Sunday, October 22, 2006

freedom schools

cj on arti's blog, in a discussion about NZ curriculum:
...there is enuff evidence about at present to be exploring, at the very least, different ways of doing schooling which just happens to be a particular interest/passion of mine and quite a lot of other folk scattered about the planet. Not of the burn the schools/sack the teachers kind but given the inability of all these big machines to control much at all (big machines like curriculum, accountability etc) what is possible in the cracks, the nooks, the spots they can't control or get at? In my limited experience, quite a lot
Following on from political upsurge in the 60s there was a flourishing of alternative "freedom" Schools, with names like Summerhill (AS Neill)

Following on from the two way web upsurge in the 00s will there be a flourishing of alternative online "freedom" schools - given that traditional schools are increasingly blocking these freedoms?

Why not?

There would seem to be developing a political constituency which is ready and willing to exercise closely related freedoms, for example, The Pirate Party , in Sweden

If these conditions exist already or are about to come into existence:
  • parents who would willingly send their students to such a school
  • students who would want to attend such a school
  • teachers who would want to teach in such a school
  • technology which would support the online aims of such a school
  • the political will to make such a school happen
  • the economic knowledge that would make such a school viable
If these things exist, then won't it happen, sooner or later, preferably sooner? Because people such as us whose numbers are growing daily will decide to make it happen. Because the stifling old fashionedness of traditional school will become unbearable to those who have tasted freedom

It just needs a bit of fleshing out


Unknown said...

If an online school was like a community school, I wouldn't like to send my child there. If your measure for success is university entrance, then community schools fail. If your measure is to produce a student who is happy and fulfills their potential, they probably fail there too.

Before considering an online alternative school, we need to understand our criteria of successful education and examine how existing alternative schools meet these criteria.

Do alternative schools fail because the parents are those who are alienated and hostile to education?

Anonymous said...

Hi Bill,
Not to be too picky, but Summerhill, and other progressive schools like them aren't typically called "freedom schools". Summerhill started in the 1920's. It definitely had to do with freedom, that part is right! I think they are typical lumped together as "open education", but there could be other labels.

"Freedom schools" in the 60's were in reaction to the civil rights movement and also used a progressive curriculum. They occurred specifically in the south U.S. during "Freedom Summer" and did teach traditional academic subjects, but concentrated on civics, politics and history of the south, discrimination, slavery, and civil rights. There is a good description of the curriculum here:

However, picky semantics aside, I think the connection is weak. Online is just a different kind of building to meet in. It's the pedagogy that makes a difference. You could have instructionist online schools, progressive online schools, and they wouldn't have much to share with each other.

Anonymous said...

One of my most insightful teaching friends always reckons the very best learning experience we could offer students in their first year of secondary school would be to spend the year walking from Bluff at the bottom of the South Island to Cape Reinga at the tip of the North Island.

Just imagine the learning opportunities and conversations en route - we'd cover the whole curriculum the key competencies and some thing else - and then imagine how richly textured the experiences could be if the walkers shared their raw reactions online through text, images, or audio at the end of each day.

The kids and their teachers would never be the same again

Bill Kerr said...

really thoughtful and challenging comments guys - thanks

maybe an opportunity to explore further what we mean by freedom, partly in historical context?

i can see now that my summerhill comparison with today's situation requires some more thought

i find the photo of summerhill evocatative - some amazing things happened in that school, that now looks like a slum - nevertheless, I remember I did write a critical analysis when at Monash in the early 70s

the idea of freedom, the slogan of freedom, has been a strong historical driver towards progress IMO - but then it means different things to different people and when we arrive at our destination (freedom) we always have to start over again, don't we?

still thinking about it

Anonymous said...

I think the issues raised by Tony are deeply related to the nature of what we call "education" in any given society. We now have a mass education system but historically that has not been the norm. For most of history the norm was for only a small minority to have access to any sort of education. A few hundred years ago most people were illiterate.

The right to "free, compulsory eduaction" is a relatively recent victory. I would say that the reason that battle was able to be won had a lot to do with the big social and economic changes that were happening at the time. Basically the growth of modern capitalism made it necessary for more and more people to be not only literate but skilled in particular ways.

The demand for an "educated" work force has increased exponentally as our industrial society has become more complex and demanding. But I don't think we should ever forget that we stll live in a society in which "public goods" such as educaction exist to maintain the social system we have. And this social system does require relatively compliant compliant workers. I'm not just referring to the traditional "blue collar" working class but to every one who works for a wage - this includes teachers, scientists and even many who are seen as quite priveleged and well off. They still have to work within a system without rocking the boat.

But there are big contradictions here. On the one hand we do have mass education now (and that is clearly a good thing). At the same time standards relative to the past when schooling was only for a few (and those few were expected to play an elite role in society), have dropped. And also now that so many people are educated up to year 12 (and beyond) people are starting to want more and there is more and more frustration arising from the tantalizing prospect of being provided with real education rather than the semi-education/training -for-work which is currently on offer.

Teachers are locked into the middle of this contradiction. On the one hand they are told that their job is to create real learners, promote curiosity and independent thinking but in practice the system is not designed to enable this and will resist producing people who are strong independent thinkers and learners. It seems clear to me that the very structure of school militates against too much learning.

Would anyone trying to design from scratch some sort of structure that would nurture and develop learners come up with the idea of school as we know it? Imprisoning large groups of young people in classrooms with a single teacher in charge of each group is a silly idea and no one would deliberately attempt to design a real education system like this.

Getting back to what Tony said, I sort of agree with him - but only partially. Anyone who is realistic would not want to put their child into some sort of alternative system in which they could not succeed in society as it now is. Most alternative schools so far have been utopian in the sense that they haven't really accepted the reality of (what passses for) education in our current social and economic system. Parents who think about it without turning to utopianism tend to keep their kids in normal schools in order to give them the best chance of success - while at the same time giving their kids a lot on the side to prevent them being too damaged. (These are the lucky kids!)

Nevertheless I think it must be possible to take advantage of the chinks and cracks that will appear more and more frequently in such a brittle and cumbersome system. It is becoming clearer and clearer that for all its limitations the advent of mass education unleashes the impulse for something far better - it gives people glimpses of what they could have and creates a groundswell of dissatisfaction, a yearning for more freedom, more fun, more learning. Possibilities really do beckon.