Windsor House

Windsor House School was started in 1971 at Helen Hughes’ family home on Windsor Road in North Vancouver. A group of parents who were interested in providing a multi-age, parent participation learning environment for their children, got together with Helen and started an alternative school. The initial population of the school was fifteen students. After four years operating as a private school, it was taken in and administered by North Vancouver School District 44. In the beginning, the school served mainly elementary aged students, but eventually accommodated children from kindergarten up to Grade 12. At present (2016-2017 school year) the school has an enrollment of 170 K-12 children.

In 2010 The North Vancouver School District gave notice that it would be consolidating its alternative programs for the 2012-2013 school year. Since the plan would not have accommodated the elementary aged children attending Windsor House, the school community made the decision to leave School District 44. An appeal was made to the Gulf Islands School District to be the administrative district for Windsor House and an agreement to that effect was made for the 2011-2012 school year.

As a learner centred, non-coercive, democratic school, Windsor House is philosophically, and to some extent, materially, supported by TES.

Windsor House Website: Videos

“Windsor House: What Really Matters”

A short (16:22) documentary about Windsor House School in North Vancouver BC, a parent-participation, democratic, academically non-coercive (and publicly funded) school which has been in operation for 34 years.

Alumni responses to a question about their experience at Windsor House

The question posed by Helen Hughes was: “What was good about Windsor House when you were there? What didn’t work for you?”

March 20, 2007: Responses to my initial inquiry about non-coercive education.

I think that basic maths, literacy and even basic computer skills are necessary in our world and our society. Also, I value literacy and education very highly on a personal and social level. So, personally, I think that learning is an incredibly important duty and gift. Although… I don’t think that there has to be a “curriculum” in place for people to learn “basic skills”. I think that people naturally learn basic skills.

Well, maybe “naturally” isn’t the right word. I am not implying that a child, teen or adult will automatically pick up skills through osmosis. Although that seemed to be the theory behind schools such as WonderTree, I think the whole “natural” learning by osmosis is somewhat of a bogus idea. That never seemed to be what Windsor House implied though…

What my understanding of Windsor House’s attitude toward the situation was that a child isn’t going to just randomly learn how to read, do math and write… but, at some point, a child will want to learn how to do those things and will seek out the necessary support/materials to do so. It is only if the child is not supported by others and is encouraged not to learn for social reasons that the child will not ask to learn. Also, if the child has incredibly low self esteem (a result of not being supported by others and being discouraged by others) then the child might not think he was worthy of learning, and he might not ask in fear that he wouldn’t understand.

In a supportive, nurturing, friendly and educational environment… then of course a child is going to ask questions! I don’t think I have ever met a happy, healthy, average child who didn’t ask questions.

If the child’s intelligence is anywhere around average, and the child is in a supportive and stimulating environment, then that child will likely learn how to read, write and do simple math before she ever reaches normal primary school age.

Now… in cases where the child starts asking questions but struggles with the answers, then it is possible the child has a learning disability. In this case, a regular curriculum only hurts the child. My first two years at school are an excellent example. I was deemed “slow” by my teachers and principal and since I couldn’t keep up I was excluded from all academic activities. Bored out of my mind from being told to sit at my desk and do absolutely nothing, I started to distract other children. So, I was not only labeled “slow” but also a “distraction”. Because of this, I was told to sit in the hall outside of my classroom. I sat in the hall for two years before finally telling my mother. Of course, when she found out, she took me out of the school immediately and hired a special tutor for children with learning disabilities. A few months later, I was reading and writing at a first year college level.

The reason why I couldn’t read had nothing to do with a poor curriculum or a lack of a curriculum… as a curriculum was very much in place at the school. The fact I could not read at age 7 was because I had been in an environment that did not support or encourage me to learn. Actually, they went as far as to discourage me! When my mother asked the principal why I wasn’t being included in the academic aspects of school, the principal told her that I was “slow” and would never learn to read so there was no point in wasting everyone’s time in trying to teach me.

If reading is fun… children will want to read. If math is fun… children will want to do math. If science is fun… heck, science is always fun! All that needs to be in place for a child to pick up basic skills are the following: supportive adults and the right resources. I really must stress the right resources, as everyone learns in different manners. If a child struggles with a subject, they might want to put that subject down forever. That’s when a supportive adult must step in and intervene to find the child the right resources. I wouldn’t call that a curriculum, though… instead, I’d call that something along the lines of a collection of resources that assist children in getting what they want. Also, I do not think it should be put to a child, necessarily, to say “I don’t want to do this” when it comes to school work. What I do think the child has the full right to say is “I don’t want to do this in this way.” Although, sometimes, children can’t say that because they haven’t been exposed to a way that works for them. It is then crucial that an adult who understands how that child thinks and learns to step in, even if on the surface that may seem like “muddling” with the child’s right to run his own life. If the adult is able to explain the subject to the child in a way the child understands, then the child will not feel as if they are being coerced. As long as the child does not feel coerced, she will not have an aversion to learning necessary skills and topics which she finds interesting.

One of the other questions you asked was: “Do you know of anyone who went through WH and didn’t get those basics? What happened to them as a result? Do you know of anyone who went through WH and feels stupid because they think they aren’t as able as most people to learn?”

Well… as you might know, I am currently taking courses at Langara College. This term, I am taking a math course. It’s equivalent to grade 9 math. Do I feel stupid because I’m in college and I’m taking grade 9 math? Not really… there are lots of people in my class who graduated with grade 11 math but they’re still taking Math 1100 at Langara! Also, before starting at Langara, I spent 5 years in the work force. Three of those years were spent working in retail which involves basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division… and I never had a problem. The other two years were spent working as an Accounts Manager, which also involved business math skills. So… I don’t really think that my lack of algebra and calculus really interfered in my life as an employee. My “poor” math skills also would not have interfered with my life as a college/university student, as there is very little coercion to take subjects one is not interested in once one reaches the post secondary level. I am only taking the math course now because I am interested in the subject and I enjoy it. Also, I am doing extremely well in the course, in spite of never taking a “formal” math course. The only math courses I have taken in the past was the fun one you offered, which was all about puzzles and number sequences and applied math and then also the individual math tutoring sessions I had with you… which I think brought me up to a grade 9 level at the time.

Anyway… this reply seems sort of long so I’ll end it here. I hope that helped a little bit. Also, thanks for asking my opinion! It’s always good hearing from you. 🙂

– Marilee

Oh… one other thing. I think that when a child is noticeably miserable, that is equivalent to the child asking for help. So, if a child can read street signs and labels, has enough math skills to purchase something at a store and can fill out documents but that is as far as their academic skills go… AND the child is blissfully happy and has absolutely no interest in the subjects of reading, writing and math (honestly uninterested and not just frustrated) then there is absolutely no reason to bore that child or make that child miserable by imposing someone else’s will upon the child.

But… I think it is very important for a group of understanding, supportive and trained adults to be there in order to evaluate a child’s development and progress. I do not mean in terms of report cards or midterm exams. I just mean in terms of those adults being observant of the child’s emotions, individual needs and behaviour.

I think that being observant is exactly what the faculty, staff, parent and student community at Windsor House did.

I honestly believed there were some thing I could never do before I met you. Like… math. Before coming to Windsor House, my math skills were around a grade 3 level and I had “accepted” that as some sort of reality and everlasting truth. I also hated math. It wasn’t that I was merely uninterested, it wasn’t that I merely too busy… I was actually miserable when I thought about the subject. Grammar also made me miserable and confused. Before coming to Windsor House I had a rough idea of what a noun and a verb were, but I did not know what an adjective was. I could put sentences together in speech and even in writing, but I didn’t know the terms that belonged to the specific words or the rules that went along with those terms.

You were able to intervene without there being any sort of official intervention. You showed me I wasn’t stupid by teaching me in a way I could understand. My math skills improved because of the puzzles and games you showed me. I learned what an adjective was because you read us the Jabberwocky poem.

Part of me thinks that’s sort of like a curriculum. But… it’s different. The “curriculum” we had at Windsor House was based on the observations of the educators. I’d call it something like an “Intuitive Curriculum”.


Also, I agree with Andy about the certain ages being too rigid. If it was a matter of those specific mentors being highly suggested and encouraged at the ages you mentioned, if they had not already been accessed by the child… then, I’d say the age categories are still an excellent idea.

Although, only offering the mentors at certain ages does feel a bit rigid… especially since certain subjects are more easily learned at different ages for different children. I know that my brother excelled in math as a very young child (preschool and early elementary school) but reached an “average” level by the time he reached late elementary school. For a child like him, if the mentor had been offered at a later stage when his math ability had already weaned off to about average… I’m not sure that would have been as beneficial to him. Another example would be when I learned to drive. The age that a group of people selected as the best age to learn to drive is 16, and I am sure this age was logically chosen based on statistics. Although, there was no way I was going to learn to drive at 16. The car, as a machine, did not make sense to me when I was 16. Also, emotionally, I do not think I was ready to put my life in that sort of danger (a small risk if one is careful, but not a risk that I was willing to take when I was 16!). By the age of 18, I chose to take lessons (again) and I felt comfortable in the car. The rules of the road made sense and were easy to learn when I had matured to an age where it was possible to learn.

So, I think… if a child is extremely eager to learn a skill at a certain age, that skill should be offered and taught… even if a 5 year old was asking about algebra or computer programming! And… I think that there are emotional barriers that can sometimes get in the way of a child’s ability to learn a skill at an appropriate and average age. In this case, the emotional barriers must be lifted before the child can feel safe in their learning. This might mean, for some children, in rare cases, that basic skills such as reading and writing are put off to an age which might, under normal circumstances, seem unacceptable to others.

Well… I’m off to school now! – Marilee

Hey Helen:

Do you know of anyone who went through WH and feels stupid because they think they aren’t as able as most people to learn? I feel very much the in, the atmosphere around Windsor House was the idea that knowledge and learning are to be celebrated, that it is important to value the opinion of yourself & others, and that if you aren’t given the answers you seek, then get off your butt and search for them yourself. That concept, especially in my current country and city of residence, is of short supply and regard. It only takes a look at the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhist statues in Afghanistan and a day of US broadcast television to validate the need for thought and intelligence in this world. My own history within Windsor House was one of encountering a valuable haven in which to develop the crucial thought-skills this modern world demands, be those social or professional. All the best of luck to you guys. Don’t let the bastards get ye down! :^) Michael Bratkowski Director of Photography Discovery Channel Los Angeles, CA, USA 213-215-3031

Keely here, this is fantastic. and i have to think also am insanely busy with what i am doing-biking to mexico with Agents of Change. we leave may 3rd. at noon. from the art gallery. thursday. 3000km journey over 5-6 weeks with 25 young people(19-27 yrs.) we are raising money and awareness for micro credit initiatives. big deal and lots of work; plus money making……..ah sigh. pass along the word and check out the site. and heres a load of info on what i am up to. For you……..i was a shit speller and it seems that learning spanish since( on my own, all most all personally learned) has somehow improved my English spelling abillity. or mayhaps just coincidence! trying to imagine what it would have taken for me to get to where i am as quickly as i have , without windsor house…….. i don’t think it would have been pausible and that is when looking at the fact that i have never completed grade 12. or even grade 9 math! i was not much of a ready till age 12, 2yrs after entering windsor house. no i am rather voracious. i can read what ever i want and even read a lot of spanish. my math sucks. i use a calculator most of the time. i think it is important that everyone learns the basics, but i dont think it needs to hapen at the same time. i also think it is important that kids learn to push themselves, even when it is hard, and learn to enjoy the sense of success in that. i think competition is important, but more competition with self then with opponents…….unless bothe individuals choice the pros and cons of mutual competition. i think the rate of learning can and should be established by the students of the moment. and if they feel they’re becoming lazy, useless turds then to instill self or group disciplinary action as a community. these are my present thoughts.


Hi Helen, my first thought when I read your e-mail was how I started to read. I was not reading in the early grades when others were, but then I was not interested. I am just guessing that it was about grade 4-5 that I became interested in reading an illustrated copy of Treasure Island that we had at home. I used to look at the pictures and make up the story. Once I became interested in books I learned quickly, and with the help of the Windsor House staff I was reading at a grade 8-9 level by the next year. So one of the methods that worked for me was learning at your own pace. Another that comes to mind is respect. Having everyone on a first name basis, and feeling that you are on an equal footing with the staff. Of course the problem solving sessions were part of this as well. Responsibility is another thing that I remember learning well, through choosing classes and activities, and having to teach younger students. I am trying to remember things that didn’t work, and can’t come up with anything right now, maybe it’s a case of rose coloured glasses, or just a good fit. I think we need to be shown things to broaden our horizons and supported and challenged when we find interests. I’ll let you know if I think of anything else. Hope this helps.

Best, David Elderton

The one thing looking back, that I would change about WH is that I would impose some cariculium. Not actually specifics, but have it so that a child must take a certian number of classes, them being the ones to actually choose the classes. So if a child is really interested in art than their more than welcome to take 3 art classes. Just as long as their doing somthing constructive. I’ve come to believe in a child choosing what they really enjoy, and learning as much as they can about it, however they do need some direction. I think that with a little more push in some direction, than a child can benifit even more from an expierance like WH. I know that I turned out fine, even after all the stuff I went through durring my teen years, and I think the only thing that could’ve helped me get through them a little easier, is if I had somthing to really focus on, and I think if a little more push had been there, it would’ve given me a little more drive to do somthing more constructive.

Thank you so much for asking, I hope everything works really well with this, some of my best memories are still from WH.



I would like to see the proposal. As to the question I don’t know anyone how went through WH and did not learn the basics three RRR. As to weather people should have to learn them at a none coercive school. Unnn well I think people should learn them, but it is better if they come to it on there own (My sister learned to read so she could understand the dialogue in a video game), on the other hand some people do need to be push otherwise they wont learn. This is not helping is it? Well that’s my thoughts.


Reading Instruction available to any age No social need to cover up their inability to read 43% of people have low literacy in Canada flawed study perhaps, but does show that the mainstream system doesn’t ensure literacy 13 pivotal age. Before that, if you are hanging out you are absorbing stuff. After 13 you should be doing something or earning a living. Melissa

I think there should be one or two mandatory classes, spelling for instance 😛 basic math etc.

As well as a class mandatory once every 3 months, this class would have trades and job interests and the kids would do the little on-line test to see what they would find interesting, the name of it is in the back of my mind but I can’t remember it. This test would also show the schooling needed for this path and give the kids a jumpstart on wanting to educate themselves. 🙂 that’s my 2cents

mandatory classes from the get go, aka “like 4 or 5ish at the min and from there up.” once that are oriented with the school show them the basic classes and be like this is all you have to do 🙂 its almost nothing comparted to your old school, the rest of the time you can explore what you want, its just for you to be able to explore what you want you will most likely need this :). that would be the little talk 😛

and im guessing they can be like a book club for a cupple difrant skill levels. just a thought to get it to seem like its not school 😛

and the other one I did in reg school and when i was 14, i found it really intrested. every kid did, it kinda helped most of us chose the classes we enroled our selfs in, in the upcoming year. It was kind of motivational thought process that starts with a fun little test that asks you 150 questions from do you like using your hands to what kinda of sounds do you like. and to tell you the truth it got me spot on each time. what i was intrested at the time is what came up with questions that had nothing to do with it, or as it seemed.


Hi Helen, with reference to reading and writing I don’t think I knew anyone who left after elementary-school age without learning this. A lot of people learned late, a few in their pre-teens, early teens. I know that some teens felt that they weren’t learning enough, and decided to leave Windsor House because of this. In their cases, they felt they would learn better if someone else made them, which is why they left, which is fine. I didn’t keep track of other people after they left so I don’t really know how they found life after Windsor House.

One thing that I wish Windsor House had had is a stronger math and sciences program at the highschool level. It was sometimes quite difficult to get hold of teachers and learning material, especially after the grade 8 level, which is awkward if you are really interested in the sciences. Just because one loves biology, for example, does not mean one can pick up math quickly or easily. However, you need university-level mathematics and statistics to be a biologist. It would have been nice if highschool math had been easier to get at Windsor House, and it would have made it easier when I went back into public school in grade 11. I did fine in math, but I had to work extremely hard at it, and if it hadn’t been for Steve tutoring math at Windsor House the year before I would have been in trouble. Windsor House has a definite arts and humanities bias.

One thing Windsor House was extremely good at was producing thoughtful citizens, and people able to think critically. The history and social studies section was superb. While some of that was due to Lee’s hard work and talent, I think this would have been a strong point of the school even if she had not been there. Art was also a strong point. I also loved the creative writing in english. A little more grammer would have been useful, but being able to write stories for class was wonderful, and the minute I got back to regular school we never did that. I still write stories for fun, so I am glad I had the opportunity to do that at Windsor House.


When I went to Windsor House, it was perhaps still a more ‘coersive’ model; there was forced consensus and checklists. g .

I’m not sure how much I actually agree with the concept of non-coersion when it comes to kids. However, I am basing this critique on parenting models I saw on hippie friends; and on my own experience having one randomly-crazy parent and one militarized-crazy parent. My personal experience, (borne out by some studies), was that routine and a certain amount of stated/imposed functional structure allowed me more freedom, not less, to adapt and cope. Obviously, this is to a point, and I am fundamentally Adlerian: but I am quite wary of any parenting model that works as parent-as-friend. The education as non-coercive model has always felt a little sketchy to me by association.

Parents, and to an extent teachers, were always authority to me. It was a huge abdication of responsibility, and made me less safe and less confident, when I felt I had to carry the mantle of parental authority: I should make clear that I did not experience that at any point with teachers. At Windsor House I felt that the teachers were all authorities who helped us find ways to work in community towards consensus. But, of course, we were playing in a teacher imposed model that consensus, and not torturing each other a la Lord of the Flies, was optimal. We could have gone either way, if left to our own devices.

As for the current structure; frankly, it looks similar. It is, however, a teacher imposed model, what with democracy rather than tribal warring factions – which leaves me the question, why not some teacher imposed education there, too? Also: I’ve never been a kid in it. I have also never been a kid with the teachers at WH who are currently there; so how much of the positive I had at Windsor House was structural, and how much was the force of your lead? And how can I speak to a structure I didn’t experience except as a philosophy embraced by parents – who were really saying they’d rather not be bothered with the hard work of parenting?

Being the “big meanie” is hard work; holding my kid while he was getting a needle was no fun for me. The needle was vital to rule out illness, though. I was being both coercive and allowing violence to happen – and I’d do it again. Coersion is essential to my job as a mom; I demand that the children treat themselves, and others, and their things with respect.

Just as you demanded we worked on that model, and not on Lord of the Flies.

(My eldest couldn’t cope with the level of non-structure that I – structured compared to some – had instinctively. He needs an extreme amount of structure, or he falls to bits. And he needs help staying on that structure. Or he falls to bits. )

Also, I genuinely think you can’t not be coercive, even with other adults. To me it’s a given that the very presence of authorities are coersive to kids: but putting that aside, we pattern each other all the time in all sorts of ways. Social systems and language are coercive. Manners are coercive. The fact that more people wear blue jeans than kilts is coercive. McDonald’s is coersive. I agree with some of that coersion; it is what creates group membership. I also think it behooves a parent to be coercive enough to help kids find critical analysis of the structures in which they live, and authority enough to ask and challenge. Coersion is the air we breathe: It is EDUCATION that gives us the critical faculties to do the necessary interrogation of our experiences – gendered language, historical norms, how the concept of property might differ across culture, what the way we use articles means about how we conceptualize the world. Intellectual interrogation and passionate questioning is the only way I know can break away from subtextual, omnipresent coersion; otherwise, it just is what is. Like the sun coming up.

My family has family meetings – very much on your model. In those moments, you give the kids the option to choose to reject a given model or to negotiate with it: but the decisions we come to then need an enforcer, and that enforcer (for good or for bad) is me. I am coercive if we decide, in a family meeting, to buy an ice cream cone after success at a group project, because I have the money and the ability to walk around in society and purchase things without supervision. My son’s treat is dependent on me even if he suggested it; he knows that, no matter if I suggest that it’s our mutual decision. It is utterly on my evil whim to follow through. He cannot make me. This makes me the authority. I had better be a responsive one, to not scar him – but we both know that he is dependent on me to be responsive.

I also think it’s an awful burden to ask kids to know enough about the world to really choose. I also find the idea of not giving kids a background in math and language and science a horrible disservice: although I can recognize this, in part, as being from a middle-class-striving family on my mom’s side: 3 generations of “education is everything”. I understand very much my basic material and class motivations; I don’t need my kids to become doctors or lawyers, but I need to give them the CHOICE. Money is choice; education is choice. If I help them so they have both the entrance grades and the RESPs necessary to go to University and they end up living in an ashram in India, so be it: but that has to be their bliss, not mine.

Focussing on external markers of achievement, well yes. I reject that. But teaching “work your way through something not so fun because at the centre of that process the whole WORLD opens up” – well, I believe very strongly that that lesson has fundamentally kept me alive.

With strong teaching – and parenting – that lesson is fun and doesn’t have to hurt or be a ruler across the knuckles. It happens in helping with motivation, and giving support. However, that’s really dependent on the quality of the teacher or the parent. Whereas a somewhere in the middle model – now we learn science, you must at least be quiet, or there are consequences like going to the office – even a mediocre teacher or parent can do that. And then the authority part is stable if not intelligent, empathetic, or responsive: and I suppose I believe that one can recover from poor authority, but cannot recover from instable authority or no authority whatsoever.

Good boundries. That’s what it comes down to for me. They’re either intrinsic to the model – or they’re merely functions of the psychology of the authority figures. Adults are and will always be authority to kids, no matter how much adults don’t want to be: kids are dependent on these figures who make money and provide food and have the knowledge about how gravity and traffic signals work.

I don’t trust adults to have strong enough psychologies to work this model effectively. Unless it’s you and Megan. That says a lot about my respect, fundamentally, for you and Megan; and for families who come to that model because nothing else has worked or because they choose that life, I am sure that you and Megan would provide a rich and multi-faceted experience.

If you’ve made it this far, then, WHEW!


To Helen: The only thing I’d like to ask you to consider is this statement, which made me sad:

“I think I could achieve a very high level of mathematical literacy but I’m very glad I wasn’t made to – I enjoy the profession I’ve chosen too much!”

I can understand not needing or wanting more math literacy for a variety of reasons – and I imagine you were given the basics. However, there is no guarantee that you wouldn’t love doing something scientific. I imagine, for example, that you would make a phenomenal, happy, and possibly groundbreaking child developmental psychologist. You would not stop there; you would be a natural philosopher, to be sure, and probably publishing papers that made other people huff and point. You have changed the world from the place where you stand and you love it: but you may very well have changed the world – differently, to be sure – but with just as much relish and love standing from another place.

And even still, if you didn’t have some idea of math, you couldn’t have chosen to say that statistics bored you. And the unfortunate thing with statistics? They bore every sane person until they sing – and here’s a prejudice of mine – the people who are attracted to numbers before they sing end up being technicians and accountants and never interesting or brilliant. But, you have to listen to numbers being boring and droning on for awhile before they sing – and some of us will take longer than others to hear them. (The same is true of a lot of philosophy.)

This sad reaction is based on utterly personal narrative. I have a scientific but originally intuitive theory, which I have a variety of reasons to believe may have validity, which I cannot test due to my lack of fluency in mathmatics. If my theory had validity, it would be an incredibly important result. Very very important. Which means, unfortunately, there’s probably nothing there (although there might be some small take away that would also be important.)

It’s really exciting, and incredibly frustrating: I can’t describe what I’m seeing properly. I feel as Tate must when he’s trying to express himself. But I found it late (20ish? Sparked, at first, in a conversation with Lee.) And then when I dropped my arts degree and stewed awhile, researching, and went back for a science degree to learn the language, I found I couldn’t catch up with myself.

Part of my lack of ability is leaving math behind in Grade 10. I only weakly hear the numbers sing, and I believe you lose the ability to learn to speak math well – just like any other language. Early enough, you have no accent and the grammatical rules are instinctive. (Very few people even begin to understand how arbitrary base 10 is, for example; so much so that learning other bases is difficult.) Math is definitely about logic; but the creative side is about… How the language is a grammar.

The other common rule of thumb is that mathmaticians do their brilliant work in their 20s; and then they’re spent. The idea being that you haven’t got it by then, you don’t have it. Of course, there are exceptions – but not enough to convince mathmaticians that the legend is untrue. I imagine that it is well grounded in something in our brain development.

Now, my case is an extreme example. I’m not suggesting that all people are forced into Finite in grade 11 just so people like me are force fed enough to later on win a Nobel Prize or prove themselves utterly misguided. I’m just saying that you, specifically, don’t know that you’re not like me. Hah!

I do note this: boys in my school were discouraged from dropping math, whereas when I switched math for drama, not an eyebrow raised. So I very much think we’ve lost brilliant women to lack of education, for exactly the reason that math takes a while to sing for people, and that you have to do a lot of lifting before then.

Math is inherently creative; but you need the technical part. There’s a serious problem with mainstream math education; it’s poorly taught, and so people choke because they can’t see the creative part. But even when taught well, with passion and intrigue, very few people are going to want to practise quadratic equations. John’s Math – I’m remember his name correctly? – started me in hearing math sing. I wouldn’t have attended without a little checklist encouragement: and I stopped learning math in Grade 10. Why? Homework. You need to do a little, everyday. I was too “smart” to want to do homework. It felt like failure. Everything else came so easily. Ah, poor little smart girl. I know, I know.

Actually, maybe I DO mean people like me should be force fed. Coersed. Given carrots and sticks. Absolutely. Kids like me who decide to run away from failure because no one has ever asked us to deal with it: kids like me who have badly correlated educational success to self-worth. Obviously, kids who come your way have probably already been beaten with that message in the mainstream school; I imagine each of them carries similar baggage – maybe of the “I’m too stupid” variety. But it’s the LABEL that’s the problem. Not actual knowledge about the world. Not skills.

Getting past the label and saying, okay now, I’ll fight for this for you, I won’t let you give up on yourself… How is that really so different than me teaching Ripley not to scream in reaction to his world? One is emotional education; one is academic – both are communicative.


I think what is good about Windsor House is the thinking and the caring community; always thinking of how to make things work better and respecting each other in the process.

What I don’t like about WH is the cliche and daycare like atmosphere at times. So often when a child would like to learn something but thier friends are “hanging out” and would rather do whatever their friends are doing than do what actually interests them. I remember being 11 and having my first visit and it was quite obvious that being in a group of freinds was vital to your surival there and being a fairly insecure child I found it to overwhelming to attend at all. So I chose to go to my neighbourhood school instead which worked out great.

I think choice in what you learn is valuable but I don’t think complete non coersive education is the answer. I think children should be educated in basics like math and english from the age of 6 -7 and on and continued throughout the schooling years, having choice in other subjects to filll up the rest of the time, but being set up like regular school so eveyone’s day is full of classes. Play is essential too but I think there is a lot of play in learning as well as offtime, recess and PE.


Sorry I didn’t write anything earlier but I’m really busy with school and other activities. Don’t want too sound funny but at first I though it wasn’t for me but to some one called “Alumni” and only some time after when I was going through all my emails again I remember what the word meant. Until then I didn’t want to read it as It “Wasn’t mine”. I always knew you couldn’t just leave WH for ever and help out from time to time. But I didn’t expect you’d try to create another alternative school (don’t know if WH is still there kind of hard getting info from here). I only had a peak at your project but when I have more time I’ll register on the forum and read all about it. You sent an email on the 22nd asking about how the new schools learning program should look, how much math, reading, writing should be in the school program so students after they leave don’t feel stupid, uneducated. It depends if you mean students that want to become lawyers, doctors or just students that want to finish school and later go and become a car mechanic. I don’t know everything about how the school system works there (just don’t remember). If you needed to pass some exams to study and go to college. But in general I think that while I went to WH and had a hell of a good time. After the last school I went to (working really hard to learn English) I didn’t want to learn at all and even though I didn’t know it just then, I know now that Its hard if you want to catch up later on… So I think that there should be an obligatory level of knowledge a student has to posses. So he doesn’t have trouble in life counting how much money he needs to buy all his friends ice cream for a $1.15. If a student wants to make some thing more out of him self then he would have a higher level of education . Just like any another school but the difference would be that he can tell the teacher what he doesn’t know so he/she can help him individually.


Hi Helen,

It’s nice to hear that Windsor House is still active and that you are trying to take it to the next step. I would be happy to provide you with some feedback regarding Windsor House’s educational policies, but it’s been quite a while now since I’ve thought about it!

Regarding “the basics”, I can’t think of anyone who went to Windsor House and did not come out with those skills. I can’t recall ever considering that a problem for any of the students at the time I was there, but I joined WH at the high-school level.

It’s hard to say whether imposing a basic curriculum would be the best approach to ensuring students come out of school with those skills. I feel that those basic skills are very necessary to lead an enriched life; however, I do have some faith that those skills would be learned naturally without having to impose them on a student. I can remember Lee teaching some very interesting classes and if we had not had those basic communication skills, we wouldn’t have gotten much out of them.

Some of the things that I liked about WH would be the student imput as to what types of classes would be taught. I liked the “immersive” roll-playing style environments that we would set up for periods of time (military school, dictatorship).

I can recall a few frusterating times involving the self-regulated rule enforcement. There was some abuse of power there between students (it’s funny now, but it was frusterating at the time!).

I do think that my educational success is due partly to being able to learn independently. Probably a combination of homeschooling, WH and correspondence made this possible. When I entered university, my ability to pick up on concepts and learn outside the classroom was noticably better than most classmates (many of whom already had post-secondary education). I ended up graduating my Respriatory Therapy program with awards for the highest GPA in my class and also for achieving the second-highest mark in Canada on the National Registry Exam. I am now working as a flight RRT doing international air-medical transports and also as a paramedic with the BC Ambulance Service. I also have a home-based website design business to shake things up a bit! 😉

Anyway, off the top of my head, that’s all I can think of at the moment. I will ponder this a little more and write again if I have any insights. 🙂


Helen, I always felt a little behind my friend who was at regular American schools in Washington State. at some point I did get it in my head that I was stupid but I really don’t know where that came from. I was afraid to go to highschool and my first year was a complete waste, I definitely didn’t dig on the standard American highschool format. The rest of it went great. If I feel a lacking, it is in math but I know I can re visit it and I will learn it with no problem. My feeling now in fact is that I can learn absolutely anything I want to. I do feel that it is important to learn to be responsible and that meeting goals, in assignments or whatever is important, I still struggle with forcing myself to get things done when I say I will and i want people to be able to count on me, but it’s not a habit I learned early. All the basic things you listed are important, I think, to functioning in this world, I know I learned them at Windsor House and I continue to learn them. I think some people need a bit of pushing (I am one but it is a delicate balance) some people don’t, I would wouldn’t be able to say that a school like the one you are talking about should go any one way, I am sure it would need to be as flexible as the student body is varied. good luck, I may think of more, and thank you for being a teacher in my life,


Helen: Anyhow, the one thing I need more information on is whether there should be any imposition of curriculum. Should a publicly-funded learning environment at least make sure that young people can read for pleasure and basic information, be able to do enough math to not feel stupid, and be able to print well enough for someone else to read it? If those three are vital, then how would a learning environment make sure it happens without getting into the power struggles that are so devastating to people who truly need to run their own lives?

Josey: Yes, I think it absolutely vital that any learning environment, publicly -funded or not, provide it’s members with these fundamental life-skills. Even if someone is planning to go into art or car maintenance, or any of the hundreds of jobs not requiring much formal education, I think people would be at such a disadvantage in day-to-day life if they are not equipped with these skills. I don’t know how one can ensure people are learning it without some form of coercion. Have you encountered students that have continued to refuse, or at least have been very reluctant, to learn to read past age 8 or 9? I think I learned to read at age 6, that feels late to me, but I really don’t know where that is in comparison with the average. What I do know is that I just didn’t care, until I realized it would mean I could read Nancy Drew! Once I learned how to read, though, I became a voracious reader. Admittedly I come from a family of readers, but I truly think reading is a gift. If learning to read could somehow be presented as such I think all the reticent young readers out there would quickly change their tunes! And again with math, I simply didn’t care for it, thus I didn’t want to learn. But once I realized how fun math could be I took to it like a fish to water! People are often surprised when I say I didn’t take a math class until I was nine or so, but I think the early years of math, and public school in general, are just babysitting with standardized tests. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that people need to be allowed to come around to learning in their own time, but perhaps there should be a cutoff. Or, if it seems like someone is refusing or unwilling to learn these things the best thing would be to learn why. Is it too difficult? Maybe they need specialized attention. Does it seem unrelated to life? Figure out how to relate it to what they love to do. So I suppose I don’t have any concrete answers for you, other than that I think it would be a disservice to students to send them out into the world without at least the basics.

Helen: Do you know of anyone who went through WH and didn’t get those basics? What happened to them as a result? Do you know of anyone who went through WH and feels stupid because they think they aren’t as able as most people to learn? Do you know of any who didn’t learn to either read, compute or write and are leading satisfying lives?

Josey: No.

Helen: What I want to know from you is what was really good about WH and should not be dropped, and what really didn’t work for you personally and should be changed. Josey: First, the good: For me, the best part about Windsor House was the total respect felt by teachers towards students and vice versa. I always felt like an important, respected and equal member of the community. I wasn’t just a child, I was an individual. In public schools the image I get is that the teacher is the ultimate authority and the student is little more than a puppy, expected to do all the authority says without question. This presents an opportunity for the child to easily feel devalued and even stupid, which should never happen. A part of that respect is seen in calling teachers, parents and students by their first names. I think it goes along way in creating a sense of teamwork and community, where everyone is on equal footing. My parents never did the whole “Mr. and Mrs.” thing with friends or other adults, so it has always seemed quite strange to me. Respect is also shown in the inclusion of students in all aspects of the school’s functioning. By giving students a sense of control you let them feel like education is an active process they willingly engage in, instead of having school impinge on them. Coupled with the respect felt and shown is the level of trust the staff have for students. I truly believe that trust produces trustworthiness. By saying we trust what you are doing and your motives for it, committing “bad” behaviour becomes an affront to yourself and the way in which you view yourself (hope that sentence made sense…) Another very important aspect of my experience at WH, especially when I was younger is that I was allowed to just be a child and play. I think that society has forgotten the value of play and what it means for a child’s development and bonding. So I am very grateful that I had a time when I could just play and didn’t have essentially meaningless schoolwork to grudgingly put all my time into. Now, the not-so-good: I sometimes felt like there were not enough academic courses available to me. While I understand the value in being able to design one’s own academic career I also feel like the onus shouldn’t necessarily be placed on the student. That being said, I’m not entirely sure that I represent the “typical” WH student, as I’ve always enjoyed learning and wanted to challenge myself academically, and didn’t come to WH because I couldn’t learn/function in regular schools, rather WH is all I knew. Along the same lines, and I may be the only one here, but I always wanted proper grades and report cards. But that is because I like to have a very definite indication of my “achievement,” and I realize that probably the majority of WH students wouldn’t feel the same need for this kind of feedback. I think the biggest problem I found was in my later years there and I think you addressed it in the proposal. Windsor House stopped being a place for unique and creative people to flourish and instead became a place for problem students to go as their last stop before Keith Lynn. I think this really changed the environment, and not for the better. That being said, I don’t know if I’d necessarily agree with your decision to not allow new teenage students. I think that it just has to be a matter of really being sure that they are appropriate for the community and that their inclusion would be mutually beneficial.

Thank you! You are amazing and tireless in your efforts to offer an alternative to the mainstream, which clearly does not work for everyone. I hope this has helped, and I really hope that those receiving the proposal are smart enough to recognize the gem they have in their hands.

Hi Helen, here’s a long over due response.

Helen: Anyhow, the one thing I need more information on is whether there should be any imposition of curriculum. Should a publicly-funded learning environment at least make sure that young people can read for pleasure and basic information, be able to do enough math to not feel stupid, and be able to print well enough for someone else to read it? If those three are vital, then how would a learning environment make sure it happens without getting into the power struggles that are so devastating to people who truly need to run their own lives?

Gabe: I am a big one for non-coercion in terms of curriculum, I think if a ‘publicly funded learning environment’ is actualized in a way that makes learning super fun then young people will read and write and do math. However, if imposed i think the way to do it would be that you have to take these basic reading/writing/math courses at some point during your enrolment, before ‘graduating’ or moving on with any sort of creditation for your time spent there, you would have to have taken these courses. This would allow participants to take these courses when they desire, which would hopefully be sooner then later considering most of their peers would take these courses at a younger age (because of the learning environments emphasis on this).

Helen: Do you know of anyone who went through WH and didn’t get those basics? What happened to them as a result? Do you know of anyone who went through WH and feels stupid because they think they aren’t as able as most people to learn? Do you know of any who didn’t learn to either read, compute or write and are leading satisfying lives?

Gabe: No, but I don’t keep in touch with too many people either.

Helen: What I want to know from you is what was really good about WH and should not be dropped, and what really didn’t work for you personally and should be changed.

Gabe: What worked was the diversity in staff and classes and activities offered within the non coercive learning environment, as well as the resources brought in through parent-participation. The JC was great and gave a real sense of power and responsibility to me and, I believe, others. The emphasis on the arts as reflected in school plays and roleplaying games was huge in supporting and nourishing my creativity. The lack of age stratification was excellent in allowing me (and, i think, others) to build authentic and self-motivated social connections. I developed my creativity, my sense of social/communal responsibility, and my social skills at Windsor House. It was a great environment and i feel i benefited immensely from it.

Nothing really did not work for me, however, if anything more non-coercive learning/deschooling propaganda could have been coercively imposed on parents and new students ; ) …

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