School Number 734 – the Moscow School for Self-Determination
(Adapted from the English translation on the school's website www.743.com1.ru)
• To enable children to gain self-confidence through personal accomplishment rather than at the expense of others
• To create and maintain a democratic, tolerant way of life
• Equal rights for all members of the school community, both children and teachers
• The establishment of the school meeting of all students and teachers as the main decision-making body
• To develop individuality, rather than just teaching children to conform
• To allow pupils the opportunity to decide what and when to study, and to choose a teacher
• To have a set of universal skills as the key objective, rather than the collection of knowledge about different school subjects
• Collaboration of all kinds between students of all ages
• A wide variety of learning experiences , including research, expeditions, creative games, projects, and special events as well as lessons
The School was founded in 1970. The first head teacher, Iskra Vasilevna Tandit laid the foundations of democracy and love of freedom and justice, but it was not until the arrival of Alexander Tubelsky in 1985 that the experiments started. He led teachers and students to reflect on their experience and introduce changes. Staff meetings began to deal with the personal problems of the children, rather than discipline and academic progress. 35-minute lessons were sometimes replaced by "immersion", which made it possible to work on a topic for several days at a time. There was consultation with the students. The teachers began to distinguish core skills from superficial knowledge. A Judicial Committee of students and teachers was set up to settle conflicts by peaceful means. The School Council drew up a constitution. Students made their own individual timetables. Seminars, meetings, role-playing, celebrations, evening sessions to clean up the school and winter and summer camps became regular features.
There are four parts of the school, the kindergarten, the primary and secondary sections and the high school.
At the kindergarten, as in most good kindergartens, there is emphasis on sensory and social development through observing the natural environment, role-playing, music, art and play.
In the four or five years at the primary school the children learn the three Rs at their own pace and in their own ways. They assess their own progress and keep their own hand-written accounts of it. For one day each week they have a choice of about twenty different workshops run by parents and teachers . They move around freely, trying new activities, finding out how things work and interacting with others of various ages. They can test out theories about how computers work, what insects do, or how to treat other people. Since there are no grades or tests, they are able to learn from experience — mistakes are at least as instructive as success.
In the secondary school the teenagers have some compulsory subjects, but also have time to do their own projects or research or work for the school community. The teachers take care to avoid presenting single versions of events or prescribed ways of working. They avoid the implication that there is only one answer. The young people construct knowledge by discovering new information, comparing that information to what they already know and building new theories and ideas about their world and how it works.
In the high school each student constructs a personal curriculum. There are still a few compulsory subjects, but also wider opportunities, including work experience. It is in the high school that the method of "immersion" is most used, when at the beginning of any session, which will last several days, students and teachers decide together on the theme, the mode of working and the criteria for assessment. This discussion will involve many important themes and introduce universal skills that will be of lifelong importance.
The structure of the school allows children to choose a teacher, a theme, a way of working and a personal speed of learning. It challenges children to set personal goals and objectives, taking into account their individal experience, style of learning, ability and interests. They find they have to form their own opinions about information, events and other people's views. They have to devise their own methods of investigation, and assess both their own work and other people's.
The school is governed by three bodies, the School Meeting, the School Council and the Judicial Committee.
The School Meeting, which is attended by all students of 5th grade and above and all staff, is the only authority which can overrule decisions made by the School Council. It meets regularly twice a year, but anyone in the school is able to call an extra meeting. No other individual or committee can make any decisions about how the school operates, unless the School Meeting has first delegated that authority to them. There is no director, head teacher or administrator with a power of veto, and what is more the School Meeting has the power to veto any decision made by such a person.
The School Council has twenty members, elected at the beginning of each year. It includes parents as well as staff and students, but there is always a majority of children. It meets every week, and school rules, use of facilities, expenditure, admission of new students, and all the routine administrative matters are determined by debate and vote. The school has a written law book called "I have a right" that has been created (and is still being created) completely by students. Staff members have to obey the same rules as the students.
The Judicial Committee, which is also elected, consists of three teachers and four students. It handles day-to-day complaints about rules being broken and meets when a complaint has been made to decide what action should be taken. The members investigate each complaint and when they find that rules have been broken, they work with the people involved to decide on fair and effective solutions. Possibilities include the simple explanation of a rule, mediation, a warning or some positive action to help change problematic behaviour. If they find a rule is ineffective or outdated they will suggest changes to the School Meeting.
The key idea behind all this is that the individuality of every human being has the potential for lifelong development. The school aims to create an atmosphere in which self-knowledge, self-expression and self-determination can develop freely in reaction to the environment, the community and the inner world of the self.
Instead of a normal curriculum the school has a structure of learning areas, which includes conventional subjects, but also, among other things, play, creativity, work experience and government. Teachers deliberately involve students in these different learning areas, and particularly value unexpected situations, in which students are challenged to make up their own minds, to act, to choose.
Special attention is paid to leading a democratic way of life. There is a friendly atmosphere in which everyone has a basic right to act freely according to their own views and values, and this right is only limited by the freedom of others to do the same. Tolerance is one of the keystones of the community.
Everyone has to understand that this lifestyle is only possible when everyone involved agrees to it.
As well as the usual opportunities for drama, creative writing, sport, music, computer studies, camping and so on, the school lays particular stress on preparation for celebratory days, including the school's foundation day, the New Year and Women's Day and Men's Day (which are national holidays). A voluntary group and teachers meet some weeks in advance for brainstorming, and then students take responsibility for particular parts of the programme, for instance designing the decor, staging a performance or thinking up and organising different indoor or outdoor activities.
The school also uses role-playing as an educational tool. Every other year there is a three-day business game, when everyone from primary upwards takes part in establishing enterprises in an imaginary city. These may include government departments, courtrooms, shops, cinemas, restaurants, beauty salons or what you will. Often many parents take part. They share their experience and offer business training.
The most important event of all is the Lyceum week, which has been celebrated since 1976. This is another three-day role-playing game in which the whole school returns to the world of the beginning of the nineteenth century. This was a significant period of Russian history, as it was the first time people began to talk about freedom, human rights and the creation of a constitutional government. It was also marked by glamorous balls and noble behaviour.
During Lyceum Week the school aims to recreate an atmosphere of mutual respect, elegant manners, and boundless friendship.