What is a Constructivist Democratic Education?

At Trillium Charter School we believe in the radical potential of experiential, constructivist and democratic education.

TCS is a safe place to broaden our collective UNDERSTANDING, to increase our capacity for EMPATHY and to sharpen our CRITICAL THINKING… to learn-to-learn.

TCS is a container for mutually supportive RELATIONSHIPS between students, faculty, families and the community at large.

TCS provides a context for socially, emotionally, cognitively and aesthetically rewarding EXPERIENCES. From these experiences new knowledge is formed.

At Trillium Charter School we DO REAL STUFF, TOGETHER. Knowledge is always under construction.

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Constructivism is a conceptual framework for thinking about knowledge (hint: we form new knowledge together).

Constructivism is is an architectural metaphor. New knowledge is ‘constructed’ from experiences. Much like new buildings or cities erupt from the remains of old buildings or cities, new ways of thinking emerge from a foundation of already existing ideas. This may include our past experiences, our personal and collective routines and rituals or our shared conceptions about the function of a school and how education ought to work. Constructivism gives us a shared vocabulary for learning about learning, together.


Democracy is a system of governance that is for the people, by the people. In a democratic classroom ‘we the people’ includes all of the students, their families, the teachers and the entire school faculty.

We are all stakeholders in this construction of new, more effective, more just ways of learning, doing and knowing! As stakeholders we share rights and responsibilities. We are all invited to participate in schoolwide and classroom meetings. Students can propose, carry and ratify their ideas, affecting real change in the rules, policies and curriculum at Trillium.

Principled disagreement and ongoing, critical debate are necessary to healthy democracy! This is not to say that each person will get their way in all things, or that the loudest or most forceful person will carry the day. Rather, each of us has a voice and we are all encouraged to use it. Every child and adult at TCS is a valued member of the Trillium community. We are ALL invited to participate in the construction of our school!

Education, like everything else, happens in a time-and-place. To achieve understanding we must imagine ourselves and our school in an historical and geographical context.


TCS seeks to build a strong community by incorporating elements of place-based education in our curriculum and by implementing social justice techniques in conflict resolution. Many community events are held monthly to build stronger, more active and compassionate community. Events include a monthly racial equity meeting and monthly social awareness movie night.

At TCS our curriculum is grounded in this specific place: the intersection of N Interstate and Killingsworth in Portland Oregon, the United States of America and the planet Earth. By intentionally anchoring our learning to this historical and material PLACE, we become more accurately oriented. This gives TCS students a more realistic understanding of our shared situation, along with the democratic agency to effect meaningful change.

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