A democratic free school is many things. There are also many things it is not, but there are two basic precepts that are always at work.
1. Every student is free to pursue his or her own interests at any time, in any way, and as much or as little, as he or she sees fit, provided the student is not impeding on the rights of anyone else.
2. The school is a functioning democracy. Each student has the same rights and decision making power as anyone else at the school, including staff. Decisions about the functioning of the school, including (but not limited to) rules, budget, field trips, materials or play are made through the process of regular democratic meetings. Issues are raised and discussed by anyone in the school, then voted on. Any conflicts that cannot be resolved by students on their own become subject to a peace meeting where all points of view are heard, hopefully dissipating if not resolving the conflict.
Those are the two main methods we allow our students to find their voice, their passions, their strengths, their path, their challenges, their power, their responsibilities, their talents, their work, their play, their friends, their selves.
Since there is no separation of ages, older and younger students often interact, collaborate and teach each other in surprising ways.
The school is a melting pot of ages, gender, interests, discovery, exploration, individuality, collaboration, solitude, learning, doing nothing, safety, risk, nothing and everything. We sweeten the pot through the availability of the staff who are on hand at all times to assist, encourage, enable, collaborate, know when to get involved, when to back off, keep the peace, do something or do nothing.
We have a growing list of mentors and workshop teachers who volunteer their time on and off campus to introduce what they do and make themselves available to any student who would like to learn more from them.
Independent, off campus ventures are permitted with certain restrictions.
We will organize trips based on the interests of our students. They might include museums, businesses, factories or anything else that sparks our curiosity.
We have an after hours program at the Outdoor School where students get to explore nature and agriculture. Another partners students with the Altadena Senior Center down the street.
There are all sorts of activities and events that we haven't even thought of yet, that tend to come from the students themselves and it will be wonderful and fascinating to see what they come up with.
Everything is connected. Interest in board games can "teach" math and reading. Interest in kites can "teach" aeronautics or meteorology. Interest in fishing can "teach" biology. Interest in cooking can "teach" nutrition or agriculture or history or business or wherever one's curiosity leads. Human development is a mystery. The process of learning is unpredictable. The purpose of education is multi-layered. The role of an educator is not to "teach", but to provide the environment in which learning may happen. We cannot teach a baby how to speak. We cannot teach a plant how to grow. We cannot teach a person how to think, or understand, or remember, or pay attention, or find inspiration, or be talented. These are all organic processes in which we have little to no control or influence. The best we can do for the next generation is always to allow and provide. Allow growth. Allow experimentation. Allow failure. Allow play. Allow risk. Allow mystery. Allow time. Allow the things we may not understand or even agree with. And to provide patience. Provide safety. Provide opportunity. Provide assistance. Provide responsibility. Provide empowerment. Provide access. Provide trust. Provide allowance itself.
...And then see what happens.
That's what we want this place to be.