Alternative education

Alternative education

Alternative education, also known as non-traditional education or educational alternative, includes a number of approaches to teaching and learning other than mainstream or traditional education. Educational alternatives are often rooted in various philosophies that are fundamentally different from those of mainstream or traditional education. While some have strong political, scholarly, or philosophical orientations, others are more informal associations of teachers and students dissatisfied with some aspect of mainstream or traditional education. Educational alternatives, which include charter schools, alternative schools, independent schools, and home-based learning vary widely, but often emphasize the value of small class size, close relationships between students and teachers, and a sense of community.


Other words used in place of "alternative" by many educational professionals include "non-traditional", "non-conventional", or "non-standardized", although these terms are used somewhat less frequently and may have negative connotations and multiple meanings. Those involved in forms of education which differ in their educational philosophy (as opposed to their intended pupil base) often use words such as "authentic", "holistic", and "progressive" as well. However, these words each have different meanings which are more specific or more ambiguous than the term "alternative".


While pedagogical controversy is very old, "alternative education" presupposes some kind of orthodoxy to which the alternative is opposed. In general, this limits the term to the last two or perhaps three centuries, with the rise of standardized and, later, compulsory education at the primary and secondary levels. Many critics in this period have suggested that the education of young people should be undertaken in radically different ways than ones in practice. In the 19th century, the Swiss humanitarian Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi; the American transcendentalists Amos Bronson Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau; the founders of progressive education, John Dewey and Francis Parker; and educational pioneers, such as Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner (founder of the Waldorf schools); among others, all insisted that education should be understood as the art of cultivating the moral, emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects of the developing child. Anarchists such as Leo Tolstoy and Francisco Ferrer y Guardia emphasized education as a force for political liberation, secularism, and elimination of class distinctions.

More recently, social critics such as John Caldwell Holt, Paul Goodman, Frederick Mayer, George Dennison and Ivan Illich have examined education from more individualist, anarchist, and libertarian perspectives, that is, critiques of the ways that they feel conventional education subverts democracy by molding young people's understandings. Other writers, from the revolutionary Paulo Freire to American educators like Herbert Kohl and Jonathan Kozol, have criticized mainstream Western education from the viewpoint of their varied left-liberal and radical politics.

Modern forms

A wide variety of educational alternatives exist at the elementary, secondary, and tertiary levels of education. These generally fall into four major categories: school choice, alternative school, independent school, and home-based education. These general categories can be further broken down into more specific practices and methodologies.

School choice

The public school options include entirely separate schools in their own settings as well as classes, programs, and even semi-autonomous "schools within schools." Public school choice options are open to all students in their communities, though some have waiting lists. Among these are charter schools, combining private initiatives and state funding; and magnet schools, which attract students to particular themes, such as performing arts.

Alternative school

An alternative school is an educational establishment with a curriculum and methods that are nontraditional. [ [] Definition of alternative school, accessed August 9, 2007]

Many such schools were founded in the United States in the 1970s as an alternative to mainstream or traditional classroom structure. "Alternative Schools Adapt", by Fannie Weinstein. "The New York Times", June 8, 1986, section A page 14. A wide range of philosophies and teaching methods are offered by alternative schools; some have strong political, scholarly, or philosophical orientations, while others are more "ad-hoc" assemblies of teachers and students dissatisfied with some aspect of mainstream or traditional education. In 2003 there were approximately 70 alternative schools in the United Kingdom. In the UK public funding is not available for alternative schools and therefore alternative schools are usually fee-paying institutions. [ Fiona Carnie, "Alternative Approaches to Education: A Guide for Parents and Teachers"] In the USA an increasing number of public school systems are offering alternative streams (language-immersion, Montessori, Waldorf), but the majority of alternative schools are still independent and thus without governmental support.

Alternative Education of Special Education Students and Drop Out Prevention

Advocates of programs designed to prevent or discourage students from leaving school before they graduate (usually from high school) believe that leaving school without a diploma negatively impacts the lives of individuals both personally and professionally. They also argue that it has a negative societal impact because they believe that it increases the likelihood that these individuals will require public assistance. Although special education dropout rates nationally have been on the decline, from reportedly 34.1% in 1995-1996 to 29.4 % in 1999-2000 (Bost & Riccomini, 2006), they are especially concerned by the rate at which students with disabilities leave school without acquiring a high school diploma. Recent data regarding the dropout rate of high school students is as follows: The New Jersey special education dropout rate is approximately 11% (in 2005 10.9% and in 2006 10.5%).Fact|date=March 2008

Data on determining risk factors can serve as predicting variables for students dropping out. Moreover, high risk students in alternative schools encounter formidable challenges that can further increase their risk. Finn discusses risk factors in his 1989 work, "Withdrawing from School" (as cited by Dynarski & Gleason, 2002). He creates two theoretical models in his attempt to examine the reasons students leave school without high school diplomas. In his “frustration-self-esteem model,” poor past academic performance leads to an “impaired self-view,” and "negative emotions" caused by this eventually cause the student to leave school (Dynarski & Gleason, 2002 p. 45). Other possible causes have been examined in various studies. Gleason and Dynarksi cited studies finding that a student’s family income, socioeconomic status, and parental level of schooling are correlated with early school withdrawal. Limited English ability, membership to a family which receives welfare, neglect, having caregivers with drug addictions, other family members dropping out of school, needing to support family, and personal safety issues may also be correlated with the act of leaving school without a diploma.

A very different variety of drop out is the student who does not face severe personal problems, but leaves school due to his or her philosophical opposition to traditional education. incomplete

Popular education

Popular education was related in the 19th century to the workers' movement. Fact|date=March 2007 Such experiences have been continued through-out the 20th century, such as the folk high schools in Scandinavian countries, or the "popular universities" in France.

Independent school

Independent, or private, schools have more flexibility in staff selection and educational approach. The most plentiful of these are Montessori schools, Waldorf schools (the latter are also called Steiner schools after their founder), and Friends schools. Other independent schools include democratic, or free schools such as Sands School, Summerhill School and Sudbury Valley School, Krishnamurti schools, open classroom schools, those based on experiential education, as well as schools which teach using international curriculum such as the International Baccalaureate and Round Square schools. An increasing number of traditionally independent school forms now also exist within state-run, public education; this is especially true of the Waldorf and Montessori schools. The majority of independent schools offer at least partial scholarships.

Home-based education

Families who seek alternatives based on educational, philosophical, or religious reasons, or if there appears to be no nearby educational alternative can decide to have home-based education. Some call themselves unschoolers, for they follow an approach based on interest, rather than a set curriculum. Others enroll in umbrella schools which provide a curriculum to follow. Many choose this alternative for religious-based reasons, but practitioners of home-based education are of all backgrounds and philosophies.

Correctional Education


There are also some interesting grey areas. For instance, home-educators have combined to create resource centers where they meet as often as five or more days a week, but their members all consider themselves home-educated. In some states publicly run school districts have set up programs for homeschoolers whereby they are considered enrolled, and have access to school resources and facilities. Fact|date=February 2008

Also, many traditional schools have incorporated methods originally found only in alternative education into their general approach, so the line between alternative and mainstream education is continually becoming more blurred. Fact|date=February 2008

There are a number of education-based after school options, which can also referred to as out of school learning, which are available to students. For example, Policy Debate, or a number of other types of debate, offer students the opportunity to learn skills which are not taught in classrooms. In debate, students are taught how to read and think critically, how to analyze books, newspaper and magazine articles, and how to speak persuasively. Students are also exposed to politics, world news, public policy, philosophy, economics, and international relations.

Alternative schooling in different countries


Preshil, in Kew, Australia, was established in the 1930s. [ Alia College] , in Hawthorn East, Australia, was established in 1999. They are two of the few alternative schools in Australia that are unaffiliated with any doctrinal or theological movement. Preshil's primary school has run since established by Margaret Lyttle in 1931, and the secondary school since the late 1970s. See also [ Village School, Vic] ; [ Currambena Primary, NSW] ; [ Melbourne Community School, Vic] ; [ Collingwood College, Vic] ; [ Fitzroy Community School, Vic] ; [ Lynall Hall, Vic] ; [ Berengarra, Vic] [ Candlebark School, Vic] ; Brisbane Independent School, Qld; [ Pine Community School] , Arana Hills, Qld.


In India, from the early 20th century, many educational theorists discussed and implemented radically different forms of education. Rabindranath Tagore's Visva-Bharati University, Sri Aurobindo's Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education and Mahatma Gandhi's ideal of "basic education" are prime examples. In recent years many [ new alternative schools] have formed, such as [ Sarang] , Palakad Kerala, [ Adharshila] , Saakad MP, [ Poorna Learning Centre] and Sita School in Bangalore, Kanavu, and Timbaktoo Collective (Andhra Pradesh). At higher levels of education one finds educational alternatives like [ Multiversity] that hold open knowledge as an ideal. In the last few decades holistic education, in which the environment of the student is considered an essential part of the educational process, has become popular.

A traditional system of learning in India is now regarded as a basis for developing new methods of alternative schooling. Students used to stay in "Gurukulas", where they received free food and shelter, and education from a "guru" ("teacher" in Sanskrit). Progress was not based on examinations and marks; tests were given by the gurus but not ranks. This system aimed to nurture the students' natural creativity and all-round personality development. While the mainstream education system in India is still based on that introduced by Lord Macaulay, a few projects aim to rejuvenate the early system, including [ Prabodhini Gurukula] , [ Veda Vijnana Gurukulam] and Maitreyi Gurukulam. Many students in these and similar projects take up research work in the field of Sanskrit studies, Vedic studies, Vedic science, Yoga and Ayurveda. Others after completing their education in a Gurukula continue into regular mainstream education such as Bachelor degrees in Commerce, Science, Engineering etc. Students coming to these studies from Gurukulas are regarded as more brilliant and creative than those who have studied in the regular education system.


=Meiji, Taisho, Showa eras (up to World War II)=

Japan’s first law on the school system, modeled after France, was proclaimed in 1872 [Japanese Wikipedia May 26, 2007. 18:53 UTC] , but the word “compulsory education” did not appear in the law until 1886 [Japanese Wikipedia May 16, 2007. 11:42 UTC] .

"The New Education (Neue Erziehung) movement" started at a British school Abbotsholme (founded in 1889) reached Japan, where it turned into "Taisho-era Free Education Movement" (Taisho Jiyu Kyoiku Undo ). They tried to establish a system focusing on children’s interests and to provide a liberal learning environment instead of the standardized inflexible system. Schools were founded, both public and private, based on this concept.

All public schools built under this new movement were subjected to the Militaristic and Nationalistic government control and turned into National Schools (Kokumin Gakko ) in 1941, modeled after Nazi’s primary education system. Many private schools survived and still exist today. Almost all of them maintain the Western influence, however some have lost its roots and enthusiasm. Others are still strongly known as a “unique school” such as Jiyu Gakuen () for its high student-autonomy, and Tamagawa Gakuen () as the only Round Square member school in Japan.

After World War II

Japan’s recovery efforts from the World War II and the subsequent so-called post-war economic miracle encouraged the mass production of educated work force and the highly competitive entrance exams, which gave little space for alternative education. ALL children with disabilities, regardless of the severity, were finally allowed to Special Schools (Yogo Gakko) in 1979.

To this date Japanese education has been run as a nation-wide standardized system under the full control of the Ministry of Education. The only alternative option has been accredited private schools that have more freedom to offer different curriculum including the choice of textbooks (public schools can use only the government approved textbooks) and foreign languages, teaching methods, hiring guidelines. However, almost all of these private schools require competitive entrance examination and tuition with very few scholarships available.

In the 1970s and early 1980s school violence was the major problem. Private non-accredited Totsuka Yacht School (), one of such schools for correctional education, had multiple deaths and missing incidents.

Some public and private schools, usually non-competitive ones, had been functioning as American-equivalent of alternative schools to accept "at-risk” students, though most of them never claimed themselves as one. A private boarding High school, Hokusei-Gakuen Yoichi (), being one of the few exceptions, admitted its status as the alternative school and started to accept High school drop outs from all over the country since 1988.

1980s to present

Since 1980s the problem shifted from violence against people and property to "ijime" (bullying by peers) to drive the victim into School refusal, Hikikomori (acute social withdrawal) and the worst case, suicide. It is 1980s that the second wave of alternative education movement came in.

There exist two different forces that triggered the interest in alternative education: Ijime and Globalization.

;Ijime and Free Schools"Free school" is the term used in Japan to describe a non-profit groups or independent schools specialized in the care and education of children who refused to go to school. Tokyo Shure ( founded in 1985, modeled after the American democratic school) was the beginning of the Free School emergence in Japan. It started as a shelter for children who avoid school environment, then introduced homeschooling in 1998, creating several branches around Tokyo. It was approved as a Non-profit organization in 2000 to run a college. Japanese free schools have various policies and curriculum. Though most of them are democratic schools, there are Juku’s(cram school) that house school-refusal children. Clonlara School from Ann Arbor, Michigan is another major home-based education provider.

Learned from China’s Special Economic Zone policy, Japan introduced Special Zones for Structural Reform () in 2003, which enables to open a government-accredited school that provides alternative education. The first school founded in 2005 under the new law was a charter school called Gunma Kokusai Academy , an English immersion school for grades 1 through 12. Tokyo Shure also started a free school-based junior high school in 2007 in the special zone of Katsushika, Tokyo.

;Globalization and International schoolsMore and more parents are interested in sending their children to International schools to aqcuire native-level command of foreign language (English mostly), with a possible plan of higher education outside of Japan. Although International schools are not legally certified by the Japanese government, many of them are approved by its home country such as US, Canada, Germany, France, Korea and China, and some offer the International Baccalaureate program. For the past two decades or so, International, especially American or English-based, schools have been very popular in spite of its costly tuition, however the new trend in the early 21st century is Chinese schools. In expectation of China’s rapid economic growth, many think knowledge of the Chinese language and culture will be valuable. Compared to American school, which covers all the materials in English only, Chinese schools teach Chinese, Japanese and English for only a 1/8 to 1/4 of what an American school charges for a tuition. [ [ People’s Daily Online 『中華学校が盛況、人気は三ヶ国語』] (Japanese)] .

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom parents have a right to educate their children outside school. Education Otherwise is a charity set up to support those who educate their children outside school.

Summerhill School, established by A.S. Neill in 1921 is known for its alternative approach to education. It is a boarding school where students choose whether or not to attend classes.

There are a number of Steiner-Waldorf schools in the UK.

Sands School is an alternative school in the UK. It has only 65 students, with a high ratio of teachers. The students learn at their own pace in a supportive environment. The school is run democratically, with the students having as much say in how the school is run as the staff. Decisions are made by voting in a weekly school meeting, where matters ranging from what colour the new carpets should be, to the employment of new staff. The school offers a full range of subjects, and attendance to lessons is negotiated, not compulsory. The school also educates students on a larger range than most schools, and gives students choice in what they can learn. Their interests form a large part of what is offered in the curriculum.

United States

New Vista High School in Boulder, Colorado is a small public high school that "emphasizes project learning, multi-cultural perspectives, active involvement in the community." [ [ New Vista High School website, "An Overview" page. Retrieved April 25, 2008] ] Open since 1993, the school helps a wide variety of students find their passions, through focused and unique classes, off-campus activities, and a supportive school community. Serving a heterogeneous student body, the school not only educates students in the conventional subjects and prepare them for a variety of post secondary programs, but also "helps each student identify and pursue interests or talents at which they are genuinely motivated to excel." [ [ New Vista High School website, "Home" page. Retrieved April 25, 2008] ]

At the level of higher education several alternative practices have arisen, especially since the late 20th century. Colleges such as Bennington College, Evergreen State College, Goddard College, Hampshire College, Johnston Center at the University of Redlands, and New College of Florida have no grades, for instance, and use only narrative evaluations for assessment. Other colleges, such as Bard College, Bard College at Simon's Rock, Marlboro College and the now-defunct Antioch College, do not have traditional academic departments and are instead organized around interdisciplinary units.

In regard to graduate education, there is Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center, Fielding Institute, Union College and University, the California Institute of Integral Studies and The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology.

There are also several consciousness-based education alternatives, including [ LEAPNOW: Transforming Education] and Maharishi University of Management

See also

* Alternative school
*" [ After-school education options] "
* Autodidacticism
* Democratic school
* Deschooling
* Education
* Free school
* Gifted education
* School
* Special education
* Unschooling


* [ Why the Free School Rules, The Indypendent]

Further reading

*cite book | first =Claire V. | last =Korn | authorlink = Claire V. Korn| coauthors = | year = 1991| month = | title = | chapter = | editor = | others = | edition = | pages = | publisher = SUNY Press| location = Ithaca, New York| id = | url =
*cite book | first = Edison J.| last = Trickett| authorlink = Edison J. Trickett| coauthors = | year = 1991| month = | title = | chapter = | editor = | others = | edition = | pages = | publisher = Brookline Books| location = University of Maryland| id = | url =

External links


* [ Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO)] publishers of the journal Education Revolution; links to over 500 alternative schools and organizations worldwide
* [ International Association for Learning Alternatives]
* [ AltLearn] - a worldwide network of Natural Learners, Unschoolers, and support groups, linked
* [ Informal Education]
* [ Special Education in Alternative Education Programs] - ERIC Digest E585
* [ Alternative Education: The Challenge of Educators] - by Prof. Antônio Luiz Bianchessitogether by map

Particular areas

* [ Bhavya Learning, Bangalore]
* [ eklavya foundation Madhya Pradesh] Indian organisation that has developed alternative material
* [ Iowa Association of Alternative Education]
* [ Blueprint Education, Phoenix, Arizona]
* [ Oklahoma Technical Assistance Center]
* [ Learning for a Cause] - Alternative educational projects.

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