One question I frequently get when talking to people about school options for their children in New York is "A lot of schools say they're progressive, but is there any school that's truly progressive?"
Short Answer: No.
Long Answer: Depends on what you call progressive.
All of the above schools feature elements of progressive education: Child-directed lessons, hands-on discovery learning, no rote memorization, desks arranged in a circle, etc...
But those are all the exterior trappings of a progressive education. The true hallmark of the progressive model is allowing the child to completely lead the way and set the pace. In other words, it allows the child to study only what he/she is interested in, and to ignore all else, even if that includes learning to read or count or anything else considered part of a basic education.
The child will learn when he/she is ready, and not a moment before.
Unfortunately, in New York City, standardized testing begins in third grade for public school students. And not a moment later.
As a result, even schools that call themselves progressive are compelled to get their students to a certain minimum requirement in English and math, or risk being a failing school and shut down.
It is very difficult to reconcile letting children go at their own pace with a system that insists everyone of a certain age needs to hit certain milestones at a certain time... or else.
Even private schools, not nearly as hostage to testing as the public ones, have to exmit their students into high-school, if they're a K-8, or college, if a K-12. Colleges and SATs also have certain questions that they believe should be answered by a certain time. Again, not exactly the progressive model.
One school in NYC, however, claims to be truly progressive.
Manhattan Free School, on 115 East 106th Street, describes themselves their website, www.ManhattanFreeSchool.org as:
A grassroots movement formed in the summer of 2007, with the goal of offering a true educational alternative to the traditional orthodoxy of education now dominant in most public and private schools in New York City. Our community is composed of students, parents, educators, and others who believe that freedom and democracy are not just textbook concepts, they are instead a way of living and learning—for children and adults alike. The Manhattan Free School is dedicated to the belief that young people must be free to develop their birth-given gifts in a non-coercive educational environment. At MFS, students have the power to make decisions that affect their everyday lives and that of their community.
They go on to detail:
The Manhattan Free School is an independent school for people from ages 5-18. Our school’s fundamental premise is based on the resolution constructed and adopted at the 2005 International Democratic Education Conference, which states:
In any educational setting, young people have the right:
* to decide individually how, when, what, where, and with whom they learn,
* to have an equal share in the decision-making as to how their organizations—in particular their schools—are run, and which rules and sanctions, if any, are necessary. We believe people are born curious and because of this we can trust in their desire to learn and their enormous capacity to make sense of the world on their own terms.
And to the question of: What happens if a student doesn't do anything?
They reply: It is actually impossible to do nothing. What most people are concerned about is students doing what looks like nothing; for example playing video games, playing cards, reading all day, etc. The truth is that everything the students do has value, particularly to them. The evidence is that when a student appears to be doing nothing, by simply observing the activities of others, for instance, they are actually paying close attention and learning tremendously from what they are observing.
Interested in seeing the school in action?
They are holding an Open House on Wednesday, October 12 at 9 AM, offering parents the opportunity to watch a decision-making meeting.
Then, starting on Monday, October 17, there is an entire Visiting Week, where you can stay as long as you like to watch the school in action.
Of course, as we learned back in the 1990s from those military commercials, Freedom Isn't Free.
Don't let the name fool you. Manhattan Free School costs $16,000 a year in tuition. However, sliding scale is offered based on family income.
To learn more or to register for the Open House and/or Visitors' Week, go to their website.