A fascinating little snapshot in the NY Times of a school in Manhattan that really swallows the whole loaf, grace-wise. Some might see it as hopelessly naive, others as an honest attempt to take the inside-out approach as far as it can go. One has a strong suspicion that the Manhattan Free School caters to students for whom obligation has proven totally insufficient as a motivation for learning, i.e. the kids with the most severe allergies to the Law, even in its most innocuous and civil forms. It will be interesting to hear what they are up to in 20 years (ht TM).

[Manhattan Free School principal Pat] Werner’s dedication to opening young people’s minds might better be described as utopian than idealistic — which is only appropriate at a private school where students do not receive grades, take tests or have to do anything, really, that they do not feel like doing.

For parents exhausted by New York’s numbers-oriented, lottery-driven public school system or its hierarchical, hypercompetitive private schools, the Manhattan Free School represents another way to go: equally wacky, but at the opposite extreme.

In the cafeteria of the church one recent day, lunch, like much else at the school, was happening in a fashion that could generously be described as fluid. The art teacher was offering her hummus to a wary 5-year-old who seemed hungry. The boy ate the hummus eagerly; followers of the free-school philosophy might posit that this was partly because no one was forcing him to. (Pizza was also an option.)

“It comes down to trust,” Ms. Werner said, “the trust that given time, they’ll find their passions, and when they do, they’ll be eager to learn.”

Some students had rebelled elsewhere; some, like Amylin Di Dario, a 15-year-old from South Plainfield, N.J., needed a break from self-imposed pressure. “The stress was giving me stomach problems,” Amylin said.

One of the school’s favorite sayings: The flip side of freedom is responsibility.