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 Post subject: Schools Run by Kids
PostPosted: Wed Dec 13, 2006 2:43 pm 
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I recieved this from my FNB email group, so I posted the whole thing, as their is no url to refer to


Schools Run by Kids

Imagine a school that is run by students and staff together, where
students decide what they are going to study and how they are going to
spend their time, where there are no grades, no tests, and no homework.

Imagine walking into a school and some students are on the couch
chatting, one is off in the corner reading a book, another is painting,
another having a philosophical discussion with a staff member, some are
outside running after each other in a game of tag, another is looking up
information on World War II on the internet, and another is learning
Spanish from a staff member.

Such schools exist. They are called free schools or democratic schools.
There are two free schools starting up in New Jersey. One is the Teddy
McArdle Free School in Essex County and the other is a free school in
Sussex County (name to be determined). Free schools value democratic
learner-led education and the self-determination of the student. In
this model, students follow their own inspiration. They design their
own curriculum and staff is there to support them in following their own
path. Each student gets individualized attention. Because the
curriculum is learner-led, all learning styles are honored. Staff and
students run the school together. Decisions are made at the School
Meeting. There are no grades. There are no grade levels . . . just
pure living and learning. Curiosity drives learning, so learning
happens at a much faster rate than when a student feels forced.
Democratic education promotes:

Self-initiative
Self-motivation
Self-discipline
Self-control
Self-esteem
Self-reliance
Self-confidence

Students learn cooperation and empathetic communication through the
democratic process of School Meeting and through the conflict resolution
processes. Through this process students learn to organize their own
thoughts and express themselves more clearly.

Because the staff is there to support the students and not enforce a
curriculum, the students are much more receptive to their support. You
are much more likely to find friendships among the staff and students
than in compulsory education. Staff members can propose projects and
classes, but the students can decide if they wish to participate.
Students propose projects and classes as well.

At free schools, students are engaged in their studies, even with the
subjects of Math, History, Science, and English, and sometimes they
don’t even realize they’re learning. One philosophy of learner-led
education is "life is learning". It is impossible for a student not to
be learning. Children, like adults, intrinsically want to learn.
Students take on subjects like Math, Science, History and Reading out of
natural curiosity and the knowledge that they are essential to living in
our society.

At the Sussex and Essex County free schools, students are engaged with
the local community around them. They might not be at the school
building all day. They might be off apprenticing at a local business,
learning a profession they are interested in. Field trips are much more
frequent than at a public school. Students learn from the world around
them.

The democratic school model has been around for over a hundred years,
and the learner-led model has been around since the beginning of time.
Some of the most famous democratic schools existing today are Summerhill
School in the UK, The Free School in Albany, and the Sudbury Valley
School in Massachusetts.

Both the Teddy McArdle Free School and the free school in Sussex County
will be meeting this December 16th.

Join the Sussex County free school for a presentation at 1pm followed by
a meeting from 2pm to 4pm, at the Gristmill Café in Andover (4 Lenape
Road; Andover, NJ 07821). At the meeting, there will be a discussion of
whether the school will be opening this Winter or first as a Summer Camp
program. They are looking for anyone who might be interested in
becoming a co-organizer, a staff member, a student, or anyone who might
have a child that would like to attend. For more information, contact
Abe Karl-Gruswitz at 973-786-5396 or abe@gaiauniversity.org. Join their
listserve at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NJFreeSchool.

Join the Teddy McArdle Free School for a planning meeting from 11am to
1pm, at the Caldwell Public Library Conference Room (268 Bloomfield
Avenue, Caldwell, NJ). At the meeting, there will be an introduction to
the free school philosophy for newcomers and a discussion on how
individuals can get involved in the school, which intends to open in the
fall of 2007. Parents, children, educators, and anyone else with an
interest in learning more is welcome to attend For more information or
to RSVP please contact Alex Khost, akhost@bigfoot.com or 201-709-1470 or
visit the school website at: http://www.tmcafs.org. Directions to the
meeting are available at http://www.caldwellpl.org/driving.htm.[/b]


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 13, 2006 6:49 pm 
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sounds like a recipe for student inaction... set their own pace... sure... video games all day... civics? fuhgetabout it...

what are the ages of these children? how do you determine if they have learned enough to qualify for graduation?


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 13, 2006 7:21 pm 
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I saw it in a completely different light. I suppose, as in all situations, it depends on the students and the staff. I know I ended up being insanely bored in school because I was much, much faster than most of my class. I went to a small school, so I was with pretty much the same class from 7th grade until graduation and there was a point around 9th grade when I was so unchallenged that I could float through classes with the most minimal bit of effort. My only redemption was a class called Merit (for gifted students). In that class we did sort of a self-directed sort of thing and those of us who were in the class learned far more in there than we ever did in our regular classes.

Also, home-schooling has shown that students left to their own learning pace and to their own interests can achieve far beyond what regular schooled students can acheive.

If there were something like this avaliable near here, I would certainly enroll my son. He's very curious and loves to learn.

I think with the correct nurturing, and a good base, this type of school could be extremely sucessful.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 13, 2006 7:32 pm 
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Quote:
At the Sussex and Essex County free schools, students are engaged with
the local community around them. They might not be at the school
building all day. They might be off apprenticing at a local business,
learning a profession they are interested in. Field trips are much more
frequent than at a public school. Students learn from the world around
them.


The entire concept sounds like an educational Utopia, but I'm curious as to supervision during these "off-campus" excursions and how they are funded. What happens if one of the little darlings disappears? What happens if an injury occurs during the apprenticeship?

Ever read Summerhill? http://www.summerhillschool.co.uk/pages/index.html

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 13, 2006 7:34 pm 
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Here are some FAQs from the Brooklyn Free School:

Quote:
Is there evidence that this approach to education works?
Studies in homes, schools, and workplaces repeatedly show similar results: the empowerment of people to make their own decisions about their activities and performance leads to higher satisfaction and better quality results.

The Brooklyn Free School is based on the principles of Summerhill School in England, the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts, and The Albany Free School in Albany, NY. The Sudbury Valley School has done extensive research of its former students and the results have indicated that students who have undergone this type of education have become "successful" in later life. Successful is in quotes because it's an inherently subjective term. Our program will be successful if the students grow naturally-socially and emotionally, as well as academically; each at their own pace and in their own way; are happy with themselves and what they are doing, and when they have decided that they no longer want to stay at the school, or need to change schools for some reason-are confident that they are ready to assume whatever challenges await them. Again, the research done by Sudbury Valley demonstrates overwhelmingly positive evidence of personal growth of former students, as documented in numerous, lengthy testimonials (Legacy of Trust, Life After the Sudbury Valley School Experience, 1992). Students who have experienced democratic free education for any significant period of time clearly articulate how invaluable this educational experience has been to them in the pursuit of an occupation, higher education, or other life choices, providing strong evidence that this approach works (Pursuit of Happiness, Sudbury Valley Press 2005).


How does the school ensure that students learn the "basics?"
What is meant by the "basics?" This question in and of itself represents a core principle of the Brooklyn Free School. A certain segment of society has sought, and succeeded, in imposing their view of what is important for all students in America, and indeed in much of the world, to learn in school. We don't presume to know what is best for each individual student to learn now and certainly not what will be best in the next five or ten years. The world is a fluid, fast-changing, and increasingly open society where individuals need to be first and foremost confident, flexible and independent thinkers and learners. Nurturing these qualities is what a free school does best. What a student learns is determined by each individual's own unique set of talents, skills, and interests which they pursue in their own good time. Students learn how to read, write, and do mathematics (these skills constituting the common perception of the "basics") in a natural and organic fashion; as necessary to support and better understand their passions and interests. There is no more effective way to learn than as a natural means to accomplish a self-motivated end.


If the students aren't "exposed" to knowledge, how will they find out what they like?
Children are innately curious and are exposed to a tremendous variety of information on a daily basis from their family, friends, schoolmates (younger and older), staff members, media, and the world around them. In a free school environment, students do significantly more exploration of a greater variety of topics and subjects than they would ever be exposed to at a traditional school. Furthermore, once a student finds a particular area of interest they are not limited by whether or not there is a course offered on that subject, nor are they restricted in the amount of time and effort they can expend learning about that interest. Subsequently they are able to delve much more deeply into that area, thereby obtaining significantly more knowledge and understanding than would be possible in a traditional setting. In addition, all staff members at the school are free to offer any subject or topic that interests them to the students. Finally, the school has the flexibility and mission to establish numerous ties with local organizations and individuals for in-school visits and workshops and to take trips to locations around the city of interest to the students on short notice.


What happens if a student doesn't do anything?
It is actually impossible to do nothing. What most people are concerned about is students doing what looks like nothing; for example playing video games, playing cards, reading all day, etc. The truth is that everything the students do has value, particularly to them. The evidence is that when a student appears to be doing nothing, by simply observing the activities of others, for instance, they are actually paying close attention and learning tremendously from what they are observing.


How will children be prepared for the real world?
The democratic free school model is much closer to the real world than traditional models. In the "real world" there is age mixing and there is no one to tell you what to do all the time. In the "real world" we are responsible for our own actions and our own accomplishments. So children learn about the real world every day at this school.


http://www.brooklynfreeschool.org/faq/index.html
[/quote]


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 13, 2006 10:15 pm 
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I could see where this might work for awhile, lefty. In fact, I'd love to actually be a faculty member...for awhile. :P

However, I'm working with students presently in the GED program. They tell me they were often allowed to choose whether they did the school work or not. They chose not to do it. Now, they really struggle with mainly two subjects...math and writing, with language skills following a close third. They either don't have a job, or they're making minimum wage in a job that is taking them nowhere. I studied Summerhill when I was in college. My colleagues seemed to think it was a great experiment but would never succeed in preparing students for the competitive world they'd have to enter when they completed the school. That was back in the 1970s.

Do you think such a school will prepare students for the even more competitive world of today?

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 13, 2006 10:57 pm 
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no I don't... I think they would goof off as much as possible... as in all day every day...

Again I ask... how does one determine whether or not the kids have learned enough to graduate...


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 13, 2006 11:25 pm 
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This is an evaluation of the Summerhill School, which seems to be the model upon which the type of schools lefty's describing are built upon:

LINK

I'd be interested to know if there'd been any tracking of students who completed their education at one of these schools in order find out how successful they were.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 31, 2007 10:15 am 
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Hello,
I am the founder of the Teddy McArdle Free School (http://tmcafs.org/), one of the two schools mentioned in the initial posting.

You have raised some good questions on this message board about evaluating students in a free school environment, their safety on and off campus, and whether they actually learn anything or just sit around and play video games all day (for now I'll go along with the assumption that no learning is done through video games. Although I do not agree with that assumption, that's a whole other topic, and so, I'll save that for another time!)

First of all, it is important to understand that education as we understand the term today has only been around for roughly 100 years, more or less, since the industrial revolution. Before that time, education was much more similar to that of what can be found in free schools-- students learning a certain trade that they were good at, having a mentor, learning experientially through doing the actual task, and not being graded or evaluated indirectly-- if you knew how to do something, you went and did it-- it you didn't, you either failed at it or went back to study it some more. It is also important to point out that free schools in modern society have been around since 1921 with the founding of Summerhill (mentioned by someone else in a previous post). Thousands of people have graduated from these types of schools and gone on to be happy, successful adults. One free school, Sudbury Valley School, did a survey of 60 years of graduated and found that 90% of them went on to some form of college after graduation, including those schools that are considered to be the premier institutions (e.g. the Ivy Leagues). "The Pursuit of Happiness" is one book that publishes the results of that survey: http://www.sudval.org/02_book_06.html

As for determining whether a student "knows enough" for graduation, each free school has a bit of a different process. Most schools require that a graduation committee be formed for each student intending to graduate (comprised of students, parents, and teachers). The intending graduate will develop a portfolio of a few years time, declare their intentions for what they would like to do after graduation (to the best of their ability), and present their portfolio in different stages to their committee. Once they believe they are ready, a vote will be taken-- sometimes the student will present to the whole school and the entire school will make the decision. IF they are voted down, they will continue to prepare until whoever is voting determines that they are ready for graduation. The important point to make here is that the student is preparing for what they have determined is important to them after graduation, rather than a set of standards set at a state or federal level for a one size fits all sort of graduation preparation.

As for student safety, adults are on campus to oversee the safety of the school. Students are not allowed off campus until it is determined (either by parents, the school, or a combination of both) that the student is mature enough to leave campus alone.

And finally, the question of students not doing anything because they are not required to: many students who have attended public schools who enter a free school environment do indeed do "nothing" when they first enter the school. This is healthy and often times considered a "detox." Students need the time to drive the need for an authoritative telling them what to do constantly out of their system. Students who grow up in a free school environment do not typically need this time. In either case, once the student is ready, the do indeed engage in activities. IT may seem like play to many outsiders, and it is. But it is felt that play is the initial way to engage in learning. Once students become interested in a topic, they will then begin to engage further in the study of it, which often times then looks more like what outsiders consider actual "learning" taking place. Free schoolers consider all of this, from the "do nothing" stage to the playing stage, to the further engagement stage to be considered learning. Think about any subject, from fixing your car to planting a garden, to learning how to make your own website, that you may have learned outside of school on your own, and you will easily understand this process. Wouldn't it be nice if all of your school education could have been as engaging?!

Please feel free to email me if you would like to continue this conversation at akhost AT bigfoot DOT com, just in case I forget to look back at this message board.

Alex Khost


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 31, 2007 2:03 pm 
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Thanks for taking the time to respond to this thread in such detail, Alex. Welcome to the board, too.

Quote:
Thousands of people have graduated from these types of schools and gone on to be happy, successful adults. One free school, Sudbury Valley School, did a survey of 60 years of graduated and found that 90% of them went on to some form of college after graduation, including those schools that are considered to be the premier institutions (e.g. the Ivy Leagues). "The Pursuit of Happiness" is one book that publishes the results of that survey: http://www.sudval.org/02_book_06.html


This was one of the questions I asked, and I'm glad to see that some tracking has been done as to what happened to students who had gone to the "free schools." I'm also glad there is evidence that so many of these kids went on to success and higher educational pursuits.

When I was studying to be a teacher, one of the big pushes at that time was the Multi-Age Classroom. When I was doing my internship, I spent a portion of each day in such a classroom environment. It was interesting, rather noisy, and most of the students were on task, but the two teachers in charge of the class didn't seem to have a real handle on just how to maintain some semblance of order. It seemed to me that their energies went into attending to those who were off-task rather than working with those who were on task but needed help. I wasn't surprised that the school didn't continue the program the following year.

Please return to discuss this at a greater length when you can. I'm no longer in a regular classroom, but my interest in education will not ever diminish.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 31, 2007 2:08 pm 
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Whether you come back or not, Welcome akhost and thank you for your update and analysis. I find that when we reengage in play it brings the fun back into life. Those who make a career out of play seem to end it with disdain and boredom as to purpose, especially when the fun is replaced with must win scenarios- i.e.- MONEY. That there is less competition to be Right or the winner, is one of the drawbacks to continuing play into a career. How many carpenters fix other peoples homes and don't have the time or patience to work on their own projects. But certainlyyour proposal is a throwback to our primitive ways of educating within a community format.

When Native peoples raised their children, pre-contact/colonization, it was the Europeans who brought the discipline format of forced education upon us for pragmatic reasons. They viewed this open concept of rearing and educating as pointless and wrong. Children need to be disciplined to physical punishment. I remeber my father telling me that he was beaten for using his left hand to write. Considered the devils hand, those that were southpaws were disciplined to conform. Free schooling allows the child to grow in a safe envigorating environment and so should be considered as an alternative to discipline a and forced rules. Children need to grow, be encouraged and ask questions, not just be bored, indifferent alienated from nature and just plain obnoxious as a consequence of their education and developmental stagnation.

That we are rediscovering the community concept and that sharing knowledge is preferrable to competing for it would be a great asset to our society as we would no longer priorize individuality as an ideal, but that the collective community is our strength. This can be reflected out into the political world as to where the real strength in a country resides- its people- who have the obligation to nurture their freedom, liberty and equality and participate in the democratic necessity of participation in upholding these principles. Obviously our present education system can't produce these types of people so if free schools or home schooling is the answer, then I'm for it.

Seeing how children have turned out from a state run/Federal NCLB policies as such indifferent bored and pathetically obedient to authority, makes me aware that we have got to get closer together as a herd rather than divided and conquered by personal greed, bias and feigned individualty.

I read Gatto and his ideas about changing the way things are done to produce more conscientious citizens, but home schooling leaves so many to educate their children exactly as they wish them to be as well. The risk of religion bias is real as even his forum, The Odysseus Group, http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/odysseus.htm which he doesn't watch much any more, is overrun with religious fanatics preaching their better way to raise their children. Indoctrination by propaganda is not the answer, as this grooming children to pass tests for money is like prostituting education. Sparing the rod should be encouraged not the principle of religious upbringing. As Ralph Nader was told by his father-"What did you learn at school today- Did you learn how to believe or did you learn how to think"! If schools intention and purpose is to turn out automatons, then it is succeeding.

Education should be free and for everyone, or perhaps schools forgot to stress that Freedom, Liberty and EQUALITY are words that mean more than a catchphrase. If the children coming out of school are being taught like in Animal Farm that all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others, then our education system is failing them by not telling them to get a dictionary and look up these words and see what they actually mean!

Thanks once again for your post as it really helps to illustrate how some peoples intelligence has been groomed for failure, and to pass that on to their children. We see it all the time on this site because we try to think freely and independantly of culturally imposed bias- outside of the obvious ignorance that pervades our domain here on planet earth.

Did you know that our planet is the only one in our system not named after a god?

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 31, 2007 9:36 pm 
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Welcome to the site, akhost. Wonderful first post.

I believe the success of 'free schools' would depend on each individual student. I would have done much better in a free school, because there is so much in which I am interested that isn't taught in general classrooms. I have no idea how others would fare...

As lefty said, school was boring because what was being taught was something I already knew. I was not a social person, so it was just spending time in a room with other people wishing I could be anywhere else. If I could have even been reading about nature, I would have gained so much more.

Catherine raised good points about responsibility, and also that it is the unruly children that get attention, not bright students. It would take very special people to be able to teach, or mentor, in a free school. Or would such a school be for people who have tested well in being able to guide themselves towards self directed goals?

So many questions...

Certainly our children need motivation to learn and most are not getting it now. Perhaps something along the line of free schools started early would allow young people to 'find themselves' before they are lost to video games.

As DO.g's said:
Quote:
Thanks once again for your post as it really helps to illustrate how some peoples intelligence has been groomed for failure, and to pass that on to their children. We see it all the time on this site because we try to think freely and independantly of culturally imposed bias- outside of the obvious ignorance that pervades our domain here on planet earth.


I see many adults who are happy to follow wherever Faux Noise leads them, and have no doubt they are teaching their children to be just as uncritical in their thinking. Even if it is true we are born with conservative or liberal tendencies, to be able to explore the entire spectrum of thinking is important to the social health of ourselves and our nation. I would love to see that promoted in our school systems.

And how about some money for intercity schools? Maybe if they were funded in some way beyond property taxes they could function in a way that would lead to success for their students? Poor people need good schooling just as much if not more than rich people.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 02, 2007 10:10 pm 
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I work in a district that is considered inner-city. We have 10 elementary schools, 2 middle schools and 1 high school. One of our elementary schools is a free school. Parents have to apply to get their kids in that school. They wait hours in line, fill out all kinds of stuff, and jump through many hoops. The kids do everything - they even run the parent/student/teacher conferences.

Teachers loved it the first few years. Now they are running out of there like crazy. They work way more hours than the rest of us for the same pay. I put in far more than 40 hours a week and they work a lot more than I do.

I get the students after they leave Central Academy. I can say I can tell a difference in these kids. They are usually very social, empathetic, nice, well rounded kids.

The only problem is....with No Child Left Behind....their scores are horrible! Most of them are not on the level they need to be to pass this horrid test! They also do not understand a deadline. If something is due on Friday....they don't get that. They are used to working at their own pace and want extra time to finish everything. I have 85 kids and I can't always give them the extra time.

It is a shock for them to leave the free atmosphere they are used to and come to a structured environment. There are many benefits to the free school, but until public schools are no longer held hostage with federal funding based on test scores, I don't see how they can work.

I think this school is on the chopping block in the near future. It is a shame because I do think it has many benefits, especially for those kids who do not fit in a structured environment.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 03, 2007 3:33 am 
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Quote:
There are many benefits to the free school, but until public schools are no longer held hostage with federal funding based on test scores, I don't see how they can work.


Here is the rub. Does anyone think we can do a better job on schooling if Dems take over government? Is it too late?

85 students sadie? I don't know 85 people! How in the world do you manage--how many school periods does that 85 students cover?

All I can say is, keep up the good work--and always be kind to yourself.

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Nope .. Kids are learning to more memorize, then actually learn.
(According to what I've heard / read.) Read about the school system in France sometime. They can't even graduate unless they pass some special (complicated) exam.

Not long ago, I read about teachers in Britain having to fit (Multi-Cultural) stuff into each class. Like say with history, they have to cover the histories of various countries. If the teacher had students from: Japan, India, China, Africa, Pakistan and Mexico. They would need to fit all the histories in. (A little of each) The teachers complained there isn't enough time in a class to do so. Their complaints fell on deaf ears.

Home schooling is probably the best, if parents are capable and have the time. I mean as far as really learning. I have had a lot of people tell me they wished they could home school their kids. No offense intended towards any teachers here. :shock:

Oh and I also think the kids would goof off to much.

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