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Democratic Education

Democratic education is education which most appropriately meets the needs of the learner, the community and society. It does this through developing reflective individuals who are collaborative problem-solvers and creative flexible thinkers… These schools are communities where Article 12 of the UN convention on the rights of the child, which states that children have a right to have a say on matters which affect them, is fully realised.

Hudson Valley Sudbury School, established in 2004 in the US, is a democratic community for students ages 5-18 engaging in self-directed education.

The Learning Cooperative, established in 1973 in Victoria, is a great example of a small, parent-run, democratic school.

This film looks at Democratic Schools overseas where children can decide for themselves what to learn and how to learn it. There is no syllabus and no grading and exams are voluntary. Students and staff have the same rights and organise their schools cooperatively. When decisions have to be made, everyone has one vote.

As you can see, democratic education is nothing new. In fact the oldest democratic school, Summerhill in the UK, was established one hundred years ago in 1921 by educator and author A.S. Neill.

School Circles is an independent documentary (2021) that explores the practice of democratic schools in the Netherlands. The film shows students, teachers and staff members coming together to dialogue, discuss proposals, mediate conflicts and make decisions about their school life.

Schools of Trust is a German documentary (2014) about Self-Directed Education.

ABC Radio National – Free to Learn
The history of progressive education in Australia.
Broadcast Sun 9 Jul 2006 at 2:00pm

Forest Learning

Forest school is outdoor, nature-based learning that focuses on the holistic development of children. This type of learning environment helps children develop confidence, self-esteem, independence and creativity through experiencing the natural world and by teaching practical, outdoor skills.

To see an example of forest learning in action, see the Forest School Program at Mt Nebo State School that was implemented with support from Nature Play QLD.

The Nature School in NSW and Upper Sturt Primary School in SA are two of just a handful of schools in Australia that are based on an outdoor learning model.

To learn more about the origins of forest education, see SBS Dateline’s documentary about Denmark’s forest kindergartens.

Place-Based Education

Place-based education is the process of using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts in language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, and other subjects across the curriculum.
David Sobel, Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities
Place-based education differs from conventional text and classroom-based education in that it understands students’ local community as one of the primary resources for learning.

Examples of place-based education in action include The Nature School, in New South Wales, and The Environmental School, in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada.

Whole city as a learning environment
“Helsinki is our learning environment… children go outside the classrooms and can learn in museums, theatres, libraries, streets and everywhere in the city.”

Some rural examples of place-based education
“Place-based education can redress concerns about a lack of connection of students with their local place or community. This disconnection can cause poor personal development and the desire to seek a new location – a particularly important point in locations where there is a concern that too many young people do not see a future for themselves in their local community, and instead desire to relocate to an urban centre as soon as they are able, with no plans for a return to their rural community. This is a concern for communities where there are aging rural populations and patterns of out migration”

Rethinking Learning to Read
Changing Our Minds: How children can take control of their own learning
The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do
School's Over: How to Have Freedom and Democracy in Education
When Kids Rule the School: The Power and Promise of Democratic Education
Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms & Communities
Free School Teaching: A Journey Into Radical Progressive Education
Teacher: One woman's struggle to keep the heart in teaching
Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education
Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids
It's OK to Go Up the Slide: Renegade Rules for Raising Confident and Creative Kids
It's OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids
Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing
Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children
The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey Through The Dark World of Compulsory Schooling
Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life
Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World
How Children Learn