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Learning from the Free School Movement of the 60's-70's May 09, 2006 7:45 PM

In a post I recently made on the Sustainable Education thread, I made mention of the Free School Movement and what it meant to me. I feel it's important to look at our (US and places where there were similar movements, like France) recent his/herstory to learn from the best of the past and hopefully apply it to a new free school movement. The following book review is a good place to start. I'd be interested to hear from other group members who experienced the free school movement of the 60's-70's, both as activists and students. ~Peace, Larry Note: This review continues in a second post. Free Schools review by Frank Lindenfeld (GEO Newsletter: Free Schools, Free People: Education and Democracy after the 1960’s By Ron Miller (Albany: SUNY Press, 2002). In this well-documented book, Ron Miller takes us back to the heady 1960s era with its movements that chal-lenged racial injustice, class inequality, and the Vietnam War. Stimulated and nurtured by these movements and by the developing counterculture, a wave of alternative institutions—food co-ops, communes, worker collectives, alternative newspapers, free universities and free schools swelled and crested. Many of the free schools lasted only several years, though some still continue—e.g. Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts, along with a few public alternatives such as the High School in the Community in New Haven, CT. Miller traces the cultural context and the ideology of the free school movement. The ideology arose out of a radical disenchantment with American society, technocratic values, oppressive economic institutions, and major political parties dominated by the wealthy. Influential writers on education during that era included Paul Goodman, Ivan Illich, A.S. Neill (Summerhill), John Holt, and Jonathan Kozol. As Kozol put it in his 1972 book, Free Schools, the public school exists “to turn out manageable workers, obedient consumers, manipulable voters and if need be, willing killers.” Miller devotes an entire chapter to the evolving thought of John Holt, who eventually became an advocate of de-schooling and home-schooling, as well as a thoughtful chapter on “Education and Democracy”, to which I return below. Free School Values Free schools, at their best, have been exemplars of egalitarian, participatory democratic learning communities of children and adult mentors. The anarchist slogan “question authority” was popular. Free schoolers were against credentialism, and against domination in all of its forms. They believed children developed and learned best in an empowering atmosphere. And they believed in experiential learning, rather than merely learning from books and expert authorities. Children are naturally curious: in their own time they will learn what they need without being told what to do. The role of staff was to act as models, guides, mentors and leaders, and not as authority figures. Decisions were generally made in meetings of staff and students, one person, one vote. The schools were usually small—20-60 students and 3-10 staff and volunteers. There were no compulsory classes, age groupings, pre-set curricula, or grades. Supporters of free schools did not believe this model was suitable for all children, only that such alternatives work for many kids, while public schools are sorely deficient as well as oppressive. Free Schools, Free People helped me reflect on my own role in starting free schools in the 1960s, notably Summerhill West in Los Angeles. In the cultural climate of the time, building our own institutions seemed quite possible. If the public schools did not adequately meet our needs, we would build free schools. People would begin deserting the mainstream, oppressive institutions to take part in the alternatives. As a parent, I wanted something better for my children, so I helped organize a free school with other parents and educators with values similar to mine. We accepted children of all ages, and provided a non-coercive learning atmosphere with a young, nurturing staff. For a time, we had boarding arrangements for many of the older students. The students wanted to come to school; they probably learned as much and more than they would have in public school, without coercion. Older students who wanted to attend college found little difficulty in being accepted. At our school meetings, some of the four year olds sat on the laps of teenagers. Everyone had a say. The complaint from a number of the kids that the meetings got into too much boring detail led to the delegation of a number of tasks, and the emergence of some degree of formal structure. Our school began in Los Angeles, and later moved to northern California. The biggest problem, which finally forced the school to close, was lack of money. Teachers subsidized the school by taking low salaries, and numerous volunteers supplemented paid staff. Free schools like ours did charge tuition, though on a sliding scale and with scholarships, so as to keep from becoming merely private schools for upper middle class kids. Education, Democracy and Free Schools In his chapter “Education and Democracy,” Miller contrasts free school ideology with that of the social democrats. The free schools argued for secession from the public school system to enable their participants to engage in a participatory democratic process in small school communities. We knew that trying to transform the public schools might be a long process. We did not want to wait years, however, for our kids to have access to a more open, non-authoritarian educational environment. continued below...  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
Book reveiew, Free Schools, continued... May 09, 2006 7:49 PM

But if progressive parents desert the public schools, doesn’t that make it even more difficult to provide decent public education for poor and minority children? Perhaps, though it seems to me the answer to this lies in a dual strategy of continuing political struggle and building alternative learning communities. At Summerhill West we encouraged anti-war and anti-draft activities, and continued the wider political struggle to transform the public educational system. Two of the staff, for example, were part of a third party slate vying for seats on the Los Angeles school board. Despite the lack of campaign funds, we were able to garner about 6% of the votes. The free school (and New Left) ideal of participatory democracy and community differs from the social democratic vision of using state power to promote equality, social justice, and civil rights. An example of the latter was President Eisenhower’s sending federal troops to enforce racial integration at Little Rock High School in 1957. The free school movement opposed racism and segregation, and was strongly influenced by the civil rights movement and the southern freedom schools. (Nevertheless, most free schools had few minority students). The free schools did not advocate using state power to force people to be free. We kept alive the idea that education should be empowering, that children grow and learn best in a non-coercive, supportive atmosphere that emphasizes cooperation and mutual aid. The notion of non-coercive learning communities is more relevant today than ever. Many of us are appalled at the blatant materialism, commercialism, nationalism and militarism that are part of public school indoctrination. (School systems now sign exclusive agreements with Coca Cola, and show Channel One “news” with its built in commercials). Contemporary voucher plans and charter schools often reflect a conservative, elitist, racist agenda. Public funds could also be used to support a new wave of free schools, however. We might emulate the Danish folk school model where groups of, say, 15-20 families could receive no-strings public funding on a par with per-pupil funding of public schools. ~~~ Frank Lindenfeld is sociology professor emeritus, Bloomsburg University. He was an activist in the 1960's free school movement. Contact: Include the citation below and GEO Newsletter grants permission to copy, use, and distribute this article: Permission not for commercial or for-profit use. ©2001 GEO, P.O. Box 115, Riverdale, MD 20738-0115 Above article link:  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
FREEDOM--What a rare word...A. S. Neill and Summerhill May 09, 2006 7:57 PM

-from: FREEDOM--What a rare word. When was the last (or even first) time you heard it mentioned in the context of education? A. S. Neill had a deep trust in the ability of the individual to direct his/her own learning. He believed that this innate ability was nurtured in freedom. He created Summerhill school in 1921 in England as an experiment in free learning. Summerhill deeply influenced and inspired the Free School movement of the 60s and 70s, one of the most amazing journeys out onto the edge yet. His work could well encourage us in taking more radical steps toward edge-ucation today. Did you go to a free school, start a free school, teach in a free school? If you did, we encourage you to share your experiences from the viewpoint of 1999. What are the most valuable insights you have from those times that might offer some possibilities to us now pondering, creating and evolving 21st century edge-ucation? Take part in our dialogue--"Free schools: wisdom gained, insights offered" in the Haven Dialogue Zone. Find edge-dialogue4: Free school insights and click on it. To add your story, click reply at the top of the message in [brackets]. Please don't change the subject line. (To post you will need to register first with eGroups.) Other replies in the dialogue will appear as Re: edge-dialogue4: Free school insights. Click on these to follow the dialogue as it evolves. And feel free to respond to these by clicking reply if you'd like to share your thoughts with the individual authors. Summerhill School: To learn more about the life and work of A.S.Neill, try reading these books. Summerhill, A Radical Approach to Child Rearing by A.S. Neill, with a foreword by Erich Fromm copyright 1960 by Hart Publishing Company, New York City Inside Summerhill as told by a 16-year-old boy who has just returned to the States after spending fouryears as a student in A.S.Neill's famed Summerhill School in England with photographs by the author. by Joshua Popenoe copyright 1970 Hart Publishing Company, Inc. New York City "Neill! Neill! Orange Peel!" An Autobiography by A.S.Neill copyright 1972 Hart Publishing Company, Inc. New York City Record of a Friendship The Correspondence of Wilhelm Reich and A.S.Neill, 1936-1957 Farrar, Straus, Giroux 1981 Check your local used book shelf for these classics especially if you're in the UK or US.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
Path Guide: Mary Leue, Free School Founder May 09, 2006 8:03 PM

As described in the 1999 introductory issue of Paths of Learning, "Mary M. Leue has been a champion of children and a pioneer in education for over thirty years. Her longest running contribution has been the formation of a gem of an elementary school, called the Free School, located in the inner city of Albany, New York, and dedicated as few other schools have been to the authentic lives of children." In addition, she has been an active advocate of alternatives of all kinds, particularly through her initiation and editing of SKOLE: The Journal of Alternative Education, which was the predecessor to Paths of Learning. Now retired from the Free School, Mary lives in western Massachussetts where she continues to distribute Challenging the Giant (a 4 volume "Best of SKOLE" collection), as well as working on her Spinning Globe web site. Mary invites you to visit Spinning Globe,, to learn more about these "alternative educational topics" that she has spent a life time exploring. After exploring this plethora of resources, you can pose questions for Mary about the aspects of these issues that most intrigue you in your personal search for meaning within education. -from PathsofLearning Education Clearinghouse (Learn about History and Philosophy for Educational Alternatives) For more info and Addressing Significant Questions, see:  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
Mary Skole's web site... May 09, 2006 8:14 PM

OUR SPINNING GLOBE: A LIVING AND LEARNING HOME PAGE I believe that mankind is facing a devastating catastrophe in the all-too near future that threatens our very existence as inhabitants of this earthly paradise, our own planet. It is very much up in the air which way we will go from now on - gradual escalation into a widening areana of killing and destruction ending in nuclear holocaust - or only an slightly less precipitous plunge into ecological disaster through drastic disruptions of our global weather patterns. The immediacy of these dangers call for immediate interventions - but in the long run, if we survive, issues concerning the welfare and sanity of the survivors will determine whether or not our earth will continue to provide habitat for life. I believe that the central task facing us today is educational preparation for the spiritual healing of the planet, a healing which will require a fundamental transformation of our personal, economic and political lives - in the family and in society. It calls for the development of strong inner lives, starting in early childhood - and a lot of that can be accomplished through spiritual education - by which I mean, education for LIFE. Such education can take many forms - home schooling, democratic education - Waldorf or Montessori education - but the most important ingredient for learning that will enable us to make the cultural and political changes we need to survive is awareness on the part of parents and teachers alike of how precious are the lives of our children! John Dewey said it years ago - education is NOT preparation for life, it IS LIFE ITSELF! I believe that educating our children to value life by having BEEN valued throughout their lives is the key to any change for the better in society, including planetary healing - and that we need reliable information about what their education should be like. You'll find a lot of alternatives among these pages offering information about good, truly life-enhancing schools that already exist. We all need to take responsibility for what goes on in schools. So much more can be accomplished with prevention than with cure! Click here (see web site) to look at a page about issues and alternatives in education, which is such an important place to focus. I believe that real changes will take at least a generation, so we need to begin with the children. That is still true - but we don't have that much time to wait to begin making those changes. The end of PEAK OIL has probably already begun, and will become ever more evident. The implications for a whole spectrum of amenities and necessities we have come to take for granted are almost certainly up for grabs. Take a look here (see web site) at a new website, which addresses some of these important issues. -Mary Skole  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
The Legacy of John Holt... May 09, 2006 8:20 PM

"Anyone who works for a just, peaceful, humane and decent world for all people, a world without needless suffering, exploitation, degradation, or cruelty, is my ally." ~John Holt John Holt was one of the key figures in the free school movement. His writings suggested to thousands of readers that American education was seriously flawed, and his efforts gave many groups the inspiration or contacts they needed to launch or sustain alternative schools. Moreover, Holt was a sensitive, inquisitive observer and social critic whose journey from fifth-grade teacher to free school activist to homeschooling advocate reveals a great deal about the whirlwind course of events during the 1960s and early 1970s. Holt was an accurate barometer, as well as shaper, of the rapidly evolving radical educational ideology of the time. In addition, Holt provided a coherent analysis of schools, teaching, and learning that is at least as relevant to the problems of the present time as the work of many other, more widely recognized theorists. Holt's work deserves a closer look because it has been almost completely ignored by mainstream educational scholarship. If it is useful to reappraise, after twenty years of neglect, the cultural critique raised by the free school movement, then it is useful as well to consider Holt's important contribution to that critique. -from FREE SCHOOLS, FREE PEOPLE by Ron Miller See completion of article at:  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
"Making It Up as We Go Along" May 09, 2006 8:25 PM

"In touchingly plain language, Chris Mercogliano tells about twenty-five years of unfolding trust; how kids learn without anyone making sure; how a free school has become the pretext for community; and how adults who care are able, by shedding their roles, to open unexpected spaces for friendship and new growth. More convincing than any book I have had the privilege to read, this one proves that learning by children ought, once and for all, to be institutionally disembedded." —Ivan Illich, author of Deschooling Society, and many other books. About the book: About the Albany Free School:  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
Education & Democracy web site... May 09, 2006 8:28 PM Are you interested in promoting democracy? Have you lost influence over educational policy? Need help in fending off the high-stakes testing agenda? This web site provides analysis and curriculum materials that can help community-based movements implement democratic goals in our public schools.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
The Village Free School, Portand, OR May 09, 2006 8:30 PM On September 25th, 2003 seven people met to discuss their different dreams about a free choice school in Portland, Oregon. They left the meeting with a commitment to meet once a week for three hours for three weeks. They have never stopped meeting and have creatied a local community democratic school that is inspired by other successful models but is deeply grounded in their thoughts, passions and spirit. This group has grown in size over time and has become an all-encompassing community of people with one common goal: The Village Free School. More than two years later, The Village Free School is now a reality spawned from a vision. Each school day, students attack their day with inspiring curiosity and passion. They play, run experiments and propose solutions to challenges. They are learning to live in a community held together by free choice and mutual respect. Come see and experience this passion first hand!  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
Sudbury Valley School... May 09, 2006 8:33 PM At Sudbury Valley School, students learn to think for themselves, and learn to use Information Age tools to unearth the knowledge they need from multiple sources. They develop the ability to make clear logical arguments, and deal with complex ethical issues. Through self-initiated activities, they pick up the basics; as they direct their lives, they take responsibility for outcomes, set priorities, allocate resources, and work with others in a vibrant community. Children ages 4-19 explore the world freely, at their own pace and in their own unique ways. Trust and respect are the keys to the school’s success. Students enjoy total intellectual freedom, and unfettered interaction with other students and adults. Through being responsible for themselves and for the school’s operation, they gain the internal resources needed to lead effective lives. Sudbury Valley School was founded in 1968. Located in an old stone mansion and a converted barn on the mid-nineteenth century Bowditch estate, the ten acre campus adjoins extensive conservation lands.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
Free Schools in CA, TV transcript... May 09, 2006 8:40 PM Free School KRON-TV (San Francisco): 6/7/01 A California school says it knows how to get students to learn- let them do what they want. Just a few blocks away from the BART station in downtown Concord, Calif. inside what used to be a house is a school that defies most notions of what a school is. The 25 students at Diablo Valley School, who range in age between five and 18, do what they want all day long. Some may be reading and others might be doing an art project, running around outside, playing video games or talking on the phone to friends. Some students do the same thing all day while others may shift from one activity to another. Students can pretty much come and go as they please. The four staff members at the private school, two of whom are credentialed teachers, are available to teach the students a variety of subjects and offer help if the students ask. Otherwise, staff members stay out of the way. The staff doesn't supervise students or tell them what to do. The fundamental philosophy of Diablo Valley School is that you can't force someone to learn, that all people are driven by curiosity, and that the most meaningful, efficient and long-lasting learning happens when the learner initiates it. The school is modeled on the Sudbury Valley School just outside of Boston, which was founded in 1968. Amy Erez, the founder of Diablo Valley School, was trying to figure out how to educate her own child when she read an article about Sudbury. The article struck a chord and moved her to start the similar school in Concord, which opened in 1997. But with all this freedom, are children actually motivated to learn, say, reading skills? Erez believes so and for example she says children soon realize the advantage of reading. They see words all around them -- bulletin boards full of information, books, a written sentence at a judicial meeting may interest them or they may just want to learn how to sign themselves in. Erez says once they want to do it, they'll learn. But at Diablo Valley School if a student never wants to learn reading, math, science or history, they don't have to do so. Dr. Katherine Perez, a Professor of Education at St. Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. and a teacher educator says student directed learning is a "free for all" that doesn't work. Students, she says, need a teacher to facilitate their learning. Perez also says all students need to be grounded in basic subject areas such as science, history, math and English to do well in life. For example, she says even the greatest author needs to know how to balance a checkbook. She says taking students out of the classroom just because they are bored and/or frustrated is not the answer--the answer is improving teachers' skills so they can spark interest in their students. Erez say the students will learn what they need to learn to do to become successful in the work world of college, if that's what they want. This is the first year students are graduating from Diablo Valley School. The two students who are "graduating" are not enrolled in college. One is moving to Los Angeles to become a dancer the other is planning to travel for a while. Erez also points out that 80 percent of students at Sudbury Valley School go on to higher education. Diablo Valley School is not accredited by the state. A school doesn't have to be accredited, but it means the school can't award a diploma recognized by the state. The state only has authority over a school's academic status when that school receives public funding. Erez says Diablo Valley School is a better option than the test and drill oppressive atmosphere in most schools. She says interest in her school is increasing because many parents are searching for an alternative. CONTACTS Amy Erez: Founder Diablo Valley School 2924 Clayton Rd. Concord, CA 94519 Phone: (925) 676-2982 LINKS (see link at top of page)  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 May 13, 2006 7:58 PM

I'm not sure if I will ever start this, but how do you start a free school?  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
starting a free school... May 13, 2006 9:20 PM

In the old days, it was pretty easy, esp. here in Cali, where the private school laws were pretty liberal. It depends on your state. First place to begin would be to check with AERO, the Alternative Education Resource Center: Here's their "Start a School" site: Hope this info helps. ~Peace, Larry  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
Still Learning from the Free School Movement Activists May 21, 2006 10:22 AM

I just found this wonderful resource thanks to a question from Larry I found in my inbox this morning. Replied to that and then started wandering around and found this thread, which is near and dear to my heart - so many of my old friends are named here: Ron Miller, John Holt, Mary Leue - I just got an email from Mary last week, she's working on yet another book! What an amazing lady, still going strong at 80+ years of age. I should be so lucky to still be actively engaged when I get to my eighties... Speaking of eighties... In the late 1980's we wrote a book, "Alternatives In Education," which largely addressed the free school movement (in the context of all the alternatives to public and traditional private schooling), and since that time I've stayed in touch with many of the wonderful people who founded and still run these inspiring resources. My personal interest settled on homeschooling, as that's the path our family took, but I always find my faith renewed when I dip over into the world of free schools. So many good people doing so much good work... I learn something every time I read about the work that was done and is still being done to help children and families outside the mind-and-soul-numbing public school systems. My current work centers on keeping bona fide homeschooling from being sucked back into the public school vacuum via programs that pass themselves off as "homeschooling," but are in actuality just the public school wolf under the benign-looking fleece of "homeschooling." But I digress... Thanks, Larry, for keeping the information accessible. I'm going to add this good resource to my blog today and hopefully some of my homeschooling readers will come over here and read your good posts.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
Quoting Chris May 21, 2006 10:29 AM

Oh, yes - forgot to mention another of my old friends you reference above, Chris Mercogliano of the Albany Free School! I have a quote of his above my desk: "What if we could raise a generation of children free of race and class prejudice, free of an overdependence on material things as the basis for the good life, and free of the belief in the necessity of war?" I think we're getting there. I see hopeful signs all around.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 June 23, 2006 2:52 PM

Re-activating thread for continuing visibility.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
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