The National Freedom School Project
If one wanted to design schools for children from marginalized and stigmatized communities, one might very well come up with something like the Freedom Schools — affirming, agency –building, connected with social justice practice. Given the deep positive impacts we see on a number of different developmental domains, Cornwall staff, in partnership with colleagues in the Office of Teaching and Learning in Newark Public Schools., started thinking about how education in that tradition could be made more available to more young people. Could some traditional public schools be re-engineered with Freedom School principles. Can these principles be built into after-school programs or teacher training programs?
We developed a strong national advisory board to help us think about this:
Kaleena Berryman | Associate Director, Newark Alliance – Newark Youth Career Pathways Program
Jitu Brown | National Director of the Journey for Justice Alliance (J4J), a coalition of grassroots organizations in over 30 cities
Kristal Moore Clemons | National Director, Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools
Charles E. “Charlie” Cobb Jr. | Journalist, professor, and activist; Field Secretary for Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1963; wrote the proposal that led SNCC to create Freedom Schools as part of the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project
Darleen Gearhart | Director of Mathematics and former principal, Newark Board of Education
Jeanne Middleton Hairston | Former Director of Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools; former chair of the Department of Education, Millsaps College; member of the Jackson, Mississippi Board of Education
Linda Darling-Hammond | Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education Emeritus at Stanford University, founding president of the Learning Policy Institute, and past president of the American Educational Research Association
Reverend Dr. William Howard | Former Pastor, Bethany Baptist Church, Newark, NJ; former member of the Children’s Defense Fund Board of Directors
Robert “Bob” Moses (deceased) | Legendary organizer in the civil rights movement; MacArthur Fellow; founder of the Algebra Project
Professor Paul Ortiz | University of Florida, author of An African American and Latinx History of the United States
Professor Charles Payne, Project Coordinator | Director of the Joseph C. Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies at Rutgers University; studies educational inequality and the civil rights movement
Professor Theresa Perry | Expert in multi-cultural education and teacher preparation; author of Young Gifted and Black: Promoting High Achievement Among African American Students
Dr. Mary Ann Reilly, Project Coordinator | Assistant Superintendent, Newark Public Schools, Office of Teaching and Learning
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons | Retired professor, University of Florida; former SNCC field secretary, SNCC, Freedom School Director (1964), Laurel, MS
Sharon Smith | Parent organizer; President of Parents Unified for Local School Education, Newark, NJ
Professor Angela Valenzuela | Director of the Texas Center for Education Policy; Director of the National Latino Education Research and Policy Project
In the fall of 2021, we began a series of events intended to stimulate interest in the idea of schooling in the spirit of Freedom Schools, spotlight creative and effective work, educate ourselves about the work already being done t, share resources and kindle the development of local groups who can push the work where they are. We also developed a Freedom School Resource Guide and Project Overview available to anyone interested in learning more about this work.
We think it is important that Freedom Schools be rooted in and shaped by an informed community. Newark has had a rich tradition of education for liberation dating back at least 60 years. We are planning a series of events in coming months to look back at those efforts and think about what we can learn from them for the work we are planning. Video from the first event, “Focused on Freedom: Schools and Communities” is here. In addition, Newark Public Schools have shown considerable interest in the Freedom School model, including having some Newark teachers trained in Freedom School pedagogy. We hope this will begin in the spring of 2023.
The Freedom School Project is an attempt to change the national conversation about education for the children of disenfranchised communities. We advocate re-engineering some schools in such communities based on the principles underlying Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Freedom Schools and similar efforts—schools that approach learning as affirming, elevating, rigorous, joyous, and transformative for self and community. For further information or to join our mailing list, please write to cornwall [at] newark [dot] rutgers [dot] edu