Philosophy of a Democratic School
Clearview is a Democratic school, embracing the philosophy that dignity and freedom are the essential state of all humans. As a democracy, it is the purpose of our school to ensure that the rights and freedoms of School Meeting members are both protected and respected.
The primary premise of our learning philosophy was stated by Aristotle over 2000 years ago, “All human beings are naturally curious.” It follows from this that all people are driven to learn. Just as babies are driven to master movement and speech, all of us are driven to master the potentials and interactions of the world around us. Our paths to understanding take many varied and specific forms, which cannot and should not be the same for everyone.
The longest lasting, most effective learning is actively pursued by the learner. Learning motivated by a genuine interest is fundamentally superior to externally motivated learning. Any interference with the genuine interests of a student by compelling or coercive teachers is counterproductive to learning. When natural learning skills develop properly every person has the capacity to learn what they need when they encounter that need.
In the spirit of non-coercion, students can be entirely self-paced. The standard timetables of developmental readiness are artificial, and they do not hold in Sudbury schools. Students may spend minutes, months, or years on one interest. There has been a tendency in this country to teach reading as early as possible; however, there are no measurable differences between adults who learned to read at 4 and those who learned to read at 10.
Students are the best judges of the quality of their work and of the productivity of their time. They must retain the self-respect to trust their own judgement. However counter-intuitive, recent research suggests that feedback demotivates students when it takes the form of a value judgement. Naturally, students are free to seek out criticism and support. Success is not achieved by outperforming a classmate, but by obtaining personal satisfaction. Failure is seen as an important and worthy obstacle, not something aversive or discouraging.
A democratic government ties the success of the school to the authentic investment of its individuals. A democratic school environment is an effective means of protecting the rights of all individuals in the school. Being a legitimate part of a democracy provides empowerment and a sense of purpose. Adults are expected to lead, set and achieve goals, and solve problems in meaningful ways. We allow children to cultivate these qualities.
- School Meeting
The school is operated by the School Meeting. All students and staff each have one vote. The meeting utilizes Robert’s Rules of Order. Meetings occur for two hours once a week. Here, students and staff debate and decide all matters pertaining to the operation of the school. This includes the creation and amendment of the school rules, the election of staff, and the annual budget.
- Judicial Committee
The JC is an important part of how school rules are maintained in a way that helps children take responsibility for their actions. Typically, the JC is comprised of a randomly selected group of students and one staff member. One of the great strengths of the school is that students are leaders in holding themselves and other students responsible for their actions. Since students have a voice in determining the rules through the school meeting, students are also given the responsibility of determining whether a rule has been broken. When the JC is asked to investigate a potential problem, they invite all involved parties to provide their side of the story. After learning as much as they can about what happened, if the student is found to have broken the rule, the JC makes a determination on what action would best help the student learn to respect the rule.
For Example: Let’s say the School meeting votes to set a rule that students must clean up art supplies they use after they are finished. Let’s say that a student named Joe fails to follow these guidelines and leaves a mess. Another student named Mary goes to use these supplies and asks Joe to clean up the mess. Joe says he doesn’t want to because he is busy in a different activity. Mary can then fill out a complaint form to report the issue. The JC then will ask Joe and Mary to tell their stories, and may call on other witnesses. If the JC determines Joe didn’t follow the rule, they would make their decision known and find an appropriate consequence such as having Joe clean up the supplies if possible, or they may ask Joe not to use the art supplies for a day. The experience from other Sudbury schools is that students are more receptive to feedback from their peers than adults and are more likely to take responsibility for following the rules in the future. This type of process will be better for Joe in the long run than simple adult direction because it helps Joe recognize and internalize that he is part of the community and needs to follow the rules. This example would also benefit Mary since she now has a stronger sense that she can act to make sure her own learning is respected. Finally, the JC members learn the value of hearing both sides of the story and determining a fair resolution.
- Committees and Clerks
Many administrative tasks and matters in need of oversight are allocated to clerks and committees. Clerkships and committees are created and abolished as needs rise and wane. Interested parties are elected as clerks for one year terms.
Once a year the Assembly meets. The Assembly consists of students, their parents, staff, and elected members of the community. They make broad policy decisions and approve the annual budget put forth by the school meeting.
Life at School
Students at Sudbury schools spend a lot of time playing. A common misconception is that play is mindless activity. Play is any activity with an indeterminate component; where not all of the boundaries are previously set. Curiosity and play propel each other, they both involve exploration of the unknown. Play is naturally fun. Why? The means by which people advance is through investigation and manipulation of that which is not yet known.
- Age Mixing
Students at Sudbury schools are not separated by age. Age does not dictate interest or skill level in any particular subject. The old learn from the young as easily as the young from the old. In the absence of unhealthy competition, students enjoy teaching.
No one at school is striving to keep students entertained and productive. At times students will feel bored at school. This allows an important opportunity for self-reflection. This is a chance to discover what it means to waste time as early as possible.
Groups of people with shared interests can form corporations. Corporations are chartered by the School Meeting to support the pursuit of particular interests. They are democratically run and overseen by elected Executive Directors. Some examples of corporations at Sudbury schools are: the photography corporation, the cooking corporation, the library corporation, and the sports corporation. Corporations hold fundraisers and seek financial support from the school meeting to fund their projects and facilities.