The ALPHA Experience

The Founding Document

approved by the Toronto Board of Education – 1971


We are an ever-evolving community of educationally concerned people. We agree that important innovations can be found within some Toronto schools, and that we would like to incorporate them in our educational program.

However, we do not feel that our aims are being met:
sufficiently in any one existing program;

consistently throughout all grades;

  1. with sufficient parent participation.

We believe in the need for the school environment to be designed so as to consciously reflect ALPHA’s values of cooperation, tolerance of diversity, freedom of expression, autonomy, and social responsibility. Competition in the program will be de-emphasized. Nowhere will competition be supported where it leads to feelings of self-worth based upon comparative success or failure.

With the help of interested parents, teachers, children, and adults of all ages, our community school will afford the opportunity for 4 – 13 year olds to choose not only what they learn, but how and when they learn. Communication skills will share equal emphasis with the arts, sciences, and community-related projects. The role of teacher will be filled not only by certified teachers, but by children, parents, and resource people coming into the school on a regular basis. Resources available in the program will reflect a variety of different learning styles. For example, in teaching computation, both discovery learning techniques as well as programmed texts should be made available.

Enrollment in the school will be limited initially to approximately 100 children. The community will directly participate in the selection of staff and, with the staff and students, help determine the curriculum.

I. Some Basics

  1. The educational environment to be designed should:
    maximize the opportunity for the development of:

Competence – the skills and abilities (intellectual, social, and emotional) basic to life in the complex society of the future.
For example:
a facility for reading and communication

a facility for computation

learning how to learn so that a lifetime becomes a continuous educational experience

knowledge of the society of which one is a part

developing an ability to coordinate with others on cooperative enterprises

developing interpersonal skills of understanding and relating necessary for a rich personal life

Initiative – the ability and motivation to control the terms of reference of one’s life (an “inner directedness”)

Self-respect – the creation of feelings of positive self-worth based on one’s own uniqueness and ability to grow in both intellectual and emotional terms

  1. reflect and nurture the values of:
  2. Cooperation – the desirability and necessity to consider others in problem solving (both from the standpoint of sharing experience and knowledge as well as re-affirming community)

Diversity – acceptance and positive valuing of differences among people

Freedom of expression

Autonomy – being able to control one’s life

Social responsibility – meaningful and continuous interpersonal involvement within an extended group.


II. Factors that bear on maximizing the development of competence, initiative, and self-respect, encouraging children and adults to define, pursue, and achieve their own educational goals.

    1. Resources available in the program will reflect a variety of different learning styles. For example, in teaching computation both discovery learning techniques as well as programmed texts should be made available.
    2. Although the environment for the program will be well thought out and structured, there will be no restrictions on a child’s use of resources. Thus the program will be non-graded; without any rules about what material a child should be exposed to at what time of day or at what age. Neither will a child be restricted to choice of activity or pace at which he should learn.
    3. There will be no norms of skill acquisition and no formal evaluation of a child’s performance. However, activity records may be kept by both resource people and the children themselves.
    4. Community inputs in terms of “instruction” will allow both a lowering of the teacher/student ratio and the opportunity for continuous curriculum development. This curriculum development will reflect both a wide range of activities and interests as well as the prospects of devising materials directly related to the lives of the children.
    5. Interaction with the “host community” in terms of offering and encouraging the use of the “ALPHA Experience” as a local community resource. This point is important to the prevention of the ALPHA community from becoming insular.
    6. Allowing opportunities for private as well as public learning experiences. In our present school almost all behaviour is public behaviour – behaviour performance in the presence of others. Such a context of learning often has detrimental effects which may be eliminated if the opportunity for private experiences could be facilitated.
    7. Competition in the program will be de-emphasized. Nowhere will competition be supported where it leads to feelings of self-worth based upon comparative success or failure.


III. Factors through which value development is to be achieved.

The following are seen as a variety of sources of influence:

Modeling behaviour – adult members of the school community exhibiting behaviour toward each other and toward children which are reflective of the above values.

Choice of curriculum materials – use of materials that require both individual and cooperative work, that reflect diversity and freedom of expression, that emphasize an individual’s responsibility to the larger group, etc.

Social reinforcement – humans are inherently social animals dependent on love and recognition for survival. Behaviour expressive of the above values will be given support via this mode of influence.

Organization of interpersonal relations in the program to shift the source of influence from formal authority to functional competence.

The organization of time and space in the program can be seen as a media through which value priorities can be carried. Activities are to be organized so that all program objectives receive equal importance. There should be no perception of a core and fringe activities.

By maintaining and fostering a heterogeneous community (in terms of background and life style) the value of diversity can be fostered.


IV. Some other issues

When the school opens in September 1972 the minimum areas to be offered will be language arts, computational instruction, and sensory development (music, art, drama, other self-expression forms) and what community inputs can be provided.

The materials chosen and constructed will be constrained by consideration of: teacher capabilities, the need to reflect variety of learning styles, value emphases, and community resources.

The material should be such that knowledge areas to be presented are embedded in the context of some relevant life settings, rather than for example, computation taught in the abstract.

The teachers in program will need to have the following capabilities:
professionally knowledgeable about the use of resources;

capable of devising environments that vary in their assumptions about learning;

ability to work with the community and reflect in behaviour the dominant community values;

be able to diagnose children’s behaviour in terms of what values it represents;

capable of relating well to kids;

ability to facilitate continuous curriculum development.

Once the program is approved, a procedure needs to be devised for the continuous monitoring and evaluation of the program.

Ideally, we would like to see the program organized into four learning centers: science, arts, communications (language development including arithmetic) and community-related projects. There would be no separate area for primary children but rather material would be available in each of the above areas for both younger and older kids.

Additionally, staff and community would be responsible for trying to foster activities in each of these areas which were integrally interlinked.


V. Governance

Head teacher to be appointed as soon as possible.

School to be governed by a staff-community council.

With regard to internal conflict:
An individual’s rights are always subject to the rights of the community –
a child or teacher does not have complete freedom.

For older children “reality centered” (natural consequences) control is appropriate.
More directiveness (I think they meant “direction”), however, would be used with younger children.

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