Shorter Pieces


  • “What is a Democratic-Free School?”. This article gives a history of democratic-free schools going back to the Escuela Moderna, founded in 1901 in Barcelona, Spain. It talks about the main features of democratic schools and some pros and cons.
  • A “Typical Day” at Tallgrass Sudbury School in Chicago, IL.
  • A parent shares some impressions from a day at the Brooklyn Free School: Jessika’s House.
  • The Curriculum of Play. John Taylor Gatto discusses what true play is, and its many benefits.
  • Freedom to Learn,” a blog by Peter Gray. “The roles of play and curiosity as foundations for learning.”
  • JC at the Philly Free School. What’s it like when students take responsibility for their own behavior? Listen in on this session of JC — the Philly Free School’s Judicial Committee.
  • A Mathematician’s Lament”, by Paul Lockhart. A mathematician talks about the absurdity of the K-12 math curriculum. “If I had to design a mechanism for the express purpose of destroying a child’s natural curiosity and love of pattern-making, I couldn’t possibly do as good a job as is currently being done–I simply wouldn’t have the imagination to come up with the kind of senseless, soul-crushing ideas that constitute contemporary mathematics education.” 2002.



Sudbury Valley School

The Sudbury Valley School runs a prolific printing press that has published a great deal of interesting material over the years. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Free At Last by Daniel Greenberg. A collection of short vignettes illustrating life at the Sudbury Valley School. A engaging  introduction to this model of schooling. 1987.
  • What it Means to be Staff at a Sudbury School by various authors. Many interesting articles about what it is that teachers (“staff”) do at a Sudbury-type school. 2010.
  • The Pursuit of Happiness by Daniel Greenberg, Mimsy Sadofsky and Jason Lempka. Exploration of the lives of former Sudbury students including much in their own words.


Summerhill is a boarding school in England run in a democratic fashion. It was quite famous in the US in the 60s.

Standard schools

  • The Underground History of American Education, by John Taylor Gatto. An award-winning NYC public schoolteacher writes about his experiences growing up, teaching, and getting out of schools while investigating why schools are the way they are. 2000.
  • Horace’s Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School, by Theodore Sizer. An honest and insightful look at various high schools around the country. Sizer was dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, headmaster of Phillips Academy, and founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools. 1984.
  • How Children Fail, by John Holt. Mr. Holt describes his experiences teaching math to 5th graders in a wealthy private school during the years 1958-62. He decides that children fail because they are afraid of failure, bored by the trivial nature of their work, and confused because they are flooded with ideas that make no sense and contradict what they already know. The comments in the second edition are fascinating, showing how his thinking evolved over the years.  His love for children and desire for honesty shine through. Revised edition, 1982.

Non-coercive learning

  • For the Sake of Our Children, by Léandre Bergeron. A French-Canadian author/activist/homesteader writes about raising his three daughters in a non-coercive way. 2009.





    • Jim Rietmulder and Beth Stone are two founders and staff members of the Circle School in Harrisburg, PA. Three Rivers Village School hosted a fishbowl event to discuss their 25 years of experience founding and staffing a democratic school. This is the audio recording from the January 2014 event:

    • The renowned educationalist Sir Ken Robinson champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence. “My contention now is that creativity is as important in education as literacy.


Similar Schools


Sudbury and Democratic Schools Directory has a list of similar schools across the US and around the world.

Here are some links to a few schools that inspired the creation of Three Rivers Village School. Every school is different in big and small ways, but reading about these schools could help you to better understand the idea of a democratic, or “free” school.

  • The Circle School in Harrisburg, PA was founded in 1984. After a number of years, they adopted many of the practices of the Sudbury Valley School (see below).  K-12.
  • The Free School in Albany, NY was founded in 1969. It is is the longest running inner-city independent alternative school in the United States. K-8.
  • Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, MA has a huge selection of general information, essays, audio, and videos on their website. K-12.
  • The Philly Free School is located at the other end of our state. It was founded in 2012. K-12.