Alternative Schools


1. Teachers act as mediators, while students are the driving force. They learn by exploring their interests in an unstructured enviroment. There is a lot of emphesis on collaboration, between students as well as teachers.

Examples of an alternative school is presented in the videos below:

2. The main contributors to this approach are Paulo Freire, Ivan Ilich, Herbert Kohl and John Holt.

Paulo Freire (1921 - 1997), the Brazilian educationalist, has left a significant mark on thinking about progressive practice. His Pedagogy of the Oppressed is currently one of the most quoted educational texts (especially in Latin America, Africa and Asia). Freire was able to draw upon, and weave together, a number of strands of thinking about educational practice and liberation. Sometimes some rather excessive claims are made for his work e.g. 'the most significant educational thinker of the twentieth century'.


John Holt invented the word unschooling in 1977 when he printed it in the early issues of Growing Without Schooling magazine. I hope you will find this site useful for learning how John Holt went from being a celebrated classroom teacher to becoming the founder of unschooling and one of the founders of the modern homeschooling movement.

The book that brought Ivan Illich to public attention was Deschooling Society (1971), a critical discourse on education as practised in "modern" economies. Full of detail on contemporary programs and concerns, the book remains as radical today. Giving examples of the ineffectual nature of institutionalized education, Illich posited self-directed education, supported by intentional social relations, in fluid informal arrangements:

    • Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue's responsibility until it engulfs his pupils' lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. We hope to contribute concepts needed by those who conduct such counterfoil research on education--and also to those who seek alternatives to other established service industries.

—Ivan Illich


Herbert R. Kohl is an educator best known for his advocacy of progressive alternative education and as the author of more than thirty books on education.

In 1964 Herb's first book, The Age of Complexity, about analytic and existential philosophy, was published at the same time that he was teaching sixth grade. His first writings on education, Teaching the Unteachable (New York Review of Books, New York, 1967), and The Language and Education of the Deaf (The Urban Review Press, New York, 1967) set the themes for much of his future work. They centered on advocating for the education of poor and disabled students, and critiquing and demystifying the stigmatization of students perfectly capable of learning.

In 1967, 36 Children (New American Library, New York, 1967) was also published and Herb was drawn into national debates on the education of African American and other minority students, and into conversations on school reform and the nature of teaching and learning. He's still engaged in them now, forty-two years later, having lived through cycles of reform and reaction, none of which succeeded in creating excellent education for the children of the poor. The problems persist, and he still believes that, through hard, imaginative effort, they can be solved.


3. Student learn by discovery and their own experiences, so there is no need for textbooks, which would generate too much conformity. Textbooks are usually associated with standardization, which is contrary to the free-thinking environment alternative schools promote.

4. There are two types of alternative schools: one where students choose to go because they don't want to conform to the traditional setting, and one where they are forced to go because of discipline issues. Both environments focus on the student and place greater emphasis on motivation, interests and needs.

5. The main approach is discovery and project-based learning, field trips, with a focus on technology. Students can find the method that best fits their learning style.

6. As a teacher, you feel you meet the needs and use the students' interests to his advantage, which would be very rewarding, It might be challenging because the activities need to be so intrinsically motivating to keep the students engaged and disciplined without reinforcing rules.