The educational model and philosophy of The Freedom Academy draws heavily from multiple sources of democratic and self-directed education. We draw inspiration from long-standing and well established institutions such as Summerhill School in the UK (founded 1921) and Sudbury Valley School in the USA (founded 1968), to more recent models such as the North Star Self-Directed Learning Centers (founded 1996) and Agile Learning Centers (founded 2012).
These alternative methods were born mainly out of frustration and disillusionment with the current traditional education system, which has remained essentially unchanged for hundreds of years. John Taylor Gatto, once a multi-awarded public school teacher in New York City (awarded Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990 and 1991, as well as New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991), turned his back on the system and became one of its harshest critics when he saw the extensive damage it was capable of causing.
He authored several books such as Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling (1992), The Underground HIstory of American Education (2001), and Weapons of Mass Instruction (2008) describing in detail the way schools are used primarily for social control and for creating a docile and compliant workforce.
Sir Ken Robinson, a recognized expert on creativity and education, authored the book Creative Schools (2015), where he presents some of the most innovative learning systems in the modern world. The common thread I discovered running through all of them is that one way or another, they broke the mold of traditional schooling. They encouraged students to explore and develop their own interests. They respected the individual’s learning process and methods and allowed each to take as much time as they wanted, or to utilize whatever methods suited them best.
Daniel Greenberg, founder of the Sudbury Valley School, authored Turning Learning Right Side Up (2008, with Russell Ackoff), and he asserts, “No matter how ‘good’ the teaching or the opportunites to learn, an unmotivated student learns nothing.” What schools have been trying to do is to force this motivation on students, to enforce a social agenda by threats or enticement — e.g. “if you don’t go to school, you’ll become a bum,” or “if you want success and to earn a lot of money, you need to finish school,” and so on.
However, Greenberg argues that “the key role of an educational system…is to provide a setting in which the various internal motivations each child possesses can flourish into active pursuits. It is not the role of adults to attempt to replace the motivations already present in children with others that the adults wish the children had.” And this is the kind of students his school has been producing (and is still producing) for over 50 years.
It is upon this foundation that the Freedom Academy stands — to provide a venue for nurturing each child’s interest and motivations, where they can express themselves freely and not be judged, in a space that is open, supportive, energetic and caring.