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Manhattan Free School bringing “democratic” education to the East Village this fall

The new private schools mentioned in this week’s Times article about growing demand for private school kindergarten spots all sounded like pretty traditional places, where regardless of how progressive their curriculum may be, the goal is preparing for admission to competitive colleges. But another new school opening this fall in Manhattan is anything but traditional.

At the Manhattan Free School, kids will execute their “right to decide how, when and what to learn,” according to the school’s Web site. The “democratic” school will follow the model of Summerhill in England, which has been in operation since 1921, and the Brooklyn Free School, open since 2004. At those schools, children participate in decisions about how the school is run and pursue whatever topic interests them at the moment, whether it’s reading alone, building a structure with classmates, or playing video games. A 2006 New York Times Magazine article about the Brooklyn Free School called it “a romantic gamble on the idea of laissez-faire education and an audacious repudiation of the regimented curriculums and high-stakes tests that increasingly dominate the city’s public school system.”

At $15,000, tuition at the Manhattan Free School is lower than at most private schools, and a sliding scale accommodates families who cannot pay the full amount. The Manhattan Free School will occupy three classrooms of St. George’s Ukrainian Schools in the East Village. Members of the founding staff include a couple of current public school teachers. The school is holding an information session for interested families — perhaps those who are balking at the upcoming year’s public schools assessment calendar — next Thursday in the East Village.

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