I never said we had to supplement their video game playing with academic things, or told them that they had to “learn something” today. I trusted that they were learning all the time, and that their interests would take them wherever they needed to go.
I paid attention and talked to them, and when they asked a question, I answered or looked it up if I didn’t know. I Googled lots of things for them when they were little, and looked a lot of things up on YouTube for them. When someone said, “I wish I could ride a horse like Link” I considered how we might be able to make that happen, and if they were interested in my ideas, we did them.
Read the rest of the post here.
There’s a controversy in public schools whether to start the day with the Pledge of Allegiance. There’s no controversy in the world of Sudbury. Patriotism is another aspect of life that we do not force or prevent for our students.
We’re not much interested in indoctrination here. And clearly a mandatory pledge of allegiance is meant to indoctrinate. But even where love of country is strong, we recognize caveats that might make people uncomfortable to pledge. Religious or moral beliefs that supercede loyalty to a government. A belief in civil disobedience. Discomfort with the very idea of unquestioning loyalty. Or the recognition that in a free country, maybe we shouldn’t be swearing fealty, and our refusal to speak the Pledge comes from that love of a free country.
There is a difference between patriotism and a rote oath. Either you love the country or you don’t. But any patriotism will be strongest when it comes freely.
When it comes to teenagers, Sudbury schools have something of an issue. We’ve had students who started in nothing but Sudbury and reach adolescence without giving us much in the way of problems. But it’s often another story when it comes to teenagers who join us in their teen years.
Such teens come to us after years of the damage that public schools can do. They tend to come with the survival mechanisms that they learned there. They can often be defensive, cynical, judgmental, and often rude. They don’t always embrace the age mixing component, so used to thinking of anyone younger as less. It takes a lot to break such bad habits.
Which is not to say that nothing good comes from moving your teen from a traditional compulsory school to a Sudbury school. We’ve had teens let go of depression and find a new love of reading and learning. We’ve had teens learn how to control their tempers after years and teens who have discovered what they wanted with their lives given the space.
So, yes, please do send your teenagers. They will grow and improve by leaps and bounds. Just don’t be surprised when they aren’t suddenly perfect.
What are the outcomes of Sudbury Valley School’s innovation?
In his 2013 book on the relationship between learning and play, psychologist and Noodle Expert Peter Gray calls Sudbury Valley School “the best-kept secret in American education.”
Former students seem to agree. According to the results of a 1986 study, 75 percent of SVS alumni successfully pursued higher education, and as a whole, benefited from high employment rates. These numbers have only improved over time. The 2005 book The Pursuit of Happiness: The Lives of Sudbury Valley Alumni surveyed 119 graduates about their post-SVS lives. Respondents discussed their experiences in higher education, in their careers, and in their relationships with others. Eighty-two percent of respondents reported pursuing formal study after their time at SVS. Those who did not attributed their choice to a feeling of readiness to pursue their professional careers. Of those who did pursue higher education, many attended top-tier schools such as UC–Berkeley, Wesleyan, and Columbia University; moreover, 80 of the 119 respondents went on to attend graduate school. Graduates also reported the nonacademic influence that SVS had. Respondents wrote that their alma mater had a positive impact on their attitude toward relationships with others, and that it fostered independence and self-realization.
How is Sudbury Valley School’s innovation relevant to the larger ed space?
Since the founding of Sudbury Valley School, about 40 other schools promoting the Sudbury model have opened around the world. These have helped popularize a combination of unschooling — a movement that removes children from the structures of traditional education — and civic education. (In a study of 232 families who practiced unschooling, the reported benefits of this learning model included an increased sense of curiosity.) The civic education component in particular has established a model for integrating citizenship into learning; students who attend SVS and other free, democratic schools are encouraged to become responsible, active members of society. Finally, SVS models how a private education can be affordable for middle-class families. It and other free, democratic schools tend to have much more affordable tuition than other private schools, and some even use sliding scales to adjust costs depending on a family's income, a practice that allows them to draw relatively diverse student bodies.
From Noodle.com The 41 Most Innovative Schools in America. Read more here.
Imagine yourself in the following situation. You have to use the bathroom. You can’t simply go. You have to ask an authority figure. That authority figure says no. They inform you that you don’t really have to go, you just want to wander the halls. Or that it’s not the scheduled time to go to the bathroom together. Or that you should have thought of that before you came. (Never mind that you didn’t have to go before you came.) So you have two choices. You can sit there, distracted by the impulse to relieve yourself. Or, you can go follow nature, knowing you’ll be punished for it.
Another regular scene of basic disrespect and unnecessary power struggle in compulsory schools.
In Sudbury schools, we avoid this nonsense. You go to the bathroom when you have to go to the bathroom, no need to subordinate a basic natural phenomenon to arbitrary authority.
There is an educational theory out there called error fossilization. The idea is that the longer a child makes a factual error, the more his brain will embed that error and it will be harder and harder to undo, much as a fossil grows harder and harder over time. As such, teachers need to be on top of them, ready to correct them at every turn, lest their mistakes become permanent over time.
Violence is unacceptable in any school. That’s understandable. But in order to combat violence, our public schools often go too far. They create zero tolerance policies that automatically suspend students, not only for aggression, but also for self-defense and even acts that approximate violence but are not in fact violence.
The rationale is that fictional violence encourages real violence and, as such, cannot be allowed. The school must be safe, safe even from the idea that violence exists. Yet every study on the subject tells us that there is a negative correlation between fictional violence and real violence. The violent fantasy allows children to explore the existence and consequences of violence. When you see a fictitious character writhe in pain, you’re more likely to want to avoid causing that same pain in a real person. The simulated situation also forces them to consider when, if ever, inflicting that pain is justified. Certainly not because someone is different, but maybe if that person were otherwise going to hurt someone else? They have to consider and decide. Pictures and stories and games about violence actually make us safer, and, as such, deserve neither condemnation nor prohibition.
It makes sense to have stringent rules against assault, real assault, if only to make it clear that the community simply will not condone such behavior. But such rules alone aren’t very effective at reducing such bullying. One of our parents is an anti-bullying trainer. She teaches that the best way to reduce attacks between students is to foster a culture of respect and equality, while de-emphasizing authority and hierarchy. In short, she says, to make it more like a Sudbury school.
Each Sudbury school will handle issues of violence - both real and simulated - as their community sees most fit. Here at Mountain Laurel, we don’t trust zero tolerance. Fictitious violence is allowed free rein, but we have a three strikes rule for actual violence. No more than three assaults will be allowed before the student is expelled. That number is only to give us leeway based on the circumstances. Given the severity, the first attack might well be the last before expulsion.
We’ve had a remarkable track record with our policy. The respect and lack of hierarchy make bullying extremely unlikely. After all, there’s no rank or place to establish. We’ve had only one problem child in terms of violence, and, sure enough, he no longer attends.
We won’t tolerate aggressive acts. We’ll tolerate most anything else.
"I don’t know how to describe it, but there is something really powerful about the kids who chose to go to Sudbury Valley, and it’s something I couldn’t see as clearly when I was attending. The kids at SVS are compelling and magical, without trying to be either. Ten years after my own graduation, I have seen my friends from SVS go into every part of the world with the assurance they can conquer any challenge set before them, yet still knowing they have nothing to prove to anyone but themselves. Former and current SVS students are not all necessarily happier or smarter or more career-oriented, and they don’t necessarily end up with higher incomes or a longer list of quotes memorized from the works of Shakespeare, but they do appear to have a one hundred percent success rate when it comes to figuring out what they want and going for it. In a world where many people still aren’t sure what they wanted to do with their life by the time it’s over, I believe that the Sudbury schooling community is an essential starting point for improving the way our world works. This strength is overwhelmingly evident in the current student body, and I am inspired by this. The school is truly growing, and I want to be a part of this continued growth."
I could not say it better. What this person has described is the outcome of the trust and respect extended to all of our students, and the freedom they enjoy in a community of equals.
From the Sudbury Valley essay, Fifty Years in Education: A Memoir, by Daniel Greenberg
To read the entire essay, please click here.
Liam Marshall-Butler is currently a student at MLSS.