On Friday, November 25th I travelled from Denmark to Leipzig to join the EUDEC Germany meeting in Leipzig from November 25-27. I was looking forward to the meeting at the Freie Schule Leipzig where around 100 people who are interested in democratic education where about to meet. Much different from the conference in Denmark, the program would be filled in by participants (open space) and everybody was expected to take part in facilitating the meeting.
Board with the different activities pupils can choose from at the Freie Schule Leipzig, layouts for tiles and drawings
The Freie Schule Leipzig was founded 25 years ago. Historically the school is the only free school which was founded in the German Democratic Republic.
Sustainablity, inclusion and democracy are key areas of the school. The basic principles are respect, trust, communication and freedom.
Facts and figures
180 children and young people between 6 and 18 learn at the Freie Schule Leipzig. Pupils form year 1-6 are part of age mixed groups, for older pupils (year 7-10) the concept of liaison teachers (Vertrauenslehrer und Vertrauenslehrerinnen) is applied. There is no homework and no marks are given.
Pupils come from all over Leipzig. 60% of the parents have a very low income or rely on social security money, 15 % of pupils have a migration background and 10% of the pupils have special educational needs. School fees are currently 65 € per month.
A democratic school?
What does it mean, to learn or to teach at a "democratic school"? Motivation and taking over of responsibility is closely linked to autonomy. Learning is joyful and effective if it is self-regulated. Everybody decides for themselves how he or she spends their time and what he or she wants to learn and when.
Decisions are taken according to democratic principles. Everybody who is affected by a decision has a right to take part in it. A morning circle takes place daily, the school assembly meets once per week. Everybody can put up issues to be discussed and voted on. Each person at the school has one vote. The assembly is led by a team. To become part of the leading team, a preparatory workshop is required.
Workshop "Democracy and sustainability"
initiated by Sebastian from Freie Schule Leipzig
Participants of the workshop discussed what their biggest fears and hopes are in connection with democracy and sustainability. None of us had any answers but many questions were raised and discussed.
Which roles do teachers take? To which extend should grown-ups raise their concerns about sustainability with children and young people? Can we avoid to influence or even manipulate them?
Is there still hope? What is the role of the individual? What is the role of the organization? Are there overarching values which should be implemented at an international level? Should sustainability have the same status as human rights?
What does freedom mean? Is it possible to think beyond the system we have grown up in? How can new strategies be developed? How can we escape the dynamics of everyday life and create space for reflection?
I enjoyed to be part of the cooking team which prepared dinner for Saturday evening for the roughly 100 participants of the meeting. On the menu was green salat with tomatoes and mushrooms, Dahl with couscous and 5 l of vanilla and chocolate pudding. Among other things, we counted out 42 spoons of Garam Masala, 24 spoons of Cumin, weighted 4,2 kg of red lentils and used 25 l of strained tomatoes.
Workshop "Restorative Circle"
A method to resolve conflicts in a community
At the workshop the "Restorative Circle" was presented as a method to deal with conflicts in a school community. We had the opportunity to try the method to (hopefully) resolve a small conflict which had arisen before the meeting started.
This is what I have understood about the method: The aim the method is to recreate balance and dignity in a community after a conflict took place. There are a few simple rules: participants in the circle address each other directly, no physical violence is allowed, everybody can quit the circle anytime, a substitute or surrogate person takes part if a person who is involved in the conflict does not want to take part, the substitute or surrogate person is chosen by the person who is not taking part unless they refrain from naming a substitute, the circle is open to the whole community, everybody speaks for themselves and it is possible to call several circles in a row to resolve a conflict.
Any person who is involved in a conflict calls a restorative circle. The community determines a leader for the circle or a leader steps forward. The person who has called the circle specifies in dialogue with the leader what the circle will be about (establish how the affected person feels now about what has happened) and who should take part. Participation is voluntary.
1. Preliminary talks
The leader of the circle talks to all people who have been involved in the conflict. Each of them is asked to specify what they expect from the circle (wishes) and who should be present.
2. Restorative circle
Everybody who is present can talk. It is not required to raise a hand. The leading question is:
"What do you want the circle to hear about the conflict which has taken place regarding how you feel about it now?"
Whoever speaks up, addresses the person she wants to by heard by directly and personally (rather than to talk about somebody). The person who has been addressed is asked by the leader of the circle to repeat what he or she has understood. The person who has addressed the person confirms the summary of the person who has been talked to or elaborates on her message if the summary has not been to the point. This process is repeated until both people agree about what has been "sent" and what has been "received".
This part of the circle continuous until everybody has said what they wish the circle to hear. The moderator poses the questions and reminds the people of the general rules.
Each member of the circle can make an offer how to restore the balance in the community. Everybody speaks for themselves. The circle ends when actions have been agreed on from which everybody profits. If this goal is not achieved in the circle, a new circle can be called.
If you want to learn more about restaurative circles please check out
English film poster and shots taken during the screening (all images are press material released by Margarete Hentze on the film website)
Screening "Freistunde - doing nothing all day"
A film about democratic education by Margarete Hentze
The film is a documentary about the idea of self-determination and democratic education. The narrative follows a young mothers search for the ideal school for her son. In a succession of Super8 video clips she speaks with scientists and protagonists of the democratic education movement in Germany, England and Israel.
If you want to know more about the film by Margarete Hentze check out
If you want to learn more about the Freie Schule Leipzig check out
If you want to learn more about democratic schools check out
The blog entry has been posted by Lilian Jüchtern. Lilian is a board member of effe and a board member of Freie Comenius Schule in Darmstadt (Germany).