Giulia is a former student and teacher at the Freie Aktive Schule (FAS) Stuttgart. In this interview we talk with her about her time at the school, what she liked most about the school, what she would change and how the school works in general. Here, you can take a look to the shortened and edited1 transcription of the interview with the main ideas:
“A free school is a school where you can do what you want to do and have the chance to push yourself in the things you are great. You have more motivation, more inspiration, more support for the things you can do good.
Five years ago, when I was a student here, a typical day for me was to come to the school, see my friends and then to look what I wanted to do. Actually we had two kinds of days depending on your age:
The students are separated in age groups. Every morning we sit together depending on the age, so we have different morning circles for primary, secondary and tertiary. You can move around with freedom, so the smallest can go to the oldest and the oldest to the smallest but they usually stay in their groups automatically because they are friends.
In the morning session we have specific plans for each group. Sometimes we have some projects or stuff that are for both, for example the sports activities. During these activities it’s nice to see how the oldest take care of the smallest.
During the morning session we usually read a book together with the small kids. After that the kids can do what they want. They get a little monkey in their hands and share with the group what they want to do: “Today I want to ….”.
The teachers don’t push anybody to study or do any activity. For example, I saw a 10 years old student telling to the teacher “I don’t really want to do the mathematics stuff today” and then the teacher said to the student “Ok, so what would you like to do?” and then, “when are you coming back?” So they agree a date. That’s the timetable of the student.
When I was younger I already had in my mind before coming to the school what I wanted to do. I usually did my plans in the evening.
You cannot really get bored because you have always a teacher who is front of you to help you. When you get older you have your lessons about the same subjects that in the normal school: Maths, English…
Talking about the spaces. We have the sun room where the children can learn in a free space, a room where they can eat, another one where they can build some stuff with Kapla building blocks, play some games or read books.
We have a creative room where we can paint, make some clothes or whatever we want to do. We have another room where we can work with wood and then we have a great outdoor area, a soccer place, a place for climbing, a fire place and place where children can build their own little houses.
We have also a big house where children can make some sports. Sometimes in the morning we have offers to make sports and release your energy. Then we have also little classrooms where you can sit there and have some lessons. We have also a music room with piano, and guitars and a room for science to do some biology or physics.
The role of the teachers here is to be there for the students, to set them the base for the freedom. They give us the main base for our freedom. They observe us and protect us. We have some fixe rules that are not very strong but you cannot do whatever you want to do, like smoking, using your phone…
The best part of the school was that I could do what I wanted to do, I could play music, just be myself and learn about who I am. Another advantage of the school is that you can promote your social life because everyone here is an individual and everyone has the full respect of the adult. I never heard or felt some kind of bullying because everybody here is allowed to be whoever wants to be, everybody gets a real respect for who is and what he/she does.
Maybe you can find here one problem but it’s not a problem of writing or a social problem. It’s only the fear about your future. I had a friend who was two years older than me and she had to do the examination and I saw the pressure in her. Then I had the same feeling so I wanted to go to the lessons. I think I missed a system because I had that feeling that I could never make an examination without a clear structure, I missed that structure. The problem was not to learn the stuff but to handle the fear that you are not good enough at the school like the others. Anyway it’s a good feeling to do something you don’t want, go through it and then you are finished.
When I left the school my first feeling was that I was happy to have for the first time in my school career some fix rules, some fix timetable and fix lessons. That’s the feeling you have at a normal school, you spend there your time and you know that in the normal case when you finish there, you will have examination and that was what I was searching for, go anywhere, sitting there, have my fun and don’t be afraid.
Then I reflected and realized that my time at the free school was my chance to have social experience, learn by doing, and that was the part that I lost when I changed school.
Regarding the implication of the parents in the school, it depends on the parents, some parents cook, others do garden stuff… I have the feeling that a lot of parents want to support the school because it’s a big family and they are in with the teachers too.
About evaluation it depends on the age of the children. The younger ones they don’t have any marks or tests or something like that. But if you get older, and you have your examination closer in the future, then you need some training for the examination and you have to make some tests to check you knowhow but not to give you a mark like a 5 or a 6, it’s only for you to see how good you are.
To change from primary to secondary you have to do a little examination. You have to choose a topic and make a presentation about it. My presentation was about my rabbit, about rabbits in general and about what rabbits shouldn’t eat and something like that. It is something you make on your own.
To change from Secondary to Tertiary, it’s really hard because you have to do a project and then you have to make a presentation about it. For example, my project was about dressing the rooms for the kindergarten and the toilets, you have to design it and make it real.
Nowadays I am here working as a teacher, I just get some watch in the teacher’s life and now I understand what kind of people the teachers are. I like the social feeling when we meet together in the morning. It’s a feeling I miss sometimes in my life. At the end of the day the teachers meet again and talk about the day, what they saw, how was the day, which were the problems over the day, they talk to each other, they support each other, they give feedback to each other. I am happy to see adults that are so basic in the social life.