How to Grow a School

by Chris Mercogliano

(Oxford Village Press, N.Y., 2006)

This is a beautiful and poetic book of dreams, the dream of helping children learn to be free. Anyone who has studied pedagogy knows that education isn't an exact science, but the myth of the great traditional school is firmly entrenched and actually has the effect of dumbing down our future citizens. The author taught in the Albany Free School for more than 30 years, and he describes his experience as well as the experiences of many other independent schools (mostly in the U.S.): how the founders managed to start an independent school, the continuing obstacles they faced, and the occasional success stories - personal as well as scholastic.

The characteristics of a good learning environment are described, and why that necessitates alternative and unconventional curriculums and teaching methods. Children need to be loved not managed, they need open space and they need to be left alone to do their own thing. This isn't a how-to book, but an inspiration to experiment and find creative solutions to educational problems. Rushing to fill children's heads with useless facts and figures isn't success; there is plenty of time for learning. We need to preserve and nurture a child's natural curiosity and desire to learn.