Democratizing Education - Rachel Roberts
Video created by Camp Stomping Ground https://www.campstompingground.com
Full speech and original broadcast by Rachel Roberts on BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06pbwzr
This isn't a new idea. I'm talking about a reboot now of an old idea which has been around for hundreds of years and this idea fits modern life and our individual and societal needs now more than ever. It can be applied and is spreading very much more widely than just in schools. We are in an age where technology enables us to interact with more people and have our say in different ways, top down structures all being unraveled and unheard voices are getting louder and more influential. This long standing approach which fosters agency and collaboration is now coming of age. This is its moment.
Democratic education is education in which the child has the right to learn what, how, when and with whom they do it. It is about putting education in the children's hands and providing the support that they need to lead their own independent learning journeys, allowing them to use their initiative and follow their intrinsic motivation. Democratic education is about respecting rights. Many people don't realize the Article 12 of the UN Convention on the rights of the child states that children have a right to have a say and be heard on matters which affect them. How many schools really allow that? What do you think? What's passing through your head? What if they make the wrong decisions? If I've been given that much freedom in school, I would've messed around. Well, maybe you're right. Maybe you would've but I believe that's not because of who you are. I believe that is because of the environment you are in and how you were treated.
Children who are trusted will become trustworthy. Children who are respected will learn a proper self-respect. Children who are cared for will learn to care for others. Practicing democratic education isn't about letting children stomp their feet and make demands nor is about leaving them alone to run amok. It is about supporting them and facilitating their development so that they can be motivated to fulfill their potential.
I understand that this might sound like pie in the sky to you but I'm talking about something real. There is an opening up to this culture and in many ways, it is leading the evolution of our time. Check out Silicon Valley, it is brimming fool of multi-billion dollar tech companies which operate along these lines with their flat management structures, unregulated annual leave and general lack of dress codes. This approach isn't just being practiced in tech, there are housing associations and social enterprises the world over. There are manufacturing companies which have brought their trade from financial downfall back to boom by democratizing their workplace, by inviting their employees to choose their job titles, define their codes of conduct, and even have a say on their own pay scales. People are happier, they're more motivated. Surprise! Surprise! They're more productive. Bottom line, the company does make more money.
I've seen these workplaces. I have seen these schools. What I can tell you is that this democratic approach is far more possible than most of us think. We hear enough about inconvenient truths. This is a convenient truth. I know, I'm not expecting a revolution where everyone suddenly throws away everything they've always been doing and succumbs to total chaos in a complete rebuild but what I do believe is that there are some simple steps that any school or organization can take to move in this direction. By schools taking these steps, we will be instilling the values in young people which will equip them for modern times. As we interact with more and more people through our fast paced, complex modern lives, we will know how to talk, listen, understand, compromise and generally just get on with each other for mutual advantage.
I'm not talking about this because it's good for business. What I'm about is committing to the underlying values. Everyone has had a moment in their lives where they have felt heard, trusted, respected, valued, happy and in that moment, everyone has felt better off, motivated and willing to give. If we can achieve the hard outcomes we need from education, by enabling children to experience these values, shouldn't every school be doing this? Not only can it fuel economic progress but more importantly to me, it can fuel social progress too.