Skip to content

Human Rights

The pilot programs proposed here do not address all of the human rights concerns inherent with traditional schools, but they put us on the path to eliminating them. Following are examples of how the current system works against the well-being of children. Examples 1 and 2 present concerns that disappear later in the evolution to democratic learning environments. Examples 3 and 4 present concerns that are immediately addressed to a degree with the pilots and that totally disappear later in the reform process.

Example 1

Children starting school can be close to a full year different in age, yet they are all expected to perform similarly. A year difference at this young age constitutes a very significant amount of developmental time. The older children therefore have a distinct advantage over the younger ones. They are on average smarter, bigger, better able to follow instructions, and are more likely to be chosen by their teachers to demonstrate something or perform some leadership role. This can leave younger children with feelings of inferiority that last throughout their lives. It’s an unequal start, and focusing in on the pain and negativity it imposes on an innocent child makes a person want to cry. Age is not the only cause of this injustice. Children who develop more slowly than others will also experience it.

Example 2

The Sudbury Valley School, a long running democratic school, has noted that some children begin to read by age four and others not until age eleven. It claims that by age sixteen you cannot tell if a child started reading at age four or age eleven, and it also says that among its students there are no signs of dyslexia. Trying to make children learn something before they are ready is a form of abuse. It spoils their day, impacts their self-esteem, and may even create a learning disorder.

Example 3

Grouping students by age produces age discrimination. It is common for children in one grade to look down on others who are only one grade younger. It is also a practice that drastically diminishes what is possibly the greatest learning resource for children . . . older children.

Example 4

It is said that ‘all we really have in life is time’, and that ‘time is money’. Abusing people’s time is viewed as inconsiderate, but that is a gentle way of putting it. It can actually amount to such disrespect that it becomes a human rights concern.

One of the things that people fear about democratic learning is that children will just waste their time if they are given freedom, but this fear compares to the socialization fear. Ottawa has a private resource centre called Compass that works on the North Star philosophy. The starting point for this philosophy is that it’s ok to drop out of school. At a meeting of people being introduced to Compass, one parent said, “I’m concerned that my daughter would not be properly socialized if she dropped out of school. Another parent, whose daughter had dropped out of school and who had attended Compass, passionately replied, “It is the parents who send their kids to school who should be the ones worried about their children’s socialization.” Similarly, it is the parents whose children are marched through a timetabled day who should be worried about their children’s time being wasted.

From the human rights perspective it is one thing to waste your own time, but something entirely different to have some else wasting it. In wasting your own time you stand to learn lessons about making better use of your time. When your time is wasted by others you build resentment and hostility, which means that traditional schools, in addition to wasting students’ time, may be inadvertently producing negative attitudes towards learning and people in positions of authority.

Following is a partial list of how traditional secondary schools waste students’ time.

  1. Each change of class requires travel time.
  2. Attendance is taken in each class.
  3. Time is taken to check homework.
  4. The sudden ending of one class and beginning of another requires time to re-orient.
  5. Time is spent on review that many students don’t need.
  6. Assignments are often more about busy work than about learning.
  7. Students are often being taught things, that for a variety of reasons, they have no hope of learning.
  8. Students are often being taught things they already know.
  9. Students are often being taught things that are of no interest to them and will be quickly forgotten after exams.
  10. The coercive practices of traditional schools result in much time being spent on discipline.


  1. Human rights depend on people being able to genuinely feel what others feel, and adults need to try harder to feel what children feel in traditional schools.
  2. Change always begins with a small number of people. Denis Waitley in his series of audio tapes titled The Psychology of Winning estimates that only 10% of people are proactive and ready to ride a wave of change. We can’t wait for a majority opinion before implementing the democratic learning model. The 10% need to be unleashed to illuminate its benefits, but also it needs to be seen as a right for people to have the choice between a democratic or traditional education where each choice is equally visible and accessible.


Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: