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Building Blocks of Democratic Education #4 Equality

I’ve been watching a lot of late night television lately. I usually record shows and watch them during daylight hours because old age and exhaustion hit me by 10 most nights. On these shows, such as the Late Show, The Daily Show, and John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, children are frequently treated as inferior beings undeserving of equal treatment. Even Bill Maher, who champions “politically incorrect” speech—only champions free speech for adults. Children should do what they are told by adults and be polite about it.

We are currently experiencing a resurgence of social movements for equal treatment of minority groups, women, and immigrants in this country. However, children are still considered property instead of human beings worthy of equality. Because of their dependence in early life, children are a suspect class until they turn 18. The differences between individual children are overshadowed by the simple fact that they are “under-aged.” Children who behave responsibly are objects of amazement and wonder in the adult world. Recently, some young teenagers who rescued a boy from a chairlift at a ski lodge were described as “heroes.” The tone of the article expressed surprise that the teens could figure out and implement a plan to save the young child dangling from the chair.

At The Highland School, equality is a fundamental value in our daily life. Children are treated as equals in every aspect of school operation. The results of that equal treatment can be seen in the way students think independently, figure out creative solutions to problems and work cooperatively with other school members regardless of their ages. Students volunteer and are elected for responsible positions at school including Chairperson of the General School Meeting, Judge Clerk, and Clerks of many committees, clubs, and guilds. Our democracy works smoothly when all ages have equal rights.

One assumption people make when discussing equality is that equal means “the same.” We do not assume that individuals whether children or adults are the same. When we elect officers or clerks to do different jobs at school, our General School Meeting carefully evaluates their skills and abilities to do the job in question. We do not consider age as a factor in the decisions, but we do elect the best individual to do the job. For example, we have had student Treasurers who developed the Math skills to handle the income and expenditures of the School Meeting Account, as well as overseeing the finances of special interest groups. We have also had students who had no interest in working on school finances. Some of those did have an interest in running the school store—at first with help and later independently.

Protecting equal rights lies in the hands of individual school members and the General School Meeting. If members fail to recognize and point out bias in interactions, equality is at risk and so is our democracy. If a school member believes that another member is being treated differently from others, but the member doesn’t bring up the problem at GSM, our school is in danger. We hold the ideal of equality for all regardless of age, but if it is not practiced by all school members, our school does not function democratically.

As with biased interactions in daily life, equality is protected in our Judicial System. The Judge Clerk is responsible for handling cases and running judging in a fair and equitable manner. Threats to equality include biased judges, incorrect procedure, and cruel or unusual sentences. We created an appeals system to counteract these threats. Defendants can appeal a case to the General School Meeting if their rights have been violated. Maintaining equality requires commitment on the part of every school member. Children are capable of working toward equality and do it every day in our Judicial System.

At The Highland School we are fortunate to understand the connection between equality, responsibility and democracy. Each day we experience the impact of treating children as equals under our laws and as equal members of our school community.

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