What is Democratic Education?
In general, democratic education is a school model based on the integration of democratic principles and education. Students at democratic schools are directly involved in choosing their goals and determining how they reach them. Through this process they are engaged in meaningful participation that encourages self-motivation and independence.
Students and staff also engage in democratic processes for handling the daily practical issues that face the school community. In this way, students learn community consciousness and apply interpersonal skills and social responsibility in their larger communities.
In our school, democratic principles are applied to academic learning, personal development, problem solving, decision making, and community involvement.
Academic Learning: Democratic schools offer students the opportunity to choose what, when, and how they learn. This is based on the idea that each person gains knowledge and skills in different ways, and that young adults who are directly involved in their academic process will find value and enjoyment in their education. At HTDHS, students have choices in setting and reaching their academic goals. They may also choose the process by which they reach these goals, such as classes, independent study, internships, projects, field trips and more.
Personal Development: Democratic schools give equal attention to personal development and academic learning. HTDHS staff recognizes that young adults face many challenges in preparing themselves for life after high school graduation. In addition to academic goals, students also set personal goals into their program which the staff helps them to meet. Not only does this help students prepare for their future, but it often resolves issues that hinder their education if left unaddressed.
Problem Solving: At democratic schools, students and staff work together to solve inter-personal and community problems. Democratic problem solving processes empower students to stand up for themselves and treat each other with respect. We utilize three processes for resolving issues at HTDHS:
*We encourage individuals, whether staff or students, to communicate with each other informally. Direct communication often solves problems quickly and avoids misunderstandings.
*Mediations involve the parties having the dispute, a support person if they desire it, plus an impartial staff member and student.
*Council Meetings are held with the entire school. They are formal meetings led by a student facilitator. These meetings are used when a problem involves everyone in the school and requires immediate resolution. It is also used when mediations have failed to resolve an issue.
Decision Making: Direct democracy of various forms is utilized for group decision making in democratic schools. School meetings address a variety of concerns that affect the school community and involve equal involvement of staff and students.
*Governance meetings (All School Meetings) at HTDHS are held once a week. They are facilitated by a student and utilize a formal procedural system. Topics addressed at these meetings can include activities and scheduling, use of communal space, problem solving, hiring of staff, making or changing school rules, and much more.
*Each person, staff or student, gets an equal vote at our school. While most democratic schools use simple majority when voting, HTDHS runs on a consensus system. Agreements or consequences that result from a mediation, council meeting, or governance meeting are reached by group consensus. This ensures that minority opinions are given equal weight, and also teaches students compromise and community consciousness.
Community Involvement: Democratic schools not only teach students citizenship, but also encourage awareness and concern for their community. Direct involvement in their education and in the school community teaches students community consciousness and concern for others. Democratic schools also teach respect for human rights and equality among individuals. All of these ideas are promoted at HTDHS in several ways:
*HTDHS maintains a diverse staff and student population. We enroll students from a variety of backgrounds and our school community includes people of various races and ethnicities, economic levels, religions, and sexual orientations. Direct contact is the best way for young people to learn about and understand people with experiences different from their own.
*In and out of classes, our school encourages students to be aware of current social and political issues. We engage in discussions concerning current events, and support political and societal involvement of various forms. It is our hope that students will use the knowledge and skills they learn at our school to make a positive impact on their larger community.
*HTDHS offers many opportunities for community service. This teaches students the value of service and the wonderful feelings each person gains from helping others. Also, young adults often feel discouraged by the many problems of our world today. Community service counters these feelings by demonstrating the many ways individuals can make a big difference in their own neighborhoods and cities.
For more information about democratic education, please see the following resources: