Making Free Schools Reliable Tools Not Just for the Privileged

July 29, 2008 at 5:57 pm 6 comments

In recent discussions I’ve been having about free schools, and their roles/goals in communities, this issue kept being raised: how can free schools (or the acts of unschooling and free schooling) be developed so that they are not just useful for the privileged – and be made accessible and useful for all people? I’m going to write a post on this shortly, but first I want to hear ideas and stories from you. Feel free to comment or e-mail me at brian AT freeschooling DOT org. I extend this question to all democratic learning movements.

UPDATE: I’ve posted on issues related to this before, see here, here, and here. However, the discussion I want to have in the near-future on this blog is how can new free schools be specifically designed so that they are actively dedicated towards working with non-privileged folks – and so that free schools aren’t just social justice playgrounds for the privileged. I have many ideas that are swirling around in my head, but like I said, I would love to hear your perspectives.


Entry filed under: Anti-Oppression and Free Schools, General Free Schooling. Tags: , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. cvslevy  |  July 29, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    I am delighted that you are working on this issue — to me, that is a critical question about the efficacy of what you are working on.

    Looking forward to reading more from you on this topic.

  • 2. Lydia  |  July 30, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    “social justice playgrounds for the privileged”
    brilliantly worded! hilarious! I feel like so much so the social justice oriented stuff around here (Western Massachusetts) is like that.

    in answer to your question, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the most obvious- making the free school actually free of cost. but also making them seem really legitimate. maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like a person of a higher class might not hold something like a diploma in as high regard as a person of a lower class, maybe because they don’t need it as much to access things like jobs or status. I’ll keep thinking about this.

  • 3. Grace  |  July 31, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    This is an excellent question!

    I would say that there are a few obstacles to implementing free-schooling programs in communities that are under-privileged (I hate that word). The biggest obstacle to free-schooling in general (as far as I can tell from my conversations) is a lack of confidence and trust on the part of many parents. They either lack the confidence to facilitate such an educational choice, or they lack the trust that would let them allow their children to pursue their own education. Most parents just don’t believe that self-education is something that will happen without prompting (usually in the form of cajoling and/or blackmail).

    The second biggest obstacle is time. It is a resource that is in unfortunately short supply, especially when people are working multiple jobs to scrape together a living. You have to have both time and energy to be centrally involved in your child’s education. Even if you aren’t “teaching” them yourself, you need to be available to point out resources and just to be supportive.

    Lydia is absolutely right about the attitude towards alternative forms of education, and I think this is tied to the confidence issue. A diploma is just educational validation from an outside source, but to many people it is the difference between a “real” education and something falsified or subversive. I don’t really understand the reasoning behind this thinking, but I know that I have bumped up against it quite a few times.

    Last, but not least there’s the money issue. It is valid, and it’s difficult to argue with this obstacle, but by no means should money have the final say in educational opportunities. I think ingenuity is just really important when you bump up against financial obstacles, and this requires time for careful thought and planning.

    I guess my first thought would be some kind of collective/communal alternative education center. Sharing solves a lot of problems. People could donate some of their time and money, and by pooling resources their children could opportunities for free education. The first obstacle would be convincing people that their children could truly benefit from such an education, as compared to the more usual school approach.

    Have you ever read Jane Addams’ “Twenty Years At Hull-House”? It’s a great book about the settlement house movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The settlement houses were community centers where people of all ages, races, sexes, and creeds could live, celebrate their cultures, receive medical and legal assistance, learn to read, learn trades, show their artwork, take care of their children, etc. I found the story incredibly inspiring.

  • 4. Brian  |  July 31, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    Hey! Thanks for your feedback all. These are definitely really good points – and are some of the stuff I’ve been thinking about too. I intend to have a response to how free schools could address these problems (and more) by next week. But if you can think of any more problems/resolutions – keep on posting them!

  • 5. Brian  |  July 31, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    P.S. No I haven’t read “Twenty Years At The Hull-House” – but that sounds great! I’m going to go to the library this evening to see if htye have it. Thanks!

  • 6. cvslevy  |  August 1, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    I want to second the idea that lack of confidence by parents is a major challenge— especially in poor and working class communities. As someone who has spent time working with adult education on the West Side of Chicago, I know this well.

    What these parents have observed and experienced is that for their children to overcome the burdens of race and/or class , they need to become better educated and work harder than their counterparts in more affluent communites who have the whole range of options in front of them.

    For white and/or more affluent people, the opportunities are there for the taking. That is part of what is meant by “privilege.”

    How would freeschooling address these issues? Being responsive to these very real concerns is essential to your inquiry.


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