If you’ve ever thought that today’s public school system is too restrictive for children, you’re not the only one. There are now hundreds of alternative schools in North America. One long-established one is The Free School in Albany, N.Y., which has been in existence for more than 40 years. The 2011 documentary film Free to Learn: A Radical Experiment in Education, directed and produced by Bhawin Suchak and Jeff Root, documents the daily activities that occur at this school.

The Free School is not your typical school. The teachers believe in a hands-off, fairly unstructured approach to learning. Older children and younger children are separated most of the time, and teachers do run math and language lessons that are appropriate for certain grade levels, but no pupils are forced to take part in the lessons—it’s surprising how many actually do, of their own accord. Other activities filmed throughout the documentary’s duration include pottery, filmmaking, seed planting and feeding chickens.

Though this is an inner-city school with students of various races, there doesn’t seem to be any racial segregation, and no conflicts related to race are seen. If conflict does occur between students, teachers stand back and allow them to resolve the issues on their own. As a last resort, all 60-odd students are called to a council meeting, during which they can offer feedback as to how a particular issue can be solved.

While former students of the school have good things to say when interviewed, mostly emphasizing the school’s contribution to positive character development, there are some potential problems with the way it’s run. The middle-aged neighbours who are interviewed believe that children must learn to function in a more structured environment. They may have a point, since it will come as a shock to these kids when they must go on to secondary and post-secondary schools or workplaces that are more rigidly organized. There are a couple of potentially unsafe things pictured during the video—one child is seen eating what looks like a leaf or a piece of grass, and another is seen using a bow and arrow without being cautious about where the arrow will go; these things may indicate a lack of adequate supervision.

While The Free School may be too extreme for some, most of the kids there seem very happy, which is more than can be said about so many fidgety, unstimulated children who are forced to sit in the same desks for hours a day.

Would you send your children to a school like The Free School? Watch Free to Learn below to learn more: 

Read about a free school in practice in ANARCHIST U FREE SCHOOL: An engaging alternative to consumer education>>

image: Wealthy Habits (Creative Commons BY)