School Daze

The School Where Kids Are in Charge

New York City is notorious for its lottery-driven public-school admissions system and crazy competitive private-school pressure, but one school in East Harlem eludes all of the hype. The Manhattan Free School has 23 enrolled students, ages 5 to 18, the majority of which pay annual tuition of about $3,000—equal to the salary of the school’s principal, Pat Werner. At Manhattan Free School, which opened in 2008, kids are encouraged to direct their own schedule. There are classes, but students are welcome to play videogames or do crafts instead. “It comes down to trust,” Werner told The New York Times, “the trust that given time, they’ll find their passions, and when they do, they’ll be eager to learn.” Students and members of the faculty vote on all policies, including the hour of day that school should end, but the school has only two full-time teachers; parents and volunteers provide the rest of the educational support needed. The Brooklyn Free School, which prides itself on a similar philosophy to school, opened six years ago and has 30 students enrolled.