TED Conversations

Lucas Avelleda

Athlete, International Shotokan Karate Federation

TEDCRED 500+

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Democratic Education

"Democratic education is a theory of learning and school governance in which students and staff participate freely and equally in a school democracy. In a democratic school, there is typically shared decision-making among students and staff on matters concerning living, working, and learning together.
Democratic schools do not have compulsory uniform curricula. Instead, these schools place emphasis on learning as a natural product of all human activity. They assume that the free market of ideas, free conversation, and the interplay of people provide sufficient exposure to any area that may prove relevant and interesting to individual students. Students of all ages learn together; older students learn from younger students as well as vice versa. Students of different ages often mentor each other in social skills.
In democratic schools, students are given responsibility for their own education. There is no pressure, implicitly nor explicitly, on students by staff to learn anything in particular. Students are given the right and responsibility to choose what to do with their time and attention.
Because the curricula are different for each student, democratic schools do not compare or rank students. There are no compulsory tests aside from those that individual governments require and those that colleges require for admission.
Some schools — mostly in the United States — offer a graduation procedure for those who wish to receive a high school diploma. Students who choose to use this option often must present a thesis on how they have prepared themselves for adulthood."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_education
http://www.escoladaponte.com.pt/html2/ingles/bemvindo.htm

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    Apr 13 2011: Cannot start right off the bat with letting kids pick what they want because they do not have enough foundation to do know what they like, dislike and are talented at. But... Here is a solid system of education. That is bullet proof.

    Critical thought skills, please search engine this phrase!!! Basically though analytical thinking, problem-solving skills, question building skills, information filtering skills, and overall the ability to think open-ended. (Ages 4 - 7)

    Subject based learning revolved around major topics. Math, Science, Humanities, Philosophy, Psychology, Personal Health, Dance or Martial Art, Art (verbal/non-verbal), an additional language to be taught until mastered (Personally would want Mandarin or Spanish as secondary), World History, and/or World Religions. (Ages 7 - 12)

    The art class would be of poetry and any other art involving words while also teaching how to express oneself without words in the form of painting or drawing! English class is non-sense, half of the above subjects require you to do what you would normally do in an English class. Writing, grammar, and reading skills can be developed during ages 4 - 12 in this system without a separate class. Even in today's curriculum English class is just an analytical reading class with structure writing practices.

    After age 12 I feel in this system a child would know what they wanted and the democratic education would be so immense, I believe the world would progress at triple the rate in which it is already progressing!
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      Apr 13 2011: Yeeah Nicholas, I was waiting for you to start a discussion here! Talk to you tomorrow then, have a good one!
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      Apr 14 2011: Hi Nicholas!
      Great answer, thank you!
      Definitely, kids need a foundation to choose what they want to study, I was uncomfortable with democratic education because of this.
      About critical thought skills, I agree with you that they need to be well developed, but I never thought about starting to do it at the age of 4. What kind of activities do you suggest?
      About ages 7 to 12, I think it would be great to let students choose the additional language and art they want to learn. What do you think?
      About English classes, I was an exchange student last year, I went to Canada. I got really shocked with English class there, it was just like you said: analytical reading class with structure writing practices. I used to do exactly the same thing at my Global History class. I felt there was no need to go to my English classes. Here in Brazil I think we do need Portuguese classes because our grammar is very complex, and we have literature classes to practice analytical reading.
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        Apr 14 2011: "What kind of activities do you suggest?" Good question I will get back to this later.

        "About ages 7 to 12, I think it would be great to let students choose the additional language and art they want to learn. What do you think?"

        Yes of course that's why I said "personally" I considered those two for good reason though. Mandarin is already the most spoken language and Spanish while being third most spoken is a relative to a lot of European languages. As far as art I said verbal/nonverbal as being the main choice under those two is a lot of different kinds of art. So yeah it is up to the child whether they want to learn art in the form of language or in the form of expressive images. Hell, why not both!

        I would think the need to use more complex words would come with more complex thinking!

        Martial Arts, I beat you really agree with that!
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          Apr 14 2011: I got your point on the second question Nicholas!
          One of the major problems I consider about education today is that our grades are based on what we don't know, instead of what we know. You see, people called "intelligent" today are known for their excellent grades at school. I know a lot of people who I call "intelligent" that are not good students. The solution is democratic education: do what you love, learn what you like. What do you think about it?
          Ah, and YES, Martial Arts would be great. I have a lot of reasons to include it on schools, but you know... I'm trying to do it at my school this year, let's see what happens.
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      Apr 21 2011: a wise and thoughtful reply, nicholas. i especially like your emphasis on critical thinking..and the arts
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        Apr 21 2011: The arts are the means for human expression on a verbal or non-verbal scale the ultimate creativity and artistic learning ability! Literature throughout history is nothing without artistic insight!
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    Apr 13 2011: That kind of school would be absolutely spectacular, but there is a major problem: universities. As long as they keep demanding good scores in standardized tests about meaningless and useless information, the future of the students of the democratic schools will be quite tough. Even in countries without "vestibular"(Brazilian test for entering university), like the U.S., students from alternative schools with ideologiccal similarities to the Democratic Schools have a hard time entering any small college.
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      Apr 23 2011: Fortunately there are a few alternatives to these universities ..Oberlin, Anioch,Reese, Bard, Suffolk in the UK. where critical thinking or lateral thinking as the brits call it is honed...maybe we should post a list...John Dewey, the great American Education Philosopher spawned several such institutions..Black Mountain ( I would turn the clock back and be even older today gladly if I could have been there in 1953) ..is one I would like to see revisited great visionaries took time out of their careers to come and live with the students..Buckminster Fuller, John Cage, Merce Cunningham....folk from the arts mostly..and there were no pre set"classes" just mutual explorations and encounters. (TED is sort of like that through the TED talks and the new Conversations section)..I was luck enough to land in another one for my last two years of college which existed only for a few years..the New School College )(what survives isn't even close to what that was)And now of course there are Waldorf Colleges. I would much rather see the brilliant young people here at TED in one of those settings than in a stodgy, not quite with it, classical university. I really think the model of doscourse & exchange is important..interaction with leaders. My Father-in-law was a Dewey influenced educator and sort of recreated Black Mountain in a tiny rural upsate NY College. He would bring in people like Rockwell Kent, or Molly Bruce ( ist Chief of the Status of Women at U.N.), all kinds of folk of reknown in tbe arts and letters, and in science, to live there with the students for a week or so and have daily round tables with these leaders of staure in the world. I would love to see a skyped version of TED that allows that..where people could tune in at a particular time and place and have an actual conversation with viosnaries like young israeli, Neri Oxman.
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    May 10 2011: I agree with the opinion that children may not be able to pick what is good for them right from the beginning. I think that it needs to be a collaborative effort to create an environment where we can offer more options to our children. Today's curriculum, especially in the Indian system, does not give any choice to our students. Everybody learns the same stuff. If all our students are forced to learn the same stuff and think in the same way, how do we ever innovate? Our students need creative freedom to chose what they want to pursue and what they don't want to.

    I also think that ranking is important because it instills a sense of competition and motivates our children to do better. What I am not ok with is the unnecessary importance ranking is given in every aspect of an educational system. I know of many people who are leading successful lives even though they were not top rankers at school.
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    Apr 23 2011: Lucas..an important conversation..I agree that most public schools squeeze all the natural brilliance, resilience, curiosity out of children. I will look to learn more about Democratic Education and I can see why and how it might work in the head start kids I work with as a volunteer. When they have a choice as a group of what they would like to do there is more interest energy focus and just pure enjoyment. Also I have noticed that even 3 and 4 years olds love to think things through, discuss it with their peers, express their views, ask questions.They go very deeply into things. Your description of "democratic education" sounds as if those natural instincts would be enhanced and honed. Are you in such a school? Also see Seymour Paperts work and writings. He is one of the century's great educational philosophers and believes that children learn best in supervised self directed explorations.
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    Apr 14 2011: Education! Significant Change! Screw the hierarchy of text books! Information is limitless with internet!!!!!
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    Apr 15 2011: I think that this is an interesting possibility. One thing that is particularly important in such a school is the philosophy and world religion syllabus. These must be taught objectively and major views must be included with room for the discussion to head down more specific paths.

    Looking back at my time in the education system, even college, there was little attention paid to the Classics - Plato, Aristotle, The Bhagavad Gītā, Koran, The Bible, Locke, Sun Tzu, Confucious, Marx as some examples. These must be taught based on fact, not merit. It seems that the US system has so focused on testing that much of the objectivity is removed.

    Especially in the kind of Democratic system you describe you will see different students intrinsically motivated to delve into specific subjects, which will in turn influence those around them. Theoretically, the output from such a school would be well rounded students that had been exposed to the basics of each philosophy/religion and an understanding of some of the major differences as well as common ground.

    I don't see how these students wouldn't score well on a standardized test (such as the ACT/SAT). The application of skills/principles makes a good test score. These students would have solid principles and skills from which to take such tests.