Posts Tagged Free Schools

Free Schools Push Real Education Reform

This is an except from a larger body of work.

The free school movement during the counter cultural stir of the 60’s and 70’s, with a significant impact even today is a result of highly authoritarian and hierarchal systems of governance that provoked families to seek out more local participatory democracy more reflective of their values and ideals. Families disillusioned by what public schools have to offer during the time of the free school movement, instead sought out educational alternatives with a fondness for spontaneity, freedom, staying true to their ideals and values (Miller, 2002).

Free Schools have been around for countless years, before the dawning of governmental schooling and always sprouting from the heart of community. The attractiveness of free schools is that they can rise and wane, reconstruct themselves, and transform into the genuine needs of children and the community. There are key aspects to democratic free schools that can be of inspiration to those who have suffered from conventional schooling. Free schools are non-compulsory, non-hierarchal, non-coercive, play friendly and do not administer grades. Some of these qualities in education revolving around free schools have been of influence to the public school sphere, either through homeschool network services, educational camps, drop-in centers, or other alternative approaches against the grain of compulsion. However there are many alternatives within the state system of education where parents, teachers, and students have worked hard to have more control over the decisions of the school. And I don’t want to discount the importance of when a public school finds creating ways for “maladjustment,” and collaborate in opposing some of the injustices and inequalities, while insuring that students, parents, and teachers have more of a say in the daily governing of a school. I do however think that the idea of each distinct community having full governance over their school has deep imbedded roots in democratic free schools.

A brief history of democratic free schools

Free schools also have a historical connection to the Modern School movement started by Francisco Ferrer in Spain in 1901 when he opened La Escuela Moderna. By 1906 “thirty-four schools with over 1,000 students were directly or indirectly influenced by the school and its textbooks. (Register of Francisco Ferrer Collection, MSS 0248).” Ferrer’s worked to free youth from the hegemonic grip of state schools (Hern, 2003). A quote in Field Day, Getting Society Out of Schools by Ferrer, sums up the uniqueness of the Modern School in comparison to the schools that operated on a regimented designed curricula. “Since we are not educating for a specific purpose, we can not determine the capacity or incapacity of a child.” Ferrer, a highly outspokenly critic of state dominating schooling suggests that such a education model offers nothing more than “enslavement” for the purpose of molding perfected labors. After being arrested for the second time for suspicion of conspiring to assassinating the King during a period of mass surge of political protest in Spain, Ferrer was detained and then executed before a firing squad. However the Modern School would continue to be influential with the support of Emma Goldman and other leading anarchists. Many who started progressive schools such as A.S Neil with Summerhill in England have been inspired by the work of Ferrer and the Modern School movement.

William Goldwin’s, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) and the publication of The Enquirer (1797) where some of the first of its kind, against nationalizing education. Goldwin presented the case that “national schooling would always subordinate those goals to larger political interests,” and that real education would come from the pursuits of “truth and justice. (Hern, 2003).”

Leo Tolstoy a Christian activist started the school Yasnaya Polyana for peasant children. Tolstoy would objected to the highly authoritarianism around the schools he visited in Germany, Swiss, and English schools and that the matter of education belonged in the hands of family:

I am convinced that the school should not interfere in matters of education that belong to the family; that the school does not and should not have the right to reward and punish; that the best policy and administration of a school consists in granting students full freedom to study, and to settle their disputes as they see fit (Tolstoy 83).

Tolstoy firmly believed in individualism and that youth have the right to freely choose what they want to learn through various interests and curiosities, without being compelled by the purposes of other outside unnatural influences. At Yasnaya Polyana no lesson or instruction was given and was adamant about not interfering even among the disorder, as we would need to be patient in order for it to settle and allow time for genuine learning.

There are many off shoots in the roots of schools like the Modern School and free schools that have provided a cultural hub for activism, nurturing, social responsibility and centeredness on youth have leadership. These are schools that do not necessarily subscribe to a particular model or template when it comes to governing their school, often may be experimental, and usually comes from the ingenuity of creative individuals that make up the group they comprise as school. In away a school existing outside the framework of state schooling is distinctly fit to the needs of the community, and is run, by the community.

It is time to rethink the meaning and purpose of education for youth within our communities, as “the business of a school is not, or should not be, mere instruction, but the life of a child (Dennison, 1960).” Most can agree that the majority of meaningful education has occurred throughout our lives, often in or around the family home, most notable when not interrupted, when free of obligatory strings attached, and when entrusted by adults to take full responsibility of one’s own learning. And some how, unexplainable through inquiry, reflection, experimentation, play, and a continuum of experiences; we can find great liberty in figuring it out on our own, without little, if any, needed instruction.

Ayers, W. (2004). Teaching the Personal and the Political: Essays on Hope and Justice (Teaching for Social Justice, 11). New York: Teachers College Press.

Dennison, G. (1970). THE LIVES OF CHILDREN the story of the First Street School. New York: Vintage.

Neill, A. (1995). Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood. New York, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.

Noddings, N. (2006). Philosophy of Education. Oxford: Westview Press.

Lowe, R., & Peterson, R. (1995). Rethinking Schools: An Agenda for Change. New York: New Press.

Gatto, J. (2001). The Underground History of American Education. New York: The Oxford Village Press.

Kohl, H. (1994). “I Won’t Learn from You”: And Other Thoughts on Creative Maladjustment. New York: New Press.

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Eisler, R., & Eisler, R. (2001). Tomorrow’s Children: A Blueprint for Partnership Education for the 21st Century. New York: Basic Books.

Miller, R. (2002). Free Schools, Free People: Education and Democracy After the 1960s. Albany, New York: State University Of New York Press.

Gatto, J. (2002). Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

Goodman, P. (1960). Growing up absurd; Problems of youth in the organized system. New York: Random House.

Neill, A. (1995). Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood. New York, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.

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Kneller, G. (1984). Movements of Thought in Modern Education. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Hern, M. (2003). Field Day: Getting Society Out of School. New York: New Star Books Ltd.

Holt, J. (2004). Instead of Education: Ways to Help People do Things Better. Boulder, Colorado: Sentient Publications.

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