I am into the second quarter of my “100 Best Documentaries Challenge” and I came across one that made me stop for a second and look into the subject of the film. The film is called “Approaching the Elephant” and it is about the Free School Movement that is starting up again from it’s surge in the 70’s ( We will get into that in a sec). You can read a review and synopsis of the film here if you would like to.
When I first started watching this film, I thought the concept of a Free School sounded unique and progressive. Then I saw the age of the children attending and after about 10 minutes into the film and seeing what a day of “school” looked like; I thought that this idea was absolute chaos. However, there can be order in chaos so I tried not to be judgmental. At the end of the film, I saw some merits of the system; however there are more flaws than merits to take away. I still wanted to know more about where this idea came from and it’s history. So, I went to the store to get some cigarettes, came home and made a cup of coffee and hit the Internet.
There are 2 major platforms to the Free School (or Free Skool) Movement:
Anarchistic free schools: decentralized network in which skills, information, and knowledge are shared without hierarchy or the institutional environment of formal schooling.
Democratic education: An educational ideal in which democracy is both a goal and a method of instruction… Democratic education is often specifically emancipatory, with the students’ voices being equal to the teacher’s.
OK, but when did these start? Was this something that was created recently? Is it a product of those damned millennials? The Illuminati? Nestle? Turns out that the concept was conceived during the Enlightenment Period (1685 -1815) and the 1st school didn’t show up until the 19th century in England.
The Anarchist variety didn’t pop up until the late 19th to early 20th century in Spain.
So, all of these Free Schools are based on the directions from scholars and anarchist from the 17th, 19th, and early 20th century that are looking to unburden our children from industrialized education? Well, that sounds…OK I guess. It has to beat public school, right? Well that’s how the movement started in Europe. How it picked up steam here is a little more recent. Break out the LSD and bell bottoms, kids. In the US, this started in the 60’s & 70’s during the counterculture movement, man.
The Free School movement was born between 1960-1972 due to the counterculture movement.
Free schools have existed in the U.S. for many years, and enjoyed the “Hippie Movement” of the ’70s. Many of the schools created in the ’70s closed within the first 10 years…
Basically, hippies decided that public schools ran by “the man” were un-cool, man. So they adopted the Democratic Free School model and most of the schools shuttered their doors within the first 10 years of being opened. Only a handful survived: The Albany Free School established in 1969, The Grassroots Free School in Tallahassee, Florida that has been running since 1970, and the Natural Bridge School in Tallahassee. The funny thing is that the failed Free School Movement of the 70’s brought forth the Home Schooling boom of the 80’s, and we all know that this program is still running strong.
The new stirring in Free Schools is due to a new school model, based on the democratic education model, that is apparently seeing some success. It’s called the Sudbury Model and it is what a lot of newer Free Schools are going with.
The fundamental difference between a Sudbury school and any other type of school is the student’s level of responsibility. In a Sudbury school the students are solely responsible for their education, their learning methods, their evaluation and their environment.
…where students have complete responsibility for their own education, and the school is run by direct democracy in which students and staff are equals.
The model differs in some ways from other types of democratic schools and free schools, but there are many similarities:
De-emphasis of classes: There is no curriculum or set of required courses. Instead learner interest guides things, with students studying what they want to study. There are generally no classrooms, just rooms where people choose to congregate.
Age mixing: students are not separated into age-groups of any kind and are allowed to mix freely, interacting with those younger and older than themselves; free age-mixing is emphasized as a powerful tool for learning and development in all ages.
Autonomous democracy: parents have limited involvement or no involvement in the school administration; Sudbury schools are run by a democratic school meeting where the students and staff participate exclusively and equally. Such meetings are also the sole authority on hiring and firing of staff, unlike most other schools.
The only difference I see is one. There is now responsibility on the student. Oh, you are a rocket scientist? Well, you made yourself a rocket scientist! So, good on you! You have been here for 20 years and don’t know how to read or write? Well, who’s fucking fault is that? So, there is a freedom of choice, but also a sense of responsibility. This ALMOST makes sense to me out of all of these things that I have read about. Here’s my thing, the thing that turns me off of this program no matter what model it’s on:
“the school is run by direct democracy in which students and staff are equals.”
If you have read any of my previous posts, you may have come across one I did recently about kids in restaurants. In that post, I talked about how kids aren’t awesome and they’re not. Your special little snowflake is a darling to you, a trophy to that drunken night of passion that you may barely remember that ended up in 9 months of swollen bloated hell. To everyone else, your kid is a germ ridden little goblin that spewed forth from your junk to torment the world by singing songs from Frozen and asking “why?” while on repeat. So, if you have a child, look at or think about them right now and ask yourself: “Would you place your child on the nuclear launch council at NORAD, and be OK with them being an equal voice with Generals, Admirals, and Commanders about launching the nukes?”. (If you answered yes to that question, please call a sitter (if needed) and go to your nearest Emergency Room and ask to have a psych eval because you need serious help) I ask that because if we are going to give the little crotch fruit the power to create school policy, hire or fire staff, and do everything else; then we may as well let them drive, get jobs, order hard liquor and give them the launch codes.
However; I can see where some of these ideas work. Why have required courses? OK, maybe we have some basic life skills courses, but the rest are all interest based. Also, this type of program isn’t implemented until Jr High or High School. Sorry little Suzy, you are learning how to spell and not electing to have an 8 hour recess or a class in fairies and dreams. Why not elementary? Because little kids are stupid, that’s why we have to educate them! If you give a 7 year old a choice between learning his multiplication tables or eating his weight in chocolate sundaes, do you think he’s going to learn any math?
High School & Jr High are where you are more learning about what you like to do more than learning basic intelligence. You are taking advanced math* ( which may not be needed in your future), You are taking advanced science** (which may not be needed in your future), and you are taking advanced literature (which definitely will not be needed in you future) in High School, while classes that may more apply to your interests, skills, and future goals are all “electives”. Personally, I think English/Lit should be an elective. Where has the ability to diagram a sentence gotten me? Fucking no where.
(* Algebra II, Trigonometry, Calculus. Sorry, you need basic Algebra)
(** Biology II, Chemistry, Physics, Robotics, Computer Science)
Back on topic.
I see the good and the bad with these educational systems. They are chaos and chaos is like an explosion; however with the right structure and planning an explosion can be directed and made to serve a purpose. I think if someone in the educational field were to blend the State enforced dogmatic structure of the public school system, and then blend in some of the Free School/Sudbury Model into it, they would have an educational system that would be unbeatable. OR even if home schooler’s would take the Free School/Sudbury Model and incorporate parts of it into their curriculum, then they would also have an amazing program for their students.
I firmly believe that the educational system in this country needs an overhaul, but I do not think that either Free School model or the current Public School system is the perfect answer; however it’s all we have for right now and for children’s sake everywhere, I hope it gets better and soon.