Taking Power from a Six-Year-Old

“.. your average classroom is more like a little Kremlin …. It’s more like totalitarianism than democracy. There are bells and PA systems and student cards and hall passes and classrooms where you listen day in and day out to authoritarian voices. … one researcher… found that less than two percent of instructional time was spent on discussions requiring students to offer an opinion about something. Another investigator  … came away with the conclusion that schools don’t prepare children to become even informed citizens, not to mention active ones.”

— David Guterson, Family Matters.

It’s the first week in the ground floor studio at Acton and 3 provisional rules have been stipulated:

  • Treat the studio as a sacred place,
  • Speak only with kindness and truth
  • Do not disturb others or yourself.

After much discussion, the Eagles decide to add one other: “Be diligent in your work and help others as needed.”

Over the next several days, these provisional guardrails will be battle tested. They may be discarded, amended, or revised and extended by a mixed age group of Eagles ranging in age from 6 to 11. The Eagles have discussed the fairness of deciding by majority rule, the alternative of super majorities, the value of deliberative discussion, and the difficulty of reaching unanimity. And the Eagles themselves will decide, by a ⅔ vote, how to amend and revise these provisional guardrails into a relational covenant they will live and learn by for the remainder of the year.  

This is not a little Kremlin.


There are no hall passes. You don’t have to ask for permission. And if you do ask, the authorities will not are not likely to answer.  You’ll have to figure it out for yourself.  Anything else is disempowering.

I answered too many questions last week. Taking power from a six-year-old is easy. Granting it is also easy. But guiding them to earn it? Arranging for them to demand responsibility? That is a delicate matter. 


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