This guest post is from Rachel Jones, who is a member of the committee working to open The Joan Rubin School, a democratic free school to be located in the metro-Boston area. Co-founders will hold an informational session at the Cambridge Public Library at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 19, 2013. More information on the school is available at www.joanrubinschool.org.
I am a grownup unschooler. At age fifteen I left public school and designed my own curriculum, pursuing interests I chose. Now that I've grown up, I am helping to start a democratic free school. I want more children to have the opportunity for the kind of education I had: one that's based on trust in children's right to direct their own education. This new school is named The Joan Rubin School, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.
I remember how unhappy I was with school, despite my excellent grades. I attended public school, but there was one year (7th grade) that I went to a private school. While I did prefer the quality of instruction at the private school, I felt the same fundamental discontent: this was still a place where I was required to study things that I didn't want to. Not "don't feel like doing the dishes" feelings, but "depressed about my situation and powerless to change" feelings. I believe many students feel this way when they are required to attend a traditional school, and I don't think it's something they need to "get used to." We want to raise children who are empowered in their lives.
Then I read The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education. Here was someone putting my unhappiness into words, and excerpting John Holt and John Taylor Gatto so I could see how others had argued against the compulsory nature of school. That book also prompted me to envision an alternative to traditional school: a safe space filled with people and resources where kids can go and do as much or as little as they want. I had a glimmer of growing up and being part of a place like that. I tucked that dream away and joyfully--gratefully--pursued my own unschooling. I went on to realize traditional definitions of success such as receiving good SAT scores and graduating from college with honors. But more importantly, I had learned how to be in charge of my own life, defining and pursuing my own goals.
Recently I have had the opportunity to dust off my lifelong dream and become part of starting a different kind of school. I learned about democratic education, that there are schools all over the world where students are not required to follow a curriculum or study anything at all. Yes! I dug a little deeper into the method and learned that, much like my own unschooling, it works because of the principle of trust in the students. When you treat children with respect and allow them to take responsibility for their education, you produce independent thinkers who know how to take responsibility.
The principles that led me to homeschool are the same ones on which democratic education is founded. At The Joan Rubin School, students won’t be studying subjects that don’t interest them. They will learn through experience to direct their own lives. As someone who has lived these educational values I am proud to be a part of bringing them to more children.
For more information about The Joan Rubin School, click here to read a recent Boston Metro article on this initiative.