School Based Democracy
Welcome to Schools, what is this good for?
In this project, we have been working through the question of
How we can change schools to make them better, ultimately presenting our work and theses in the PLP spring exhibition.
A Background on Schools and Education
Schools take up a stage of life within which kids grow up into adults. In this stage of life, people are highly impressionable and build most of the habits that they will keep over their lifetimes. With them taking up such an important period of life, schools are made to educate kids to become good citizens with shared virtues, values, identities, and knowledge. Within and outside this framework, students can also construct their own individual identities which may differ from the group mindset.
In all countries and all around the world, the people that schools create aren’t perfect, and in many places the schooling they receive is sub optimal. This applies especially to students who come from poorer or less assimilated families where the school system is not accustomed to them and therefore serves them poorly. Overtime, societies can also change and through this change, create a difference in what an ideal school is. In Canada, our ideal for what a school should be has changed and schools also need to change and have changed in order to address parts of Canadian society. An example of such a change is the addition of the BC First Peoples (or an equivalent class) to the British Columbia curriculum in order to teach kids here (in BC) about native British Columbians, their culture, and the changes caused by colonization.
Schools usually teach ideas such as democracy in practice, with the only practical experiences of democracy students have within schools being through optional extracurricular activities such as student councils, work experience, and district level programs. Within these activities, students can (depending on the school they are in) actively participate in a democratic process – simply by participating. These programs can be joined by any student who is willing to put in the time and the effort that the program(s) require. This is where the problem lies. Only a minority of students within the school are choosing to partake. Within my school, Seycove, only about 10% of the student population is in Student Council. Of these students, almost all of them are also in the top 10% in terms of grades and other matters such as service hours and extracurricular participation.
My thesis as to How Schools Should Change
It is shown in studies that when people experience democracy firsthand as students, they are more likely to be democratically engaged when they are adults. So with the example above – participating in student councils, work experience and district level programs makes the part taking students much more civically engaged, identifying voting as one form of expressing their intentions and will, while students who do not take part in these extracurricular activities are more likely to act in the norms of their social group and have less interest and access to expressing their will by voting.
A solution to these problems is a school based democratic body where the whole student population would be able to suggest changes and would have to vote on those suggestions. Students would be able to vote on different ideas or projects.
I have created a survey including examples of projects which I anticipate would create interest in different student groups so that everyone can find an area which resonates with them. The point of my survey is not the change the students would be able to implement in their school itself. My focus is on survey participant’s perception of the power of their voices. When the whole school experiences this democracy in the form of a direct democracy wherein all the students would be able to vote on all the major changes (do we want this? yes/no) which would result in effective changes in negotiation and collaboration with the school and the district, then the students would be more civil citizens in the future.
In order to further increase the autonomy and the impact of their decisions, the students would get a portion of the district or school budget which they would use at their discretion. In 2022/23, the school district budget for North Vancouver was $225 million. If the students of every high school in North Vancouver were to get $5,000 for their student led democracy, it would only cost the district $35,000, less than 0.01% of the district budget.
Mandatory Community Service
To engage students even further it would be recommendable to have them partake in the projects directly. Many of the students’ suggestions would require low skill labour which the students will be able fulfil. This would not only keep the cost down, it would be also teaching students practical skills our generations seems to be lacking. For example, the a majority of the voters in my survey want ping pong at my school, Seycove, they would have to help with the building and maintenance of it. Students will experience pride and will place more value into what they created themselves (Ikea effect).
As you may have seen, in my survey I chose to have a PLP project Posters that would draw interest, showcasing projects which would be achievable and bring improvement to the schools and the students. I shared my survey with the students one week prior to the exhibition where I shared the idea. I also engaged two control groups, the teachers and the parents. Although I asked teachers and parents to fill out the survey, my fellow students were much more willing to participate. Here are the results for the surveys.
By making schools semi-autonomous and using democratic practices (democratic within the student population) for decision making, we can create a transformative educational environment that makes students care more about their schools and empowers them to participate in decision-making processes later on in life as well. This supports the growth of informed citizens who understand the power of their voices and their capacity to make lasting changes in their communities.
As we strive to create a better future, it is imperative to invest in educational systems that prioritize student agency, democratic values, and the development of civil citizens. Through the combination of semi-autonomous schools and democratic practices, we can shape a generation which would not only be academically competent but also be actively engaged in shaping their communities, provinces, and nation(s).