Why democracies need strong leadership

We are experiencing a leadership vacuum.  On Monday, when I knew I could not be in the classroom, the community descended into chaos because the “leader” was gone.  We have continued to feel that lack.

One student became the self-appointed meeting leader.  Today I had to write a problem:  the Person-in-Charge is not following the meeting rules.  This student tried to become a dictator.  He argued with each student who made a comment or suggestion that was not to his liking.  He commented on each and every suggestion.  He did not enforce any of the meeting rules, such as one person talks at a time or the person speaking waits until everyone is silent before speaking.  The students rather quickly “dethroned” him, but then chose as new leader someone who also rarely follows rules (or even really seemed to know the rules and procedures for class meetings).  There are students who could provide real leadership, but they don’t put themselves forward nor are they nominated by others.  It is really curious that the weakest leaders put themselves up to take on this important role.  Can the students not see how disorganized and unproductive meetings have become?  They are frustrated by the amount of time spent in meetings, but don’t seem to connect that to their own behavior and choices.  Should we take back the reins?  Will the system evolve?

The spectre of “regular school” reared its ugly head again today.  We really cannot get a clear definition from the students of what is meant by “regular school.” They tend to say that they want us to teach them, but when we point out that there are 3 teachers there all day long to teach and help whoever wants help, that doesn’t seem to “count.”  Then they mention a schedule.  However, each teacher lists the learning block classes that they are offering each day, and mostly no one signs up to take them.  What they really want, we belive, is to be relieved of the responsibility for their own learning.  If we are telling them what to do and they don’t do it (as in “regular school”), then it is somehow our fault, but if we don’t make them do anything and they choose not to work on academics (as in “democratic school”), they want that to also be our “fault.”  They are frustrated that we teachers are just refusing to take on that accountability for them.

Speaking for myself, I feel totally unfrustrated by this.  Even on days when we have many problems, like today, I am convinced that the lessons being learned go far beyond paper and pencil academics.  We are in the heart of what makes a democracy work or not work.  We are struggling with issues of “spirited citizenship” in about as real a manner as possible.  The students who are apathetic now, who don’t want to play an active role in preventing or solving problems, who act in their own self interest (and cause problems) regardless of the negative effect on the community as a whole–they are the students who will do that as adults.   Even more frightening is the willingness of others to not only tolerate that but to put those people in charge–it all shows me very clearly how important an informed and active electorate is for our own democracy.

We are besieged with questions:  Should we return to a teacher-in-charge model?  Will a real leader step up?  Do we have enough time for any of this to come to fruition before schools ends for the year?

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