Excerpted from: Vig of YCP [Youth Culture Promotions], "Behind the Scenes:
Ottawa Offers," Maximum Rocknroll (Berkeley, California), #28 (September 1985).
Reconciling Individual Responsibility with Leadership
FREE SCHOOL -- Ottawa's Free School was started by students who wanted a
degree of control over their own education. Inspired by free schools in
London, England, and Toronto, the group began holding bi-weekly meetings to
work out a structure and format. Day-long seminars were also held on
subjects of interest to Free School participants.
One of the results of the Free School's activity has been the formation of
the school's Basis of Unity. Most large groups create these statements to
clarify their main objectives and make their motivations easily discernable
to potential members.
Free School Basis of Unity
The Free School working group is a group of people, focusing on youth, who
are dedicated to learning and who reject the present school system as a
viable means of obtaining a meaningful education. We have developed a more
logical and compassionate alternative.
1) Children are being schooled, not for their own good, but for the good of
the nation. They are taught blind obedience, encouraged to lose or suppress
their anger over injustice and their compassion for others. This method of
"state indoctrination" or "socialization" cannot be tolerated.
2) The concept of education has become synonymous with school, which is an
oppressive institution, rather than a necessary vehicle of improving one's
state of mind through experience. Thus, school is separated from reality.
3) In a school setting, the motivation for learning comes not from a sincere
personal interest in a theme, but from a wish to please others, i.e.,
parents, teachers, principals, etc. . .through "good marks", "punctuality",
"respect for authority", etc.
4) The study of historic personalities in school softens the original
passion of these social activists (e.g., Martin Luther King's views on civil
disobedience), and goes to great lengths to make their deeds and calls for
action irrelevant for today's society. Distance is put between these heroes
(heroines are usually shunned, that would of course create a feeling of
equality) and anything the student could possibly achieve.
5) Marks are subjective and are used as a disciplinary tool. They cannot be
objective or fair while they are dependent on how closely the student
follows the wording of a curriculum s/he may or may not agree with.
6) Student's opinions are not taken into account. Projects are marked not
only for accuracy of the information, but also the process and method (e.g.,
must be typed or all the same color pen) and the attitude of the student.
There is documentation of a student who failed a project when he wrote why
god didn't exist for a Catholic teacher, i.e., he failed his own opinion.
7) Diverging from what is "normal" (e.g., funny haircuts, radical ideas) is
heavily discouraged. Individual creativity is also discouraged.
8) The physical and emotional structure of the class has the teacher at the
center of attention and the official conveyance (and censorship) of all
discussion is through this power figure. Student's communication is limited
to the back of the head of the student in front.
9) School is for learning and pursuing someone else's definition of success.
10) School doesnt help us to live together collectively and non-violently.
It fills us with facts, but allows no emotional growth, no sense of
responsibility. School teaches that competition and rivalry are better
virtues than cooperation.
We see the Free School, not as an alternative to Regular school, but as a
catalyst to changing regular school for the better. To this end it will
serve as a support group for school activists who challenge the premises and
legitimacy of the existing system. It will help plant seeds for the next
generation. It will explore alternatives to economic realities of the job
market. It will relate to the needs of the community and organize actions
(e.g., soup kitchens).
Process: use the numerous but obscure resources around Ottawa; use outside
"resource people" but most "teaching" would be done by the students, use a
central meeting place, but hold most "classes" elsewhere; maintain an
affinity through a basis of unity.
Long-range goals: organize alternatives to mainstream courses at an
accredited option; a building.
The Free Schools' meetings are large and like YAP [Youth Action for Peace] ,
the size of its meetings can aggravate certain problems. Group dynamics
often play havoc with intercommunications and the Free Schoolers point to
examples involved with leadership roles in large groups as a major problem
area. (Note--these problems also exist In smaller groups too, such as bands,
fanzine collaborations and one-to-one relationships .)
Difficulties with leadership seem to follow a recurring pattern for most
situations. Strong personalities (usually male) take on dominant
conversational roles or, in the case of structure hierarchies, key
positions. These peoples' motivations may be in the group's best interest
(to provide for more efficient operation, etc.) but the end result often
destroys the group's evolution.
Shyer people are intimidated by strong leadership and tend not to
participate in decision-making when other people dominate the group's
conversations. To these people leaders become authority figures, whose
personal opinions must rubber-stamp all group consensus. As a result, the
degree to which they feel a part of the group and the degree to which they
can realistically feel committed to the group's decisions is lessened.
Strong personalities or firmly entrenched hierarchies alienate many
newcomers from becoming full participants in the group's activities. Often
domineering individuals engage in power struggles, totally disrupting the
The Free School discourages leadership roles from developing. Group
positions (like research work or meeting facilitation) are rotated to give
all free schoolers a chance to fully participate and develop their own
skills. Everyone is encouraged to speak their opinions by asking each person
what they think about topics being discussed. The Free School also tries to
avoid cliqueishness and sectarianism by inviting others to participate in
If strong personalities begin to dominate the group it is important to point
it out right away in a non-antagonistic fashion. The concepts of a technique
called "Constructive Criticism" are used by some members of the Free School
to bring group's attention to these problems without hurting those people
who are involved.
Encouraging individual responsibility is just as important as discouraging
power trips. Free School members get to know each other better through
informal periods or social occasions (like pot-luck suppers) organized by
the school. Conscious attempts are made to be friendly -- those who might be
more inhibited to open up, get involved and eventually take on responsibility.
When people are ready, they are guided into jobs that they have a geniuine
interest in. No one is forced to do anything. Often small groups
(committees) are set up to take on one large or uninspiring task so that the
work becomes less burdensome. Making the group's jobs FUN is a Number 1
priority! Without a strong group affinity and an enjoyable atmosphere there
will be few people who'll want to work hard for the group's objectives
(including its organizers!) Most members are busy with other aspects of
their lives as well, so a pressured or heavy set-up will place the group's
activities on the bottom of its members' "List of Things To Do." Continued
unpleasantness insures they'll drop out completely.
Free School/ c/o E. Cochrane/ 13 Wilton Crescent/ Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
K1S 2T4/ (613) 233-2842.