Can This Be School? Fifty Years of Democracy at ALPHA By Deb O’Rourke


  • Peter Gray Boston College


I remember, as a young U.S. adult, around 1970, thinking that the days of coercive schooling—the forced and uniform lessons, age segregation, unsolicited evaluation, grades as reward and punishment, and the rest that goes with what was (and is) known as standard schooling—were numbered. The air was full of revolutionary ideas about education. A.S. Neill’s Summerhill, his collection of essays about his radically alternative English boarding school, had been published (in 1960), with a forward of praise by the famous psychologist and social critic Eric Fromm. By 1970 the book had sold over three million copies and was assigned reading in an estimated 600 university courses (Miller, 2002). Other influential books of that time, most of which are still on my bookshelf and recognized by many as classics, include Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd (1960) and Compulsory Miseducation (1964); John Holt’s How Children Fail (1964), How Children Learn (1967), and Freedom and Beyond (1972); Jonathan Kozol’s Death at an Early Age (1967) and Free Schools (1972); Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) and Education for Critical Consciousness (1973); and Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society (1971).

          It was a heady time for young people looking for social change....

Author Biography

Peter Gray, Boston College

Research Professor of Psychology, Boston College