Thursday, July 20

dream of a democractic school

When I read the book "Maverick" by Ricado Semler before I even got my first job, I was blown away by the idea of the book. I was fascinated by the way how Semler carried out his company Semco's transformation from a traditional "pyramid" organization to something described like

Semco's staff work in small, autonomous units of about a dozen (the size, says Semler, of a close family group). They make the decisions, choose their leaders, set objectives and decide who they need and what they should be paid[...]

At Semco we did away with strictures that dictate the 'hows' and created fertile soil for differences. We gave people an opportunity to test, question and disagree. We let them determine their own training and their own futures. We let them come or go as they wanted, work at home if they wanted, set their own salaries, choose their own bosses. [...]

At the heart of our bold experiment is a truth so simple it would be silly if wasn't so rarely recognized: A company should trust its destiny to its employees. [...]

Every decision of the company - from salaries to the cafeteria's menu - is decided by the employees democratically. Meetings are voluntary. There is little bureaucratic control beyond financial accountability. Most importantly, the employees are treated as adults rather than an asset - another piece of furniture.

Well, after I got a job, and found the stark reality of how a company functions - no different from how Military is run. Except for the uniforms. One wears a tie, instead. I realize that organizations are more Dilbert like rather than Semco like. (Funny how, I read Dilbert only after joining organization. I think every company should give a copy of "The Dilbert Principle", rather than make those dull Power point presentations during the placement interviews in Colleges)

One day I was coming back from work in a local bus in Hyderabad. Travelling in a Metro-Bus anywhere in India is the ultimate feast for all your senses - You smell everything Coconut Oil, Shikakai, Soap, Sweat, Cement , Iorn, Dried Fish or Jasmine - it really takes my breath away. You see everything that is India. And you touch, and you are touched. Any where I travel in India - I make sure I use Public Transport at least once. OK...I digress.

I got this idea of a school that is democratic as Semco - where the student chooses what he or she studies. The student has a say in how the school is run, who their teacher should be, and what they want to learn today. I did get a some inspiration of this idea "The Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", where the professor abandons all grades so as to understand something in a qualitatively rather than quantitatively. I seriously think abandoning grades is a good start for a free school. (free as in freedom, not as in no-cost)

Anyways I pat myself on my back for such a wonderful idea. Fortunately, I didn't boast myself to anybody that I got such an original idea. After a year or two, one of my friends told me about a democratic school in Germany called Sudbury School Even though the site is German, it didn't take long for me to realize the original idea of Sudbury school is from Farmingham, MA USA - The Sudbury Valley School. It was founded in 1968. To give an idea of this school, I will quote one of the founders

At Sudbury Valley, a class is an arrangement between two parties. It starts with someone, or several persons, who decide they want to learn something specific -- say, algebra, or French, or physics, or spelling, or pottery. A lot of times, they figure out how to do it on their own. They find a book, or a computer program, or they watch someone else. When that happens, it isn't a class. It's just plain learning.

Then there are the times they can't do it alone. They look for someone to help them, someone who will agree to give them exactly what they want to make the learning happen. When they find that someone, they strike a deal: "We'll do this and that, and you'll do this and that -- OK?" If it's OK with all the parties, they have just formed a class.

I still do have this dream of building such a school one day - where every student is free to study what he or she wants. Every student has froms the class, choses the teacher, and learns - learns free. May be, the idea sounds too romantic. I need to do some homework. Until then, it is my "some day"...

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