|Part of the Politics series on|
The free school movement, also known as the new schools or alternative schools movement, was an American education reform movement during the 1960s and early 1970s that sought to change the aims of formal schooling through alternative, independent community schools.
As disenchantment with social institutions spread with the 1960s counterculture, alternative schools sprouted outside the local public school system. Funded by tuition and philanthropic grants,they were created by parents, teachers, and students in opposition to contemporaneous schooling practices across the United States and organized without central organization, usually small and grassroots with alternative curricula. Their philosophical influence stemmed from the counterculture, A. S. Neill and Summerhill, child-centered progressive education of the Progressive Era, the Modern Schools, and Freedom Schools. Influential voices within the movement included Paul Goodman, Edgar Z. Friedenberg, Herb Kohl, Jonathan Kozol, and James Herndon, with titles such as A. S. Neill's 1960 Summerhill , George Dennison's 1969 The Lives of Children , and Jonathan Kozol's 1972 Free Schools. The movement's transference of ideas was tracked through the New Schools Exchange and American Summerhill Society.
The definition and scope of schools self-classified as "free schools" and their associated movement were never clearly delineated, and as such, there was a wide variation between schools.The movement did not subscribe to a single ideology, but its "free schools" tended to fall into the binaries of either utopian cultural withdrawal from external concerns, or built on the legacy of freedom schools with direct political address of social injustices. This dichotomy was also seen in the type of students the school attracted with the former usually white, middle class students and the latter usually poor, black, and inner-city. Some schools practiced participatory democracies for self-governance. The "free schools" movement was also known as the "new schools" or "alternative schools movement". Author Ron Miller defined the free school movement's principles as letting families choose for their children, and letting children learn at their own pace.
Allen Graubard charted the growth of the free schools from 25 in 1967 to around 600 in 1972, with estimates of 200 created between 1971 and 1972.These schools had an average enrollment of 33 students. Almost all of the first American free schools were based on Summerhill and its associated book. Many of the schools were started in nontraditional locations, including parks, churches, and abandoned buildings.
The movement peaked in 1972 with hundreds of schools opened and public interest in open education.
The movement subsided with the rise of 1970s conservatism,particularly due to the Nixon administration's education policies.
The Huffington Post wrote in 2012 that "the movement is revving up again", citing Education Revolution's listing of over 100 free schools in America.The schools are mostly private in America, and generally serve middle and upper-middle-class families. Author Ron Miller credits the rise of standardization with grassroots interest in alternative schools. CBS News reported in 2006 that the remaining free schools, while unknown in number, are "democratic", as the students share in the school's governance.
Education historian Diane Ravitch said in 2004 that these schools function best for students from educated families due to the free schools' emphasis on individual contribution.Victoria Goldman of The Manhattan Family Guide to Private Schools and Selective Public Schools and E. D. Hirsch, Jr. echoed similar thoughts, with Hirsch adding that "it doesn't work for children who haven't had those advantages." Ravitch believed that the free schools' values would conflict with predominant student testing trends.
Summerhill School is an independent boarding school in Leiston, Suffolk, England. It was founded in 1921 by Alexander Sutherland Neill with the belief that the school should be made to fit the child, rather than the other way around. It is run as a democratic community; the running of the school is conducted in the school meetings, which anyone, staff or pupil, may attend, and at which everyone has an equal vote. These meetings serve as both a legislative and judicial body. Members of the community are free to do as they please, so long as their actions do not cause any harm to others, according to Neill's principle "Freedom, not Licence." This extends to the freedom for pupils to choose which lessons, if any, they attend. It is an example of both democratic education and alternative education.
Diane Silvers Ravitch is a historian of education, an educational policy analyst, and a research professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Previously, she was a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education. In 2010, she became "an activist on behalf of public schools". Her blog at DianeRavitch.net has received more than 36 million page views since she began blogging in 2012. Ravitch writes for the New York Review of Books.
Alternative education encompasses many pedagogical approaches differing from mainstream pedagogy. Such alternative learning environments may be found within state, charter, and independent schools as well as home-based learning environments. Many educational alternatives emphasize small class sizes, close relationships between students and teachers and a sense of community.
Alexander Sutherland Neill was a Scottish educator and author known for his school, Summerhill, and its philosophy of freedom from adult coercion and community self-governance. Raised in Scotland, Neill taught at several schools before attending the University of Edinburgh in 1908–1912. He took two jobs in journalism before World War I, and taught at Gretna Green Village School in the first year of the war, writing his first book, A Dominie's Log (1915), as a diary of his life there as head teacher. He joined a Dresden school in 1921 and founded Summerhill on returning to England in 1924. Summerhill gained renown in the 1930s and then in the 1960s–1970s, due to progressive and counter-culture interest. Neill wrote 20 books. His top seller was the 1960 Summerhill, read widely in the free school movement from the 1960s.
Jonathan Kozol is an American writer, progressive activist, and educator, best known for his books on public education in the United States.
Herbert Ralph Kohl is an educator best known for his advocacy of progressive alternative education and as the author of more than thirty books on education. He founded the 1960s Open School movement and is credited with coining the term "open classroom".
Deborah Meier is an American educator often considered the founder of the modern small schools movement. After spending several years as a kindergarten teacher in Chicago, Philadelphia and then New York City, in 1974, Meier became the founder and director of the alternative Central Park East school, which embraced progressive ideals in the tradition of John Dewey in an effort to provide better education for children in East Harlem, within the New York City public school system.
Democratic education is an educational ideal in which democracy is both a goal and a method of instruction. It brings democratic values to education and can include self-determination within a community of equals, as well as such values as justice, respect and trust.
The counterculture of the 1960s was an anti-establishment cultural phenomenon that developed throughout much of the Western world between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s. The aggregate movement gained momentum as the U.S. Civil Rights Movement continued to grow, and, with the expansion of the American Government's extensive military intervention in Vietnam, would later become revolutionary to some. As the 1960s progressed, widespread social tensions also developed concerning other issues, and tended to flow along generational lines regarding human sexuality, women's rights, traditional modes of authority, experimentation with psychoactive drugs, and differing interpretations of the 'American Dream'. Many key movements related to these issues were born or advanced within the counterculture of the 1960s.
The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America is a book by educator and author Jonathan Kozol. It describes how, in the United States, black and Hispanic students tend to be concentrated in schools where they make up almost the entire student body.
William Charles Ayers is an American elementary education theorist. During the 1960s, Ayers was a leader of the Weather Underground that opposed US involvement in the Vietnam War. He is known for his 1960s radical activism and his later work in education reform, curriculum and instruction.
Anarchism has had a special interest on the issue of education from the works of William Godwin and Max Stirner onwards.
Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing is a book about the English boarding school Summerhill School by its headmaster A. S. Neill. It is known for introducing his ideas to the American public. It was published in America on November 7, 1960, by the Hart Publishing Company and later revised as Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood in 1993. Its contents are a repackaged collection from four of Neill's previous works. The foreword was written by psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, who distinguished between authoritarian coercion and Summerhill.
Paul Goodman (1911–1972) was an American author and public intellectual best known for his 1960s works of social criticism. Born to a Jewish family in New York City, Goodman was raised by his aunts and sister and attended City College of New York. As an aspiring writer, he wrote and published poems and fiction before attending graduate school in Chicago. He returned to writing in New York City and took sporadic magazine writing and teaching jobs, many of which he lost for his outward bisexuality and World War II draft resistance. Goodman discovered anarchism and wrote for libertarian journals. He became one of the founders of gestalt therapy and took patients through the 1950s while continuing to write prolifically. His 1960 book of social criticism, Growing Up Absurd, established his importance as a mainstream cultural theorist. Goodman became known as "the philosopher of the New Left" and his anarchistic disposition was influential in 1960s counterculture and the free school movement. His celebrity did not endure far beyond his life, but Goodman is remembered for his principles, outré proposals, and vision of human potential.
The Albany Free School is the oldest independent, inner-city alternative school in the United States. Founded by Mary Leue in 1969 based on the English Summerhill School philosophy, the free school lets students learn at their own pace. It has no grades, tests, or firm schedule: students design their own daily plans for learning. The school is self-governed through a weekly, democratic all-school meeting run by students in Robert's Rules. Students and staff alike receive one equal vote apiece. Unlike Summerhill-style schools, the Albany Free School is a day school that serves predominantly working-class children. Nearly 80 percent of the school is eligible for reduced-price meals in the public schools. About 60 students between the ages of three and fourteen attend, and are staffed by six full-time teachers and a number of volunteers.
Discrimination in education is the act of discriminating against people belonging to certain categories in enjoying full right to education. It is considered a violation of human rights. Education discrimination can be on the basis of ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, race, economic condition, disability and religion.
Autonomous social centers are self-organized community centers in which anti-authoritarians put on voluntary activities. These self-managed spaces, often in multi-purpose venues affiliated with anarchism, can include bicycle workshops, infoshops, libraries, free schools, free shops, meeting spaces and concert venues. They often become political actors in their own right.
A free university is an organization offering uncredited, public classes without restrictions to who can teach or learn. They differ in structure. In 1980 in the United States, about half were associated with a traditional university, about a third were independent, and the remainder were associated with a community group. About half at that time operated without fees. Starting with University of California, Berkeley's Free Speech Movement in 1964, hundreds of free universities sprouted within university communities throughout the 1960s as organizations for underground activism and political education. They were also known as experimental colleges, open education exchanges, and communiversities. After 1960s student activism subsided, free universities moved their programming off-campus and continued to exist as a venue for lifelong learning. After a slight lull in the early 1970s, enrollment increased mid-decade as part of an adult education wave.
The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education is a non-fiction book by Diane Ravitch, originally published in 2010 by Basic Books, with revised and expanded versions reprinted over the years.