The Opposite Of Tiger Mom

I was recently interviewed by Youth Radio for an article series they are doing on Democratic Free Schools. They are specifically looking to parents who support this option for their children. It seems that these days, we are being compared to the recent article and book by Amy Chua, who advocates a rigorous schedule of activity (cello lesson, extra tutoring, math clubs, etc.) So, in this article, which gives me another few seconds of fame, I stand on the opposite side of the fence. The article is fairly true to my voice, with some strange twists. I also like how they refer to me as “Zeines” as if we are in high school and one of my friends is calling over to me. Anyhow, here is the article in full. A special thanks to Robyn Gee for not screwing up my words too much.

the original article is here

Opposite Of Tiger Mom, Free School Emphasizes Choice
Posted by Robyn Gee for Youth Radio

In sharp contrast to Amy Chua’s no-play, follow-rules parenting style, Bruce Zeines and his wife are raising their son with a hands-off approach. Zeines is a founding parent of the Brooklyn Free School (BFS) in New York, that was featured on This American Life on NPR. Zeines believes in an extreme form of child-driven learning, and would never dare to force his son to play the violin.

BFS is an alternative style school, where the only requirement of the students is that they attend the democratic all-school meetings. Every student and faculty member has an equal say in the operation of the school. The school is located in a brownstone house, and students from the ages of 7 – 19 interact with each other on a daily basis. They can even be in the same classes.

Zeines was inspired to get involved with BFS because of his own experience in public education. “My last name starts with ‘Z’ so for the last three years of elementary school I was stuck in the back of the room. I spent a lot of time drawing and I wasn’t interested in what the teacher was doing,” he said. “I began a path of learning that was forged on my own. I learned more outside of school than inside.”

Zeines saw the need for a change. His ten year old son has been at BFS for six years. “As a parent, my perspective is pretty much just to leave them alone. Let them find their way. You could call us laid back parents,” he said.

His son learns by his own interests, and is not forced to do anything, according to Zeines. “In public school, kids read because you make them, but forcing kids to do anything makes them not like it. Public school is about obedience, respecting authority. Do we want obedient children? Or do we want free-thinkers, people who can help us out of messes?” said Zeines.

Most people don’t remember learning how to read, but do remember a few beginner books that they read over and over again. Zeines says that even though the kids are not forced to read, they still learn how. “My son learned how to read because he needed to. Before I knew it, he was just picking up stuff and reading it. He’s not that into reading books, just things like Scott Pilgrim.”

So what social effects has the school had on Zeines’ son? “He’s fearless. He has no issues talking to adults or being aware when an adult is being superficial. He has no qualms about telling me when I’m asking stupid questions,” said Zeines.

While explaining the concept of the democratic meeting in the context of BFS, Zeines mentioned that it empowers students to speak up. The philosophy of the school maintains that you can pursue anything as long as it doesn’t interfere with anyone else, and if you do interfere, then that person can call a meeting. “You have kids who are used to being bullied, and now they have the right to call a meeting. It changes them. Over time, you can see bonified change,” said Zeines.

Some kids do transfer out of BFS as they get older, and Zeines attributes this to wanting a larger social environment. But he believes students will take away the ability to be free-thinkers and creative problem-solvers. “Employers are looking for these traits, but it’s lacking in college grads today. They’re not curious,” said Zeines.

The students at BFS still take standardized tests as forms of measuring achievement. Zeines could not speak to the success of the students going on to higher education because his son is only ten, but look forward to more information on the free schooling method from Youth Radio.


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