Brooklyn Free School (BFS) began about nine years ago, after I wrote an article in the newsletter of my local food coop in Park Slope, Brooklyn, inviting parents to join me in starting a democratic free school. BFS was the first democratic school to open in New York City in 30 years (since the closing of the 15th Street School in 1975). It is a departure from what we have come to expect from schooling and education. BFS is a model of direct democracy, inclusion, diversity and equality. It is at the forefront of working with youth of all ages to take responsibility for their own education and their own community-using a process where all voices can be heard and all count equally, regardless of income, race, ability, age, or gender.
BFS was founded on the principles of A. S. Neill's Summerhill School in England, which began in 1921, and which was adopted in one form or another by many U.S. schools such as the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts, and the Albany Free School in Albany, New York. The community is composed entirely of parents, students, and educators who believe that freedom and democracy are not just textbook concepts, but a way of living and learning.
BFS is a real, practicing democracy. An all-inclusive democratic system runs many aspects of the day-to-day life of the school, and students are free to pursue their interests for much of the school day, as long as it doesn't impinge on the rights of others. The school encourages and fosters as much age integration as possible, and there are no compulsory grades, assessments, or homework. Students of all ages are in charge of their own learning and progress and have real power to make decisions about the direction their education is going and how their school community is run. BFS believes that all students should be given the responsibility to make these decisions about their education and school, learning first hand about themselves as learners and how to build a better democracy and a better world.
- Alan P. Berger, BFS founder and director