Assistant teacher course/Teachers' handbook/Policy framework Sudbury-Summerhill

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  Criticism of citizenship education in schools argues that merely teaching children about the theory of citizenship education is ineffective, unless schools themselves reflect democratic practices by giving children the opportunity to have a say over decision making. It suggests that schools are fundamentally undemocratic institutions, and that such a setting cannot instil in children the commitment and belief in democratic values that is necessary for citzenship education to have a proper impact. 

Education in America - A View from Sudbury Valley, Daniel A. Greenberg

Policy framework Sudbury/Summerhill

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This policy framework focuses on the school meeting, as found in Sudbury schools and schools modeled on the Summerhill example, as the most important democratic committee of self-administration for pupils and teachers.

Sudbury and Summerhill schools are more free in the design of their school policies and may follow certain patterns in development of their school policies that emerge naturally from the decision making processes and needs of the pupils: If the pupils feel too restricted by a large number of policies their naturally desire is to reduce the policies and as a result the school system tends to become more anarchistic, which is then a cause for the counter movement to establish new policies, leading back to a more restrictive state.

An assistant teacher program can obviously only function reliably sometimes under these conditions. If the school becomes too anarchistic the assistant teacher groups can maintain a useful state themselves, but the motivation to do so may have disappeared.

School meeting

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The school meeting grants one vote to every pupil and to every teacher; the school meeting meets once a week in a Sudbury school and even three times a week in a Summerhill school.

The school meeting is, of course, free to create as much of the structure of an assistant teacher program as it wants to establish or to remove as much as it deems unnecessary. A Sudbury or Summerhill school may not require all the functions an assistant teacher group could provide in another school, but on the other hand an assistant teacher group could, for instance, provide grading of works to other students on a voluntary basis and without being motivated to do so by school policy. Disqualification of assistant teachers is a decision of the assistant teacher group and the school meeting would only have to get involved if the decisions of an assistant teacher group required rectification.

School assembly

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The school assembly only meets once a year; in the school assembly all parents have a vote in addition to pupils and teachers.

Clerks, committees, and corporations

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Committees can provide different services to the school in general or to assistant teacher groups. Since the existence of committees and offices depends on the ever-changing opinions and majorities in the school meeting it is futile to specify any specific tasks. A look at the policy framework Galileo may, of course, help to provide some useful ideas for possible structures that may or may not be useful for a Sudbury or Summerhill school.


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An assistant teacher program can provide motivation to progress through the hierarchy of assistant teachers and it can provide offices and committees in which pupils can practice democratic behaviors, possibly even in greater detail than in a school meeting. An assistant teacher program can thus help to further the democratic educational goals of Sudbury and Summerhill schools. At the same time the school meeting remains the most important democratic committee of the school and changes of school policy can modify the assistant teacher program as desired.

In Sudbury and Summerhill schools motivation is induced by the absence of other authority than the school meeting, whereas in an assistant teacher program self-administration is a self-evident necessity for smaller groups with the additional motivation of the need to protect a group's independence, thus the motivation and opportunity for democratic activities may be increased in comparison to a Sudbury or Summerhill school without such a program. One could also speculate that training democratic skills in smaller groups and more constraint scopes for decision-making should be more in line with the realities of adult life, without rejecting the participation of pupils in a school meeting, of course.

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