Tyree Scott Freedom School

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The Tyree Scott Freedom School is a nine-day summer educational program in Seattle, Washington for people aged 15–21, designed to expose them to social justice issues, and teach anti-racist community-organizing skills. Students are able to learn about the history of community organizing in Seattle. The project also facilitates a monthly gathering of anti-racist educators, whose goal is to end institutional racism in the education system.

Freedom School History[edit]

Mississippi Freedom Summer 1964[edit]

During the summer of 1964, thousands of young civil-rights workers traveled to Mississippi and other southern states to register black voters and organize community centers—the Freedom Summer. In addition, they staffed 28 Freedom Schools in Mississippi.[1] Freedom Schools were created as schools of alternative education, to connect black youth and adults to education and community organizing, to develop their leadership, and teach the philosophy of the civil-rights movement. Freedom Schools also taught black history, reading, math, science, foreign languages, art, creative writing, and many other subjects that young people of color were otherwise were denied access to within Mississippi’s vastly inequitable public school system.[2][not in citation given] Organizers aimed to enroll 1,000 students, but they ended up with more than 3,000.[1]

Seattle Public Schools Boycott 1966[edit]

On March 31 and April 1, 1966, about 4,000 mostly African American K-12 students and their families boycotted the Seattle Public School district to protest racial segregation in Seattle schools. Most of the students relocated from their public schools to community Freedom Schools.[3]

The curriculum of the Seattle Freedom Schools included subjects that were not taught in Seattle Public Schools. There was an emphasis on teaching African American history and the history of the civil-rights movement. Freedom Schools also provided “leadership training [for youth to become] a new generation of civil rights leaders,” said Dr. Earl Miller, a Seattle organizer with the NAACP and CORE.[4]

Freedom School Revival 1997-2008[edit]

People's Institute for Survival and Beyond[edit]

The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond was founded in 1980 by two long-time community organizers, Ron Chisom of New Orleans, Louisiana, and Jim Dunn of Yellow Springs, Ohio. The People’s Institute was created to develop more anti-racist, culturally-rooted and effective community organizers. Over the past 26 years, over 100,000 people have gone through the Undoing Racism / Community Organizing workshop created by the People’s Institute. The People’s Institute has built a large collective of anti-racist, multicultural community organizers who do their work with an understanding of history, culture, and the impact of racism on communities.[5]

The People’s Institute Youth Agenda is an initiative of the People’s Institute. Its mission is to develop anti-racist, multicultural youth leadership, and to give youth a sense of their own power to organize. In 1997, the People’s Youth Agenda partnered with Black Males United for Change to successfully organize the first People’s Youth Freedom School, modeled after the Freedom Schools of the Civil Rights era. They adapted the People’s Institute Undoing Racism principles and analysis to create a five-week summer program for 22 youth. The next year, in 1998, New Orleans youth organizers planned a six-week Freedom School curriculum for over 40 youth participants. Each year since that time, the New Orleans Freedom School has continued to grow and develop.[6]

Since that time, similar Freedom Schools have spread out across the country, reaching hundreds of children and youth, and creating a network of anti-racist organizers connected through the principles of the People’s Institute. Freedom Schools have been held in Minneapolis (MN), Atlanta (GA), and Philadelphia (PN), with annual Freedom schools taking place in New Orleans (LA), Oakland (CA), Ferrell (PN), Duluth (MN), and Seattle (WA).[6]

Tyree Scott Freedom School in Seattle[edit]

Tyree Scott Freedom School History[edit]

American Friends Service Committee[edit]

Freedom Schools were revived in Seattle during the summer of 2001. In the late 1990s, due to the efforts of the People’s Institute in Seattle, the City of Seattle Undoing Institutional Racism Group, and their allies, there was renewed interest in challenging racial disparities within the education system. Two local groups which emerged from that effort were Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) and Taking Care of Kids is Power.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) was among the community organizations that mentored YUIR, which conducted regular sessions with youth on a variety of issues relevant to their lives. The AFSC is an international Quaker peace and justice organization. Its work is based on the Quaker belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.

YUIR and Taking Care if Kids is Power tackled the lack of multicultural curriculum, and racial disparities in discipline and achievement in the Seattle Public Schools. Youth trained themselves and testified at City Council Hearings and School Board Meetings. Successful city-wide teach-ins organized by scores of parents, teachers and activists were conducted to focus on these issues. Out of these efforts momentum was built, and in collaboration with the People’s Institute, AFSC launched the first Seattle Freedom School in 2001. Dustin Washington, Community Justice Program Director (AFSC), and Katie Wepplo, Program Assistant (AFSC), served as the primary organizers. “We were inspired by the Freedom Schools taking place in Oakland and New Orleans,” Dustin says, “we saw that our young people were not being exposed to the social justice issues that effect their lives and wanted to offer an alternative to the mainstream public and private education experience.”

The 2001 Seattle Freedom School was a 5-day organizing workshop which taught about 20 youth and young adults about racism, sexism, homophobia, and social justice. Organizers worked to develop anti-racist community organizing skills in young people and develop their leadership in a respectful and caring environment.

In 2003, Freedom School was named in honor of the community organizer Tyree Scott, who died that year. For five decades Scott worked as a community organizer in Seattle, fighting discriminatory hiring practices, breaking through racial barriers in the trade unions, starting worker-to-worker programs which linked the struggle of American workers to workers overseas, and co-founding the Northwest Labor and Employment Law Office (LELO). In 1970 the American Friends Service Committee gave Tyree Scott financial support to start a new community-based organization that organized workers of color to fight discrimination in the unions and in the construction trades, called the United Construction Workers Association.[7]

Since the inception of the Tyree Scott Freedom School in 2001, Dustin Washington has worked with other anti-racist community organizers to plan and facilitate the Tyree Scott Freedom School. Freedom School has become a central organizing effort to educate young people about the ways in which oppression and suffering manifests itself in their communities and in their lives, and what they can do to challenge it. The impact of Freedom School on individual participants ranges from profound and life-altering to marginally enlightening. In many cases, the benefits of this form of education will not be immediately apparent, but come about as the individual goes back into his/her own life and starts making connections between their real-life experiences and what they learned in Freedom School.

Freedom School gives young people a sense of their own power to change the world and a deeper understanding of their day-to-day experiences living within a racist society. Students and facilitators who participate in Freedom School often become involved in other aspects of community organizing with a number of different organizations. This also works in reverse, when groups and individuals become familiar with Freedom School through their involvement in other activities they in turn participate and become supporters of Freedom School.

Today Freedom School is facilitated almost entirely by former participants who have taken leadership over its development. Former Freedom School students and facilitators are engaged in anti-racist community organizing at Stanford University, in Philadelphia, PA, in Camden, NJ, at Western Washington University, at the University of Washington, and elsewhere.

Tyree Scott Freedom School Purpose[edit]

There is great need for Freedom School programs. Alternative, community-based education is essential because the mainstream school system continues to fail to meet the needs of students and families of color and does not teach young people about the issues most relevant to their lives. The mission of The Freedom School is to be a community-driven school where powerful and transformative popular education and learning are the norm and not the exception; where the whole person (body, heart, mind and soul) and the whole community are supported and challenged; where undoing racism, social justice, experiencing new worldviews, nonviolence and environmental sustainability are the curricular focus; and where diversity among individuals and communities and the unique developmental journey of each person is honored and celebrated.

Most Tyree Scott Freedom School students are enrolled in the Seattle Public School District, which is the largest public school system in Washington State, having 45,572 students enrolled for the 2008–2009 school year. Of those students 43.0% are White and 57.0% are non-white. 35.8% of students do not live with both parents, 39.2% are eligible for free or reduced-lunch, 23.7% of students are Limited English and Equal English, and 14% of all students received special education services.[8] These numbers are based on enrollment in 12 regular high schools, 10 middle schools, 9 K-8 schools, 58 elementary schools and 15 self-contained alternative schools including special education programs (Seattle Public Schools Homepage).

There is a direct correlation between the breakdown of the education system and the booming criminal justice system. Youth who are expelled from or drop out of school are much more likely to become involved in the juvenile justice system. In prisons across this country African-Americans make up 85% of the prison population, and have a 50% high school drop-out rate. In 2004–2005 the dropout rate for African American high school students in Seattle was almost twice that of white students, 21.1% compared to 11.9%.[9] Underfunded schools, lack of resources, lack of teachers of color, lack of guidance counselors, biased standardized testing, inequities in the tracking system, disparities in discipline, and cultural incompetency all contribute to this brutal reality.

Studies have shown that standardized testing is culturally biased. Factors such as race, class, school, learning environment, and the amount of resources available have great influence on students’ performance on these tests. In the Seattle School District, students take two major standardized assessment tests: the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) and SAT‘s (Scholastic Aptitude Test). The WASL is administered at the 3rd, 8th, and 10th grade levels, with 10th grade test scores determining eligibility for graduation. In 2006, 3/4 of the state’s African-American population who took the 10th grade WASL failed at least one of the subjects required to graduate. Two-thirds of the Native American population were not on track to earn a high-school diploma. Neither were more than half of Latinos.[10] High-stakes standardized tests are not a solution the breakdown of the education system. They increase the barriers for low income students and students of color to succeed, encourage schools to alter curriculum to match standardized tests, and take resources away from other programs to pay for testing and test prep.

Cultural competence and cultural ways of learning are not highly valued in today’s classroom. Individual merit and competition are. White students and students of color will often have the same disruptive behaviors in class, however white students will be labeled as bored and gifted therefore seen to need advanced placement, while students of color are seen as disruptive, disrespectful and placed into Special Education. Many parents of color don’t have the time or resources to fight these decisions.

The Seattle Public school system tracks students into standardized categories at an early age, and once students are tracked into the lower levels it is difficult to get out of them. By the time they reach high school, all students are tracked into: advanced placement, honors, regular classes, or special education. African-Americans and American Indians are grossly overrepresented in special education programs. American-Indians represent 2.2% of the population however made-up 18.2% of special education students in 2006-2007. African-Americans and Asian-Americans are 22% of the population however in 2006-2007 African-Americans made-up twice that number in special education. Studies show that students of color and poor students who are tracked and marginalized into emotional and behavioral programs receive less instruction and are viewed as the most difficult. Students in special education are suspended and expelled at double the rate of peers.

Next, we will look at discipline as a foot of oppression on students of color. There are three different discipline actions in Seattle Public Schools: short-term less than 10 days, long-term lasts until the end of a semester, and expulsion. Across all ages levels African Americans have the highest rates of disciplinary actions of all types. Compared with white students, African Americans were nearly twice as likely to receive short-term suspensions, and more than twice as likely to receive long-term suspensions.[11] During the 2006-2007 Latino/Chicano-Americans were right behind African Americans with similarly high rates of expulsions. The no-tolerance policy that many schools have adopted can easily lead to the criminalization of trivial classroom behavior. Students are labeled as problem children, and youth with multiple suspensions and/or expulsions, are much more likely to drop out of school, commit a crime, and enter the criminal justice system.

Societal conditioning teaches to focus on the individual and say that it’s the individual student’s fault or the family's fault that a child is failing, without examining any of the deeper systemic reasons that students of color are disproportionately dropping out of the school system. Tyree Scott Freedom School curriculum challenges young people to critically examine these systemic obstacles and work against institutional racism in the education system. Young people discuss disparities in school funding and resources, the lies that they are taught about United States history, the culture of the classrooms, the bias of standardized tests, and the effects of tracking.[12]

Tyree Scott Freedom School Curriculum[edit]

The Tyree Scott Freedom School currently occurs during winter and summer breaks and on several weekends. Curriculum reflects the desire to follow in the footsteps of the Freedom Schools of the 1960s and learn from current Freedom School programs in other cities around the country. Whereas civil rights era Freedom Schools dealt primarily with legalized segregation, Tyree Scott Freedom School focuses on addressing the culture of institutional racism.

Curriculum is based around the Undoing Racism principles of the People’s Institute including: learning from history, sharing culture, developing leadership, maintaining accountability, networking, understanding power and gate keeping, and undoing internalized racial oppression. Participants analyze why people are poor, develop power analyses, define racism, learn principles of organizing, learn African American, Native American, Latino and Asian history, and discuss intersections of racism with sexism and heterosexism (homophobia).

Freedom School students participate in various field trips. An environmental-justice tour of South Seattle exposes the effects of environmental racism to local communities. Youth visit: a Duwamish river Superfund site, Mara Farms community garden, and the former site of Longs Paint Co. in South Park, a factory that local residents (suffering from asthma and other pollution-related health problems) organized to have removed. A tour of the International District (historic Chinatown) visits Danny Woo community garden, the Bulosan Memorial Exhibit, and the Panama Hotel, which provides a unique glimpse at items left behind by Japanese Americans who were interned during WWII and never returned to Seattle to claim their belongings. A tour of El Centro de la Raza exposes youth to the rich local history of Latino organizing, including the peaceful occupation of the Beacon Hill School in 1972. A Black Panther Party tour of the Central District takes youth to the former headquarters of the party, exposes them to the Ten Point Platform, and gives them the opportunity to questions of Aaron Dixon, former Black Panther and founder of the Seattle chapter.

Curriculum also incorporates: understandings of internalized racial oppression developed by the People's Institute, ideas around post-traumatic slavery developed by Dr. Joy Leary, and understandings of cultural racism developed by Dr. Edwin Nichols.

Curriculum is specifically designed to reflect the needs of the participants, young people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-one. 85% of the youth who attend are low-income and are youth of color. Although the majority comes from Seattle, youth from across Washington State often come as well. Freedom School is free to attend and breakfast snacks and lunch are provided each six-hour day. All participants must stay the entire time, because each activity builds on the previous one and an important goal is for the group to develop a common language and understanding around the issues they discuss.

Freedom School curriculum is inclusive and interactive with small breakout groups, physical activities, and lots of discussion time. In mainstream schools children are often not expected to be able to pay attention. Even on longer, less interactive days, facilitators have high expectations of Freedom School participants to continue to pay attention and treat everyone with respect. The young people usually have no difficulty when the activities truly apply to their lives.

Freedom School also presents opportunities for young people to meet with and hold discussions with community and national leaders. In 2006, for example, Freedom School students met in small groups with Seattle City Council members; King County Commissioners; representatives from the foster-care system, and experienced community organizers. This gave the young people a chance to speak truth to power, ask hard questions of community leaders, and utilize the information that they learned through Freedom School.

Tyree Scott Freedom School in the Future[edit]

Tyree Scott Freedom School organizers work towards making Freedom School a year-round, institutionalized alternative school using its own methodology of popular-education-style teaching that will truly engage young people around their experiences. Organizers are working to develop a core of teachers fully equipped as multicultural educators, involve families and community in the education process, and advocate a holistic approach to education which incorporates service learning and a global perspective.

In a community-driven process, Freedom School organizers are developing a curriculum for accreditation by the Washington State Office of Public Instruction.


  1. ^ a b Congress of Racial Equality. “Freedom Summer.” 2006.
  2. ^ Children's Defense Fund Freedom Schools Homepage. “Freedom Schools 1964.” 24 June 2006.
  3. ^ Clarck, Brooke. Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Homepage. “The Seattle School Boycott of 1966.” 2005. 24 June 2006.
  4. ^ Clarck, Brooke. Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Homepage. “The Seattle School Boycott of 1966: Support and Opposition for the Boycott.” 2005. 24 June 2006.
  5. ^ The People's Institute. "Our History." 2006
  6. ^ a b The People's Institute. "Programs and Services." 2006
  7. ^ Henry, Mary T. (2007-07-24). "Scott, Tyree (1940-2003)". HistoryLink.org- the Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History. Retrieved 2009-02-08. 
  8. ^ Seattle Public Schools. "Research, Evaluation and Assessment: Data Profile District Summary." December 2008. [1]
  9. ^ McCloud, Denee; Pierce, Tracey (2006-10-08). "Press Release: Which Way Seattle? Series: Inequality in Public Education" (PDF). Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-10-10. Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  10. ^ Bach, Deborah. “A drive to help Latino students”. 26 April 2005. 7 September 2006. http://www.seattlepi.com/local/221661_latino26.html
  11. ^ Blanchard, Jessica (7 September 2006). "Race gap in school discipline persists in Seattle". Seattle PI. 
  12. ^ "Seattle Public Schools Homepage -About us". 6 September 2006. 

Further reading[edit]