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Some of us are old enough to remember that era of youthful idealism, drugs, roc and roll, and disdain for authority, when young people made common cause agains the police, the military, the schools, and those of us over 30. Sit-ins and walk-outs were common in the high schools. The Little Red Schoolbook (1971) advocated anarchy in the schools, and Postman and Weingartner wrote Teaching as a Subversive Activity(1969).
"The times they are a-changin'," Bob Dylan noted, and educators responded. We designed classrooms-without-walls, schools-within-schools, and even schools-without-walls. Many of us were intrigued by the ideas of A. S. Neil, John Holt, Abraham Maslow, Neil Postman, and Carl Rogers. Maybe the gurus' insights were misunderstood, misapplied, or wrong, but we were energized by the upheaval and threw ourselves into educational reform.
One of these reforms was the alternative school movement. Formed with good intentions, alternative schools tried to harness the rebellious spirit of the times, to be creative, and to teach something. Many programs were highly innovative, introducing a wide variety of subjects and strategies and serving a diverse population. Others were miniatures of traditional high schools but with smaller class sizes and watered-down courses for "problem" students. The words "alternative schools" came to mean schools for the unruly and unmanageable, or--a minority opinion--for high-spirited, creative, and idealistic youth. Almost every school district had an alternative school that administrators coul either point to with pride or steer visitors away from.
Then came the blight. Many programs blossomed, withered, and died, coinciding roughly with the life-cycle of the leisure suit. Program directors and others often used a convenient excuse: The times they are a-changin'---again. With the emergence of less strident student populations, any program surviving beyond th mid-80s was considered an anachronism. "Programs of this type are no longer needed," concluded one teacher in a letter recommending the end of his program. "The kinds of students they …