Nov 15

Billy Jack and the Freedom School

Okay, I’m a Billy Jack fan. And after being drawn to watching his movies again I found them even more cool than when I first watched them as a kid. I remembered the martial arts and butt kicking Billy Jack did and I too felt the passion of Billy Jack at seeing such hatred over those who are different. It didn’t matter whether it was race, ethnicity, religion, political belief, gender, or sexual orientation there were those who hated and took their hatred to the extreme of hurting others based solely on the fact that they were different. What I never really focus on was the Freedom School his real-life wife co-star was running in the movie! I mean, I knew it was a great place for the kids but I never really saw it as an alternative to how we educate our kids. I enjoy looking at examples of alternative education (I wrote a post asking for examples of alternative ed) and the Freedom School in the Billy Jack movies strikes me as one end of the spectrum, the end I’ll call very un-traditional.

On the other end of the spectrum I’d expect to find your typical 20th century, factory-model, industrial age school. There are 30 or so kids in a classroom sitting in desks lined up in rows all facing the front of the room. At that front of the room there is a teacher person lecturing to share knowledge with all the students using a blackboard (or whiteboard) to show examples. The students job is to sit quietly, listen, maybe takes notes, and absorb the knowledge as it is given. If lucky students are able to question the lecture and maybe even start a discussion.

Then there’s the Freedom School. In the Billy Jack movies the students who attend the Freedom School range from the misfits who can’t the town’s “regular” school, Native American children who aren’t allowed to attend the town’s “regular” school or who are bullied so much they’d rather not attend, and kids who are otherwise in the system either by having been arrested, are into drugs, or have run away from home. So these aren’t what might be typically known as high achieving students. At the Freedom School there are what we might call classes. Groups of kids and an adult or more convene to create music, art, dramatic plays, or even learn history (and not just the White man’s history) or maths and sciences. In the movie a character describes the school by saying, “Anything any kid wants to learn they try to teach it to them here.” There are only three rules in the Freedom School: 1. no drugs, 2. everyone had to carry his/her own load, and 3. everyone had to get turned on by creating something, anything. The school was open to any kid with a problem no matter what ethnicity who could come anytime they want, stay as long they want, and leave when they wanted. No questions asked. Kids are allowed to make their own decision. That’s about as far as I can think from the 20th century, factory-model classroom.

The 20th century, factory-model is one many of us are working to move away from. We encourage and write about ways to make our classrooms reflect the 21st century that we are living in. While the Billy Jack Freedom School model is too far from what most of our still traditional schools can do there are lessons we can take away from them. Encouraging kids to create by giving them the ultimate freedom, the choice to even create something, seems like a good take away. What I do like is that even in that school each kid was still required to carry their own load. I wonder what that would look like in my classroom. I’ve written about kids being bored in school and about kids socializing in school because those seem to be barriers to working, which seems to me to be a barrier to learning. I mean if kids aren’t doing something with the material how can they learn the material? But then I go back to do I give them the freedom to learn what they want or do I still force them to learn the topics I’ve chosen and only give them choice within those topics? I mean, it’s still choice to study anything you want about plants when we’re studying plants, but it’s not the same to say study any living thing you want or anything you want.

I keep reading blogs to see what other teachers are doing because I get inspiration to at least not worry so much about “time on task” and “engaged students” when I’ve made my class a gradeless room of learning. How can I be true to being gradeless if I’m still trying to force students to do things they don’t want to do? That being said, I really value the following:

1. Learning, you are here to learn Science.
2. Work. Success comes through hard work. That’s it.
3. Effort. You can improve at anything you want to by sticking with it. Even if it’s hard. If it’s easy ask for more of a challenge or come up with a way to make it more challenging yourself. We are motivated when we’re being challenged.
[My favorite definition of discipline: Sticking with what you don’t like to do to learn what you need to be able to do what you want well.]

So can we help students become critical thinkers who question and think deeply while still fostering an ability and desire to create and innovate???

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