Our democracy – such as it is or ever was – is in trouble. Nationally, it’s warped by its remnants of slavery and Jim Crow. When two presidents over 16 years are elected despite their loss of the popular vote, you might think it’s time for something new.
Let’s rebuild democracy from the other end, from the bottom up. Start with the schools. Perhaps if democracy were not only taught but practiced in the schools, it might be growing rather than shrinking.
What would a democratic school look like? As far as the younger children go, it would maximize choice. There are curriculums that do this, that allow children agency in their own education. Up through the grades, a democratic school would focus on unleashing the full creativity of everyone in the building. Starting with the children, up through the janitor, the cafeteria workers, the secretaries (who know more about the school than anyone), the teachers, the principal (gets one vote). I’m sure there are different ways the teachers and parents could be organized in a democratic structure. One structured approach is School Cafes, where the teachers, parents, students, janitors and principal meet in small groups to discuss three questions: What’s good about the school? What needs to change? How can we help each other make the necessary changes? But I’m sure there are other structures that would work, restorative justice circles, for example.
To be clear, I’m not talking charter here. We need to fight for democracy in our district schools. The bureaucracy will throw obstacle after obstacle in our way, but if parents, teachers, and students stand together, we will win.
So a school would be organized the way most democratic organizations are organized. The parents, teachers, and where appropriate, students would meet and elect a board to represent them. This board would set policy for the school, hire and fire staff, raise money. The district would provide the funds as it does currently. Fundamental participatory democracy. Isn’t that what we want?