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Chris Mercogliano Reads From His New Book!!

Chris Mercogliano will be giving a reading from his new book, A School Must Have a Heart, with discussion to follow, at Brooklyn Free School on Thursday, January 15 at 6:00 pm.

Chris has been involved with the Albany Free School as a teacher, director, and board member since 1973 and has authored four other books on children and education.

A School Must Have a Heart is a collection of provocative stories and essays Chris has written over the past two decades. Thomas Armstrong, the internationally known author whose books on learning and human development have sold over a million copies, had this to say about it:

“When education ‘reform’ has come to mean standardization, conformity, and academic rigor mortis, Chris comes along to remind us that real reform is creating schools where children are respected as human beings and where learning consists of living encounters with the amazing world around us. A School Must Have a Heart reminds me of the best of the education …. read more

Be My Guest: How Students at Sudbury Valley School Spend Their Days: Freedom, Flow and Happiness Part II

One of the things I work on from September through February is the Alternative Education Resource Organization’s School Starters Course. AERO founder/director Jerry Mintz and I help people around the world to get their alternatives up and running, and this year one of our students is a father in Hong Kong who is in the midst of open a Sudbury School there.

Hung Luu recently visited the original Sudbury Valley School (there are now over 30 worldwide), and here is part 2 of the report he wrote for his school’s website.


All aspects of the internal running of Sudbury Valley are decided by the School Meeting, in which each student and staff member has one vote. Again, this is an outgrowth of students being respected as equals at SVS. The School Meeting discusses and votes on matters such as hiring and re-election of staff members, the level of tuition fees to be charged, and how to spend the income in a responsible manner to ensure a balanced budget. Each member of the …. read more

Be My Guest: How Students at Sudbury Valley School Spend Their Days: Freedom, Flow and Happiness Part I

One of the things I work on from September through February is the Alternative Education Resource Organization’s School Starters Course. AERO founder/director Jerry Mintz and I help people around the world to get their alternatives up and running, and this year one of our students is a father in Hong Kong who is in the midst of open a Sudbury School there.

Hung Luu recently visited the original Sudbury Valley School (there are now over 30 worldwide), and here is the report he wrote for his school’s website.

In the last week of October I was fortunate to visit Sudbury Valley School (SVS) in Framingham, Massachusetts. The flight was 20 hours each way, the time difference with Hong Kong is 12 hours, and the jet lag was terrible. Having said that it was definitely worth the effort.

Many parents in Hong Kong (and in other places) want their children to study at and graduate from a prestigious university. While for some this is just a pipe dream, others start serious preparations …. read more

Still on a Shoestring

Here is a short article I just wrote for a magazine commemorating the Albany Free School’s 45th anniversary:

One of the early newspaper articles about the Albany Free School—I can’t remember if it was the very first or not—was entitled “The Shoestring School.” Our founder Mary Leue was grateful for the free publicity, but the moniker made her wince because it reflected the reporter’s inclination to focus more on the school’s funky physical appearance and precarious finances than on the enormous difference the school was making in the lives of its students. Nevertheless, it was hard to argue with the Times Union’s assessment. At the time only a third of the forty kids paid any tuition at all; the teacher “salary” was $15 a week; and the more-than-a-century-old building was being held together with duct tape and bailing wire.

I’m sure if anyone had asked her, that reporter would’ve said there was no way the school’s doors would still be open in the year 2014. But she …. read more

Be My Guest: Towards a New Model of Teaching

Patrick Farenga worked closely with John Holt for four years, until Holt’s death in 1985. He is the President of Holt Associates and was the publisher of Growing Without Schooling magazine from 1985 until it stopped publishing in Nov. 2001.  Two of Pat’s books are Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling, (Perseus, 2003), and The Legacy of John Holt (Holt/GWS, 2013).

What is the role of a teacher when children do self-directed learning? People often cite the work of John Holt and Ivan Illich as foundational texts for understanding how children learn and grow into competent citizens without going to school but most readers focus on their descriptions of self-directed learning and how conventional school often thwarts it. However, neither Holt nor Illich envisioned a world without places for people to gather and share knowledge, and they wrote extensively about such places and teaching during their lives. Recent authors and teachers, such as Sugata Mitra and Chris Mercogliano, …. read more

Education Revolution in South Korea

It was a refreshing and eventful summer that left me no time for blogging. But I’m back home now; schools are back in session; and so let’s get back to discussing education.

I think I’ll begin by reporting in on my eight-day book tour in Korea that spanned five cities and culminated in me delivering the opening keynote address at the 22nd annual International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC) at the end of July.

The occasion for the tour was the Korean language release of In Defense of Childhood, which Mindlè Publishing decided to translate because childhood is being domesticated in Korea in very much the same way as it is here in the U.S.

As fate would have it, a passenger ferry carrying nearly 300 students from a large urban high school capsized off the South Korean coast on April 16, not long after Mindlè and I agreed on the dates for the tour. The story went like this: When the ship began to founder, the captain advised everyone to remain in their cabins and wait …. read more

Be My Guest: How School Changed My Life

The following is the mission statement that 12th grader Cody Bogausch recently submitted to the graduation committee at the Harriet Tubman Democratic High School. HTDHS began as the high school extension of the Albany Free School, and I teach math there three mornings a week and also serve on the advisory board. I asked Cody if I could post his letter because of how beautifully it expresses the enormous difference a school that gives students a voice in their education and supports every aspect of their developing selves can make in a young person’s life.

Although it seems like an eternity ago, I remember the day I visited the school for the first time. I honestly didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I had no idea what an incredible and life-changing place I was walking into. At the time, I was struggling to stay happy and motivated. My family had been all but destroyed by alcoholism, my grades were non-existent and my desire to participate in school was gone. I was very unhappy with my life and myself. I walked in here that …. read more

What is Democratic Education?

What is Democratic Education?
An Interview With Chris Mercogliano
by Yong Shian Phoon

Yong Shian Phoon, who also calls herself Heather, is a Malaysian graduate student at the University of Hong Kong. She is completing a Masters thesis on democratic education, and I was among a number of educators that she interviewed as part of her research.

Heather: What made you want to become a teacher at the Albany Free School in the first place?
Chris: I wanted to be a teacher because I really like kids, and I enjoy helping them learn things they didn’t know before and watching them grow happier. The reason I chose the Albany Free School was because the school was trying to help children in the inner city where the public schools are pretty bad and where kids need people who care about them and refuse to leave them behind. And then I saw so many little miracle happening that I never left. I also stayed because I had the freedom to teach in ways that make sense and I didn’t have to …. read more

Order A School Must Have a Heart and receive Teaching the Restless for FREE!

A School Must Have a Heart is available!

Join Chris on this twenty-year tour of his singular writings on children and education. His parable-like stories and probing essays deliver his insights with a clarity and immediacy seldom found in books about teaching and learning.

Chris’s four decades of experience with kids of every imaginable kind in deeply human settings have earned him a profound understanding of just what it is they need in order to develop to their fullest. While so much of the educational literature today deals with children as though they were disembodied brains, A School Must Have a Heart explores every dimension of learning and development—and doesn’t stop until it gets to the heart of the matter.


And as a thank you when you buy A School Must Have a Heart, receive a FREE copy of Teaching the Restless.


teaching the restless

Teaching the Restless

We’ve all read the stories about medicating hyperactive (ADHD) kids. The controversy shows no signs of ending, as parents and doctors debate the merits of diagnosing and medicating children at younger and younger ages. Chris Mercogliano has a strong opinion on the matter, and he enters …. read more

A School Must Have a Heart- New Book Available 5/13/14

Join Chris on this twenty-year tour of his singular writings on children and education. His parable-like stories and probing essays deliver his insights with a clarity and immediacy seldom found in books about teaching and learning.

Chris’s four decades of experience with kids of every imaginable kind in deeply human settings have earned him a profound understanding of just what it is they need in order to develop to their fullest. While so much of the educational literature today deals with children as though they were disembodied brains, A School Must Have a Heart explores every dimension of learning and development—and doesn’t stop until it gets to the heart of the matter.

Here’s what others are saying:

“When national education ‘reform’ has come to mean standardization, conformity, and academic rigor mortis, Chris Mercogliano comes along to remind us that real reform is creating schools where children are respected as human beings and where learning consists of …. read more

In Defense of Wildness

This was the name of the book I wrote in 2007 until Beacon Press and I compromised on In Defense of Childhood instead. By “wildness” I meant the inner kind, that luminescent spark which animates us and is the source of our uniqueness and creativity. It’s wild because it dwells deep beneath the surface, out of reach of the conscious mind, and it strives mightily to resist the control of others. Without enough inner wildness, we lack the drive and the resourcefulness to overcome the obstacles in the way of  becoming who we are meant to become.

Beacon Press asked me to change the title because they were concerned that referring to this wild inner energy on the cover of a book about children might scare readers away and dampen sales. Thus the book begins with the simple statement, “Childhood is in trouble,” when what I really wanted to say was  inner wildness is endangered because childhood no longer supports the kinds of experience that nourish and sustain it. My central thesis: childhood has …. read more

20 Characteristics of a Good Teacher part 2

This is in response to several Education: Reform or Remodel subscribers who requested more of my thoughts on teaching. I am very happy to oblige because my belief has always been that, especially from the vantage point of the student, who the teacher is has far more of an effect on the quality of the experience than any other factor—educational philosophy, structure, location, etc.

One subscriber in particular asked for a list of the characteristics of a good teacher, and what comes to mind is that all good teachers:


11.    assume it’s their responsibility to present things in a way that every individual learner can understand, and not the learner’s job to adapt to the teacher’s methods. Good teachers continue to try different approaches until they find the key that unlocks the door to the learner’s understanding.
12.    are good communicators. They speak clearly, with honesty and respect; and they make sure that their criticism is constructive and always …. read more

20 Characteristics of a Good Teacher part 1

This is in response to several Education: Reform or Remodel subscribers who requested more of my thoughts on teaching. I am very happy to oblige because my belief has always been that, especially from the vantage point of the student, who the teacher is has far more of an effect on the quality of the experience than any other factor—educational philosophy, structure, location, etc.

One subscriber in particular asked for a list of the characteristics of a good teacher, and what comes to mind is that all good teachers:

1.    genuinely like children and enjoy being around them. Just like parents with their own kids, they take pleasure and pride in their students’ growth and development.
2.    genuinely enjoy teaching, too. This is a critical factor because teaching is essentially a modeling process and students learn much more readily when their teachers exhibit joy in what they’re doing. And as a result, good teachers feel energized at the end of the day, not …. read more

More on Unschooling

Wendy Priesnitz’s recent post on the science behind unschooling was so widely read that I decided it would be good to follow up with a review of two excellent companion books on unschooling that recently came out.

The Legacy of John Holt: A Man Who Genuinely Understood, Trusted, and Respected Children fleshes out the man who coined the term “unschooling” in the first place and served as the movement’s unofficial leader until he died in 1985. A collection of deeply personal recollections by many of those closest to him, The Legacy of John Holt gives the reader a wonderfully intimate window into John Holt the person. The introduction, interestingly, is by someone who never met Holt and yet counts him as one of her most formative teachers as she navigated a graduate degree in education and went on to wrangle in her own way with the disaster that public education in this country has become. Kirsten Olsen, the author of Wounded by School and Schools As Colonizers, notes that Holt’s books no longer …. read more

It is the Economy, Stupid

“It’s the economy, stupid” became the trademark slogan coined by Bill Clinton strategists during the 1992 presidential campaign to keep voters focused on the failed economic policies of President George H.W. Bush.

But it was already Jean Anyon’s essential critique of Bush’s—and Ronald Reagan before him and his son after him—failed education policies. Anyon chaired the education department at Rutgers University for many years and was later a graduate professor of educational policy there and at CUNY. Her steadfast focus was the reform of urban schools, and her message remained constant throughout. Real change cannot take place in inner-city schools unless changes also occur in the socioeconomic conditions of the surrounding community. Or quoting from her 1997 book  Ghetto Schooling:

“Attempting to fix inner-city schools without fixing the city in which they are embedded is like trying to clean the air on one side of a screen door.  … To really improve ghetto children’s chances, in school and out, we must …. read more

Be My Guest: 15 Reasons Why Standardized Tests are Worthless

Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the American Institute for Learning and Human Development, and also the author of 15 books about learning and development—over a million of which are now in print. The latest is called Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Achieve Success in School and Life. Thomas wrote this post last year for his own blog and offered it to me to use here.

It’s wonderful to see all the protests around the country against standardized testing. At Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington, teachers are refusing to administer the Measures of Academic Progress. In Texas, hundreds of school districts have passed a resolution saying standardized tests are ”strangling” public schools. The National Resolution on High Stakes Testing, which calls on government officials to reduce standardized testing, has been endorsed by hundreds of organizations and over 13,000 individuals. And yet, in spite of all this, testing is still putting a wicked half-Nelson on students’ curiosity, creativity, and passion for learning in tens of thousands of classrooms around the country. Just in case you are in a position as an educator to influence public policy on this issue, here is a list of 15 reasons why standardized tests are worthless—utterly worthless!

1.   …. read more

Teaching Without Forcing

My last post, a lengthy reply to a letter from a teacher-to-be who was reading one of my books, met with an excellent response from another young woman who started a small, inner-city school in Austin, Texas four years ago. In it she asked about the nuances of how a teacher can facilitate learning by following the student’s lead instead of the dictates of an imposed curriculum. More specifically: “How do you take observations [of the child’s interests and strengths] and turn them into a plan for each child?” The question warrants an in-depth answer, and so again I have decided to post my reply in order that everyone can see it:

Hi Caitlin,

The first thing to say is I don’t remember forcing Ethan to do any conventional schoolwork. What little he did was voluntary, though I’m sure I nudged and encouraged him from time to time. The reason I’m beginning my response here is that in my experience removing coercion from the teacher/learner dynamic is a key first step in helping kids like Ethan …. read more

There is No Normal

I got a letter the other day from a special education teacher-to-be in Ohio. Reading my book Teaching the Restless was bringing up her concerns about certain things she had observed during student teaching sessions with several second-graders who had been labeled ADHD. She—I’ll call her Jane—mentioned the teacher’s intolerance of the kids’ idiosyncrasies and the fact that one little girl’s difficulty wasn’t a learning or behavioral problem; it was simply being required to sit still for such long periods of time.

Jane ended her letter by asking me to send her the syllabus from my “Ritalin free school,” as she put it, so that she could show it to her future principal at the middle school where she will be working as a resource room teacher next year.

Of course I was heartened to see Jane’s instinct for seeking the possible causes of the trouble not only inside the children she was learning to teach, but also in the critical and restrictive climate of the classroom. But how am I going to explain to her that the answer …. read more

Be My Guest: Unschooling Reflects Current Cognitive Research

Wendy Priesnitz is the editor of Life Learning Magazine, the author of twelve books, and the mother of two adult daughters who learned without school.

As I wrote recently in Life Learning Magazine, unschooling is the way of the future, for all ages. So I’m always surprised that so many people think it is wrong, weird, or witless…or even anti-intellectual. In fact, it’s just the opposite; our current education systems are based on outdated science, and unschooling reflects current cognitive research.

When schools were created, it was thought that learning was a sequential process that involved structure, uniformity, and memorization, and relied on extrinsic motivation and control – things like praise, rewards, and punishment. Now science knows differently; modern cognitive research is demonstrating that learning is open-ended and spontaneous, and that people – including children – learn best when they are intrinsically motivated and can build on their everyday experiences.

There are different types …. read more

Leaning Tower of P.I.S.A – Part II

As I said in Part I, my original reason for wanting to write about the Programme for International Student Assessment had nothing to do with digging up more conspiracy theory dirt about the corporate takeover of education. Now that the dust has settled, it was to reflect on what it is the tests actually measure and on the educational models of the nations whose schools led the most recent PISA rankings.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about the use of standardized tests to measure  knowledge and understanding is the famous Albert Einstein quote, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Who better than Einstein to try to lead us away from the old Newtonian paradigm’s obsession with quantifying everything? Meanwhile, contemporary neuroscientific and developmental theory is steadily bearing him out. We now know there’s nothing linear at all about learning and development, and so the idea that the snapshot measurements taken by standardized tests have any real meaning …. read more

Leaning Tower of P.I.S.A. – Part I

This isn’t going to be about that famous bell tower in Italy, the old marble one which was so well constructed it’s still standing over 900 years later even though it’s been tilting 4 degrees to one side almost the entire time. It’s also not about another type of tower, the ivory kind that connotes academic elitism and intellectual pursuits disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday life—although that’s getting warmer. No, the subject for today is P.I.S.A.—Programme for International Student Assessment. It’s the battery of standardized tests given every three years with great fanfare to 15-year-olds in 65 countries around the world. If I were to refer to this PISA metaphorically, I would call it a house made out of cards that is likely to collapse any day now because it has no foundation in reality.

The day in early December when the test scores are released is now known as PISA Day. Here in the U.S. the Secretary of Education holds a special press conference to announce the results; panels of experts convene to parse their significance; television networks highlight the …. read more

Be My Guest: Am I An Alternative Ed Tourist?

Here is a new post from guest blogger Kristan Morrison. Kristan is a professor of education at Radford University and the author of Free School Teaching. 

If you’re interested in Being My Guest, CONTACT ME

Whenever my husband and I go on our summer vacations to various lovely locales, we always wonder about moving to that beautiful place and living there year-round. We imagine that we would love it, but then we start to think about all the ramifications and repercussions of moving to this very different place….. what will it be like in winter? What is the education world like here (would we like teaching here)? What are the utility bills, taxes, etc.? We start to pretty quickly realize that what looks like a lovely idea on the surface might be fraught with lots of problems underneath.

For over 12 years, I have been enamored with alternative forms of education. They sound so good to me – democratic, empowering, balanced, social justice-oriented, environmentally-oriented; basically, …. read more

Rotten to the (Common) Core part 2

The soiled underbelly of the Common Core State Standards is just beginning to come into view. For starters, according to an ongoing series of posts by investigative blogger Mercedes Schneider, dating back to October, 2013, the idea that the Common Core State Standards, unlike the old NCLB version, were developed at the state level through a transparent process involving teachers, principals, parents, and education experts is a complete sham. The CCSS were actually “prefabricated,” as Schneider puts it, under another name in 2004 by Achieve, Inc., an allegedly independent, nonpartisan, and not-for-profit education reform organization that in reality is none of the above.

It turns out that Achieve is closely aligned with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing political organization well known for its efforts to privatize public education and bring about other “market-based” education reforms. ALEC has been one of Achieve’s major funders since day one; and, in turn, according to a flow chart of CCSS corporate connections compiled by education activist and journalist Morna …. read more

Rotten To The (Common) Core part 1

We should all know the story by now: After the Soviet Union launched a satellite into orbit before we did, someone discovered that Soviet children were outscoring their U.S. counterparts on standardized tests in math and science. So Chicken Little slowly wound her way to Washington to tell the President the education sky is falling, and Ronald Reagan decided the best way to reassure the frightened fowl was to appoint a federal commission to study the problem and figure out how to fix it.

The commission thoroughly agreed with Chicken Little. “The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people,” cried out the authors of the commission’s A Nation at Risk report. And such a hysterical response struck just the right chord. It generated a groundswell of support for the commission’s solution, which would be to “reform” our education system by making math and science curricula more …. read more

The Dragon at the Top of the Stairs

Here’s one from the archive

You won’t find it mentioned in any Albany guidebook, no matter how obscure. And forget about Google. Even the beefed-up security force of the post-911 era hasn’t a clue that there is a dragon residing at the rear of the New York State Museum. That’s right, a real, live, fire-breathing dragon, one wise and powerful enough to survive St. George and all the other knights in shining armor, and in modern times Walt Disney, Harry Potter, and reality TV.
It was my wife who first uncovered this startling fact, quite by accident, not long after the museum’s construction over thirty years ago. One morning Betsy was walking with her kindergarten class along the edge of Lincoln Park, above which the building perches on a man-made plateau overlooking the historic eastern portion of the city. It was midwinter. Suddenly someone spied a plume of steam coming out of the roof directly above a giant spiral staircase that rises up mysteriously in the back and appears to …. read more

Real Teachers

What makes a school good?  More than any other single factor, the answer is good teaching. While many of us, myself included, were never fortunate enough to go to particularly good schools when we were children, we occasionally lucked into a good teacher—someone who genuinely cared about us, really enjoyed teaching, and had a sense of humor—and what an enormous difference this person made in the quality of the experience.

Research like the Minnesota Study of Risk and Adaptation, confirms the value of good teaching. The recently completed landmark study closely followed the lives of 180 kids born into poverty from conception through age 30 in order to determine why some were able to transition into successful adult lives and others were not. After all the numbers were crunched, one difference in particular stood out: nearly 100% of the resilient participants had an influential teacher in high school who took a special interest in them.

This uncomplicated fact makes Stuart …. read more

Ten Education Resolutions for 2014

1.   That teachers will resolve to welcome every student (and I mean from the heart) every morning and then spend the day helping them to recognize and express their innate worthiness.   
More of a prayer I suppose, this sentiment was inspired by the late Jean Liedloff, the author of a very important book called the Continuum Concept who once told me in an interview that two of children’s most fundamental needs are to feel worthy and welcome. Then they’ll be perfectly capable of taking care of everything else.
2.   That parents will likewise recognize their children’s instinctive goodness, as well as their natural ability and desire to learn and succeed. 

This trust will serve to immunize parents against the educational system’s constant fearmongering and also enable them to demand that their children’s schools stop turning education into a race to nowhere. If you haven’t seen the 2009 documentary by that name, then make a resolution to watch it in 2014. The film came into …. read more

Happy Holidays Everyone

With the holidays fast approaching and my wife and me about to head down to Washington, DC to spend them with Betsy’s almost-90-year-old mom—who has always been an important second mother to me—I think I’m going to give the blog a rest until the New Year.

David and I launched the blog exactly three months ago. It’s been a lot of fun so far, and I very much look forward to continuing. Our guests and I have covered some important ground already, which the steady and excellent feedback we’ve been getting seems to confirm; and the farther I get into it, the more ideas David and I are having for new directions the blog might take. As you can see in the previous post, for instance, now we’re going to start highlighting current news stories and events that are in the blog’s wheelhouse.

While we pause I’d like to again thank everyone who has sent in a guest post, submitted a comment, or shared the link with friends and associates. And special thanks to David Easton for his ongoing …. read more

Selling ADHD

Here comes the good and the bad news both in the same breath: After 25 years the mainstream media is finally reporting on the ruthless marketing of ADHD by the nation’s pharmaceutical companies.

A scathing and lengthy exposé in last Sunday’s NY Times begins with  prominent and longtime pro-ADHD psychologist Keith Conners calling the mushrooming of the ADHD diagnosis—the rate currently stands at a full 15% of American children, with the number of medicated kids soaring from 600,000 to 3.5 million since 1990—“a national disaster of dangerous proportions.”

“The numbers make it look like an epidemic,” continues Conners. “Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous. This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.”

The article reveals in lurid detail how drug manufacturers have stopped at nothing to convince easily frightened parents that ADHD is a real disease with dire consequences if left untreated. It all began in 1990 when the drug companies offered to rescue the …. read more

The Common Core is Not an Upgrade!

Jerry Mintz, the founder of the Alternative Education Resource Organization, the world’s largest umbrella for unconventional educational approaches, recently submitted the following op-ed piece to The New York Times and Newsday. Since neither of these esteemed newspapers elected to publish it—are we surprised?—I asked Jerry if I could post it here.

First lets make one thing clear: the Common Core is not an educational upgrade. It doesn’t make education more rigorous except in the sense of rigor mortis. The only reason I think the Common Core is great is because it is so negative and destructive that it has finally done what we in our organization have been unable to do for the last 20 years: galvanize students, parents and teachers into a formidable force to resist top-down, disempowering forms of education. This is what I said yesterday to a large group of protesters who had gathered in the bitter cold outside Mineola High School, where New York State Education Commissioner John B. King was delivering …. read more

Wagging The Education Dog

I’m not quite done with charter schools. Another critical slant I’ve had on them since the “movement” became widespread is that they’re just another in a long series of “reforms” with the unstated purpose of keeping dissent at a manageable level by distracting us from the utterly dysfunctional core of the educational model itself.

We’ve seen this same kind of phenomenon over and over again in the political arena, to the point where Hollywood finally made a movie about it. In the 1998 black comedy Wag the Dog, a Washington, D.C. spin doctor diverts the public’s attention from the President’s dalliance with an underage girl right before the election by hiring a Hollywood filmmaker to stage a fictitious war with Albania. As fate would so deliciously have it, soon after the film’s release the real Bill Clinton was accused of having sex with a young intern. Then, just as the legal noose was closing around him, he ordered a cruise missile strike against an alleged weapons of mass …. read more

Best Education Books of All Time

With the blog now averaging almost 200 views per day, I think it’s time to find out how many people are actually reading it. So after I tell you my list of all-time favorite books and why, I’m going to ask you to do the same. Then I’ll compile everyone’s picks and post an expanded list.

An idea I’ve always had for a book is How Reading Summerhill Changed My Life. It would be a collection of the stories of all the wildly different people I’ve met over the years—from taxi drivers to chimney sweeps—who said they were never the same after reading Neill. It was certainly true for me, a lost college freshman who happened to stumble upon Summerhill in the unlikeliest of places, the bookstore at the last remaining all-male university in the U.S. It was definitely a bad business move on their part—I sat down in the aisle and read the book instead of buying it, and decided soon after to drop out at the end of the year. If seven-year-olds are capable of determining their own fate, why …. read more

Don’t Throw The Baby Out With The Bath Water…

My old friend Dan Grego, a long-time educational activist and reformer in Milwaukee, has taken issue with my harsh assessment of the charter school movement in my inaugural post. So I thought I would challenge him to a good spirited debate.

Since it was my idea, I get to go first.

Chris: I recognize that truly innovative schools have sprung up in certain states with liberal charter policies, and that’s great for the lucky minority of students who get to attend them. But when the charter school concept was first conjured up, there was the promise that the movement would generate new and better models that would lead to system-wide change. Can you to point out a place where this has actually happened?

Dan: First of all I need to say that the only states I know much about are Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota. But as I understand it, there were two stated goals for the charter movement in the beginning: autonomy and innovation. Many charter schools across the country are autonomous, …. read more

Leaving To Learn

Longtime alternative educator Elliot Washor and his colleague Charles Mojkowski have just come out with an excellent book called Leaving to Learn. The authors’ central theme is readily given away by the subtitle: How Out-of-School Learning Increases Student Engagement and Reduces Dropout Rates.

It’s been 17 years since Washor and Dennis Littky started the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, aka “The Met,” a publicly funded four-branch high school for 700 students in Providence, RI. The Met learning model is far more experiential than instruction-based, with the keystone being the substantial amount of time that students spend out in the adult world involved in internships, apprenticeships, and community service projects. The model is also highly personalized. Students, with the assistance of a mentor and input from their families, design their own individual learning plans based on their own particular needs and interests.

Washor and Littly’s goal from the outset …. read more

Not Reform—Transform

I’m excited to welcome our first guest to the blog. Alan Berger, a former NYC public high school administrator, totally changed direction in 2004 and founded the Brooklyn Free School. The school serves a highly diverse group of children ages 4-18 and was recently featured in the Huffington Post.


One of the major factors driving educational policy in the U.S. is ramped up concern over student performance on standardized tests in math, science, and literacy compared with students in other countries.

The latest case in point is a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (O.E.C.D.) that The New York Times covered in their lead editorial on October 23, 2013 with the headline “The United States, Falling Behind.” In case you missed it, the study spanned 24 countries and measured the proficiency of people ages 16 – 65 in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving using computers. Consistent with other studies of its kind, the U.S. scored at or below the international average.

The alarm generated by …. read more

From Columbine to Newtown

Almost two years have passed since the kindergarten massacre in Newtown, CT, and now that all the hype has settled and the horrific event is fading into memory, I decided to collect all my thoughts about school shootings in one place. See what you think:

Soon after the Columbine massacre I published an emotional essay called “The Teachings of Tragedy,” in which I implored us all to dig beneath the media hype and the obvious causes of school shootings until we grasp the deeper reasons why they keep happening. Because only then can we stop this gut wrenching form of child-on-child violence.

Thirteen years and scores of such tragedies later, clearly we’re still not getting the message.

A bizarre coincidence had moved me to write about Columbine: I happened to be visiting a neighboring high school only four miles from the scene of the massacre right when it was going down. And as irony would have it, the Jefferson County Open School turned out to have little in common with Columbine High other …. read more

In Memoriam

Writing an in memoriam for someone I never quite met should be an interesting challenge indeed.

My acquaintance with Glenna Plaisted began with an email telling me she liked my book In Defense of Childhood so much that she bought copies for the staff of her school and insisted that they read it. Then she asked if I would be willing to spend a day at the school, which I wasn’t familiar with, and lead a faculty workshop after the kids went home.

When I surfed the Riley School’s website to find out more about it, I immediately liked what I saw. There was an opening quote from Piaget about the importance of education being to learn how to learn, so that our development continues far beyond school. I also loved the school’s small size—80 students ages 4-14, and its location—25 acres of fields and forest on the Maine coast where they do things like make maple syrup and learn about salt water marshes by tramping around in them all day.

I decided to accept the invitation, and soon to follow were two memorable phone calls. It’s a …. read more

When a Private Alternative School Goes Public…

The year was 1971. A small collective of hippie civil rights and antiwar activists decided the way to change the world was to drive around downtown New Orleans in a beat up old van and pick up a racially mixed bunch of kids, two-thirds of whom were poor; and then bring them to a donated community center space and call what they did together the New Orleans Free School.

The founders never took the time to hash out a coherent educational philosophy, but they were heavily influenced by the writings of A.S. Neill, John Holt, Jonathan Kozol, and George Dennison, who along with his wife Mabel had recently started a similar freedom-based alternative on New York City’s Lower East Side. There was no tuition because the founders wanted anyone to be able to attend, regardless of socioeconomic status. Instead, operating capital came from donations made by the few families with surplus income, a handful of unpredictable small grants, and constant grassroots fundraising.

The school was …. read more

Education: Reform or Remodel?

Reform: to put or change into an improved form or condition.

Remodel: to alter the structure of; remake.


It’s an age-old question now: Do we keep trying to improve the flawed educational model we have; or is it time to declare it too broke to fix and develop an entirely different one? A total remake, in other words.

There is no shortage of proponents, past and present, of either possibility. We sometimes forget the original school reformer was Horace Mann, his mission to institute a kinder, gentler, more interesting version of the heavily starched model handed down to his generation by his Calvinist forebearers. As such, he was able to separate public education from a puritanical religion that viewed children as the devil’s handiwork and to lobby with some success against corporal punishment in school (which still remains legal in 19 states). He also preferred leading children to discover underlying principles and relationships to the rote teaching of out-of-context facts and information.

Still, Mann never intended to alter the structure of the model, with its …. read more

The time has come….

profile photoOkay … ouch … I give, I give. For years people have been nagging me to start blogging and instead I have steadfastly maintained my loyalty to the printed page. But now it’s time to face the reality that every print publication I have ever written regularly for has either gone under or switched to an online format. (Besides how many people ever read those magazines anyway?) Thus, with one last loving nudge from my wise young son-in-law, I have concluded that since my words are going to wind up on the Internet anyway, why not just do it myself (with massive amounts of help from David)?

Don’t look for me to start tweeting too – my cell phone will remain JUST A PHONE – but what I do intend is to produce weekly (or thereabouts), meaty (1000 words or so) articles that dig around at the roots of important issues pertaining to education, children, and the world they live in. If I can convince enough of my friends and colleagues who also think deeply about such things to make guest …. read more