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Why progressive education?

Learning by doing.

A memorized fact is difficult to retain, yet a personal discovery is almost impossible to forget. This truth underlies all learning at Free Union.

Students don’t just read about Colonial America—they stage their own Boston Tea Party–style protest and craft a declaration of independence. In a study on immigration, role play takes the place of lecturing as kids become immigrants and submit their passports at an imaginary Ellis Island. Kindergartners study space wearing space packs and gravity boots. Students live their learning.

Growth in character, not just intellect.

Each student is seen as a person, with his or her own emotional, social, and intellectual gifts and needs. As community members, students learn to resolve conflicts, greet others with eye contact and a clear hello, and listen to each other. Kindness, respect and tolerance are as important as math, science and history.

As one parent puts it, Free Union kids are good people when they leave the school.

Teachers ask rather than tell.

Curiosity fuels the Free Union classroom. Answers aren’t handed out; teachers pose questions to guide students in making their own observations. Often, children’s interests shape coursework. An affinity for rocks might lead to a materials science course with explorations in the field. Say a child likes a famous painting; the class will talk about the artist and time period, and then pull out the brushes.

Students are known, not graded.

Bug collectors, mathematicians, poets, peacemakers, superheroes, gentle souls. Free Union children are embraced as individuals by their teachers, their peers and their school community.

Instead of assigning letter grades, Free Union teachers offer personal, thorough and insightful narratives about their students. Conversations with parents are ongoing. Teachers are expert observers who pay close attention to classroom life.

At Free Union, learning wasn’t just about the facts but about using information to solve problems. I do that today.

—Free Union alum and Engineer