When Kids Rule the School: The Power and Promise of Democratic Education

When Kids Rule the School: The Power and Promise of Democratic Education

by Jim Rietmulder


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How self-directed democratic schooling builds fulfilling lives and can lead the way back to a civilized society

Education is ripe for democratic disruption. Students in most schools are denied fundamental social ideals such as personal freedom, public government, rule of law, and free enterprise. In our increasingly authoritarian post-truth world, self-directed democratic schooling offers a timely alternative: educating children in civilized society and showing that self-motivation outperforms coercion in its power to educate and fulfill.

When Kids Rule the School is the first comprehensive guide to democratic schooling, where kids practice life in a self-governed society—empowered as voters, bound by laws, challenged by choice, supported by community, and driven by nature. Through heartwarming stories and hard-headed details, this book covers:

  • Democratic schooling philosophy, theory, and practice
  • School governance by students and staff together
  • Student self-direction and day-to-day life
  • Deep play, cognitive development, and critical thinking
  • Why democratic schooling is morally right and effective
  • Model bylaws and guidance for starting a democratic school.

Created for educators, parents, and scholars, When Kids Rule the School will immerse you, heart and mind, in a promising new approach to education, and stretch your thinking about what school can be.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780865719040
Publisher: New Society Publishers
Publication date: 05/21/2019
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)
Age Range: 16 Years

About the Author

Jim Rietmulder is a founding staff member and educator at The Circle School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a pioneering democratic school, where he has worked for 34 years. With his support, students at The Circle School practice freedom and responsibility in a scaled-down version of the larger world, becoming experts at life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Jim also tutors students to take college entrance exams, plays mixed-age soccer at every opportunity, and anchors the daily Critical Thinking Discussion Group. Prior to, and overlapping with, The Circle School's early years, Jim was a history magazine editor, business analyst, independent software developer, and management consultant to manufacturers. Jim is married to co-founder Beth L. Stone and is the father of two Circle School graduates. He lives in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Taming the Wild

Part One: Self-directed Democratic Schools
1. What's a Democratic School?
Small-scale Democracy
Sudbury Schools
Summerhill School
Integral Education
Free Schools

2. The Circle School
Scaled-down World
Foundation Principles

Part Two: A Case for Democratic Schooling
3. Integral Education: An Emerging Era
Traditional to Modern to Integral
Fill a Bucket, Light a Fire, Fan a Flame
The Radical Difference

4. Democratic Schools: A Better Fit
Aligning School with Society's Ideals
Alignments Within the School
Aligning School with Children's Lives
Bliss It Isn't
Human Development and Democratic Schooling
And Finally There's This

5. Seven Ideas
Democratic Schooling in a Nutshell
Community: Less Obvious, More Important?
Intrinsic Motivation and Autonomy
Optimal Challenge: Children Reaching Higher
Embodied Cognition and Deep Learning
Coercive Curriculum Harms Children
Practicing Life

Part Three: Thinking about Thinking
6. How and What Do They Learn?
Worldviews, Culture Wars, Concerts, and Railroads
Expanding the Scope of Education in School
Old Ways
Integral Learning Patterns Enabledby Democratic Schooling

7. Critical Thinking
Capable Cognition
Culture of Critical Thinking
Deep Play and Critical Thinking
Critical Thinking in Perspective

Part Four: In Practice
8. Jargon
School Meeting
Ends We Seek
School Meeting Committees
School Meeting Officials
Judicial Committee
Board of Trustees

9. A Typical Day?
Walking Tour
Bulletin Board
Room Reservations
Daily Schedule
What You See and What You Don't

10. School Government
School Meeting
Management Manual
Enforcement and Empowerment
Judicial Committee
Formal Governance
Legal Structure

11. The Chore System

12. Safety, Safety, Safety
Safety Practices

13. Moving On: College and the World
High School Diplomas
College Admissions
Not Going
College and Degrees

Part Five: Frequently Asked Questions
Assessment and Reporting to Parents
Getting into a Democratic School

Epilogue: Seeking Infinity
Appendix A: Management Manual Table of Contents
Appendix B: The Circle School Corporation Bylaws
Appendix C: Colleges Attended by Circle School Graduates
About the Author
A Note about the Publisher

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Written with passion, depth, yet ease of style, When Kids Rule the School is an inspiring affirmation of the natural greatness of children and humanity.A treat that combines explicit details about all facets of democratic education with practical applications and the shared philosophy of all members of the school community, When Kids Rule the School invites us to an education future of dignity, intelligence, and wisdom."
— Ba Luvmour, MA and Josette Luvmour, PhD, authors, Everyone Wins, 3rd ed ., and cohosts, Meetings with Remarkable Educators www.remarkable-educators.com

"This book reads in one breath. I highly recommend it for teachers, parents, prospective students, all kind of educators, and general public."
— Eugene Matusov, PhD, Professor of Education, University of Delaware

"This book is the clearest, most complete explanation of self-directed democratic schooling that I have seen. Whether you are brand new to the idea of democratic education or have long been immersed in it, you will find much to think about here. I recommend this book to everyone interested in education and child development, whether that interest comes from concern for their own children or all the children of the world."
— Peter Gray, research professor, Boston College, and author, Free to Learn

"If you're not keen on sending your kids to a "regular" school, but don't feel homeschooling is the answer either, relax — and gear up. You've got another potential path right here."
— Lenore Skenazy, president, Let Grow, and founder, Free-Range Kids

" When Kids Rule the School is an in-depth look at the nuances of democratic education. Jim Reitmulder peppers his beautiful personal stories among the history and exploration of what it is to REALLY trust children and their school communities. As a fellow school founder, I am proud to say that Jim's descriptions are a thoughtful and honest look at what could be possible if we gave all of our children an opportunity to thrive in democratic self-directed environments."
— Dr. Jen Schwartz PhD, CFLE, Founder, Sego Lily School

"This is a fresh look at how learning works at The Circle School, and how it could be applied to education everywhere. No matter where you are on the education spectrum — student, parent, teacher or school founder — you will find important new insights from this book."
— Jerry Mintz, Director, Alternative Education Resource Organization

" When Kids Rule the School makes an important contribution to the field of education. Jim Rietmulder's advocacy of self-directed education and democratic schooling is compelling, and his skillful application of integral philosophy to education makes this book a must-read for every educator."
— Steve McIntosh, author, Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution , and cofounder, Institute for Cultural Evolution

"This wonderful book vividly captures what life is like within our selfdirected democratic schools — funny, passionate, profoundly serious, mischievous, compassionate, just, full of intense conversations, a lot of voting, and endless learning."
— Lisa Lyons, co-founder, Evergreen Sudbury School

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