Definitions of Free School and Unschooling

What is a free school or a democratic school?
What is unschooling? Do any of these terms describe The Real School?

Writer/educator John Holt, who coined the term unschooling, describes the process as follows:  “We do not need to motivate children into learning by wheedling, bribing or bullying. We do not need to keep picking away at their minds to make sure they are learning. What we need to do, and all we need to do, is bring as much of the world as we can into the school and classroom (in our case, into their lives); give children as much help and guidance as they ask for; listen respectfully when they feel like talking; and then get out of the way. We can trust them to do the rest.”

Unschooling is fundamentally about process not about content. It is about learning through self discovery, about being open and confident,  about thinking critically and independently, and about making your own choices and taking responsibility for those choices. The process requires community; it  is about connection, not isolation. Many unschoolers  are also home-schoolers, but the unschooling process is never insular. Unschooling is also referred to as community based learning, natural learning and self-directed learning.

A democratic school functions as a participatory democracy with equal participation from both students and staff. These learning environments invite students to participate in every facet of school operations, including learning, teaching, and leadership. Students in these schools create their own learning path.

A free school is a decentralized network in which skills, information, and knowledge are shared without hierarchy or a formal institutional framework. The open structure of a free school is intended to encourage self-reliance, critical consciousness, and personal development. Here too, students are self-directed.

None of these philosophies is new. For decades, all have been effectively utilized, to varying degrees, by schools like Summerhill, Albany Free School and The Sudbury Valley School. Likewise, The Real School  employs pieces of each of these philosophies. Our decision making process is one of consensus, not democracy, but both approaches intend to empower young people. We are committed to a learning process that is student centered and non-coercive. And we are a cooperative because we value the role of the larger community in education.