What Happens When Kids Run the School: Approaching the Elephant

Rich Juzwiak · 02/20/15 12:55PM

The clip above depicts chaos or democracy (or both), depending how you look at it. It's from Amanda Rose Wilder's documentary Approaching the Elephant (opening today in New York), which documents the first year of the Teddy McArdle Free School in Little Falls, NJ. Shot over the course of the the 2007-2008 school year (Teddy McArdle has since closed), Elephant captures the freedom and tumult that results from allowing young students (here they range in age from 6-11) to govern themselves, in this case, giving them equal say with their adult supervisors in terms of curriculum and rules. "Free schooling" (sometimes referred to as "democratic education") is a concept that has existed for over a century and the execution of its ideals varies from school to school. Approaching the Elephant is a snapshot of one, filmed in the observational style akin to Wilder's influences like Frederick Wiseman, the Maysles, and the Dardennes.