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Non-traditional education , also known as Alternative education or educational alternative, describes a number of approaches to teaching and learning other than mainstream or traditional education. Educational alternatives are often rooted in various philosophies that are fundamentally different from those of mainstream or traditional education. While some have strong political, scholarly, or philosophical orientations, others are more informal associations of teachers and students dissatisfied with some aspect of mainstream or traditional education. Educational alternatives, which include charter schools, alternative schools, independent schools, and home-based learning vary widely, but often emphasize the value of small class size, close relationships between students and teachers, and a sense of community.


For some, especially in many U.S. states, the term alternative refers to educational settings for "at risk" students, as it is, for example, in this definition drafted by the Massachusetts Department of Education. [1] Other words used in place of alternative by many educational professionals include non-traditional, non-conventional, or non-standardized, although these terms are used somewhat less frequently and may have negative connotations and multiple meanings. Those involved in forms of education which differ in their educational philosophy (as opposed to their intended pupil base) often use words such as authentic, holistic, and progressive as well. However, these words each have different meanings which are more specific or more ambiguous than simply alternative.


While pedagogical controversy is very old, "alternative education" presupposes some kind of orthodoxy which the alternative is in opposition to. In general, this limits the term to the last two or perhaps three centuries, with the rise of standarized and, later, compulsory education at the primary and secondary levels. Many critics in this period have suggested that the education of young people should be undertaken in radically different ways than ones in practice. In the 19th century, the Swiss humanitarian Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, the American transcendentalists Amos Bronson Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, the founders of progressive education John Dewey and Francis Parker, and educational pioneers such as Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner (founder of the Waldorf schools), among others, all insisted that education should be understood as the art of cultivating the moral, emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects of the developing child. Anarchists such as Leo Tolstoy and Francisco Ferrer y Guardia emphasized education as a force for political liberation, secularism, and elimination of class distinctions.

More recently, social critics such as John Caldwell Holt, Paul Goodman, Frederick Mayer, George Dennison and Ivan Illich have examined education from more individualist, anarchist, and libertarian perspectives, that is, critiques of the ways that they feel conventional education subverts democracy by molding young people's understandings. Other writers, from the revolutionary Paulo Freire to American educators like Herbert Kohl and Jonathan Kozol, have criticized mainstream Western education from the viewpoint of their varied left-liberal and radical politics.

Modern forms[]

A wide variety of educational alternatives exist at the elementary, secondary, and tertiary levels of education. These generally fall into four major categories: school choice, alternative school, independent school, and home-based education. These general categories can be further broken down into more specific practices and methodologies.

School choice[]

Main article: School choice

The public school options include entirely separate schools in their own settings as well as classes, programs, and even semi-autonomous "schools within schools." Public school choice options are open to all students in their communities, though some have waiting lists. Among these are charter schools, combining private initiatives and state funding; and magnet schools, which attract students to particular themes, such as performing arts.

Alternative school[]

Main article: Alternative school

In education, the phrase alternative school, sometimes referred to as a minischool, or special school, is "any public or private school having a special curriculum, especially an elementary or secondary school offering a more flexible program of study than a traditional school." [1]

Many such schools were founded in the United States in the 1970s as an alternative to mainstream or traditional classroom structure. [2] A wide range of philosophies and teaching methods are offered by alternative schools; some have strong political, scholarly, or philosophical orientations, while others are more ad-hoc assemblies of teachers and students dissatisfied with some aspect of mainstream or traditional education. In 2003 there were approximately 70 alternative schools in the United Kingdom. In the UK public funding is not available for alternative schools and therefore alternative schools are usually fee-paying institutions. [3]

Popular education[]

Main article: Popular education

Popular education was related in the 19th century to the workers' movement [How to reference and link to summary or text]. Such experiences have been continued through-out the 20th century, such as the folk high schools in Scandinavian countries, or the "popular universities" in France.

Independent school[]

Main article: Independent school

Independent, or private, schools have more flexibility in staff selection and educational approach. The most plentiful of these are Montessori schools, Waldorf schools (the latter are also called Steiner schools after their founder), and Friends schools. Other independent schools include democratic, or free schools such as Sands School, Summerhill School and Sudbury Valley School, Krishnamurti schools, open classroom schools, those based on experiential education, as well as schools which teach using international curriculum such as the International Baccalaureate and Round Square schools. An increasing number of traditionally independent school forms now also exist within state-run, public education; this is especially true of the Waldorf and Montessori schools. The majority of independent schools offer at least partial scholarships.

See also: List of Friends Schools, List of Sudbury Schools, and List of Waldorf Schools

Home-based education[]

Main article: Homeschooling

Families who seek alternatives based on educational, philosophical, or religious reasons, or if there appears to be no nearby educational alternative can decide to have home-based education. Some call themselves unschoolers, for they follow an approach based on interest, rather than a set curriculum. Others enroll in umbrella schools which provide a curriculum to follow. Many choose this alternative for religious-based reasons, but practitioners of home-based education are of all backgrounds and philosophies.

Correctional Education[]

Main article: Correctional Education


There are also some interesting grey areas. For instance, home-educators have combined to create resource centers where they meet as often as five or more days a week, but their members all consider themselves home-educated. In some states publicly run school districts have set up programs for homeschoolers whereby they are considered enrolled, and have access to school resources and facilities.

Also, many traditional schools have incorporated methods originally found only in alternative education into their general approach, so the line between alternative and mainstream education is continually becoming more blurred.



Preshil, in Kew, Australia, was established in the 1930s. It is one of the few alternative schools in Australia that is unaffiliated with any doctrinal or theological movement. Its primary school has run since established by Margaret Lyttle in 1931, and the secondary school since the late 1970s. See also Village School, Vic; Currambena Primary, NSW; Melbourne Community School, Vic; Collingwood College, Vic; Fitzroy Community School, Vic; Lynall Hall, Vic; Berengarra, Vic Candlebark School, Vic and Brisbane Independent School, Qld.


In Canada, some privately run schools receive government school funding.

The Toronto District School Board has adopted alternative programs into their school system. Sometimes these take the form of entire schools, like Mountview Alternative School which shares space with the much larger Keele Elementary School in Toronto's High Park-Junction, and sometime they are programs within schools, like the Triangle Program, Canada's only high school program designed especially for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

Then there are also schools like Divine Class, a holistic non-school that guides and certifies average people (aged 18+) how to read people, situations, and events through "alternative" methods such as Tarot reading, psychic ability, and esoteric systems.

In Quebec the Universal School of Life has been around for more than 23 years and is focused on Indigo Children and Families and has created a way of life for Indigo Families. see:


In India, beginning in the early part of the 20th century, many educational theorists have discussed and implemented radically different forms of education. Rabindranath Tagore's Shantiniketan and Mahatma Gandhi's ideal of "basic education" are primary examples. In recent years many new alternative schools have formed, like Sarang[2] Palakad Kerala, Adharshila[3] Saakad MP, Poorna Learning Centre [4] and Sita School - Bangalore, Kanavu, and Timbaktoo Collective Andhra Pradesh. At higher levels of education one finds educational alternatives like that hold open knowledge as an ideal. In the last few decades holistic education, in which the environment of the student is considered an essential part of the educational process, has become popular. More links to these initiatives are following [5]


Meiji, Taisho, Showa eras (up to World War II)[]

Japan’s first law on the school system, modeled after France, was proclaimed in 1872[4], but the word “compulsory education” did not appear in the law until 1886[5].

"The New Education (Neue Erziehung) movement" started at a British school of Abbotsholme (founded in 1889) reached Japan, where it turned into "Taisho-era Free Education Movement" (Taisho Jiyu Kyoiku Undo 大正自由教育運動). They tried to establish a system focusing on children’s interests and to provide live and liberal learning environment instead of the standardized inflexible system. Schools were founded, both public and private, based on this concept.

All public schools built under this new movement were subjected to the Militaristic and Nationalistic government control and turned into National Schools (Kokumin Gakko 国民学校) in 1941, modeled after Nazi’s primary education system. Many private schools survived and still exist today. Almost all of them maintain the Western influence, however some have lost its roots and enthusiasm. Others are still strongly known as a “unique school” such as Jiyu Gakuen (自由学園) for its high student-autonomy, and Tamagawa Gakuen (玉川学園) as the only Round Square member school in Japan.

After World War II[]

Japan’s recovery efforts from the World War II and the subsequent so-called post-war economic miracle encouraged the mass production of educated work force and the highly competitive entrance exams, which gave little space for alternative education. ALL children with disabilities, regardless of the severity, were finally allowed to Special Schools (Yogo Gakko養護学校) in 1979.

To this date the Japanese education has been run as a nation-wide standardized system under the full control of the Ministry of Education. The only alternative option has been accredited private schools that have more freedom to offer different curriculum including the choice of textbooks (public schools can use only the government approved textbooks) and foreign languages, teaching methods, hiring guidelines. However, almost all of these private schools require competitive entrance examination and tuition with very few scholarships available.

1970s and early 1980s school violence was the major problem. Private non-accredited Totsuka Yacht School (戸塚ヨットスクール), one of such schools for correction education, had multiple deaths and missing incidents.

Some public and private schools, usually non-competitive ones, had been functioning as American-equivalent of alternative schools to accept "at-risk” students, though most of them never claimed themselves as one. A private boarding High school, Hokusei-Gakuen Yoichi (北星学園余市高等学校), being one of the few exceptions, admitted its status as the alternative school and started to accept High school drop outs from all over the country since 1988.

1980s to present[]

Since 1980s the problem shifted from violence against people and property to ijime (いじめ insidious bullying by a group of peers) to drive the victim into School refusal, Hikikomori (acute social withdrawal) and the worst case, suicide. It is 1980s that the second wave of alternative education movement came in.

There exist two different forces that triggered the interest in alternative education: Ijime and Globalization.

Ijime and Free Schools

Free school is the term used in Japan to describe a non-profit groups or independent schools specialized in the care and education of children who refused to go to school. Tokyo Shure (東京シューレ founded in 1985, modeled after the American democratic school) was the beginning of the Free School emergence in Japan. It started as a shelter for children who avoid school environment, then introduced homeschooling in 1998, creating several branches around Tokyo. It was approved as a Non-profit organization in 2000 to run a college. Japanese free schools have various policies and curriculum. Though most of them are democratic schools, there are Juku’s(cram school) that house school-refusal children. Clonlara School from Ann Arbor, Michigan is another major home-based education provider.

Learned from China’s Special Economic Zone policy, Japan introduced Special Zones for Structural Reform (構造改革特別区域) in 2003, which enables to open a government-accredited school that provides alternative education. The first school founded in 2005 under the new law was a charter school called Gunma Kokusai Academy ぐんま国際アカデミー, an English immersion school for grades 7 through 12. Tokyo Shure also started a free school-based junior high school in 2007 in the special zone of Katsushika, Tokyo.

Globarization and International schools

More and more parents are interested in sending their children to International schools to aqcuire native-level command of foreign language (English mostly), with a possible plan of higher education outside of Japan. Although International schools are not legally certified by the Japanese government, many of them are approved by its home country such as US, Canada, Germany, France, Korea and China, and some offer the International Baccalaureate program. For the past two decades or so, International, especially American or English-based, schools have been very popular in spite of its costly tuition, however the new trend in the early 21st century is Chinese schools. In expectation of China’s rapid economic growth, many think knowledge of the Chinese language and culture will be valuable. Compared to American school, which covers all the materials in English only, Chinese schools teach Chinese, Japanese and English for only a 1/8 to 1/4 of what an American school charges for a tuition. [6].

United Kingdom[]

Sands School is an alternative school in the UK. It has only 65 students, with a high ratio of teachers. The students learn at their own pace in a supportive environment. The school is run democratically, with the students having as much say in how the school is run as the staff. Decisions are made by voting in a weekly school meeting, where matters ranging from what colour the new carpets should be, to the employment of new staff. The school offers a full range of subjects, and attendance to lessons is negotiated, not compulsory. The school also educates students on a larger range than most schools, and gives students choice in what they can learn. Their interests form a large part of what is offered in the curriculum.

United States[]

Terra Bella Academy, in Mountain View, CA is a publicly funded alternative public school for 8th through 12th grades with about a 1/12 student teacher ratio. The academic curriculum is affiliated with the University of Santa Clara (Santa Clara, CA, USA) and includes social interactive and team building activities. See also

See also[]

Further reading[]

  • Korn, Claire V. (1991). Alternative American Schools: Ideals in Action, Ithaca, New York: SUNY Press.
  • Trickett, Edison J. (1991). Living an Idea: Empowerment and the Evolution of an Alternative High School, University of Maryland: Brookline Books.



External links[]