Students As Stakeholders
Children in a fully democratic school are stakeholders. They have an emotional and intellectual stake in creating the culture, protecting the democratic process and building relationships. Students’ choice to be a part of the school is a commitment that often takes time to develop. Especially when they have experienced an authoritarian environment, children are afraid to believe that they really are equal school members with individual rights. They wait for the other shoe to drop. They test the staff to see if the portrait of democracy they heard at the beginning of their school experience is really a lie. They hesitate to get emotionally involved in relationships and activities at school. Over time, students begin to trust in the system that they see around them. Eventually they begin to realize that they ARE the system. Once that happens, children become part of changing and sharing school life.
When students care about what happens at school and are willing to participate in keeping the school going, they contribute essential problem solving and emotional support to the school. This does not mean that they must attend every meeting, run for every office, or chair every committee. It does mean that when issues come up affecting the whole school, they care about what happens. It does mean that when a complaint for violating individual rights is written in which students are witnesses or judges, they must participate in judging. Judging requires both an intellectual and an emotional commitment to fairness and equal treatment before the law.
Being a part of the democratic system builds responsibility both for the individuals involved and for the school community as a whole. Not realizing that they are valuable members of everything that happens at school, leaves students feeling powerless and unrelated to daily activities. Whether busy with an interest that only an individual student cares about or helping to create a group to explore similar interests, understanding that each student is an equal and important stakeholder supports the experiences of daily life.
In sum, awareness of being a stakeholder in the school democracy is important - both to the school and to the person. When students leave school, either through graduation or moving on to another environment, they usually carry feelings of attachment to the school along with them. They may not verbalize an understanding of the connection between their intellectual and emotional development and the caring democratic education they experienced, but they remember being stakeholders whose contributions mattered.