forced to learn things, and have to work to get good grades. On the other hand, I really dislike how in school we have to learn about topics and subjects that I know will never apply to a job or career I want.”
“I think that I would do okay in a free school. I am not sure if other people would do well because most kids do not like school. If they could do anything they wanted then they would do nothing.”
“To be able to do what ever you want and not have a teacher nag you would be great. But then what are you learning? How are you going to go to college and pass it? And how are you going to work afterwords? You’ll be use to everyone handing things to you and that’s just not how life is.”
“I think I would probably enjoy free school. Free school is probably not a good idea because we the students can not direct what we have to do or what we have to learn.”
A few (very few) kids thought democratic education sounded awesome:
“If I was in a free school I would be so happy that I wouldn’t have to hear my teacher mouth telling me to do something every two seconds. It would be really fun and I actually think that I would learn a lot me on my own time. I don’t know why schools all around the would can be like that because I think a lot of more kids would come to school and enjoy learning and actually want to come back the next day.”
“I think that this a great idea because it allows the student to express themselves and not be forced to uphold the image a perfect student. Schools today make you conform to their standards and that will effect the students personality and the way they think. If the student is allowed to choose the way they learn instead of being told how to learn would significantly help the student in life.”
“I would very much enjoy to go to a school like this. If we had a school like this, so many kids would not be grounded so easily because most times the cause of being grounded is because of bad grades. Students would not have to suffer so much discipline or stress if our school was a free school. Teachers and classes here should try to be more like that school, it would make a whole lot easier, and we’re still kids so we deserve to enjoy our childhood at least.”
“This is surprising to me big time. I would go to a school like that it sounds awesome. I thought this only existed in my dreams.”
“I would love to attend this school simply because you would be able to focus all of your learning into a couple of subjects that you really are good at. You wouldn’t have to endure the endless frustration of learning about a subject that doesn’t interest you or that you really don’t like. I think that this is a more friendly learning environment, as opposed to a strict schedule of classes that might bore you and so little time for a subject that you really enjoy or do well in. I might even make up my own little schedule of the subjects that I really enjoy and also a little down time to relax, some thing that other schools don’t seem to offer. The perfect school…”
Of the current 230+ comments on this question, most were really depressing. Not being able to learn without force, thinking all kids are lazy (and/or stupid) and being distracted in their current school were common themes.
The worst common theme though, in my opinion, was that huge amounts of kids associated being told what to do, how to do it and when to do it, with “real” (adult) life. In other words, kids seemed to think that when you grow up, a real, successful life means knowing how to take orders from others. That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard and the last thing I’d want for my own child. This is how followers, not leaders are built.
Some might argue that not everyone can be a leader, but even so, democratic education may give your own child a better opportunity to know that kids aren’t just made to take orders – youth can think and learn independently and can help direct their own futures.