by John Hawkins | November 22, 2006 12:20 pm
Want to see how to turn bright, young kids who are eager to learn into worthless sacks of undisciplined crap by the time that they’re 18? Well, they’ve got it all figured out in Brooklyn,
“One recent day at the Brooklyn Free School, the “schedule” included the following: filming horror movies, chess, debate and making caves for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Not that the students had to go to any of these sessions. At this school, students don’t get grades, don’t have homework, don’t take tests, and don’t even have to go to class — unless they want to.
“You can do basically anything at any time, and it’s just a lot more fun because sometimes when you need a break at regular schools you can’t get it,” said Sophia Bennett Holmes, 12, an aspiring singer-actress-fashion designer. “But here, if you just need to sit down and read and have time to play, then you can do that.”
“Free schools,” which had their heyday decades ago, operate on the belief that children are naturally curious and learn best when they want to, not when forced to. Today, the approach is getting another look from some parents and students tired of standardized testing, excessive homework, and overly rigid curriculums.
“Every kid here is definitely motivated to learn something, there’s no doubt in my mind,” said Alan Berger, a former public school assistant principal who founded the Brooklyn school in 2004. “Our belief is that if we let them pursue their passions and desires, they’ll be able to get into it deeper. They’ll be able to learn more how to learn.”
Hundreds of free schools opened in the U.S. and elsewhere in the 1960s and 1970s. Most shut down, but some, such as the Albany Free School and Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts, have persisted. Overall, it’s unknown how many free schools operate today.
The ones still in operation often use a “democratic” model, giving students a say in running the institution.
At the Brooklyn Free School, much of that decision-making occurs in a mandatory (yes, as in required) weekly gathering called the Democratic Meeting. Here, students air grievances, pose challenges, propose rules and set policy. Even the youngest kids have a vote equal to staffers. One agreed-upon rule? No sword-fighting allowed inside.”
Look, there’s a reason you send kids to school: it’s because they’re ignorant. The idea that ignorant children can do just as good a job at picking out what they need to be studying as adults is insane.
Moreover, kids need to get a wide educational base, not just study things that they like. How many kids want to sit around doing math problems or want to read some boring old novels or poetry? Not many. But, that doesn’t mean that they should be able to just skip it and waste their time making, “caves for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” instead.
In my book, what they’re doing in Brooklyn doesn’t even qualify as schooling and therefore, the government should move in, shut them down, and make sure that these kids end up in a real school before these kids wake up one day at 18 and realize that they barely know how to read, can’t do math, and don’t know any history or science — because in their infinite, childlike wisdom, they decided that those things were boring and unimportant.
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