CASE

Hadera Democratic School (Israel)

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General Issues
Education
Specific Topics
Alternative Education
Location
Hadera
Israel
Scope of Influence
name:scope_of_influence-key:citytown
Ongoing
Yes
Targeted Demographics
Students
Facilitators
No
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Face-to-Face
Decision Methods
Voting
If Voting
Plurality
Staff
No
Volunteers
No

Problems and Purpose

The school is the state school where young people are turned into state persons and thus into nothing other than henchmen of the state. Walking to school, I was walking into the state and, since the state destroys people, into the institution for the destruction of people...(Thomas Bernhard, Old Masters. Quartet Books, London 1989)

Where are citizens formed? Speaking in Thomas Bernhard’s hyperbolic fashion, it is the institution of the school. Speaking as a sociologist and not a novelist, Pierre Bourdieu agrees, writing on the importance of the school for the learning and the internalization of state authority (Bourdieu 1998). Now, if a state deems itself a democratic one, we should ask why it is that school systems are built on clearly 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.

(source: http://democraticeducation.org/index.php/features/what-is-democratic-edu...)

Worldwide, there exist some hundred "Democratic Schools“. However, there is great diversity among them. While all schools follow the above two principles to some degree, they are different not least because deliberative processes in each school lead to different rules, to different organisations of school life. This article aims to shed some light on the workings of democratic schools. It concentrates on the second of the two cited principles, illuminating how deliberative processes regarding the organisation of schools work. This is illustrated via the example of the ‘Democratic School of Hadera’ in Israel, a leading country in questions of democratic education.

History

The Democratic School of Hadera is the first of its kind in Israel. It was founded in 1987 by a parent’s initiative under the direction of Yaakov Hecht, who is a well-known figure in the field of progressive and democratic education. The founding of Hadera initiated an educational reformist movement in Israel. By now, democratic schools have become an important part of the Israeli school system. There are currently more than 25 schools of a participatory-democratic character, a considerable number for such a small country. By comparison, a country the size of Germany only has a handful of comparable schools, all of them having to fight for state recognition.

The school in Hadera was formed very slowly in deliberative, non-hierarchic processes. It was recognized by the ministry of education and integrated into the formal school system in 1992. 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 are enrolled in the Hadera, which is thus the largest democratic school in Israel still today.

In a personal anecdote, Yaakov Hecht tells how after the murder of Israeli president Jitzchak Rabin in 1995, the minister of education at the time asked him: how can we reform and build up the Israeli school system in such a way that it can help preventing such murders to happen? How can the school system prevent the production of such extremist, terrorist worldviews? (source: interview). 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. How this democratic formation works in Hadera is the topic of the following sections.

Originating Entities and Funding

Hadera is a private school. Tuition fees are about 1,200$ per year. While there are possibilities to apply for stipends, Students visiting Hadera reportedly stem largely from middle-class or upper middle-class, secular backgrounds (Jungle World 2009). This problem is recognized. In Givat Olga, a poor neighbourhood close to Hadera, a novel project is currently set up: a democratic school which is financed via a mix of public funding and private donations, so that parents do not have to pay tuition fees. Apparently though, the students in Givat Olga are given less decision-making power than in Hadera and school life is structured in a more hierarchical fashion (ibid).

Participant Recruitment and Selection

The school is modeled 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

Know what methods and tools were used during this intiative? Help us complete this section!

Deliberation, Decisions and Public Interaction

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 (source: interview). 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 argumentation and deliberation. It can be argued that Students internalize rules better and more effectively if they are involved in the process of their creation.

Parliamentary Procedure

The school’s legislative body is called the parliament, members of which are the entire student body, the staff, and parents. The parliament convenes once a week and is run by an elected staff. The school laws are decided upon at the parliamentary sessions by simple majority vote. The parliament is the most important democratic organ of the school, as everything regarding the community is decided upon here, from playground construction to budget planning or the employment of new teaching staff. Participatory democracy in Hadera is thus not limited to marginal questions of little importance, but it is the basis of the community’s functioning, its decision powers extending over the most substantial questions. Everybody who convenes at a parliamentary session is allowed to propose new rules or modifications to already existing ones.

A majority for a proposal then has to be gathered via the force of argument and public speech. Decisions decided upon in the parliament are binding for every member of the school, provided they do not contradict national Israeli law. Rules that are decided upon by the legislative are executed and supervised by various committees, whose members are democratically elected. There are committees i.e. for the school’s budget, for the curriculum or for the organization of field 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 solve disputes between conflicting parties. The committee decides about 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 counselors (source: www.democratics.org.il).

Influence, Outcome and Effects

From the perspective of deliberative democracy the probably most interesting fact is that each democratic school, while sharing basic principles, is to some degree unique due to the open-ended character of participatory democracy. The bigger the space for deliberative decision-making, the greater will be each school’s individual character. In this regard, it is also rather striking that students also of very young ages know about and have internalized the rules, or “laws” that govern their schools. From this perspective then it is probably not surprising that most 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 (Source: Interview).

Analysis and Lessons Learned

Democratic schools are private and cost money. Thus, schools such as Hadera consist of students which have a largely middle-class or upper middle-class socioeconomic background Furthermore, democratic schooling is an experiment and experiments are more likely to be undertaken by those who can afford for them to fail. I.e., 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 (see links for further information).

More specifically regarding the deliberative procedures at Hadera, one needs to pose the question whether it is rather the unforced force of the rational, better argument that carries the day, or whether the ability of public speech, popularity, or charisma is in the end more important. And despite formal equality, do the words of teachers and parents really carry exactly the same weight as the words and arguments 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.

Secondary Sources

Bourdieu, Pierre (1985): Praktische Vernunft. Zur Theorie des Handelns, Suhrkamp: Frankfurt a.M).

Interview with Verena Zaumseil (student of “reformist pedagogy” at the Martin Luther Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Germany. Visited numerous democratic schools in Israel with Yaakov Hecht on a field trip in February 2012)

International Democratic Education Network: http://www.idenetwork.org/

Website of the School in Hadera www.democratics.org.il/site/index.asp?depart_id=125189&lat=en

Witt, Raban: "Über demokratische Schulen in Israel: die Kinder von Givat Olga“, in: Jungle World, Nr. 34 (20.08. 2009), online: http://jungle-world.com/artikel/2009/34/37590.html (last access 02.05.2013) [GERMAN]

External Links

Hadera school website:

http://www.democratics.org.il/site/index.asp?depart_id=125189&lat=en

On the democratic school in Givat Olga:

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/hadera-school-proves-the-democ...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0j8Rl_JiY0

On democratic education in general:

http://www.eudec.org/tiki-index.php?page=Democratic+Education&no_bl=y (includes many academic articles on democratic education)

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