I have heard that question or a similar question throughout my life as a Sudbury student. The answer is: yes, students will choose to learn math to the extent that it is useful to them or they find it interesting. This might scare some people who worry children will not be interested in math and will not see any value to it. These people are concerned that students will not learn math, which they see as a necessary skill, which is precisely why children choose to learn math.
I myself have used math to varying degrees during my entire education as a Sudbury student and am currently studying more advanced math for the SATs. If I ever think that my current math abilities are insufficient I will learn more math.
When students are allowed to choose when, how and to what degree they will learn math, they come to view it as a skill which can be improved upon at any point and not something that they are inherently good or bad at. They are also free from many of the negative associations of their traditionally educated peers. Who do you think would be better at continuing to learn math? Someone who is comfortable with math and learned it organically or someone who was forced into learning math and has negative feelings towards the subject?
One of the benefits I think we often overlook when explaining the Sudbury model is the freedom to learn things which may seem impractical. I have been recently trying to learn how to do a handstand. A handstand fits into the category of things which may seem impractical. While it doesn’t have many practical benefits which could not be more easily reaped through another medium, it is a skill which takes a fair bit of time and effort to learn and is viewed with little inherent value.
On further examination the simple act of learning how to do a handstand or any other skill is beneficial. I had to build my confidence and strength as I transitioned from doing wall planks to handstands propped up by a wall, and continue to do so as I improve my balance and ability to kick up into a handstand. While there are better ways to improve your strength, and balancing on your hands has few utilitarian applications, the act of learning improved my patience and discipline.
When students are allowed to, they are constantly learning new skills, whether it be how to do a handstand, play checkers better, or make a video game. By allowing students to learn things without worrying about their practical uses, Sudbury students learn how to learn what they want independently.
There are two major schools of thought on grammar: descriptive grammar and prescriptive grammar. Descriptive grammar describes how a language is used and accepts informal and class- or region-based usage, such as, “Who am I speaking to?” and “it ain’t nothing.” Prescriptive grammar prescribes the “correct” way to write and speak.
In traditional schools only a variant of the prescriptive grammar is taught and accepted. In Sudbury schools we allow students to choose whether or not to learn and use prescriptive grammar and to what extent. There are different reasons one might decide to use or not use prescriptive grammar. Prescriptive grammar is useful in formal situations, but its overuse can be off-putting at times. One could also argue that there are few situations where it would be very unseemly to end a sentence in a preposition or use “who” as an object of a sentence.
When people are allowed to choose how they wish to speak, they are better able to articulate themselves in a manner they see as appropriate to the situation and are better equipped to determine what the appropriate tone is for any situation in the future.
In many traditional schools there are clear restrictions of expression, such as a ban on wearing clothes with an image of a skull or a blanket ban on swearing. At MLSS we want everyone to be able to fully express themselves, but we also strive to foster a school climate in which everyone is welcome and feels comfortable. We don’t have any specific rules on swearing. All of our rules which could be applied to the matter boil down to just one question: Are you offending anyone? If not, then it’s probably okay to swear.
Allowing students to use socially restricted language, such as swears, is not only a way to let students express themselves fluently and efficiently, but also a great way of allowing them to learn the appropriate way of doing so. When used well, swearing can be a stylistic choice within poetry or art, an effective way to communicate emphasis or anger, or a way to speak casually with someone. Students at MLSS are allowed to learn when it’s okay to swear without offending anyone, when they want to swear and what their own comfort level with other people swearing is.
The same logic holds true for all restricted language. Students at MLSS learn what their comfort level is with things like swearing, blasphemy and discussion of bodily functions and they learn when to avoid things like swearing, blasphemy, discussion of bodily functions and other people’s phobias when they are inappropriate.
Liam Marshall-Butler is currently a student at MLSS.