What do we mean when we call ourselves a “Free School”? Is this a term we made up?

In fact, though somewhat rare, we’re not the only one of our kind. Free schools are also called democratic-free schools or democratic education. There’s not just one definition, but what free schools tend to have in common is a commitment to “education in which young people have the freedom to organize their daily activities, and in which there is equality and democratic decision-making among young people and adults” (AERO Directory of Democratic Education). Because of this emphasis on choice, respect, and cooperation, many free schools (including us) are also committed to social justice and to engagement in their wider community.

Other free schools

As we built Chicago Free School, we especially relied on the advice, support, and good example of our model schools in Albany, NY and Brooklyn, NYC.

The Albany Free School has been educating young people since 1969. They also have a photo page on Flickr which shows all the exciting field trips, activities, classes, and events that are happening there.

The Brooklyn Free School is a pre-K through 12th grade school founded in 2003 by a group of parents and teachers in New York City.

Also recommended are several books written by long-time Free School teacher Chris Mercogliano: Teaching the Restless and Making It Up As We Go Along.


“The Free School has taught me to be myself no matter what, it’s taught me how to solve my own problems and not to rely on other people to resolve them or for them not to be resolved at all, and it’s allowed me to focus on the things that are the most important to me, in life and education. Having an education like this helps you control yourself and know your actions and limits. Schools like this teach you how to resolve issues, think for yourself, and stand up for things that are important to you. I personally believe this is very important in the real world. The Free School has definitely taught me how to deal with those subjects that many other traditional schools do not teach.”
Maya, age 14, Albany Free School graduate