AERO: Education Pioneer Mary Leue Turns 90

Extract from Education Revolution E-News 21.12.2009

On December 19th I drove up to Ashfield, Massachusetts to participate in Mary Leue’s 90th birthday celebration. Mary is the founder of Albany’s Free School. She started it in 1969, partly for her own children. At the celebration many people thanked Mary for all that she has done for them, including her own children, now with children and even grandchildren of their own. Many former staff members of the school showed up, as well as many people local to the area where she lives now, on family homestead land between the families of two of her sons. Mary is still very active in the community. One local person thanked Mary for being the “grandmother figure”-mentor of their group for the past ten years.

 Mary has written many articles, published many magazines and books and continues to do so. She also wrote one of the articles in our new book, Turning Points: 27 Visionaries in Education Tell Their Own Stories

 Here an excerpt from a section which describes how she happened to start the Free School:

It was early in the summer that I visited a Unitarian church in nearby Schenectady, whose minister was allegedly a closet hippy – or so I had been told. I guess there was some truth to the allegation, because his sermon was on the subject of a book he had just finished reading: eading: Summerhill, by A. S. Neill! The sermon was an eloquent one, and I returned home fired up with a inspiration for solving Mark’s ongoing issue about his schooling!
The first thing I did was to buy a copy of Summerhill and read it from cover to cover. That fall, when it came time for Mark to go back to school, he balked, having heard me describing Neill’s ways of “doing school” to my husband. And somewhere around November he began importuning me to teach him at home, knowing that I had taught school when we were in Texas. I finally persuaded my husband to let him drop out. When the school learned that I had done this, they in turn called the man from the “Bureau of Attendance and Guidance” (i.e., the truant officer), who began an impassioned harangue warning me of the terrible things that were about to occur to me should I refuse to bring Mark back at once – but I had prepared for this by speaking with a man from the curriculum office of the State Education Department, who had offered to give him “State Guidelines.” I was in luck, as the political “line” there favored “innovation.”

 So the officer called back and apologized for his previous manner, assuring me that what I was doing was fine, and that he would be happy to give me any help he could if I should run into any problems; and in fact, he became not only respectful of our operation but really sympathetic with our purpose, since his chief clientele came from the same “population” ours did, and he knew the problems that can arise…
About two weeks after Mark and I got started on our tutorial venture, I ran into a friend with six children in another of Albany’s “finest” public schools, and when she heard what I had done, begged me to take on her three youngest, who she said were acting as though their lives were on the line every morning when going-to-school time came around, and whom she usually ended up having to accompany there. One of my chief worries had been that Mark would feel isolated from his friends, and this sounded great, so I agreed at once, and we were in the school business!

One of AERO’s most important programs is to help people who want to start new alternatives. Mary is a wonderful role model. If you have not yet asked AERO about getting help to start your new alternative don’t hesitate to contact us.s.t us.

 We congratulate Mary on her 90th birthday. This year is also the 40th anniversary of the founding of Albany’s Free School. We wish Mary and the Free School many more happy birthdays!

 Find out more about our Start a School Program here:

 Find out more about The Free School here: and by purchasing the incredible documentary, Free to Learn: A Radical Experiment in Education & the great book, Making It Up as We Go Along: The Story of the Albany Free School.  Both are available along with many of Mary’s books at  This includes Challenging the Giant (volumes 1-4), Real Schools–In Their Own Words, Real Teachers–Real Teaching and Turning Points (essay).



Project Support: Anna Page | Policy Advisor | 020 7276 6025

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