The Open School has no teachers, no classes, no curriculum, no tests, and no homework. So what does it have?
Students can spend all of their time however they choose. If they want to, they can play outside all day. They can do art all day. They can have conversations all day. Or they can dabble in a hundred different things.
Nobody is judging or evaluating them.
They have the space and time to discover and develop their passions. They can learn about themselves, how to function in a community, and how to learn. They are allowed to grow and be healthy intellectually, emotionally, and physically.
Because nobody is telling them what to do, and they are not supervised all the time, students are responsible for their own behavior and their own educations.
They decide what to pay attention to, what to spend their money on, when to eat lunch, who to lend their toys to, and whether to obey the rules.
This is a huge responsibility. There is no one else to blame if things go wrong. Students learn to own up to their actions and strive to do better in the future.
Away from the prying (though well-meaning) eyes of parents and policymakers, students can follow their own paths and become unique individuals.
They are allowed to grapple with the problems of childhood — like boredom, mistakes, and conflicts with friends — without a helpful adult rushing in to take over. They only receive help if they ask for it.
At The Open School, students are becoming adults capable of directing their own lives and making their own decisions.
Students are afforded the same rights as adults and are treated like full human beings. There is no adult authority — the only authority is the written law book, which applies equally to kids and adults.
The law book exists to protect the rights of school members, such as the right to be free from harassment, the right to decide what happens to your own body, and the right to say what’s on your mind.
At The Open School, kids’ voices are heard and their opinions are taken seriously. They learn respect when they experience being respected.
Students have the power to make their ideas a reality.
Free from the confines of curriculum, they can procure whatever materials they need using the school’s budget, or request instruction either from on-site staff or outside professionals. They can organize field trips to anywhere, from the local arboretum to a distant national park.
Students here have the same administrative power as staff. They can be elected to committees and positions of authority. They learn how to be leaders and how to enact change in their communities and beyond.
The Open School is a scaled-down version of American society. Adults in society have autonomy, so why not children too?
Students can go wherever they want in the school and talk to whomever they want. They choose their friends. They work on building relationships and resolving conflicts.
They choose their callings, and work on whatever projects they find meaningful.
They spend real money on things they want to buy which others are selling. They start and run their own businesses.
They help run the institution they’re a part of, and participate in its governance as equals.
What do students learn in this kind of school?
Though we don’t have mandatory assignments or tests, all students learn to read, write, and do arithmetic. Why? Because those things are a part of real life.
Text is woven into the modern world, and kids want to be a part of that world. They have to be literate in order to be able to text their friends, play most video games, read menus, and surf the web.
They also need to know arithmetic to be able to count their money and make change, tell time, bake recipes, plan ahead in strategy games, and many more things.
Beyond those basics, every student will learn different things. They won’t learn all the obscure subjects on the standard curriculum, like chemistry, calculus, or Civil War history. But one student will become a history expert, another will be a math wiz, and another will become an authority on black hole physics.
Most amazingly, students will learn things we never knew, like how to make a stop-motion movie, how to climb a mountain, or how to create the next big social app.
But learning is not all about practical skills. Through real life, children learn the most important skills they will need, like how to get along with others, how to take risks and learn from failure, and how to set goals and accomplish them.
At The Open School, students are not always supervised by adults. We have a large campus, and students are free to roam as they wish.
We believe that children need time away from adult eyes and ears, to practice problem-solving and conflict resolution on their own. While away from adults, children can push on the boundaries of their comfort zones and develop independence and responsibility.
However, it is important to recognize that no student at school is ever truly unsupervised.
Students at The Open School know that they have a responsibility to look after each other, and to hold each other accountable for their actions. If they ever feel unsure about safety, they have no hesitation about finding an adult.
We accept that the occasional bump or scrape is an essential part of growing up and learning to manage risk. Therefore we don’t prohibit slightly dangerous activities such as climbing trees and running outside barefoot.
Nonetheless, the staff are very safety-conscious and will intervene in any truly dangerous situation.
Want to learn more? Read about how learning happens at The Open School.
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