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cratic Jefferson County Open School in Den- ver (one of the oldest public alternative schools in the coun- try) and found that 91 percent went to college, 85 percent completed degreed programs and 25 percent earned grad- uate degrees. Many lauded their K-12 education there: “Because of the school, I am much

the same principles apply to even the youngest learners. On a recent day, a group of 5-year-olds held a vote and elected to spend the morning craft- ing miniature cardboard cities. Then their instructor, a precocious 5-year- old named Evan, led the way to the workroom, passing out paints, scissors, Popsicle sticks and glue as an adult watched quietly nearby. “Everyone here has a voice,” af-

firms Patchwork co-founder Elizabeth Baker, who was homeschooled in a democratic fashion herself. “If we can validate who they are as people now, they can go out into the world with confidence that their thoughts and opinions count.” But, will they be prepared for that


Good Questions Will children, given the freedom,

choose to learn basic skills like reading and math? What will this revolution- ary breed of students have to show a college entrance board if they have no test scores? And how will kids schooled with little structure and no hierarchy thrive in a professional world with so much of both? Skeptics abound, and they have pounced on such questions. Meanwhile, informal surveys of

democratic school graduates have yielded mixed answers. For his new book, Lives of Passion; School of Hope, Rick Posner, Ph.D., surveyed 431 alumni from the demo-

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less influenced by the need to conform and I’m not afraid to take risks,” said Adelle, a 1986 graduate who went on to become a project manager for an entertainment company. Other comments were less glow-

ing: “I found that I had to scramble to catch up with my peers; the school failed to provide me with even the most basic mathematical skills,” said Mary, a 1991 graduate. Kristin, from the class of 1997 added, “When I was applying to colleges, I wished that I had some documentation other than self-assess- ment; I think this hurt me.” But still other democratic alumni

contend that the struggle is only tempo- rary and—in hindsight—well worth it. Meghan Carrico, 47, attended a

democratic school in NorthVancou- ver from age 8 to 13. She told Natural Awakenings she did fine academically when she transitioned to a mainstream public high school, but found it “boring and socially barren,” with teachers who didn’t appreciate her tendency to question authority and venture be- yond the status quo. She dropped out in 11th grade, then dropped out of a community college for many of the same reasons.

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“If I contradicted the professor, I

got a bad grade,” she recalls. Ultimate- ly, Carrico made her way to the highly progressive Antioch College in Ohio (one of 815 colleges now willing to consider students with no high school test scores), where she ended up with a master’s degree in leadership and training. She also landed a job that she loves, teaching in a democratic school. While Carrico relates that her own

early schooling may not have prepared her to fit in at a mainstream classroom or top-down workplace, it absolutely prepared her for a changing world in which factory jobs are dwindling and people must think outside the box. “People who are really successful in the world today are not waiting around to be told what to do,” she comments. In- stead, “they are actively creating social networks and seeking out knowledge on their own; these are the very things they learn from kindergarten on in democratic schools.” College success and career paths

aside, Miller believes the best way to determine if democratic education is working is to pay a visit to a school and ask the question: “Are the kids excited about school or not?” On a recent May afternoon at Col-

orado’s Jefferson County Open School, students lounged on puffy couches or sat on the steps with their principal, whom they casually calledWendy. The school year was officially over and warm weather beckoned, but they were in no rush to leave. To Anna Reihmann, 17, a graduat-

ing senior who has attended there since pre-school, excelled academically and is headed to college next year, it was a particularly bittersweet day. “I have learned so much about who I am as a person here. It has always felt like home,” she said that day. Then she ut- tered the three words that many parents and teachers say that they don’t hear often enough from students these days: “I love school.”

Lisa Marshall is a freelance writer

in Lyons, CO. Contact her at Lisa

photo courtesy of Harriet Tubman Free School

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