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taz, 08.08.2005

"Between freedom and responsibility"

The best would of course be polytechnic schools running all day long without marks and with excellent teachers and students: the 13th International Democratic Education Conference at Humboldt University in Berlin.

Anti-authoritarian education is super, according to everyone who was brought up in an authoritarian way. As a child one suffers under the power of one's parents, and school is so unpleasant because it depends so heavily on fear. This fear always resulted in us wimps exhausting our brains by over-exercising them. For that reason I found the principles of anti-authoritarian education quite obvious. "The Green Cloud" [known in English as "The Last Man Alive"], by A.S. Neill was a super book anyway, and we were envious of the children who lived in Summerhill School, founded in 1921.

For this reason there was also something nostalgic about attending the two-day conference of "democratic schools" which took place within the framework of the 13th International Democratic Education Conference in Humboldt University. Studying is the best thing in the world, and the Humboldt University is super. There are, for instance, bullet-holes in many of the walls, peeling paint in the stairwells, cellar doors which look as though no one has ever opened them, and in the ancient desks there are special holes which used to be used for ink pots.

At the entrance the organisers of the children's group "Krätzä" advised me to go to Dr. Gerard Huhn's lecture on "Motivation and success through the experience of flow". Motivation is a bit of a problem. The entertaining lecturer, who otherwise organises seminars for managers on improved ways of processing information, was wearing jeans and a jacket. He has been in the "flow" since 1992. Flow grows in inner silence. The brain is an organism for protecting us from unwelcome new experiences, more a filter than a store-room, that, unlike the human being, works ecologically. Giggle. Learning is a question of finding aims which one can achieve. And it is always possible to reawaken our childish curiosity. Left and right brains, limbic systems, possibilities of influence and formation as well as Lilly's isolation tank also come into it somewhere.

Then in the loo someone said there is such a stink here and went away again. A young girl was wearing a t-shirt bearing the words "No trash in my life." In the entrance hall various democratic schools and initiatives intending to found schools from many different countries introduced themselves. It always seems to be a question of giving the learners the same right to speak as the teachers. While the concept of the whole-day school with age-mixing and a timetable (Summerhill!) is absolutely clear, the half-day schools without timetables and with age-mixing is less so. The best would of course be polytechnic schools running all day long without marks and with excellent teachers and students.

Somewhere it was smelling of patchouli. Many people wore sandals. In the break a young teacher in a Ramones T-shirt explained to me how he would like to do a lot of things better. Many committed teachers from "normal" schools took part in the whole thing. Perhaps it is significant that so many who are in favour of schools without marks, refer to the PISA studies. There were interesting reports about free schools in South Africa, India, East Europe and so forth and so on. In many schools there are mostly children from the educated upper and middle classes; others have emerged to help poor children and orphans, as an extremely nice head teacher from Lesotho explained. A teacher from New Mexico wanted to see everything understood from a political point of view, and I told him about the beautiful time when the Tageszeitung was still an alternative project.

There was a lot about balancing freedom and responsibility. Someone from a Sudbury School produced the wonderful sentence: "We fight against the adult's experience." And an hour later we wondered, "Who, for heaven's sake, is representing whom, here?" At the end there was a panel discussion chaired by the former Tageszeitung chief Arno Widmann with Hans-Jürgen Pokall, the state Director of Education, Zoe Readhead, the daughter of A. S. Neill, the spokeswoman for the school students in the state of Bavaria and other activists.

In this discussion Zoe Readhead was supremely good and convincing. Others seemed slightly paranoid and victimised, perhaps because they had had such bad experiences at school themselves and hurdles are put in their way if they try to found a "democratic" school. The champions of democratic schools are of course a minority.

Students from democratic schools who have turned out well were supposed to prove that their schools were better. Afterwards a lot of people demonstrated for the creation of democratic schools in Germany. The next international conference of democratic schools will take place in Sidney.

Detleff Kuhlbrodt

Democratic Schools
- a film about the desire to learn

Demokratische Schulen
- Ein Film über die Lust zu lernen
Resolution der
IDEC 2005

IDEC 2005 Resolution
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