A Little More PerspectivePosted: April 24, 2011
This letter arrived over the weekend. Occasionally I get requests to speak my mind, in order to assist someone else who is on the verge of making a decision. Generally I find, that the decision has already been made. But the person just needs a little more perspective. With the writer’s permission, I am sharing the message, as well as my response.
I am researching Manhattan Free School as an option for my son for Fall 2012. He will be 5 in November. He is currently attending UPK program in the NYC public school system and although he enjoyed it, the experience was a tough one for me. I don’t really want to go on and on about it, but basically it was a busy body teacher who seemed concerned at two school conferences that my son couldn’t cut in a straight line, couldn’t write his name, and skipped 13 and 15 when counting. Even though she said she wasn’t worried (she totally was) she seemed even more concerned that I wasn’t worried. My son is the youngest child in the class and right now his favorite thing in school is gym (which they only get to do once a week).
Would like to hear any first hand experience you are willing to share.
Thank you for your letter.
My experience is with Brooklyn Free School which my wife and I were a part in helping to start. After 7 years, I have learned a great deal. But the main thing that is needed in participating in an educational approach like Democratic Free schooling is the development of trust.
In my opinion, public school is so out of control in its understanding of children as people. The concern that a 4 yr old would omit numbers while counting or not cut straight should be the tip off. It seems that in Manhattan, the expectations are even higher. Why is he not Mozart already?and if he is one of the younger ones, they seem not to adjust their expectations of him. A few months at that age are milestones in development. So they are already setting him up for self doubt.
From a democratic free school perspective, he is allowed to be himself. Learn at his own pace. Have time to develop social interactions, and begin the process of becoming empowered by the conditions that allow him to have a voice in his own existence.
My son went to a Pre K before joining BFS because he was still too young. I knew what we were getting into, so I was not shocked (they gave 4 year olds homework!). At one of the teacher/parent conferences the teacher reported that my son would spend the whole day building stuff. She seemed concerned that he did not explore the other activity areas. I looked at her and said “What is wrong with that?.” These teachers are not trained to think off program. They have a narrow view of what track a functional child should fit into. If he falls outside that narrow track, there is something wrong with him. He is either marginalized, or medicated depending on how difficult he becomes for them to deal with. Jerry Mintz, of AERO has said that public school is attempting to “cure boyhood.”
As for Manhattan Free School, I cannot say much. I know Pat Warner and have met some of the teachers and students there. Pat is a very dedicated individual, as are her teachers. BFS has occasional visits and we do meet up at conferences.
You should know that by joining a Free School, you are becoming part of a community. A community that needs constant care and involvement. I have come to enjoy my involvement and work on behalf of the school and the movement of alternative education. I feel that children may be the most important resource we have, and it is through ignorance that we are ruining it, just like we are ruining everything else.
What I have seen in my son and his friends is the development of a unique intelligence. One in which they develop their own interests. How those interests lead them to new discoveries. And how what they learn seems to stay with them. Also, from my observations, they accept each other for their own individuality. There is a zero tolerance for bullying and I have seen them work out their differences in ways that can teach you or I a thing or two.
I have also been interested in how this type of education begins to have an effect on the parents as well as the teachers. When we become a part of a community like this we all enter a process of unlearning. We let go of the fears and doubts that were passed onto us. The expectations of early reading, or the current obsession with math. Different children learn in different ways. Where else would you find a school that values social interaction, team work, play, and having a say in the decisions that run their school as a means of learning?