From August to now, I've watched a young man - he would be a freshman in a typical school - progress from no knowledge of Spanish whatsoever to expressing himself in the manner I'd come to expect from seniors in Spanish IV.
How did he do it? Well, it all began with a single lecture during our summer session. This was a lecture that he demanded from me, mind you, not one I forced upon him. He wanted me to explain every possible conjugation of Spanish verbs in every possible tense. And he retained it.
Come the regular school year, he used Duolingo to learn more vocabulary and grammar. He watched shows and videos in Spanish and even set his video games to Spanish mode. Not to mention reading books in Spanish. Every so often, he'd ask me a question or test a sentence construction with me. Now he's conversing on many topics with little hesitation. And he's still improving.
Keep in mind, this student didn't learn to read until he was 9. I shiver to think how a traditional school would have treated him. Right from kindergarten, they would have made him remedial. Every day, for years, they'd make it clear in their treatment that they thought he could not keep up. Even if he didn't internalize that much negativity, even if he kept his curiosity through years upon years of condescension, I can't imagine him in a high school Spanish class, the kind I used to teach. He'd want to speed ahead, and the teacher wouldn't let him. The teacher wouldn't be allowed to let him.
I should mention that he's been learning German and French at the same time. Or that one of his fellow students attended that first lecture on conjugation, before deciding he'd rather go back to learning Italian. Both boys share their thoughts on comparative linguistics with each other. They even crack jokes about comparative linguistics with each other. Because they think it's fun.
When I tell people what I do - people who have never heard of a Sudbury school, have never seen it in action, have never even done research or read about it - they tell me it could never work. Yet every day I walk into that building, and every day I see it work wonders.
Sean Vivier, MLSS Staff
Most everyone can agree that we need rules for people, let alone for children. Even anarchists such as Joel Spring and Francisco Ferrer have written that schools need rules. The only question becomes: exactly where do you draw the line?
An insight is, perhaps, offered by the Wiccan Rede. It states: do as thou wilt, an it harm none. Updated to modern English, it would read: do whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone. Note that it doesn’t say “an it harm others.” It says “an it harm none,” which would include yourself.
You don’t have to be Wiccan to appreciate the Rede any more than you need to be Christian to support the Golden Rule. Plenty of people embrace the idea even though they’ve never heard the Rede. So it should be no surprise that the rules at Mountain Laurel tend toward that ideal. We have rules against crossing other people’s boundaries - such as taking property without permission or disturbing their activities - as well as safety rules - such as needing official certification to use the stove or the paper cutter. Rules about whether or not you’ve caused some kind of harm to someone.
It was never stated in terms of the Rede. Yet you could probably shorten most of our lawbook to “Do as thou wilt, an it harm none.”
Sean Vivier, MLSS Staff
Sometimes visitors express concern that our students will often try something and then quit it. That this may well happen often, one discarded interest after another. Wouldn't it be better if they learned the discipline to follow something to its completion?
They say that quitters never win. But that seems incomplete. Really, it's that quitters never win... at the thing they quit. They still can and do win at the other efforts they haven't quit. Efforts they can put more time into because they quit something else.
Sudbury schools give kids a chance to explore potential interests. Often enough, they discover they weren't all that interested. Quitting gives them a chance to realign their efforts and focus to something they find more fulfilling. And when they find interests that fill them with meaning, then they don't quit.
Quitting is part of life, even for the most successful people among us. Perhaps we as a adults forget how many paths we've quit in our own lives, but still came out functional. Quitting an instrument means you'll never be good at that instrument, yes. But quitting an instrument to learn programming means you can succeed at programming... perhaps even more so because you quit the instrument.
And in that way they do learn discipline, by doing everything in their power to master something that matters to them.
Sean Vivier, MLSS Staff
Liam Marshall-Butler is currently a student at MLSS.