a boy drawingAlternative education is alternative to what?
The answer must be conventional education.
Conventional education means keeping children in order so that they can learn a fixed curriculum decided for them by adults.

You are probably looking at this site because, whether you are still at school or not, you do not think conventional education works.

Broadly speaking, conventional education tries to turn you into something that you are not, and alternative education helps you to develop what you are.

If you worry that children educated in the second way will never learn what they need to learn in order to lead successful lives, it is worth asking whether you are sure that what you learn in a conventional school helps you to lead a successful life. If you are an adult, how important has it been to you to be able to solve simultaneous equations, or to have a vague knowledge of the ancient Egyptian civilisation?

Children who are allowed to follow their own interests go in innumerable different directions. This is a small sample of subjects that I saw being studied by children in Countesthorpe Community College, in Leicester, England, when I visited it in the 1970s:

  • children’s imagination, based on research in a crèche and a nursery school
  • work experience in the local library
  • autobiographies
  • a family tree followed back to 1584
  • reflections on old age, prompted by weekly visits to an old people’s home
  • a play, written by a student and performed in local primary schools
  • a comparison between the life of a model and the life of the author’s mother
  • women’s rights
  • alcohol and alcoholism
  • teaching in a primary school
  • the National Front (“to try and understand what they are about so I can argue against them”)
  • parabolas produced on photographic paper by a swinging light
  • local sites affected by pollution

and much more.

The true alternative to conventional education is not any wonderful new method dreamed up by adults. It is simply the opportunity for children to follow their own interests with the support of adults who respect them as equals.

The most important thing you can learn while growing up is how to get on with other people, and that is exactly what most children most want to learn. A conventional classroom, where children are not even allowed to talk to each other, prevents this from happening.

What is more, the authoritarian system, by assuming responsibility for children’s behaviour as well as their lessons, destroys their natural sense of personal responsibility. It teaches them that obedience is more important than caring for other people.

Around the world there are hundreds of places of education that offer alternatives to this destructive system. This site describes some of them.

More articles by David Gribble