Grassroots School in Tallahassee, FL, is one of the few democratic schools in the state. The school puts education in the hands of the students and their families. Everyone at the school–students, staff, and parents–has a say on programming and any issues affecting the school (well, except for rules about safety and the law; those things are handled by the adults). Kids get to choose what they want to learn about and how they want to spend their time.
Staff and volunteers offer a variety of classes and the kids pick the ones they want to participate in. The students are also welcome to suggest classes. Most of the learning is hands-on. There are lots of projects and field trips to round out the experience. Sometimes, academic things get sneaked in on the kids–the cooking classes are also vehicles for teaching math, science, and social studies as the kids have to figure out how to increase a 6-serving recipe so it will feed 30 people, or to trouble-shoot why a recipe didn’t work, or to find out why a dish is an important part of a particular country’s culture. Creative writing classes, working on the school’s newspaper, and participating in the drama program help kids build up their literacy skills.
Because students and staff are all equals at the school and dialogue and critical thinking are encouraged, the kids often seem more articulate and mature than their physical years suggest.
Even so, at the recent Valentine’s Day dance, the kids seemed to be quite happy observing the stereotypical middle school rule of boys sitting on benches while the girls crowded the dance floor. That didn’t last long, though. A few songs in, and the boys were also on the floor shakin’ a leg (and doing parkour off the stage).