Posts filed under ‘General Free Schooling’

Learning Activity: Underrepresented Peoples in U.S. History

The following is a learning activity I crafted for a class I was teaching on U.S. History. It was designed for teenagers, but I think it could be easily adapted for slightly-younger folks and adults.

Download it in PDF form here.

Activity: Underrepresented Peoples in U.S. History

• Goal of this activity: For the students to engage United States history by discovering what peoples go underrepresented in traditional tales of U.S. history. They will do this by interviewing community members, their peers, and themselves. This is both an individual and (can be a) group effort.
• Materials Needed: Community members to investigate, pens/pencil, paper. Optional: Note cards.
• Participants: 1-20 (or more, depending on your needs/ability).
• Time Needed: 45 – 90 minutes.

1. First, designate a community of people to interview: i.e. a school, a downtown, a class, a library, or etc. Give the following questions/guidelines to the participants (recommended on a piece of paper):

Who were important [your group] in American history? How did they impact the world that we know today? What lessons can we learn from them? (REMEMBER: important people don’t have to mean good people)

Go ask people in the area if they can identify any of the following groups of people in American history and ask them the questions specified above (and any other questions you think are important). Record their answers and think about why they gave the answers they did.

The students will fill in the [your group] bracket with one of the following possibilities:

• People of color
• Women
• Women of color
• Gender queer folks
• Lower-class folks
• Differently-Abled folks
• People of non-Christian faiths
• Immigrants
• Political dissenters
• [Add more that you see fit]

(You might want to lay these different options out on a table on note-cards for the students to choose from.)


September 20, 2008 at 2:48 pm Leave a comment

North Star Is A Place For Liberated Learners

I teach (and by default learn) at North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens, and it is one of my favorite places to be. The excitement and enthusiasm for learning and do-ing there is infectious and inspiring. Based in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, it is a community learning center for teens who have left school for one reason or another. Recently an article about it was published online, so I thought I’d share it with you here. Here’s an excerpt:

Elizabeth arrives at 9:00 and together we go upstairs to the tiny room with comfortable chairs, a bookcase, art postcards on the walls. We walk past a few other teenagers who are curled up reading, or sprawled out on the couches getting the morning sleep that they missed at home because they wanted to grab the ride that would get them here early. We smile good morning at the small group about to begin its arcane discussion of Logic principles. It’s still quiet here at this hour, but there’s a nice feeling of easing into the day.

Elizabeth and I talk for a few minutes about where she is in the story she’s writing and what might happen next. She spends some time writing a new scene, offers to show me what she’s written, and we talk some more.

The day continues like this, with me welcoming one teenager after the other into this small, comfortable room. There’s Christopher, who has hated school since kindergarten and whose writing and reading aren’t at grade level; here he dictates his writing, and listens as I read aloud, finally getting a chance to absorb a book that challenges and moves him. There’s Josephine, who doesn’t just talk about writing a novel but actually works on it several hours a day; there’s Jackie, who declares that she isn’t good at anything academic but will offer astute observations and analyses if you toss the right questions her way. And once a week, in a larger room across the hall, there’s the workshop of young writers, ranging in age from 14 to 17, who come together to write.

This is my particular corner of North Star, a resource center that offers an alternative to middle and high school for teenagers in Western Massachusetts. As its literature says, North Star makes homeschooling a viable option for any interested teenager in the geographic area…

Read the full article here.

September 9, 2008 at 2:00 pm 1 comment

“I Want To Do This All Day” – A Radio Documentary About Free Schools and Radical Learning

I Want To Do This All Day is a radio documentary about free schools and radical learning spaces in the United States. I’ve read a lot on the topics of free schools and radical learning, but this is by far one of the best discussions on these topics that I have ever been privy too. Not only is it an incredible illustration of what free schools and radical learning centers are, but it’s also a bold critique of what they could still be.

Here’s a description from their website:

In March and April of 2006, we visited 23 free schools, community centers, after school programs, summer camps, skill shares, charter schools and private schools. We interviewed students, parents and teachers about their experiences with creating and sustaining radical learning spaces. We define this as non-compulsory, non-coercive physical spaces set up for various types of learning and projects. The documentary outlines a history of both conventional and radical education, explores peoples definitions of learning, highlights some interesting spaces as examples, identifies major themes common between spaces, and addresses the role of these spaces in the wider movement for social change.

The documentarians fill this dialog with their own voices, songs, the voices of students, radical teachers, change-makers, and more. They also don’t hesitate to point out something that we’ve been discussing on this blog: the need for free schools (and other radical-learning centers) to be more dedicated to those who are not of privileged backgrounds (track 13 discusses this in length) – this includes those who have mental disabilities. However, it also discusses in length some free schools that were specifically designed for people of non-privileged backgrounds (The Albany Free School, The Met School, and The Making Changes Freedom School).

There’s a lot in this radio documentary: from the history of compulsory schools (an amazing and brief track), to discussions with current participants in the radical learning movement, from problems in the free schooling movement, to what they could adopt from public (federal) schools, to what radical learning is, to what radical learners are doing, from how radical learners/teachers are shaping our world today, to how radical learning can become a sustainable movement, and so much more. Below I’ve listed the tracks of the radio documentary, but check back soon and there might be a .zip file to download that contains all of the tracks.

  1. Setting Up
  2. Unraveling Radical Learning
  3. Problems in Education Today
  4. History of Compulsory Schools
  5. Redefining Learning
  6. Reinventing Education
  7. The Albany Free School
  8. Olympia Community Free School
  9. Making Changes Freedom School
  10. Not Back To School Camp
  11. The Met School
  12. Purple Thistle Center
  13. Themes in the Movement 1
  14. Themes in the Movement 2
  15. Motion and Change
  16. Wrapping Up

After the jump is a much more in-depth explanation from their website.


August 18, 2008 at 4:01 pm 5 comments

The Modern Learning Exchange

Ever since I read about the Learning Exchange in John Holt‘s Instead of Education, I have been fascinated with the idea. The Learning Exchange was started during the 1970’s by two folks in Evanston, Illinois (close to my home town) who had been greatly influenced by Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society.

The premise of the Learning Exchange was simple, but very promising. It was based off of the idea that information generally controlled by “higher institutions” is also held amongst ordinary everyday people, but just that there is no structured way for people to share this information – and thus the monopoly of knowledge remains within the institutions. The folks who started the Learning Exchange thought that if such a structure were put into place, where ordinary people could share knowledge and teach one another, the people would take advantage of such a possibility. And they were right.

The Learning Exchange began with the notion that everyone has something to teach and something they want to learn. They worked by asking people to offer something they could teach and something they wanted to learn (a pair). For the sake of this, let’s say an individual wanted to learn biology and knew/could teach Spanish. This individual would call the Learning Exchange’s toll free number and see if there was a match (someone who knew Biology and wanted to learn Spanish). These two individuals would be put in contact with one another and then would teach/learn their knowledge. Extremely simple, but it exploded all across Chicago.


August 12, 2008 at 5:16 pm Leave a comment

Audio Links for 08/08/08

Here are some pretty cool audio links that I’ve been listening to over the past couple of days:

  • Creating a Learning Co-Op from the Radio Free School. You can download or stream it here (to download for mac computers: ctrl+click and choose save file as).

This is a very interesting discussion with the author of Creating a Cooperative Learning Center, Katharine Houk. I’d never heard of this book before, but now I’m very intrigued to read it. The interview is a brief overview of the author’s story of how she, other unschoolers, and homeschooling families developed a cooperative learning center in New York, how it functions, and how it has developed over time. The book apparently is the same thing (but more in depth) and plus materials and guidelines on how to set up the cooperative learning center, how to organize it, how to advertise for it, and lot’s of other day-to-day stuff you need to do. Seems very cool – I plan on checking it out. Has anyone else ever heard of it?

  • Voices from a People’s History of the United States – performed at Mount Holyoke College with Howard Zinn. Download: Part 1, Part 2. (Same downloading instructions for mac).

Now, this is a really awesome performance from readings of the book Voices from a People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, students of Mount Holyoke college, and other community members of Western Massachusetts. Not only is it a phenomenal history lesson, but an amazing and moving thing to hear. Listen to it while riding a bike, or driving, or walking, or working, or whatever – but I really recommend it. (Also: it was a benefit for Jobs with Justice – so I feel like I should plug that).

August 8, 2008 at 3:47 pm 1 comment

Making Free Schools Reliable Tools Not Just For The Privileged: Part 2 (More Questions and Solutions)

So, I’ve been having some trouble writing this specific post – not because I don’t have anything to say, but because there’s so much to discuss on this topic, and I just didn’t know where to begin. Because of that, I’m not going to try to address everything regarding these issues just with one post (I think that would be foolish to attempt, anyway). Instead, I want this to become an ongoing discussion on this blog. Last week, I asked: “[H]ow 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 also asked what issues of privilege do free schools face. Commentors (commenters?) had some wonderful feedback and brought up some great points. Here are some highlights:

Lydia said:

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.

Grace brought up:

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). […]

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

Cvslevy had this to say:

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.”

It appears that there is a general theme for today: People from privileged backgrounds already have loads of options open to them, and a degree (high school, college, etc.) is not necessarily a deal-breaker for them to get the kind of job, experience, or life they’re looking for. A diploma, “official” education, or a degree is the norm and their world of options are not necessarily limited by not getting these. This is not true for folks who are not of the same privileged background. The large numbers of people who are oppressed via either institutionalized and cultural racism, class barriers, sexism, and all the other oppressions that are so (historically and presently) ingrained into our systems of living, governance, and development do not have the same access to such “standards” of the privileged (the diplomas and degrees).


August 6, 2008 at 7:17 pm 1 comment

Making Free Schools Reliable Tools Not Just for the Privileged

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.

July 29, 2008 at 5:57 pm 6 comments

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