Challenging the Giant
Reviewed by Kah Ying Choo
Created to provide a voice
for the alternative
vol. I: The Best of Skole,
(1992) the Journal of
Alternative Education consists of diverse writings from teachers,
students and academics.
More than a compilation of individual articles, this book captures the
unique characteristics, the independent philosophy and creative methods,
which have defined alternative education over the last four decades:
• The empowerment of students, parents
• The recognition of the need to educate the
intellectual, physical and
emotional aspects of each
• The acknowledgement of individuality and
diversity in learning
• The emphasis of human
relationships and thus, the creation of a
For many of these educators, their valiant struggle to create an alternative type of education sprang from
their frustration with traditional methods of education that destroys
the students’ intuitive passion for learning. Even more
significantly, Leue’s (1992) anthology is a celebration of the vision
of extraordinary individuals who wanted to create an alternative to the
current society that is characterized by overconsumption,
disillusionment and the death of community life.
Reflecting the democratic orientation and the
communal quality of an alternative educational institution,
this anthology is divided into several sections: 1) Profiled schools
that highlight the challenging beginnings of several alternative
schools; 2) Articles written by prominent educators that espouse the
philosophy of alternative education; 3) Poems that feature poetry
produced by the students who play an integral role in the alternative
education movement; 4) Studies that analyze and validate the
effectiveness of alternative education; and 5) Book Reviews showcasing
books that have contributed to the development of alternative
Although these articles have been
written by different educators, they are interwoven with common threads
that have created the unusual and incredible tapestry of alternative
education. In “History of the Free School,” Mary Leue (1992)
depicts the controversial and difficult creation of the Free School.
Based on a
learner-centered model, the Free School sought to provide
the children with an exciting place for learning without imposing its
structure on them. More significantly, the Free School
challenged the social and economic prejudices of a capitalist society by
creating an alternative society. By acquiring several buildings in
a dilapidated area, Leue used the Free School to transform a downtrodden
neighborhood into a tightly-knit community that helped its members and
The “village” that revolved around the Free
School was not only able to
provide housing and education for the members of its community, but was
also able to provide medical and legal assistance. Essentially, by
overcoming seemingly insurmountably challenges and difficulties, Leue
(1992) and her supporters were able to realize a vision of an ideal
community that brought out the best in humanity.
This belief that the quality of education lies at
the heart of the society is
also illuminated in writings such as John Taylor Gatto’s (1992)
article, “Why Schools Don’t Educate.” According to Gatto
(1992), the crisis of drugs, sex, violence and overconsumption is a
result of the traditional education system that has failed to allow
children to learn and grow. In the artificial school environment
that emphasizes student conformity and divides learning into discrete
subjects, students cannot learn about their strengths and weaknesses.
Furthermore, their learning is out-of-touch with reality. Thus,
Gatto (1992) believes that students should be given a conducive
environment for independent study and exposed to apprenticeships in
various organizations, as well as community service.
these two writings constitute merely a small sample of
the anthology, they reflect the passion and commitment of
individuals who have dedicated their lives towards creating a new type
of education and a new world. In spite of public apathy and
opposition, participants in the alternative education movement have
made personal sacrifices and have forged ahead with their vision.
Unfortunately, they represent only a minority of people who have dared
to voice the fundamental reality that the current education system is
detrimental to the growth of our children and future of our society.
Thus, this anthology offers a valuable forum for educators to spread
their message and save future generations of children from being
victimized by the current education system.
Leue, M. (Ed.). (1992). Challenging the
giant, vol. I: The best of Skole, the journal of alternative education.
Ashfield: Down-to-Earth Books.
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