The hygiene hypothesis states that our young immune systems need to face a constant exposure to germs if we want them to grow strong. If it doesn’t face and defeat microbes from an early age, it won’t be as prepared to fight disease and our children will be sicklier. They need a chance to go outside and get dirty.
We already know the benefits of outdoor play in terms of social skills, intelligence, problem-solving, and exercise. Now we also know it will help our kids stay healthy. Yet another reason Sudbury schools allow children to play as much as they like
The argument for greater control over children’s lives is predicated on the notion that adults are older and they know what’s best for kids. But by taking that route, they show that they don’t know what’s best for them.
What’s best for kids is a sense of independence. Practice at making their own decisions. Autonomy and the sense of competence that comes from it. A chance to learn what interests them. Personal stake and personal responsibility. Those are what’s best for kids, and that’s what Sudbury schools have to offer.
There are plenty of characteristics of success. We even have scientific studies to pinpoint them. There’s tenacity: in other words, how willing someone is to stay with a problem despite setbacks. There’s initiative. Assertiveness. Emotional intelligence and teamwork. Independence. Adaptability. Delayed gratification. Internal locus of control. And passion for your work.
Sudbury schools encourage all of those traits. We watch our students every day cling tenaciously to projects that they’ve chosen. Initiative and assertiveness are no-brainers in a school where you have to go after what you want. They learn emotional intelligence and teamwork by learning how to work well with others while making sure they haven’t offended anyone. They’re independent every time they decide they want to do something on their own and every time they agree to take care of some aspect of school management. With so many possibilities, they’re infinitely adaptable. They know to delay the gratification of learning something or completing a project or beating a game. They know from the start that they are in control of their choices and they can’t make excuses, only change behavior when something doesn’t work. And, of course, they learn what they have a passion for and don’t have much trouble deciding what they want to do for work.
It’s no wonder Sudbury grads go on to be successful.
We live in a democratic society. Technically, a limited constitutional republic, but that’s what we tend to understand when we say democratic. The idea that people have rights, that they should be free within their own sphere of influence, and that no one person’s whims should determine authority, but rather that everyone should have a vote in decisions that affect the whole.
Ideally, we would live in a world where our educational institutions prepared our children for that reality. So why do our public schools - and even a number of private schools - seem so feudal in nature?
Superintendents are owed allegiance by principals. Principals are owed allegiance by teachers. Teachers are owed allegiance by students who, like serfs, have no say in the matter. Sometimes, teachers will agitate for more teacher freedom, as the English barons confronted King John for more freedom for the nobility. But any effort by students to assert more freedom is denied. All top-down, all with arbitrary authorities checked only by higher arbitrary authorities. Like the relationship between lord and vassal.
This is a situation that’s damaging to democracy. Many students leave school thinking that arbitrary authority is the proper way of the world. They accept their servitude and expect it of others. Worse, when they do hold the reins of democracy, they use it to cast more and more coercive authority on others, in the name of democracy.
Far better to have a school that embraces true democracy and individual rights from the start. Far better to have a Sudbury school.
Teaching morality, democracy, conflict resolution... from Peter Gray:
"The debate that I listened to that day [at the Sudbury Valley School] was one befitting the Supreme Court of the United States. There was talk on the one hand of freedom of speech. Did freedom of speech include the right to wear a swastika? I remember one teenaged girl thoughtfully raising the question this way: "Suppose we ban the swastika? Does that mean we could also ban the hammer and sickle, under which terrible atrocities were committed? And what, then, about the American Flag? Some people might be offended by it, because of atrocities such as slavery and the mass murder of Native Americans that were committed under this banner. Once we start interfering with free speech, where do we stop?"
On the other side, several presented the argument that the swastika is a hate symbol in a way that the hammer and sickle or the flag of any other country is not. History was presented--not to teach history, but simply as part of the process of putting forth an argument that was directly germane to the decision that the group had to make. As the debate continued, the tension between the right of free speech and the right to freedom from offensive speech came into sharp focus."
These are the kinds of lessons learned in a Sudbury school that are never touched upon in a traditional school setting. These are the important lessons of life, the lessons that contribute to a successful, productive community. And they are learned organically, without coercion or adult interference.
Read the entire article here.
Rules at Mountain Laurel are very common sense. We aren’t likely to ban something that doesn’t have to do with safety or other people’s boundaries.
Some people might like it if we banned video games or candy or any number of other personal grudges. Things people see as frivolous or even unhealthy. But we have to keep in mind human psychology. Anything forbidden gains a certain fascination with us. Ban video games or candy, to continue the example, and it consumes us, so that it’s all we want.
But, if they are completely acceptable, they lose their extra allure. Kids learn that they don’t always feel great after eating candy, and they look for healthy alternatives. They play a game, then they grow bored and move onto something else. All harmless.
We don’t want to fall into the trap of forbidden fruit.
Liam Marshall-Butler is currently a student at MLSS.