Democratic school introductory class in a traditional school

empty classroom is a good classroom

It’s my first day and I am intentionally arriving late because I want all of my students to be there when I arrive. This morning I spent half an hour choosing what to wear. Mind you that I’m a guy. Finally, I chose a black button-up shirt, black pants, my leather jacket and Aviator sunglasses. So cool.

I’m entering the high school’s building and start climbing the stairs. Eyes are already on me and I’m hearing whispers: “Is that a new student?”, “Look at that awesome jacket!”, “That can’t be our new tech ed teacher, he’s so young right?!

I enter the computer classroom. All the students rise in unison and say: “Good morning teacher!”

“Why the hell are you standing up!?”, I say. “I’m not Suleiman the Magnificent, sit down!” The students exchange glances, start laughing and sit down.

“Good morning everyone, my name is Neven and I’ll be your new PE teacher. Have you brought your gear with you?”, I say and point to a student. He nods his head saying no.

“Whoa… Well, what can we do, you’ll run in your jeans. Come on guys and girls, let’s head to the sport’s gym!”

The students start nagging under the voice and lazily start standing up and leaving the classroom. One student notices a smirk on my face and I notice him noticing me. I see the gears turning in his head. Suddenly, he has an epiphany.

“Wait a minute, if you’re our new PE teacher, why are we in the computer classroom?”, the student asks.

The whole class exchanges confused looks, then they look at me. I can barely hold my excitement.

“Well…”, I start lowering my gaze and pause for a bit. I raise my head and cheerfully continue: “Of course I am your new tech ed teacher! The schedule says tech ed! Why the hell else would we be in the computer classroom!?”

The students exchange another confused look and die from laughter.

“Come on guys and girls, return to your seats!”, I say and wait for them to sit down.

kids faces in democratic shools
Kids’ faces when I enter the classroom.

“Good morning once again, I’m Neven and I’ll be your new tech ed teacher. I’d like to start with 3 rules that everyone needs to follow in my class, including me. The first one goes:”

  1. No talking while someone is addressing the class.

“That means that when I lecture, you are quiet. If you talk and don’t listen to me when I lecture, then what’s the point of this?”, I say with a smile on my face. “Furthermore, if one of you wants to say something to the class, you would want for people to respect your turn and listen to you, am I right?” The students nod their heads. “Then, give that same respect to others when they want to talk. Isn’t that the fairest fair of them all?”, I smile. The students nod and smile.

      2. No phones.

“I don’t want to hear a phone ring, I don’t want to hear them vibrate, I don’t want to see them on your desk, lap, hands, feet, head or in your butt. The phones will be in your pockets or in your bags.”

      3. You’re not allowed to ask me whether you may go to the bathroom.

“Your bodies are not my property. Dudes, if you need to go take a leak, go take a leak!”, the students exchange another look and start rolling on the floor figuratively. “In silence stand up and leave the classroom. No need to tell me you’re going to the bathroom too”, I say and pause… “Of course, don’t abuse that rule by everyone standing up in silence and leaving the classroom in unison!”, I say and the students laugh again. “Common sense people, common sense…” I say and continue onto the next slide.

My first and last names are in the title of this slide. Here, I present my education and work history. “I like to introduce myself properly to my new students. It will be easier for us to bond if you know where I came from, what did I study and where have I worked in the past”, I say.

“Next, we will play a quick game of associations. It’s called “Guess the institution”. I will show you a list of bullet points, and you have to guess which government institution they describe best. The first bullet point is: “You have to spend time in it this institution”. The students exchange looks.

“The next one is: if you’re not present, someone will tattle you to your parents and look for you.” One of the students proclaims: “a school!” I nod and say: “we have our first guess, but let’s move on.”

Some of those institutions have cafeterias. You come and grab a cheap lunch during your lunch break. They also have libraries, and a sport gym. You can borrow any book and work out as much as you want! So, which institution is this?”

I see the gears turning inside their heads. Students now start firing guesses: “A university! Madhouse! Juvie!”

“We have some great guesses here, but not one was just right… If you closely look at the each bullet point, you will see that the most logical answer is…”

Click here to reveal the answer


students in traditional schools
“Why won’t you let me out?! Please!” — “Because that’s how our 200 years old schooling system works and we don’t feel like changing it.”

All hell breaks loose. A thump from a headdesk is heard from the back of the room, while several students are shaking their head in disbelief. While they’re laughing, I go to student to student, shake their hands and say: “Congratulations, you’re in a prison.” It spawns more laughter. I wait for about thirty seconds, that’s how long it usually takes for them to settle down after this particular joke.

“Now when you’ve found out that the most similar government institution to school is prison, we can move on… But, someone said a madhouse, a mental hospital. That’s fairly close but the main difference between schools and mental hospitals is that mentally healthy people attend and work at schools.”

“Well, I don’t know about that!”, exclaims one student. Everyone starts laughing out loud.

“Who said that!?”, I ask slightly angry. The students stop laughing. “I asked who said that!?” One scared student starts to slowly raise a trembling hand. I pause for a beat. “I’m giving you an A! What an awesome joke!” The student looks at me with disbelief first, before lowering his hand and grinning at me.

“It’s real simple”, I start talking again and come up to a student. “Do you want to be here right now, or would you rather be somewhere else?”

“Here”, the student replies.

“Sure, that’s because I’m interesting”, the students laugh at my self-confident remark but I immediately continue: “but in general, would you rather sit in the classroom or be home playing League of Legends?”

“I’d rather be home and play LoL!” the students exclaims.

“And what about others? What would you rather be doing than sitting in a classroom for six hours?”

The students start taking turns yelling:

“Playing my guitar!”
“I’d rather socialize with my friends over drinks!”
“Finish hacking my neighbour’s WiFi!”
“Track Bitcoin and plan when to buy!”
“Work on my video game!”

“Exactly!” I proclaim while establishing silence in the classroom. “You would rather be doing something else, something you want… Then why aren’t you?” I point to a student and ask him: “Why are you here?”

“Because I have to”, the student replies.

“Correct… that would be if this was a primary school. But this is high school. High schools are not mandatory. So, I ask you again, why are you here?”

The students raise their heads towards the ceiling. The same student speaks: “Because of my parents.”

“Correct!” I say. “You are here because if you weren’t attending school you’d be in a major conflict with your parents. And both you and your parents, are culturally influenced to believe one can only learn in schools. Thus, you come here everyday, sit in the classroom for six hours and listen to stuff you don’t care about.” The students laugh.

“But I like some subjects!”, another student chimes in.

“Obviously. I’d be very worried if you weren’t interested in at least one of the 15-ish subjects you have”, I say. “But why do you need to study for subjects you don’t care about? If you like digital electronics, why not focus solely on it and crush it? Why waste time on history or geography?”

“We need a well rounded knowledge!”, another student joins the conversation.

“Oh?” I say with a confused look on my face. “Tell me then, what do you remember from last year’s geography lessons?”

The student struggles to talk while on the spotlight. “Egypt’s capital city is Cairo!”, she finally blurts out triumphantly.

“Nice!” I commend her. “The sum of all last year’s lessons and studies is a factoid I can google in 5 seconds”, laughter erupts in the classroom. The student which gave the answer defeatedly lowers her head. “But it’s not your fault!”, I continue. “Don’t feel sad. The system is retarded.” The students laugh once again. “Which brings me to my next slide which is titled: free (democratic) schools. Can anyone tell me what’s a free school?” Not a single students raises their hand. “Free schools, but they’re called democratic schools nowadays, are schools where there are no exams, no grades and students don’t need to attend classes!”

Several students immediately vocalize their thoughts: “Schools like that don’t exist!”
“That’s not a school then!”

I continue without a pause. “The first free school was founded in 1921 in the UK and it’s called Summerhill. But to address the second comment, I must first ask you why do you believe that?”

“If the students don’t take exams and don’t have to attend classes, then no one will learn anything!” a student replies.

“Oh, why do you think you learn something when you take an exam? Tell me, when you cram a day before for an exam, and then you take it the next day, you get your A, B, C grade but you forget everything you read in the span of next several days… Is that knowledge?” The students pause for a bit to digest the new perspective. “Exams measure how well have you studied for a particular exam on a particular day…” I say and pause with a disappointing look on my face. “The only thing that exams force you to do is to cheat and cram useless information which you will forget after a couple of days… Wow… such intelligence” I say. The students start laughing again.

students' faces when taking an exam
“I don’t know the answer because I can’t remember a particular factoid… But even if I did, I would forget the information after a couple of days. Damn!”

I continue: “Regarding the class attendance, why would you have to attend all classes? That’s a serious question, think about it. Take any business man that comes to mind, Trump for example”, the students laugh. “Before he became the president, he ran several businesses. Tell me, did he make his own websites for his businesses?”

“No!” the students say in unison.

“Then, who made them?”

“He hired someone to make them for him!”, a student says.

“Exactly! He was interested in real estate, hotels, whatever the hell he was interested, I’m not a Trump expert… So he did those things, he didn’t know how to make websites nor did he care, he wanted to do business. So he hired someone” I conclude and pace through the classroom.

I continue: “To sum up the main point, real learning comes from being interested in something. If there’s no interest, people will simply find ways pass the criteria and forget the information they just acquired. If it’s not relevant, it will be forgotten. What’s the point in me teaching you Microsoft Word, when you’re never going to use it and you’ll forget everything in a matter of months. How do I know that? Because that’s what happened to me. I learned Word throughout the entire school year in high school and I forgot everything by the time I enrolled in the university. What happened then? I re-learned the software and it took me a tenth of the time I did it in high school.”

“Why am I telling you all of this, you might ask? Because that’s my modus operandi. This is how I teach. Free school style. If you’re not interested in tech ed, fine. Your call. I don’t care whether you attend my lessons. Your choice”,  the students exchange glances of disbelief. “You will miss out on some cool as hell lessons though”, the students laugh out loud.

“Also, there will be no exams. What’s the point in giving you an exam when you’re just going to cheat and/or cram few nights before, only to forget the information in a few days. If you’re interested in tech ed, that’ll be your motivation to learn, if you’re not, well bon voyage and good luck in learning what you want”, I say and fashion the biggest grin I can.

“Whoo hoo! Neven for president!” a student yells. They start chanting in unison: “Neven for president! Neven for president!”

I raise my hands real high in the air, as if I’m standing on a cliff and enjoying life. “One more thing though. I don’t like to yell to establish silence in the classroom, so I have one more rule actually. When you see me raising my hands as a redneck holding freshly baked lamb on a skewer, that’s your cue to shut up”, I say and show the next slide.

How to establish silence in the classroom

The students start rolling on the floor laughing, figuratively. I raise my hands with a grin. They start laughing even more. I wait for a couple of seconds to let them laugh their heart out. After a couple of seconds I raise my hands again and they shut up. “So, you’re probably wondering: what are we going to do? The answer is real simple: I will teach you what you want to learn. Who wants to learn how to hack someone’s Facebook account?” Every girl in the classroom raises their hands. “Who wants to learn how to make games?” Now every boy raises their hands. “Classic, girls want to see who’s dating who and boys just want to play dem games”, I say and the students laugh.

“I am a jack of all trades. I know the basics of a lot of different IT skills. I will show you examples of work my students did during the lessons. First up, we actually filmed a movie.

“That were students on the 2nd year of high school. Next up, we did some Photoshopping with the freshmen:”

Democratic school projects

The students laugh really hard. “I know, I know… People just love doing Trump memes nowadays. We also did a lot of programming. Prepare though, this one’s the best:”

The students start laughing so hard that I fear someone might come to the classroom to scold me that my students are too loud. One of the students asks: “Why the political incorrectness?”

“A great question, but those are not my projects. The students made them, so you’ll have to ask them”, I reply and continue: “The projects are funny, but what’s really interesting is that these are not animations. The students actually programmed all of the things you can see and hear. It was done in the developing environment called Etoys. It’s a program where you can draw, and then you can do simple visual based coding to do pretty much anything you want with the drawings. Oh and by the way, that Super Saiyan yelling is actually one of the students, it’s not from the anime”, the students gasp.

“So cool! Are we going to do that too, teacher?” a student asks.

“Of course!”, I say. The students relax with a satisfying smile on their faces.

“That’s all folks! We have come to the end of my ‘lecture’. Now, we have time for questions! You will see in the future that my least favorite thing is to just talk. I love when you talk! When you ask me questions and when we work together! So… questions?”

A students raises their hand and starts talking: “Teacher, I have the most important questions of them all… Which games do you play!?”, and thus the class has properly started.

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