Which would you say, all things considered, works best: fearful anticipation, relaxation, or enthusiasm? Most of us would likely rank them such that enthusiasm would be most productive, relaxation would place second, and anticipation would fare worst.
Well, psychologists performed a recent study to see if that hypothesis held true. They went into schools, where children had to perform a task. The control group was allowed to worry and fret about the results. They guided another group in meditation to relax them. And a third group was primed with all the exciting possibilities of what they might do.
Sure enough, the science backed common sense. The enthusiastic group accomplished the most. The relaxed group did the next best, and the group full of anticipation fared quite poorly.
We think the results speak for themselves. Traditional schools use fear to motivate children, and sure enough, children don’t give their all. But here in the world of Sudbury education, children are allowed to find what excites them and pursue it to their utmost. No wonder they do and learn so much. Enthusiasm works best.
We place so much pressure on each other to never fail. That any failure is a reflection on someone’s character. And it’s a message we tend especially to send to our children.
Yet we miss something. All failure is temporary. Any setback may be overcome. It is our most successful people who fail, but who then rise to the challenge, or to a different challenge, and overcome.
Now, failure is another aspect of life that our school model handles differently than traditional schools.
You can imagine how failure is handled at a typical school. A big F that will stay with them in their records for as long as their records matter. Lectures from the teacher and parents. Conferences. A great deal of attention to make sure they understand that they failed and that this is not acceptable. And should they suddenly understand the material, their grade still reflects their earlier failure.
At a Sudbury school, failure is much more matter-of-fact and value-neutral. There probably wasn’t even anyone over your shoulder to see the failure. If anyone’s present, they aren’t going to rub your face in it. You simply take it in stride and try again - with or without help, as you choose - until you do it right. Failure is something that happens, but not something permanent or earth-shattering.
Now, which treatment do you think better prepares someone for the ups and downs of life?
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the
place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Confiscation is all too common in traditional schools. The teacher
sees something they don't want a student to have, and they simply take it. No due process, only authoritarian fiat. Something easy to forget is that teachers in public schools are agents
of the State. As such, they are supposed to be held in check by Constitutional limits. No government actor is supposed to appropriate personal property without due process and checks and balances. Were they police, they'd need to convince a judge to warrant the seizure. Note that the Fourth Amendment specifies "people," not adults. There is no compelling reason why children would not fit the definition of personhood.
At Sudbury schools, we have much more respect for the rights of our students to be secure in their effects. It is against the rules to take or damage any property that is not their own without permission. This rule applies equally to the staff. Were they to confiscate something because they don't like it, they would be subject to the Judicial Committee, just as much as if a child had.
The refusal to confiscate helps prepare children to live in a democracy. But more than that, it's about honoring their rights.
Liam Marshall-Butler is currently a student at MLSS.