We're in this small and quiet city where bikes seem to outnumber cars and it feels as if at every step one could almost touch the surrounding mountains and forests. The weather's fine and it's great to cycle through verdant streets, knowing there's nearly always a cycle lane and that car drivers will give you way even when they're not expected to.
We decide to go for a ride and get to Kapriole, a democratic school situated in the outskirts of town. When we get there, we're told that we won't be able to take an 'official' tour because they are unable to attend all the numerous requests to visit. But a small group of students and one of the adults (there are no 'teachers' here), Niklas Gidion, propose we sit down for a chat. Around us, children of all ages play together as if playtime would never end. And it doesn't here.
With Niklas –who is co-founder of EUDEC, the European community for democratic education– we talk, among other things, about the difficulties the school underwent in the beginning, when it had to exist in the background because the authorities would not recognize this kind of school. Things have changed and Kapriole, since 1997, can count on an institutional support that is welcome though not really sought. We also meet Dunja, a Dutch student who is attending Kapriole on an exchange with the democratic school De Ruimte, near Utrecht. She tells us about her experience both in a mainstream school and in a democratic school, and how she is now able to choose at what pace she wants to learn and what she wants to learn, irrespective of subjects listed in the official curriculum and of age-based levels. This has boosted her capacity to learn! She speaks of her passion for infinite areas of knowledge, such as languages (her English is perfect and she also speaks German). We are impressed by her sensibility, her maturity and the clarity with which she explains that this unconventional approach to education has been really good for her.
Later, cycling in Vauban, a popular neighbourhood which has a long progressive history in Freiburg (Germany's eco-alternative capital itself), our hosts Sabina and Peter take us to a children´s park that was set up on the neighbours' initiative, and show us a sign at the entrance which says that children between six and fourteen years of age can only go in if they are NOT accompanied by an adult. Yes, that's correct: if they are NOT accompanied by an adult. Inside we find potentially dangerous machinery and tools such as saws and hammers, a high-temperature oven, and games of all sorts built by the children themselves. Adult supervision is minimal. Creativity and self-initiative are at their peak.