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Observing democracy in a school

Is your school a democracy or a dictatorship? Australia has democratic government, but it is also possible to observe practices of democracy in a more familiar setting. Your school may be a perfect place to see the advantages and disadvantages of democracy. Every democratic government around the world is different. Every school is also different. This is because of the varying circumstances of governments, schools and institutions. The level of democracy within each school or institution varies depending on individual circumstances.

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How democratic should a school be?

Should students participate in making decisions that affect the whole school? Students can be actively involved in making decisions that affect their time at school but it is also important that they are taught the processes involved in making good decisions. It may be possible to participate in school decision-making bodies such as the school council or the parents and citizens group to observe the workings of democracy at your school. By having some knowledge of how the democratic process works at school, it will be easier to participate in the democratic process in the wider community.

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Democracy depends on everyone to be actively involved in creating and maintaining individual freedom. Everyone has rights and responsibilities when living and participating in a democracy, even at the school level.

Making good decisions

Everyone needs to be taught to question the reliability and validity of decisions and to offer constructive criticism and alternatives. These, and other skills, can be taught at schools. For a democracy to work, people need to understand that there are viewpoints, solutions or perspectives that may differ from their own. The aim of a democracy is not to convert people to one view but rather to work together to find a solution.

Democracy within a school

The way democracy works should be modelled in a school community. Democratic nations value tolerance, respect and a willingness to learn from one another. These values also need to be taught in schools.

Not all decisions at schools can be made by students. As with governments, there needs to be people who have the control to make the final decisions. There are many constraints on decision-makers. Decisions relating to the curriculum and what needs to be taught and economic and budgetary decisions may need to be made without the democratic process taking place. There should, however, be a series of checks and balances that apply to the decision-makers as there is in every democracy.

There are areas in which students should be involved. Students should, as much as possible, be involved in the establishment of school rules and, to some extent, in the policing of them. School rules, as with laws, should be fair and reasonable and students should be guided to understand the importance of them and the reasons for their existence.

Benefits of democracy at schools

The benefits of having a democratic school are many. In a democratic school, all school members are made to feel part of the community. Democratic schools are diverse and strong enough to accept individual differences. All democracies, including school democracies, depend on the participation of their members. Members of the school community, including students, can influence decisions and policies by signing petitions, writing to the school newspaper or school council, taking part in meetings, standing for student councils, or joining in interest groups. The skills learned in schools can then be used for influencing governments at the State and federal level.

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