“Age is important.” “Someone’s age lets us know what they are capable of.” “You should only be friends with people within your age group.” These thoughts are very often over represented in the zeitgeist in respect to their utility.
Recently Chuck Berry announced the upcoming release of his first new album in nearly forty years. Chuck Berry is just one example of people doing things past the age they would be expected to do them. From doing handstands to learning languages, people do things despite being “too old” all the time.
As a Sudbury student I have seen firsthand people do things later or earlier than would be expected of them in a traditional educational environment. I myself learned to read later then would be expected in a traditional school.
So, if age is not a good indication of when people are ready to learn certain things, why do we use it as the basis for when we teach certain concepts? In Sudbury schools, we simply don’t. We allow students to decide when they are ready, whether that’s later or earlier than normal does not matter all that much in the end.
Creativity necessitates freedom. If you have literally no freedom, you cannot be creative. Imagine trying to write a novel when you do not have the freedom to create the protagonist, antagonist and story arc and there is already a description of everything in the book. You can see that you cannot really write a book without the freedom of deciding what happens in it.
Many traditional schools restrict freedom in the in their students’ artistic expression. While they may offer classes in subjects like music or English, they teach them in a structured manner, giving students a premise or story arc to write or telling them what to paint and how to paint it. This renders normally creative activities as uncreative as reading a “choose your own adventure.”
In Sudbury schools students have the necessary freedom to be creative. They do things like write stories and essays, make video games, paint, play music or many younger students simply play imaginary games. In a Sudbury school, creativity is more like creating your own “choose your adventure,” not just reading one.
Anyone who has been near a young child know they are filled with questions. They ask questions like: what does a rock do, how do rainbows work, why isn’t the sky purple and what does “antidisestablishmentarianism” mean. This curiosity is a cornerstone of how children learn about their home, language, culture and world.
In many traditional educational environments children can feel discouraged from following through on their curiosity. They can be punished for asking “stupid” or the “wrong” questions. They are often also forced to learn about topics in which they are not interested and punished for asking about what they are genuinely curious about.
In Sudbury schools children are free to follow through on their curiosity. They ask how birds fly and google what fire is, and no one will tell them it’s time to learn about something else instead. They are free to explore the world’s many wonders. When people are allowed to be curious they are allowed to become competent individuals who understand the world in which they live.
Because Sudbury students are open to the idea that learning can take many different forms, they are more open to utilizing a greater variety of resources, many of which aren’t commonly seen as educational, to further their academic pursuits. To learn what they want to learn, Sudbury students very often search for resources and decide for themselves what they believe are the most useful. Sudbury students might also find creative ways to use learning resources.
I personally have used many resources to learn Spanish. I have had classes on Spanish grammar here at MLSS, played video games in Spanish, talked to native and non-native speakers in Spanish and watched telenovelas in Spanish. I have taken many steps to make Spanish part of my daily life. When I watch TV, play a game or listen to music I very often do it in Spanish. I have changed my phone’s and my Gmail’s language to Spanish, so the first words I see when I go to look something up are in Spanish, and when I do look it up I see Spanish results. I have also used Duolingo to learn languages from Spanish, either to help my Spanish or because that course is only available from Spanish.
Sudbury students are not afraid to use unconventional learning methods if it suits our needs. We see learning opportunities where others very often see wastes of time.
Liam Marshall-Butler is currently a student at MLSS.