Posted in School Leadership

Going Back for the Others?

Jonathan Kozol once wrote semi-admiringly about free schools as a concept.  Free schools don’t mean public schools; there was a movement to do these kinds of schools where students do all the decision-making.  It’s kind of like unschooling, but in a school format.  It’s brilliant, but it presupposes a view of childhood that most people find unnerving: that kids can think for themselves and make good decisions.

In my experience, in fact, they can, once they get past the idea that they can, in fact, do nothing and have ice cream all day.  Eventually, when they get used to a life with no rules, they do like learning and eating real food, too.  Autistic kids thrive with choice since they seem to have this innate knowledge of what it is they need…society just likes to get in the way and interrupt this little voice that tells them what to do.  Anyway, sure, kids ought to be able to choose what they do and when they do it.  It’s a good thing to have children and teens vote on what happens next, and have them direct their own learning.

I’m sure, deep down, Kozol also would agree in theory with Catholic education because of the good it can do, especially in urban areas.  It gets some kids out, and helps them move to the middle class.  When you think of individual children, homeschooling, choice schools and Catholic education and other options are always a wonderful thing.  He is not remotely a fan of it in practice, though (or possibly not even in theory; sometimes it’s hard to read his work for me because of this).

But he said something about free schools that has stuck with me for years.

He compared them to the commandant’s children playing in the sandbox near Auschwitz.

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