25 SES 01, Children's Human Rights Education - Policy and practice
The proposed presentation draws on findings from a research project on a recent, and increasingly popular, phenomenon of democratic schools in Poland. These are educational initiatives typically set up and run by parents who, exercising their legal right to take responsibility for their children’s education, take children out of school and organize informal educational settings for them where children spend time and learn with their peers. These quasi-schools (Uryga & Wiatr, 2015), inspired by schools such as Summerhill or Sudbury Valley, typically situate themselves within the democratic education movement (as exemplified by their membership in the European Democratic Education Community) and tend to subscribe to the principles of self-determined learning and egalitarian relationships between children and adults. Their founders present these places as an alternative to mainstream schooling that, as they claim, disrespects children’s emotional, social and physical needs, precludes their free development by forcing them to stay within a prescribed curriculum rather than following their interests, and molds them into obedient and powerless subjects. The research project has sought to address three broad questions concerning, first, the origin and context of the emergence of democratic schools; second, their daily functioning; and third, their role in the Polish education system overall. In this presentation we want to explore a claim that is frequently expressed in some of the schools, namely that children need to be free to define themselves. In the name of the children’s right to be themselves, adults (parents and teachers) renounce their will to shape children’s futures, e.g. through voicing their expectations concerning their educational careers. This tends to be formulated as the parents’ wish for their children to be happy irrespective of what they do, rather than pursuing dominant ideas of what it means to be successful. Without trying to determine the validity of this claim, we intend to examine the ramifications of it, which we perceive as complex and problematic. In doing so, we will focus on two issues:
- What constructions of the child does the discourse of letting children be themselves build on and contribute to developing?
- What is the relationship between the notion of the children’s right to be themselves on one hand, and the rights enshrined in the UNCRC and the principle of the child’s best interests on the other?
The theoretical framework for the analysis is grounded primarily in M. Foucault’s notion of governmentality, conceived as procedures and techniques to direct human behavior, and to influence the “conduct of conduct” (e.g. Foucault, 1997; 2000). It allows for an understanding of how individuals are directed into acting in specific ways, but also how they are made to take control over their own actions. This perspective has been productively used to analyze various educational processes through which children are constructed as specific kinds of subjects (e.g. Arndt, Gibbons, & Fitzsimons, 2015; Baker, 1998; Gibson, McArdle, & Hatcher, 2015; Millei, 2012), but also to examine progressive educational initiatives to uncover how they, sometimes inadvertently, contribute to reproducing the dominant, neoliberal ideology (Reveley, 2016; Wilson, 2015; 2017). The still limited insights into democratic schools in Poland tend to either unconditionally highlight their positive impact on children’s social competences, motivation and self-esteem, or criticize them as elitist endeavors that contribute to the reproduction of social and educational inequalities. Against this backdrop, this project aims at elaborating a more nuanced and complex understanding of the ramifications of the democratic school phenomenon.
The empirical material that this presentation is based on comes from an ongoing long-term ethnographic research project carried out in six democratic schools throughout Poland. In order to obtain a comprehensive view of the schools’ functioning that would capture their diversity, the sample of schools varied in terms of their size, location, organization and pedagogical approach. Methodology included ethnographic observations in schools, informal conversations and in-depth interviews with school founders, staff and parents, and interviews with children (mainly based on photos taken by the children in schools). These were complemented by desk research (an analysis of school documentation, legal documents and media coverage). Fieldwork spanned over the period of two years and, depending on the school, was carried out either continuously (with visits in schools several times a month) or in 5-6 phases, each lasting three to four days. In order to diversify perspectives, observations were carried out by a team of researchers. The methodological design also included meetings with the participants in order for the researchers to present their interpretations and to collectively discuss them. This presentation draws primarily on transcripts of interviews and informal conversations with parents and school staff, and online publications concerning democratic education (in particular those posted on parenting and education portals).
As an initial analysis suggests, the discourse of letting the children be themselves is based on a sentimental vision of a naturally developing child who is prone to seek out Virtue, Truth and Beauty (Dahlberg, Moss, & Pence, 2007: 45), and it translates into practices that result in the construction of a child as an autonomous and self-reliant subject who is capable of making proper decisions concerning oneself. The presumed freedom to be oneself turns into an obligation as the child has no choice but to create oneself (Millei, 2008). Such a child appears to be an ideal neoliberal subject: independent and self-regulated. This points to a potential inherent contradiction inscribed in the democratic schools: while aspiring to formulate alternatives, they may in fact contribute to reproducing the dominant system. Finally, there seems to be some tension between the child’s right to be oneself and some of the rights granted in the UNCRC, especially to education (art. 28 and 29), and the principle of attentiveness to a child’s best interests (art. 3). While the schools could be seen as following the principle of directing education to the development of children’s personalities and talents to their fullest potential, critical questions should be posed concerning children who are not capable of creating themselves as autonomous learning subjects. This also indicates the need for further reflection on the complexities of understanding a child as a subject of rights in the context of democratic education.
Arndt, S., Gibbons, A., & Fitzsimons, P. (2015). Thriving and surviving? The incredible problem of constructions of normality and Otherness in early childhood settings. Global Studies of Childhood, 5(3), 279–290. Baker, B. (1998). Child-Centered Teaching, Redemption, and Educational Identities: A History of the Present. Educational Theory, 48(2), 155–174. Dahlberg, G., Moss, P., & Pence, A. R. (2007). Beyond Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care: Languages of Evaluation (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. Foucault, M. (1997). On the government of living, in P. Rabinow, ed., Ethics: The Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984, Penguin Press, London. Foucault, M. (2000). Governmentality, in J. D. Faubion, ed., Power: The Essential Works of Michel Foucault, 1954–1984, Penguin Press, London. Gibson, M., McArdle, F., & Hatcher, C. (2015). Governing child care in neoliberal times: Discursive constructions of children as economic units and early childhood educators as investment brokers. Global Studies of Childhood, 5(3), 322–332. Kampmann, J. (2004). Societalization of Childhood: New Opportunities? New Demands?, in H. Brembeck, B. Johansson and J. Kampmann, eds. Beyond the Competent Child. Exploring Contemporary Childhoods in the Nordic Welfare Societies, Roskilde University Press, Roskilde. Millei, Z. (2008). Problematizing the concepts of ‘citizenship’ and ‘participation’ in early years discourses: are they so empowering? International Journal of Equity and Innovation in Early Childhood, 6, 41–56. Millei, Z. (2012). Thinking differently about guidance: Power, children's autonomy and democratic environments. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 10(1), 88–99. Reveley, J. (2016). Neoliberal meditations: How mindfulness training medicalizes education and responsibilizes young people. Policy Futures in Education, 14(4), 497–511. Rodríguez, E. (2013). Child-centered pedagogies, curriculum reforms and neoliberalism. Many causes for concern, some reasons for hope. Journal of Pedagogy / Pedagogický Casopis, 4(1), 1–20. Uryga, D., & Wiatr, M. (2015). Quasi-szkoły – nowe przedsięwzięcia rodzicielskie na obrzeżu systemu oświaty. Pedagogika Społeczna, 3(57), 217–231. Wilson, M.A.F. (2015). Radical democratic schooling on the ground: pedagogical ideals and realities in a Sudbury school. Ethnography and Education, 10(2), 121–136. Wilson, M.A.F. (2017). Neoliberal ideology in a private Sudbury school. Policy Futures in Education, 15(2), 170–184.
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
Network 1. Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations
Network 2. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)
Network 3. Curriculum Innovation
Network 4. Inclusive Education
Network 5. Children and Youth at Risk and Urban Education
Network 6. Open Learning: Media, Environments and Cultures
Network 7. Social Justice and Intercultural Education
Network 8. Research on Health Education
Network 9. Assessment, Evaluation, Testing and Measurement
Network 10. Teacher Education Research
Network 11. Educational Effectiveness and Quality Assurance
Network 12. LISnet - Library and Information Science Network
Network 13. Philosophy of Education
Network 14. Communities, Families and Schooling in Educational Research
Network 15. Research Partnerships in Education
Network 16. ICT in Education and Training
Network 17. Histories of Education
Network 18. Research in Sport Pedagogy
Network 19. Ethnography
Network 20. Research in Innovative Intercultural Learning Environments
Network 22. Research in Higher Education
Network 23. Policy Studies and Politics of Education
Network 24. Mathematics Education Research
Network 25. Research on Children's Rights in Education
Network 26. Educational Leadership
Network 27. Didactics – Learning and Teaching
The programme is updated regularly (each day in the morning)
- Search for keywords and phrases in "Text Search"
- Restrict in which part of the abstracts to search in "Where to search"
- Search for authors and in the respective field.
- For planning your conference attendance you may want to use the conference app, which will be issued some weeks before the conference
- If you are a session chair, best look up your chairing duties in the conference system (Conftool) or the app.