Are You Certified?

If you hang around The Open School for a while, you may hear the question, “Are you certified for that?” This is one of the insider phrases at schools like ours, and requires a fair amount of explanation for newcomers.

The balance of freedom and responsibility at our school is perfectly exemplified in certification. Rather than basing privileges on age, which is quite arbitrary, Open School “school meeting members” (all staff and students) earn privileges based on ability and responsibility.  Certification is used for anything that might be considered a safety issue, or could be costly to the school if it were misused. For example, learning to cook has numerous levels of certification due to the risk inherent in many types of cooking. And, using art supplies or the school’s computers requires certification because if someone doesn’t use them correctly, there could be damage to school property.

The Certification Committee is responsible for identifying the certification process for most privileges, such as scootering, going off campus, and eating inside. For property that belongs to specific corporations the certifications are set by the responsible corporation. These processes can range from simple and straight-forward to complex and requiring months to complete.


For example, in order to be certified to scooter, one must always wear shoes while scootering, and know the rules pertaining to scooters. They prove this by being able to state the rules to the certifier. When someone doesn’t follow the rules, they lose their certification and must go through the process again to regain it. In contrast, it is much more difficult to get certified to use fire for camping, since it’s a much higher risk activity. First they have to attain a level 3 certification for using fire for cooking (i.e. the stove top), a process which in itself takes several supervised uses of the stove safely, as well as continuous demonstration of responsibility. Once they’ve achieved that certification, they then have to prove their responsibility with and safety around open flames, kerosene, and campfires. This entire process might take a capable person months to complete.

The purpose of certification is to hand over the development of skills to the student. It’s nearly impossible to tell from the outside or based on age who is able to responsibly accomplish different things. Many times kids are more capable than they are given credit for, and sometimes, adults don’t know as much as we assume they do. In an egalitarian community, all have the same opportunities to prove themselves and to achieve more freedoms based on their authentic abilities.

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