One of the qualities that seem to surprise educationalists most when visiting Danish schools is the ease with which pupils and teachers get on with one another. There is an open and direct communication, no ‘Miss’ or ‘Sir’. Usually first names are used in both directions. Each side is taken seriously by the other. This does not mean that there is no respect for the teacher, but s/he must show that respect is reciprocal. This aspect often seems to cause problems for immigrants. How can you respect a teacher when using a first name??? They may also find the gender of the teacher difficult to respect.
This lack of ceremony and institutional status often leads to a critical yet constructive dialogue which sharpens the mind of the pupil and improves the efficiency of learning. Opinions are welcome when supported by sensible or sound argumentation; and it is even better when you can gather a group around you that can share the position and the arguments.
Democracy is taken right into the classroom. Even 1st year pupils elect a representative to the school council, which in turn elects a pupil to the school board, where his or her opinion is listened to with as much attention as the opinion of a parent or another board member.
At school from age 6 to 18, all students grow up to see the value of ideas and opinions, the value of finding compromises and the value of listening to and understanding other points of view.
So ‘education for democratic citizenship’ starts very early on at school and preferably even at home before that.
By Hanna Broadbridge