The Mercer Free school was launched in March 2010 as a voluntary association in the spirit of Beacon Hill Free School (as described in John Holt's Instead of Education, 1976) by two users of the Ewing branch of the Mercer County Library System [thus initially as Ewing Free School (with the initial URL of http://efs.insi2.org)]. It is a "free" school in the sense that no monetary exchange is involved and it is not controlled by obligation or the will of another. After the first couple of weeks, the name was changed to Mercer Free School to be identified with a greater geographic area. Mercer County consists of the following municipalities in New Jersey: East Windsor, Ewing, Hamilton, Hightstown, Hopewell Borough, Hopewell Township, Lawrence, Pennington, Princeton Borough, Princeton Township, Robbinsville, Trenton, and West Windsor.
Our guiding principles consist of the following three components: community, freedom (including being free), and learning.
- Local community is important as the basis for our trust in our neighborhood and beyond.
- Our approach to community building emphasizes freedom, including freedom from various delusions associated with money. In this regard, we believe that in addition to traditional and commercial establishments, there should and can be free learning opportunities for a broad range of people in the community. [our blog on this point, another blog entry]
- Learning occurs most effectively when we are intrinsically motivated, not when extrinsically motivated, e.g., by rewards, punishments, and competitions [our blog on this point]. In addition, we often question the conventional "teacher-student" structure of learning because of its underlying assumption of the knowledge transfer model. When we are intrinsically motivated, we tend to cultivate an attitude of working on a project on our own and with others, even without seeking and asking a teacher to give us an asnwer.
How are we different from other organizations?
There are a lot of opportunities to learn, and we appreciate them and take part in them when possible. Then, why do we need a free school like this? Here are some points.
- Free on-line educational resources (e.g., Academic Earth, Einztein, University of the People, Goodwill Community Foundation, Ted-Ed) are great. But there is a limit to what lectures of the knowledge-transfer type can do (why still so many lectures?). In contrast, we emphasize the interactive and face-to-face aspect of learning rooted in our local community.
- Another great on-line resources is Meetup.com. However, we don't have our own presence there because it would cost us money.
- Adult schools (e.g., Hamilton, Princeton, MCCC) offer a broad range of courses; their tuition is in general reasonable. Unfortunately, some popular adult schools, including Ewing Adult School, were forced to close due to budget issues. Since we have no budget, we will not be closed for the same reason.
- Certain business organizations (e.g., Barns & Noble) provide free classes and events. These are great too. Here, we are not associated with any business and do not have underlying motivations to do business.
- Many religious organizations (e.g., Unitarian Universalist Church) offer free classes of various kinds. We are grateful to them. But again, we are not affiliated with any particular religion or belief system. We are "free" in this sense as well.
- Local libraries (e.g., MCLS, Trenton, Hamilton, Princeton, Pennington) frequently offer free lectures and other activities. What we do might be most similar to what they do. But due to their public nature, library programs are more limited. We are trying to organize a more diverse range of activities and want to provide opportunities for more facilitators and participants by bringing the process of organizing activities into our own hands. [relevant article on our blog]
- Some of our activities are more like club activities. In many cases, it is not at all important (possibly, even harmful) to identify the teacher-student relationships as long as the club members enjoy the meaningful time together.
- We can say that there are two types of free schools. One is mainly for adults. This type is often called free skools. There are a fairly large number of free schools of this type (see this directory). The other is mainly for children (see the list on this page for the ones nearest to Mercer County). Practically, we are of the first type, but we do have some activities corresponding to those of the second type and share their aspirations.
- October 2012
- August 2012
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- October 2011
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- December 2010
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- "Don’t Give Up On Being A Better Speaker," U.S.1 (10/10/12)
- "Things to do in Mercer, Day 6: Learn for free," MercerSpace.com (7/9/10) [article no longer available on-line]
- "Free your mind, for free," MercerSpace.com (4/23/10, on-line); also as "Mercer Free School offers classes, no cost," Ewing Observer (5/1/10, print) [article no longer available on-line]