Establishing Our Purpose
One of the major concerns I have heard from people regarding democratic education goes something like, “What if the students decide to do nothing or vote for chaos or something that is contrary to learning?” My explanation has been that a class founded upon values and dedicated to those values could never vote in such a way. With this in mind, we set out last class to create a statement of purpose to state our intention as a learning community.
We began the process by identifying the values we wanted to emulate. I prompted the class with a few thoughts before we began. I spoke of the word ‘potential’ and what it meant to the class. I reminded them that we have a unique opportunity to make this class more amazing in every way than any class we have ever experienced, but it could only happen if we set that as a goal for ourselves. I wanted them to know that the goal wasn’t to be good or successful, but rather to be as close to our fullest potential as a class community as possible. I then asked them to write words on the chalkboard that finished the following sentence: The best class ever would be (blank). One student stood at the board writing down every word suggested by the class until we had a list of 30 or so values.
After this, I recited the Preamble to the Constitution to the class, and we discussed how it, as a statement of purpose, set the table for the founding of the nation. Similarly, I wanted us to create a statement of purpose with strong, clear intentions. We worked in small groups to create powerful sentences, using the values we listed on the board. The next day, everyone shared their sentences and we collected them and arranged them in ways that completed our statement of purpose. After completing a few statements, we took our first vote as a class and chose the following statement to be the words that would guide all we do this year.
“This is our class and we are ready to take responsibility for it. We are devoted to creating an environment that allows our natural ability to learn through real experience to flourish as it once did when we were very young. By creating an environment that values trust, respect, participation by all, and reaching our potential as learners, thinkers, and members of a community, we will enthusiastically challenge ourselves and take risks on a daily basis. Our class will be run by a democracy that is guided by purpose and principles, restoring dignity to our education and demonstrating that we can exceed academic and social expectations if truly given the opportunity to do so. We will embrace our struggles and mistakes, as much as our successes and breakthroughs, and everything we do we, we will do with love.”