The Democratic School of Hadera is a democratic school in Hadera, Israel that was founded in 1987 to bring democratic values to education and the personal development of children.
Problems and Purpose
Citizens are formed at school. For example, Pierre Bourdieu writes on the importance of the school for the learning and the internalization of state authority.  Now, if a state deems itself a democratic one, one can ask why it is that school systems are based on hierarchic and undemocratic principles. It is at this contrast where the idea of democratic education comes in. Instead of learning how to obey a given authority, children learn how a community can democratically organise itself. The participants of the “International Democratic Education Conference” in Berlin 2005 agreed upon the following statement regarding how to define the principle of democratic education:
Proponents of Democratic or Participatory Education believe that, in any educational setting, young people have the right:
- To decide individually how, when, what, where and with whom they learn
- To have an equal share in the decision-making as to how their organisations – in particular their schools – are run, and which rules and sanctions, if any, are necessary 
There are several hundred “democratic schools” worldwide. However, while all democratic schools follow the two principles mentioned to some degree, they are all different, not least because the negotiation processes about the common set of rules at school lead to different results everywhere. This article concentrates on the second of the two cited principles, illuminating how deliberative processes regarding the organisation of schools work via the example of the Democratic School of Hadera.
Background History and Context
The first democratic school in Israel is the Democratic School of Hadera, which was founded in 1987 by a parents' initiative led by the Israeli educator Yaakov Hecht, who is a well-known figure in the field of progressive and democratic education. This foundation set the ball rolling on educational reform in Israel. Democratic schools have now become an important, official part of the Israeli education system. In a country the size of Hesse, there are over 25 state-recognized schools with a participatory and democratic character. For comparison, there are only a handful of comparable schools in Germany, which have to fight for state recognition.
The democratic school in Hadera was formed very slowly in deliberative, non-hierarchic processes. It was recognized by the Ministry of Education in 1992 and integrated into the formal school system. In 1994, the school was awarded the Education Prize by the president and the minister of education, and in 1996 it was awarded the title of Defender of Quality Government from the Israeli Movement for Quality Government. Today about 400 students between the ages of four and 18 attend the school, making it the largest democratic school in the country.
In a personal anecdote, Yaakov Hecht tells that the murder of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabins by a Jewish extremist in 1995 led to a further rethinking on the part of the state with regard to democratic school education. The education minister at the time, according to Hecht, pulled him aside after the murder to ask what would have to change in school education to prevent such murders and the production of extremist, terrorist worldviews. How can the school system contribute to the democratization of society?  One idea of democratic schooling is that taking part in the formation of a community via deliberation has positive effects on the individual-psychological development of children.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The democratic school in Hadera is a private school, and the tuition fees are about $1,200 per year. Thus, the children who go to school in Hadera mostly come from the middle to upper middle class of Israeli society, and secular backgrounds. For students whose parents cannot pay the school fees, there are ways to receive a scholarship. However, democratic schools seem to be more of a place for the privileged educated middle class.  In Givat Olga, one of the poorest residential areas, a democratic school is also being built, which, however, is the only one of its kind to be financed by a mix of public funding and private donations so that parents do not have to pay tuition fees. However, Givat Olga is more authoritarian than neighbouring Hadera, and the pupils' democratic scope for decision-making is significantly smaller.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The democratic school in Hadera is modelled and run as a democratic state and relies on the principle of separation of powers. However, it is not a state at which citizens “participate” once every four years to cast a vote into the ballot box. Quite to the contrary, Hadera views itself as a community which is founded upon rules that students, teachers and parents create together in processes of intersubjective deliberations.
The school’s legislative body is called the parliament, members of which are the entire student body, the staff, and parents. Everybody who convenes at a parliamentary session is allowed to propose new rules or modifications to already existing ones.
Methods and Tools Used
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
There is a legislative, executive and judicial branch in Hadera. The legislature is the most important body and consists of a school parliament that meets once a week and is run by an elected staff. All school rules are decided upon at the parliamentary sessions by simple majority voting, from playground design to budget management, to the employment and dismissal of staff. Thus, the scope for decision-making is not limited to cosmetic or marginal questions, but it is the basis of the community’s functioning, its decision powers extending over the most substantial questions. Legislative proposals of new rules or modifications to already existing ones can be made by any participant in a parliamentary assembly. By reasoning, public speaking, and persuasion, an attempt must then be made to win a majority for the proposal. The decisions are then binding for the entire school insofar as they do not violate national law.
The "executive" ensures that the decisions of the parliament are carried out. There are democratically elected committees of pupils, learning facilitators and parents who implement the decisions of the parliament and monitor their implementation. For example, there are committees for the budget, for the curriculum, and for organizing school trips.
The judicial body comprises the disciplinary committee, the appeals committee, and the mediation committee, members of which are students, teachers, and parents who were democratically elected to these roles. Every individual in the school, regardless of age or position, can bring a case before (or be brought before) these committees. The disciplinary committee decides whether a rule has been breached and how to resolve disputes between conflicting parties. The committee also decides on the punishment. Should one of the “parties” not accept the proposed punishment, the case is brought to the appeals committee, which serves as the “supreme court” of the school.
The purpose of the mediation committee is to assist the two parties in solving their dispute through negotiation, in a way that each side will identify the needs of the other and try to understand them. The mediators learn the skills of mediation in a course led by authorized counsellors. 
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
From the perspective of participatory democracy, it is interesting that every democratic school is unique, because intersubjective, democratic negotiations from community to community produce different results and regulations. The greater the scope for decision-making, which is not given hierarchically, but is left to the pupils, learning facilitators, and parents, the greater the individuality of each school. Associated with this is the development-psychologically interesting fact that even schoolchildren at a young age are familiar with the complex rules and regulations of their schools, precisely because they themselves contributed to their creation and design. From this point of view, it is also not surprising that successful, democratic schools seem to be characterized by a peaceful and creative atmosphere, which is certainly not something one could say about most traditional public schools.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
True deliberative processes are open-ended and do not lead to foreseeable results. This is one of the reasons why each democratic school is to some degree unique, as deliberations lead to different results everywhere. It is quite revealing that democratic schools are not anarchic and rule-free places, but that rather the opposite seems to be true. One of the most striking characteristics of Hadera is that students usually know about all the rules that regulate school life.  It could thus well be imagined that knowledge of and respect for the rules of social life do not grow out of hierarchical prescriptions. Rather, they grow out of the fact that rules are made in slow processes of intersubjective exchange, argumentation, deliberation, and mutual conviction. It can be argued that students internalize rules better and more effectively if they are involved in the process of their creation.
The most likely point of criticism is surely that successful democratic schools feed primarily from a certain socio-economic milieu. Such schools are private and cost money. They also require parents who are willing to take responsibility for their children. Democratic schooling is an experiment and experiments are more likely to be undertaken by those who can afford for them to fail, such as in countries where a degree from a democratic school is viewed with suspicion on the labor market, parents and families need to have social capital, personal connections, in order to be able to find work if necessary also via rather informal means. A democratic school which is funded by public money is something very rare and quite utopic in most countries. Givat Olga in Israel, situated very close to Hadera, is a notable exception.
Second, the question arises of how the negotiation processes in school actually work. In the end, does the informal compulsion of the rational, better argument win or is it simply the best and most charismatic or popular speaker? Or in the end, despite the consensus-based approach and formal equality, may the words of the educators and parents weigh a little more heavily than those of the students?
Certainly, such standard criticisms of deliberative democracy should not be neglected. However, it seems safe to say that should one be serious about the democratic capacities of citizens, it is necessary to rethink the institution of the public school along democratic lines.
 Bourdieu, Pierre (1985): Practical Reason. On the Theory of Action. Suhrkamp: Frankfurt aM).
 International Democratic Education Network. (n.d.). What is democratic education? https://www.idenetwork.org/index.php/about/what-is-democratic-education
 Interview with Verena Zaumseil (student of special needs education at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. Study trip to Israel with Yakov Hecht in February 2012.)
 Witt, Raban: “Über demokratische Schulen in Israel: die Kinder von Givat Olga”, in: Jungle World, No. 34 (August 20, 2009), online at: http://jungle-world.com/artikel/2009/34 /37590.html (last accessed 02.05.2013)
 Online presence of the school in Hadera: https://www.democratics.org.il/ [Hebrew]
For democratic schools in Germany see for example: http://www.kapriole-freiburg.de/deutsch/startseite/