After graduating from DeVargas Jr. High in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I was slated to attend Santa Fe High, right down the street, just as my brother had. During the early ’90s, the school was plagued with all sorts of problems no one acknowledged or addressed. Many of my brother’s friends never attended classes and still managed to pass or even excel, as my brother did. They spent their days ditching in the woods behind the local library, and drugs were everywhere. On a visit there to pick up a friend, a knife fight ended in a teen being slammed against the windshield of the car I was in, screaming kids everywhere, blood and violence abounding.
I begged my mother to let me look elsewhere and ended up discovering and ultimately graduating from a fairytale-like dream establishment called The Tutorial School, a place rooted in the philosophy of the Democratic Free School Movement. The Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO), the umbrella group supporting these schools around the world, describes such institutions as essentially, “education in which young people have the freedom to organize their daily activities, and in which there is equality and democratic decision-making among young people and adults.”
In such a school, students choose their own classes, design their curriculum, decide when and how they will graduate, and have a say in the hiring and firing of teachers. If there were a school board or governing council, the student representatives would be the most important voices on it. When I attended there was no board or governing council, which meant I had to get a GED alongside everything else in order to graduate.
The anguish of freedom.
Most students who end up at these schools, especially in high school, go through a transition rooted in detox. They do nothing related to what we consider “education” for various amounts of time because they have had so much of their lives, schedules, and beings dictated for them, they don’t know what to do with all that power. When given actual freedom, their reaction is to do whatever they want until something clicks and…