An Archipelago of Thinkers: The Free School Movement as a Social Movement

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The Free School Movement of the 1960s was a short educational reform effort that grew out of the anti-establishment and anti-authoritarian ideas of the counterculture. This group of radical thinkers included individuals like Jonathan Kozol, George Dennison, and John Holt and built upon the rich history of education reform in the United States. This study investigates whether the framework created by sociologist Charles Tilly to study social movements can be applied to education reform efforts like the Free School Movement. The goal of the study is twofold. First, it is to determine whether the Free School Movement can be termed a social movement using Tilly's framework and thus, if the framework can be used to create a common language for the study of educational reform efforts. Second, the study situates the Free School Movement within the larger stream of American educational history. Ultimately, the study concludes that the Free School Movement can be termed a social movement according to Tilly's definition. In determining this, the study also shows that Tilly's framework can, with a few modifications, be used to study education reform efforts and to provide a basis for comparison and analysis. In addition, the study is able to demonstrate that the Free School Movement wrestled with the same tensions common to many educational reform efforts in American history. While those who participated in the Free School Movement believed that they were attempting something new and different, this study shows that the Movement was part of a long struggle to determine if education should be viewed as a public or private good.