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This page-long article appeared around 1972 in, I think, Mockingbird newspaper. The photo credits were by Bill McElrath, who also had a daughter in the school at one time. I remember him as the owner of this small "underground" or "anti-war" newspaper. The title was "Lille Skole," and the author signed "Brandi Barchus." She wrote:
What kind of education do you want for your child? When I put Rachel into Lille Skole two years ago I couldn't have answered that question. It was clear to me what I didn't want. I didn't want her to have to spend most of her time sitting at a desk being told not to move or to be so loud.
I didn't want her individual biological clock regulated to bells and the needs of adults who were more interested in quiet (because of the pressure put on them to perform) than in the needs and desires of Rachel.
My panic set in when I received, from a public school, an interminable list of clothes she couldn't wear, including long pants (unless it was below a certain temperature). That's when Gene Lantz called me about a school he was opening.
Although I had never heard of Summerhill or a free school, I knew from the few things he told me that this was what I wanted for Rachel. She had had a semester's experience in a kindergarten in the public school system and neither one of us was happy with it.
There was no way, at 6 years old, that Rachel could make the decision as to
whether she wanted to enter a free school or a public school, so I made it for
her, after she had visited Lille Skole and Gene for a few days and said that
In the past two years I have seen her develop into a self confident, independent, vocal human being, a far cry from the fettishly clean little girl whom Gene had once described as a very young Olivia DeHavilland.
The crucial time for us was when Rachel began telling me to f*** off. I had
thought it was really "groovy" when she began to call policemen pigs
and to assert herself in various ways against an oppressive society. But who
is more of an oppressor in this culture than parents?
It was logical that if she were to begin to free herself from social controls, that my control would have to go, too. It was difficult, damned difficult. Mine is a dominating, aggressive personality (or "bossy" as Rachel's friends describe it). However, she was learning day by day at the free school how to deal with just such people as me.
One thing I knew, I wanted a relationship with my daughter based upon mutual respect and not the master/slave relationship most familiees have, so I got off her back. I'm there when she needs love, support and advice. Nothing more.
One argument against free schools that I have heard time after time from parents over the past two years is that the children won't learn what will prepare them for the future. They are invariably referring to scholastic subjects. From now on, I'm going to refer them to Alvin Toffler's chapter on education in his book Future Shock. Read the whole book! It's the best statement I've read of what my stance has always been: namely, that an open, self confident, motivated child can and will learn anything that is relevant to her and that most of the subject matter taught nowadays will be irrelevant in 10 years anyway.
When she started to Lille Skole, she couldn't read. One problem was that she
had just returped from South America and spoke Spanish better than English,
the other problem was me. I was uptight about it. Gene told her that it didn't
matter when she learned and I followed suit. (I was determined not to hang her
I've seen this with my own daughter. The other day she started rapping excitedly about how you could easily find out how much of a candy bar each kid was supposed to get. Her eyes were actually shining. Do you know what she was into? Division. Oh, the agonizing hours I had spent on that subject in school.
Neither one of us knows how Rachel learned to read. I saw several things that motivated her, like when she mistakenly went into the men's john because she couldn't read. Or the time she was frustrated because she couldn't order from a menu. Rachel is at this time deeply engrossed in The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.
Yes, this is a success story for free schools. Rachel is not an exceptionally bright child. She is a lucky little girl who has a loving, supportive, free environment at Lille Skole and in her home.
Since I seem to be in one of my testimonial giving moods I'd like to write briefly of my admiration for Gene Lantz in his dealings with children. He had that rare genius of being able to respect children as human beings.
Gene has been accused by some of the parents of using the school as an anti-establishment spring board. If turning out people who can think for themselves is revolutionary, this is true. I personally have come to the conclusion that there should be no formal schools, not even free ones. But until society becomes more open and accepting of our children this is not feasible and free schools must continue to have our support.
cby Brandi Barchus
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