David Gribble : Education for Freedom Respect Children
Respect Children




Democratic Education

Talk for the staff of the education department at the University of East Anglia, Norwich 2005
Page 6

Democratic Education

What I have presented has been not so much a mosaic as a jigsaw-puzzle with the pieces still scattered around the table. The picture on the box reveals that there are three main principles - respect, trust and love.

  • If children are respected, they are able to retain a proper self-respect, and they respect others.
  • If children are trusted, they show themselves to be trustworthy.
  • And if children are loved, they find it easy to care about other people.


During World War Two David Wills ran a hostel for unbilletable evacuees near Edinburgh - unbilletable because they were too foul-mouthed, dishonest and wild for any normal family to be asked to take them in. On the subject of love, he wrote: "For when I speak of love I do mean love – I mean the kind of feeling a parent has for his children. . . . It consists of establishing a relationship such that, however much the child may wound his own self-esteem, he cannot damage the esteem in which we hold him."

As I have travelled around, being repeatedly astonished at each new place I have visited, I thought I had pretty much covered the range of possibilities. Then, last year I learnt about a place where children aged ten and eleven employ the adult who works with them, raise the money to pay his salary, keep all the accounts and deal with all the correspondence, order the necessary materials, and among other things arrange exhibitions of their own art work and the work of other artists. They spend as much or as little time with their employed adult as they like, and when they are with him they may read, talk, paint, or just sit around and share sweets. Their elected committee does all the administrative work that adults take upon themselves in all the other places I have described today, and has recently raised the equivalent of £200,000 to enable them to extend their work.

And where on earth can this be?

It's the art room in a state primary school in Fort William, in the middle of Scotland. It's called Room 13, and Channel 4 has broadcast a half-hour video about it that the children made themselves. When I said they had raised "the equivalent of £200,000" I was trying to mislead you - they have received a grant of exactly £200,000. And the children themselves are deciding how it is to be used.

Democratic education is not just something that is only happening in private schools where the parents have to find the fees, it is not something that is only happening in remote countries where the conditions are entirely different to ours, it is happening in an ordinary primary school in Scotland. Maybe we will soon be seeing more of it down here in the south.



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