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Published: June 27, 2011

Free schools

Most recently, a short-lived group of pseudoeducational institutions that was established in California and a handful of major cities in other states in the late 1960s by political and social activists and counterculture groups. Allied only by their rejection of governmental and other forms of authority, the various founding groups ranged from civil rights activists to Vietnam War protestors to those favoring legalization of marijuana and other drugs. Designed for both children and adults, free schools did away with central authority, traditional rewards and punishment and other characteristics of traditional schools. Schools for minority children focused on teaching the history of injustice to African Americans; those for adults dealt with legal and consumer problems and taught protest skills.
An earlier, 19th-century use of the term free school referred to privately operated, charitable elementary schools—usually in cities—for orphaned, impoverished and otherwise neglected children.