Thursday, July 28, 2011

Free Schools Free People: Education and Democracy by Ron Miller

                If Kozol’s Free Schools were to be considered Free Schools 101, this book would be Free Schools 102. The material is more dense and political. It was a great way to end this portion of my studies on Democratic schools. In the future, I will study Sudbury schools, because they are the most common and the longest lasting type of Free School in America.              The book is a historical account of the free school movement of the 1960’s. It looks at influences such as the Civil Rights Movement, Free Speech Movement, and over all transformation of consciousness that occurred in the sixties. I, like Miller, find this decade fascinating. I also share his viewpoint that, “…one of the serious flaws of the free school movement was its excessive emphasis on freedom at the expense of other educational, cultural, and even psychological values.” (32). This is why Kozol said we must find a balance between giving students freedom and what they need in order to make it in this world. Miller feels those running free schools should be realistic and reasonable rather than romantic and irrational
In addition to giving me a sound understanding of the historical context of the free school movement, the book helped me to understand what a technocracy is and how it relates to American society and education. Miller states, “The counter culture of the 1960’s, including the free school movement, was essentially a rebellion against the triumph of technocracy over the ideals of a democracy.” (10). A democracy is holistic and all-inclusive, while a technocracy breaks shatters a society by breaking it into individual units. The same holds true curriculum in technocratic education. Just as an assembly line breaks down work into small parts, technocratic schools separate subjects such as Math and English from one another. This sort of system promotes “existentially deadening conformity and a repressive intellectual and political discipline”. (11). It also values materialism over ideals such as cooperation and civic responsibility. Miller explains that many scholars believe American schools are organized to serve the interests of corporations and the elite who run this nation.
It goes without saying that Miller’s chapter on Education and Democracy was of particular interest to me. However, what stands out about the chapter was his attention to John Dewey. He credited Dewey, author of Democracy and Education, for having a profound influence on free schools, and pondered why no one involved in the movement had credited him before, when it was so obvious he had affected their reasoning. Miller writes, “It is not clear how many free school writers had read Democracy an Education, so the direct influence is hard to determine, but it seems legitimate to claim that Dewey provided a serious philosophical voice to the normally ‘romantic’ critique of technocracy, giving free school ideology an intellectual heritage it that would otherwise have lacked.” (144). To me, Dewey is the godfather of curriculum and instruction. It frustrates me that Democracy in Education has been around for so long, and we still have the problems we do. The same could be said about the free school movement. Perhaps the problem is those who care about education need to get the word out. At least I can say I’ve done my part.

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