Brooklyn Free School on “This American Life” (AUDIO)

January 17, 2011 at 9:58 am | Posted in AERO, Education News | Leave a comment
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Brooklyn Free School ( was featured in Act Three which starts at the 38 minute, 53 second mark of the MP3 below. Let us know what you think!


Jyllian Gunther visits The Brooklyn Free School, where there are no courses, no tests and no homework, and where the kids decide everything about how the school is run, including discipline. Jyllian is a filmmaker, working on a documentary called Growing Small. (16 minutes)
Song: “If the Kids are United (They’ll Never Be Divided)”, Sham-69

This American Life is a weekly public radio show broadcast on more than 500 stations to about 1.7 million listeners. It is produced by Chicago Public Media, distributed by Public Radio International, and has won all of the major broadcasting awards. It is also often the most popular podcast in the country, with more than a half million people downloading each week. From 2006-2008, we produced a television version of This American Life on the Showtime network, which won three Emmys and is now re-airing on Current TV. We’re also the co-producers, with NPR News, of the economics podcast and blog Planet Money. And a half dozen stories from the radio show are being developed into films.

The radio show and TV show follow the same format. There’s a theme to each episode, and a variety of stories on that theme. It’s mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always. There’s lots more to the show, but it’s sort of hard to describe. Probably the best way to understand the show is to start at our favorites page, though we do have longer guides to our radio show and our TV show. If you want to dive into the hundreds of episodes we’ve done over the years, there’s an archive of all our old radio shows and listings for all our TV episodes, too.

For more information:

2010’s ‘Best of Democratic Education’ List (Resource)

January 3, 2011 at 10:26 am | Posted in AERO, AERO Conference, AERO Online Video Series, Democratic Education, Education Events, Education News, Education Revolution Magazine, International Democratic Education Conference, New Resource | Leave a comment
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Isaac Graves

I recently read through Education Week’s “Revisiting the Most Popular Stories of 2010” list and was generally disenchanted. This is not to say it’s a bad list, rather it didn’t represent my work and passions in democratic and alternative education. After a few days of jogging my memory, looking through a few ‘cheat sheets,’ and asking around I now present to you my ‘Best of Democratic Education’ list for 2010. I’ve organized the links into a few categories with no ranking system (I wouldn’t want Alfie Kohn to get mad).

Best of…

Visit for the list.

The latest Education Revolution has arrived! (Winter 2010/2011) (Free Publication)

December 21, 2010 at 11:12 am | Posted in AERO, Education News, Education Revolution Magazine | Leave a comment
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Genuine Learning Can’t Be Standardized! The new issue of Education Revolution magazine is here. In this issue: public school alternatives, quaker education, reflections by veteran activists, and more!


Read the latest issue for free at:

Play-Doh? Calculus? At the Manhattan Free School, Anything Goes (ARTICLE)

October 5, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Posted in AERO, Education News | Leave a comment
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Manhattan Free School was just featured in a New York Times article found here:

Share your thoughts with us on the article in the comments section!  We’d love to know what you think.

Here’s an early response to the article’s author we were sent:

Ms. Dominus,

Your article about the Manhattan Free School was interesting, but I wish you had not intimated that the idea was either really foreign (“Summerhill”) or based in a pre-school philosophy.

I understand that The New York Times stands squarely on the Duncan/Klein/Oprah/TFA/KIPP side of standardized tests and standardized curriculum and pedagogy in today’s education debate, but a few years ago this was not so true and the paper could run stories such as this – – and now articles about visions of differing educational philosophies must come with a sneer.

I hate to promote my own work, but if you’d like to read old US research regarding the stunning successes of “free” schools, you can connect to much right here – – at the end of a five-part series on the history of American education.

We need a true debate on school philosophy in this nation, not a one-sided monologue embracing a system which has “failed” consistently for 170 years.

– Ira Socol

Ira David Socol
Michigan State University College of Education
irasocol -at- gmail -dot- com
socolira -at- msu -dot- edu

Response to LA Times Report on Teachers (Commentary)

August 19, 2010 at 8:14 am | Posted in AERO, Education News | Leave a comment
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I just wrote this article in response to a report on the results with students when they have good and bad teachers (,0,6793836.story?track=rss)

Jerry Mintz

I used to think that our little democratic school was unusually blessed with good teachers. But as I thought back about it I realized that many of those teachers were not particularly good when they came to us. In fact, some were not good at all. So what happened?

Well, one significant aspect of our school is that we had two long staff meetings every week to go over everything that was happening in the school, and what was happening with each child. We wound up all being on the same page and catching little problems before they became big ones. Also, students who chose to could come to staff meetings. We found them particularly helpful, as they knew about things that were going on that the staff didn’t.

But in retrospect, that was not the most important training method that helped our staff to become great teachers. I think the most important factor was that no student had to come to any teacher’s class unless they wanted to! All attendance was noncompulsory. This meant that the classes were great and teachers could really teach because everyone was there because they wanted to be there. It also meant that if a teacher was not teaching something very interesting the students gave instant feedback with their feet. They either left or didn’t come back the next time. With this kind of feedback and evaluation, new teachers quickly learned how to organize interesting classes and activities. In some cases, if they couldn’t adjust, they just left the school. Pay was certainly not enough to keep them there. But in most cases they developed very quickly, sometimes in a matter of days, and figured out what the students really wanted to learn.

How sad it is that 99% of teachers in non-democratic schools never get this kind of feedback in their entire careers. They have a captive audience. In most cases this prevents them from becoming good teachers.

We never cared about testing for student’s grades. We didn’t give grades. But we did use standardized testing to test how the school was doing by traditional measures. In spite of the fact, or because of the fact that students didn’t have to go to any class they didn’t want to, the average student improved on national standardized tests at two and a half times the national rate. In some areas, such as vocabulary, it was useless to test them after a few years because they were always five or six grade levels above their age. This was undoubtedly because they all were very motivated to understand everything that was being said in the democratic meetings.

Sometimes people would visit, talk to the students (they often thought the older students were young looking staff members) and say to us afterward “Well of course it works with these kids. They are middle class!” But we had no minimum tuition and most of our students were low income and many were on welfare. Very few were actually middle class. But they sounded like they were after a few years in the school.

I’m not sure what the traditional system could learn from our experience with helping develop great teachers, but one step might be to leave the door open, so students could come in or go out!

Turning Points: 35 Visionaries in Education Tell Their Own Stories (BOOK)

June 9, 2010 at 11:45 pm | Posted in AERO, Education Events, Education News, New Resource | Leave a comment
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Turning Points

Turning Points


Contact: Isaac Graves, Outreach & Publicity

Press & Reviews:


Phone: (720) 475-1602  |  Fax: (720) 475-1623


Turning Points

35 Visionaries in Education Tell Their Own Stories

Edited by Jerry Mintz & Carlo Ricci

Foreword by Alfie Kohn

ISBN:  978-0-9745252-5-9

$29.95  |  432 Pages  |  6×9  |  Hardcover

Publish Date: July 1st, 2010  |  AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization)

Visionary Authors Include:

Lynson Beaulieu, Sharon Caldwell, Lisa Delpit, Riane Eisler, Gustavo Esteva, John Taylor Gatto, Arnold Greenberg, David Gribble, Yaacov Hecht, Helen Hegener, Matt Hern, Don “Four Arrows” Jacobs, Mark Jacobs, Shilpa Jain, Herbert Kohl, Arnie Langberg, Mary Leue, Dennis Littky, Grace Llewellyn, Basir Mchawi, Deborah Meier, Chris Mercogliano, Ron Miller, Jerry Mintz, Pat Montgomery, Susan Ohanian, Kirsten Olson, Wendy Priesnitz, Carlo Ricci, Tim Seldin, Herb Snitzer, Len Solo, Lynn Stoddard, Zoe Weil


Thirty-five visionary educators were asked:

What was your schooling like?

When did you realize that there is a need for an alternative approach?

What have you done since to help realize that vision?

What are you doing now?

Turning Points is an anthology of their responses, a peek into the lives and journeys of these pioneering individuals who have—and are—transforming what it means to be a teacher, a student, and a life-long learner.

PRE-ORDER Turning Points today and find out more at

Advance Praise:

“The [educators] we’re looking for are those who say, “I want to work to change this system so others will be spared what was done to me.” They have the compassion and the courage to shake up the status quo and denounce cruel traditions. They’ve mastered the art of negative learning and developed a commitment to making the world, or at least whatever part of it they come to inhabit, a better place than it was before they got there.”
Alfie KohnEducation Week (adapted from the foreword)

Turning Points is unique and fascinating. It offers us insights into how some of our most significant educational innovators and visionaries experienced their own educations and how these experiences brought them to their callings as adults. The book is intriguing and informative both as biography and as insights into our history of educational innovation during the past 50 years.”
David Marshak
Coordinator of Explorations Academy Online, adjunct lecturer at Fairhaven College, and author ofThe Common Vision: Parenting and Educating for Wholeness

“Anybody interested in Education will find Turning Points enlightening!”
Zoë Neill Readhead
Principal, Summerill School in England

“Turning Points is a marvelous compilation of personal memoirs of progressive educators. From Alfie Kohn’s stirring introduction to the heartfelt, intimate stories of some of the most influential progressive educators of our times, this volume is a revelation. This book is for those of us who need to get started and for those who need to be rejuvenated.”
Rick Posner, Ph.D.
Author of Lives of Passion, School of Hope: How One Public School Ignites a Lifelong Love of Learning

Read more praise at

ABC’s Good Morning America’s Hatchet Job on Unschooling and Response

April 22, 2010 at 9:00 am | Posted in AERO, Education News | 2 Comments
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ABC’s Good Morning America recently aired a segment on unschooling titled “Extreme Homeschooling: No Tests, No Books, No Classes, No Curriculums.” After a firestorm of criticism and comments on the inaccurate portrayal of unschooling, they aired a segment answering a few viewer comments. Pat Farenga from Holt Associates also briefly explains the difference between homeschooling and unschooling. For the first segment, visit  For their follow-up, visit Please let us know what you think.

Can Money Buy Education?

March 5, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Posted in AERO, Education News | Leave a comment
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By Shannon Hayes

Courtesy of YES! Magazine

Radical homemaker Shannon Hayes taught her daughter that their family doesn’t buy things they can make or grow at home. She then had to wonder: Does that include higher education?

This past November, I began a home school unit with my six-year-old daughter, Saoirse, on money. We opened our investigation by reading stories on the history of money. To paraphrase, early people originally made the things they needed. Then they began trading for the things they needed or wanted that they couldn’t make. The barter system worked out fine, as long as each party in the exchange had something that the other wanted. When that was no longer the case, money entered the marketplace as a tool to facilitate exchange. Eventually, in an effort to devise something that was relatively portable and of somewhat universal value, the Sumerians came up with the first silver coins.

From Ancient Sumerians to Modern Sustainability

Saoirse and I traveled around our home and farm and explored the different things we do to earn money, and the different things we spend it on. When it came to the spending, I explained the basic process that my husband Bob and I adhere to. When we are in a store and see something we think we want or need, the first, most important question we must ask ourselves is, “Is this something we can make or grow ourselves?” To illustrate, we talked about the grocery store. “Would we buy meat in a grocery store?”

“No,” she answered.

“Why not?”

“Because we grow it ourselves.” I smiled at the aptitude of my brilliant scholar.

Confident she was understanding, I continued my lesson. “If we decide that this is something we can’t make ourselves, then we must next ask three questions. One: Is it good for the planet? Two:Is it good for my community? Three: Is it important to me?” In an effort to keep things as simple as possible, I told her that typically, if you can answer “yes” to at least two out of the three questions, then you proceed to the final question: Can I afford it?

Read the entire article at

In Memorium: Mary Ann Raywid Scheele, Howard Zinn, & J.D. Salinger

February 2, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Posted in AERO, Education News | Leave a comment
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Mary Ann Raywid Scheele

Education scholar, advocate, and activist: Mary Anne Raywid Scheele, passed away on January 12th at the age of 81.

I knew Mary Ann Raywid for nearly 25 years. She was on AERO’s advisory board. One of the reasons that Mary Ann was special was because she was somehow able to get the respect of professional educators and demonstrate through her research the true need for school reform or reinvention.

She clearly outlined what was necessary to change in order to have a real student-centered approach and not a sham.

What was interesting to me was that, after she established her work at the legendary center she established at Hofstra University, she told me she was retiring to Hawaii, mostly for her husband’s health. Yet in the linked story people in Hawaii have described her as the most important person in public school reform in the last 25 years, in Hawaii! I guess she never stopped fighting for the changes she knew were necessary to help children learn in a respectful, dignified and empowered way. We will sorely miss her voice, especially now, with NCLB having morphed into RTTT.

Jerry Mintz

To read more:

J.D. Salinger

Author of Catcher in the Rye, a book often banned by American schools, passed away on Wednesday at the age of 91.

Bernie Schein wrote a wonderful book for those interested in both Catcher in the Rye and education:

If Holden Caulfield Were In My Classroom

If Holden Caulfield Were In My Classroom

Howard Zinn

Author of A People’s History of the United States passed away on Wednesday at the age of 87.
From Rethinking Schools:

As many of you know, Howard Zinn died of a heart attack on Wednesday [27 Jan] in California. His passing is an enormous loss for everyone who cares about justice and equality. Historian, professor, lecturer, playwright, and most recently a filmmaker, Howard Zinn was many things. But above all, he was an activist — a socialist, a pacifist, an antiracist, who never strayed from his conviction that humanity was capable of making this a much better world.

Throughout his long life, Howard Zinn had seen enough of the world’s horrors that it would have been understandable had he become a cynic. But if there is one word that should be forever associated with him, it’s hope.

When George Bush launched his endless war on terror after 9/11, Rethinking Schools looked for a quote that could sum up our belief that it was not ridiculous to still be hopeful. We turned to the final paragraphs of Howard Zinn’s autobiography, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train:

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

Howard Zinn lived a politically engaged life of joy and solidarity. His life was indeed a marvelous victory.

Bill Bigelow for the Rethinking Schools staff and editors
Zinn gave his final interview with Bill on January 19th.  You can hear it here:

Howard Zinn: One of the Great Democratic Educators

by Melia Dicker

A People's History of the United States

A People’s History of the United States

Advanced Placement Op-Ed Video: Advanced Pressure

January 26, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Posted in AERO, Education News | Leave a comment
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Worth a look.  -Isaac

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