There are many crucial components of the Sudbury philosophy. If I had to choose, I think the Judicial Committee (J.C.) would be the most important.
One especially beneficial aspect of the J.C. is its ability to promote personal growth and acceptance of mistakes. By fostering a fair, reasonable, democratic environment the J.C. manages to handle write ups without stigma. When I am written up, I do not feel ashamed. I admit I made a mistake and try to make amends.
Accepting personal mistakes is a skill and can be one of the hardest parts of being emotionally mature. Through the J.C. the Sudbury model helps students develop this skill.
In traditional schools students are all taught the same things. The idea is that everyone will learn the “essentials”. A problem arises when people are unable to agree on what is essential. One person might think that everyone who passed sixth grade history should know about the Nullification Crisis, while another might think that the Trail of Tears is more important. Obviously these two things are not mutually exclusive. However, it is impossible to teach every student all the things that one might think is an essential. Literature, a second language, a musical instrument, advanced mathematics, art, world history, Native American history and computer sciences are all things that one might think is an essential.
I met someone who was learning Portuguese and had been repeatedly told that Portuguese was useless. Brazil alone has a population of two hundred million people and the eighth largest economy. Not to mention the cultural value of learning Portuguese. Is Portuguese an essential for the general American population? No. Could it be very useful for a few people? Yes.
So how do you decide what is an essential? Sudbury schools have the answer: we let the students decide for themselves what is essential.
In traditional schools students are taught a subject and then given homework and tested on that subject. This process can have the negative side effect of discouraging mistakes, as they become associated with lower grades and failure.
Mistakes serve an important function in the learning process. Babies do not wake up one day speaking their native language fluently after months of only being able to communicate by crying. They learn their native language through years of mistakes. Neither do they learn to walk in a single moment of new found grace and balance, nor does a new cook become a master chef without mistakes.
In Sudbury Schools we recognize that mistakes are a fundamental part of learning any new skill. From mathematics to a musical instrument or a second language the road to mastery is paved with mistakes.
Liam Marshall-Butler is currently a student at MLSS.