Why it Works

The Philadelphia Free School is a vibrant space where students from all racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds construct new knowledge and complex understandings. PFS students are actively engaged in the civic, economic, and educational stewardship of their communities, in and outside of school.

PFS is premised on the following beliefs:

  • Urban youth, like all people, are curious, resourceful, and creative
  • Learning is most efficient and profound when the learner creates and owns the learning process
  • Growth and understanding are promoted by interaction among people of different ages, genders, races, and backgrounds
  • Freedom is essential to the development of personal responsibility
  • Civic responsibility is best learned through participation in democratic processes
  • Once acquired, the skills and attitudes of personal and civic responsibility are what enable people to transform their lives and the life of their communities for the better

How does the learning happen?

In order to understand how students take advantage of the freedom and responsibility they get at PFS, the words of students themselves are often the most effective means. Check out this thesis written by our first graduate Desmond Lee. 

For a deep look at how human beings are wired to learn this way, watch this talk by Professor Peter Gray: "Mother Nature's Pedagogy:  How Children's Natural Curiosity, Playfulness, and Sociability Serve Their Education"

And to hear a perspective on how this approach to education has broader implications for liberation in general, watch this talk by Akilah Richards on Self Directed Education that she delivered at the Alternative Education Forum in 2019.

For further exploring, check out these links below:


Don’t take it from us! Here are some pieces that support aspects of our educational philosophy: