The Sound of Democracy

As my previous post heralded, Brooklyn Free School was featured this weekend in a segment on the popular radio show This American Life (TAL). To hear this episode you can download the link at TAL’s website. The BFS segment can be heard at 38:50 into the piece.

There are some really touching and some very funny moments. It is a window into the main tool used to teach responsibility in children. The Democratic Meeting. In a culture where we are obsessed with test scores, what schools children can get into, what colleges they will eventually be accepted at, the tons of home work and the loss of personal and family time—we get to see that by removing all that, does not dumb down, but rather hones the intelligence of these young human beings. Take note in the level of the language used by children at these meetings. Some of the younger ones have not even started reading. Not a requirement at Brooklyn Free School. Dialogue though is a constant. Speaking clearly on behalf of oneself, or an issue is just one of the many benefits.

And the most poignant result of this report is that as adults, we do not have democracy in our lives. The word democracy is bantered around so much in the news. We say the United States is a democracy, but from the sound of these meetings, I can say that we certainly are not. Presidents like to say we are spreading democracy throughout the world. But clearly, democracy as illustrated here, is a group convening on an issue that affects an entire community and weighing what the resolution could be. It is done by taking a consensus of the group. And most importantly, it considers the views of the minority by giving them the floor to express why they voted against. And they still have the power to bring the resolution back on the floor should it fail to accomplish its’ intent.

Many articles that have been written about ours, or other free schools, have always inserted a snide comment toward the end. There is the fear that this could actually be a model for encouraging intelligence and it will supersede other forms of education. I am happy to report TAL did not go there. It was made very clear that given the repeated opportunity, that children can be responsible for their own education. Of course there are teachers, and counselors, directors and parents keeping their eyes open. Through this process, children begin to feel the gravity of the situation, and rise to occasion. What the result is, is well spoken individuals, passionate debaters, free and innovative thinkers. Curious learners. We should not fear this. We should embrace it.

It is my hope that we can build a movement. It is already happening. Hopefully, my intended film can add to this dialogue. A reevaluation of what education means is necessary. We have a crisis on our hands. One among many. But this one can help all the others. The solution is in the naturally occurring voices of our children.


2 Comments on “The Sound of Democracy”

  1. Patty Rede says:

    Our family happened to hear the segment on This American Life and found it truly inspiring. Our 12 year is unschooled and after hearing the show I asked him if he would like to attend a school like that and he said definitely! Some of the parents in our home school group have talked about starting something like that, but we haven’t come up with a way to do it. We live in a rural, economically depressed area so finding a place for the school and the funding is challenging.

  2. bzeines says:

    We have a conference every year where many of the people in the Free School movement get together and brainstorm. Maybe this would be a good opportunity for you to connect to others who have done this successfully.

    Also, you might want to contact Jerry Mintz from Aero. Their website is

    He has helped many a school get off the ground.

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