A recent development in public schools is the Common Core. There has long been a push for more and more standardization, but this makes the idea much more concrete. It lists a group of factors that each subject must complete at each grade level. Woe to any who fall short... or who would rather go ahead.
It all begs the question: why does everyone need to learn the exact same thing at the exact same time?
There’s a reason we’re able to cooperate so well in our economy. It’s specialization. We need people who understand architecture better than most. People who understand the law more than most or math more than most or chemistry or anything else. If everybody knew the exact same thing, the economy would be impossible, because there would be no experts.
At Sudbury schools, we recognize not only that individuality is an inherent good, but that Common Core takes all the joy and spontaneity out of learning while adding nothing but stress and judgment. We’d rather let each student study whatever pleases them whenever it pleases them, whether anybody else learns it or not.
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.
Add uniforms to the list of school policies that we don’t concern ourselves with. It’s just another control mechanism that has no purpose beyond control.
There are two arguments in favor of school uniforms. One is the idea that if kids wear them, they’ll be more obedient and learn more. This despite studies which show that uniforms have no impact one way or the other on disciplinary issues or learning outcomes. It becomes just one more rule, imposed from on high, that means more punishments for people who didn’t wrong anyone.
The other argument states that uniforms are egalitarian. They level the playing field because nobody wears any status symbols or anything else that denotes their parents’ relative wealth or poverty. But is this really worth hiding? Our schools are a culture of acceptance. They tend not to rank each other by their family’s money, and they’re used to offering financial aid to less fortunate families without blinking an eye. And if wealth disparity is truly something you want to combat, why wouldn’t you want everyone to see it in the open?
No, uniforms only exist for the sake of conformity, to make everyone the same, to counter individuality and self-expression. We don’t trust conformity at Sudbury schools, which is why we don’t trust uniforms. We’d much rather deal with individuality.
There is a fad in traditional circles to incorporate technology into lessons, whether the technology is absolutely necessary or not. To use a SmartBoard, for example, where a chalkboard will accomplish the same thing. Teachers will be routinely asked if they’ve added technology to their lesson plans.
Which is strange, because of how much proponents of technology in education often distrust and disparage other forms of technology in the hands of students. They lament texting on smartphones, when we find that the looser grammar in a text message doesn’t translate to more formal writing. They discourage the use of Wikipedia, even though studies have found it often more reliable than printed encyclopedias, and even though it lists competent sources and acknowledges when sources may be inadequate.
At Sudbury schools, we care less about technology and more about freedom and trust. So, yes, students may use technology when it suits them. They may use the internet or read an ebook or any of a number of things. Or they may read a paper book and ask questions. More likely some combination of advanced technology and simple.
So, yes, we have technology in education. Like anything else, we just don’t force it.
The human race is, by nature, mostly conservative. Not in the political sense. In the sense that we tend to resist change, especially radical change. We’re also deeply social creatures. We rarely want to do anything outside the mainstream, for fear we’ll be ostracized. So, once something has been established as the norm, most of us will go along with the flow, consciously or unconsciously, simply to get along.
So when a new brand of education comes along - or even an old brand that seems new because it is so novel in its approach - it can be hard to get a large group of people to join. Even many of those who fully embrace the model can’t handle the idea of constant negative feedback from friends and family. So they abstain.
Sometimes, people ask why more don’t join Sudbury schools the instant they learn of it. That’s why. Social inertia.
They are brave people, who take the plunge and enroll in our school.
Imagine a job in which your work every day is micromanaged by your boss. You are told exactly what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. You are required to stay in your seat until your boss says you can move. Each piece of your work is evaluated and compared, every day, with the work done by your fellow employees. You are rarely trusted to make your own decisions. Research on employment shows that this is not only the most tedious employment situation, but also the most stressful. Micromanagement drives people crazy.
Kids are people, and they respond just as adults do to micromanagement, to severe restrictions on their freedom, and to constant, unsolicited evaluation. Traditional school, too often, is exactly like the kind of nightmare job that I just described; and, worse, it is a job that kids are not allowed to quit. No matter how much they might be suffering, they are forced to continue, unless they have enlightened parents who have the means, know-how, and will to get them out of it. Including homework, the hours are often more than those that their parents put into their full-time jobs, and freedom of movement for children at school is far less than that for their parents at work.
Please, listen to your kids if they are unhappy. Try alternative education, Sudbury schooling, homeschooling, or unschooling.
From Peter Gray's blog on the Psychology Today website.
Read the entire article here.
Real responsibility is an absolutely necessary component to learning. The difference between real responsibility and fake responsibility is the difference between walking a tightrope without a net or with one. You don’t typically get much real responsibility in High School, except in sports and extracurricular activities where it is expected you prepare on your own. Choice is implicit in real responsibility. Homework is your responsibility the same way it was the slaves’ responsibility to pick cotton. I know, nobody can argue for very long about anything without bringing up slavery or the holocaust, but what do you call it when a stranger makes you do work you didn’t agree to in order to benefit a system you’re compelled by law to belong to? You behave differently when you are engaged in an activity you love and where there are actual consequences to everything you do or fail to do. In this way, caring for a pet hamster for a month offers more opportunity for personal growth than an entire year of “required classes” that a combination of state and school district strangers decided was your responsibility.
From The Outlaw Academy by Allan Watts
Read the entire blog post HERE
Peter Gray on his "Freedom to Learn" blog on Psychology Today's website writes:
It is generally a waste of time, and often harmful, to teach academic skills to children who have not yet developed the requisite motivational and intellectual foundations. Children who haven’t acquired a reason to read or a sense of its value will have little motivation to learn the academic skills associated with reading and little understanding of those skills. Similarly, children who haven’t acquired an understanding of numbers and how they are useful may learn the procedure for, say, addition, but that procedure will have little or no meaning to them.
Click here for more.
One of the jobs of the staff is to be role models. Even on those occasions where they haven’t been asked to help with student learning and there are no administrative tasks left to accomplish, they are still meant to demonstrate possibilities for adult life. They are supposed to have hobbies and interests, and to have character: to be honest and curious and responsible. In that way, too, Sudbury schools teach a “hidden curriculum” of the “soft skills” we all need in life.
Another case where just because you don’t see something on the surface doesn’t mean there’s nothing below.
Sean Vivier, MLSS Staff
One day, one of our students walked into the office and announced “I’m bored.” You may expect that the story ended there. Instead, it ended with him saying, “So I downloaded a public domain book on the Greek alphabet. I’m going to try to learn it.”
Sure, sometimes the newer kids come to us and tell us they’re bored, implicitly looking for direction from us. We don’t fall for the trap. We give them time to be bored. We give them time to think about what they value and what they want to do. We give them time to take charge of easing their own boredom. Soon enough, they only tell us that they’re bored coupled with what they’ve decided to do about it. How else would they learn to manage their own free time as an adult?
Sudbury schools let kids be bored, and we do it on purpose. We wish more schools did.
Sean Vivier, MLSS Staff
Adlai Stevenson said a free society is one where it’s safe to be unpopular.
Let’s put that quote to the test. In compulsory schools, unpopularity is dangerous. Bullying is rampant. The first sign of difference or dislike, and that person is in for constant struggle against verbal and physical abuse, which the authorities are hard-pressed to stop.
Now compare that to a Sudbury school. You're far less likely to find bullying. You likely won’t even find much teasing beyond the friendly variety. The culture won’t allow it. And in those rare cases where it happens, we have tools that allow the kids to report it and put a stop to it themselves. But in most cases, at worst, people who don’t like each other just won’t spend much time together.
At a Sudbury school, it’s safe to be unpopular.
Sean Vivier, MLSS Staff
A number of well-controlled studies have compared the effects of academically oriented early education classrooms with those of play-based classrooms (some of which are reviewed here (link is external), in an article by Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Geralyn McLaughlin,and Joan Almon). The results are quite consistent from study to study: Early academic training somewhat increases children’s immediate scores on the specific tests that the training is aimed at (no surprise), but these initial gains wash out within 1 to 3 years and, at least in some studies, are eventually reversed. Perhaps more tragic than the lack of long-term academic advantage of early academic instruction is evidence that such instruction can produce long-term harm, especially in the realms of social and emotional development.
Read the rest of this important article by Peter Gray, Ph.D. here.
Sometimes you can get parents who completely agree with everything we say, until they discover that the kids are allowed to eat sugar if they like. Their faces widen in shock, as if we’d admitted we let them drink poison. Don’t we know how bad sugar is for you? Don’t we know how sugar makes kids hyper and uncontrollable?
Well, actually, the effect on children’s behavior is an urban legend. Research has found that activity levels for the same child are constant with or without sugar. We should know. Sugar doesn’t turn any of us into rampaging monsters, so why would a child’s physiology be any different?
There may be long-term health issues with eating a great deal of sugar. But, like most food items, anything in moderation likely won’t hurt you. And how can anyone learn to take sugar in moderation except by choosing whether or not to eat it and how often? Children who judge their own sugar consumption will be very different adults than those for whom sugar has always been forbidden and, suddenly in adulthood, can have as much sugar as they want.
When we say that the children are free to make their own choices, we mean it. Like anything else, what they eat is a free choice. Our children can eat sugar or not. It’s their lives. It’s their choice.
Sean Vivier, MLSS Staff
There are a number of parenting manuals where the hatred of children shines through. One of the ways is by calling children “little tyrants.” They’re tyrants, these manuals say, because they demand things. They must be forcibly told no on many occasions so they understand they can’t give orders and thus shouldn’t become tyrants.
It’s a strange definition of tyranny. After all, a rude demand may be something to discourage, but not a hallmark of abused power. What power does the child have? The parent won’t be arrested or executed or tortured for their refusal. Rather, it is the parent who has the power to punish, and those who call children tyrants are more likely to demand a vicious form.
Children learn much more from example than from forbiddance. A parent who yells and hits will produce a child who yells and hits. No, refusals can be made in a gentle manner, with reasons presented, without projecting evil onto the child. That way, the child doesn’t become a tyrant, and neither do you.
Sean Vivier, MLSS Staff
It’s easy enough to criticize the public schools for their worst students. So let us instead look at the pride of traditional schools. Let us examine the Honor Student.
Sure, there are a number of Honors students who are bright and curious, who are in it because they haven’t forgotten the joy of learning. But there is a very strong component who are only there for the credits. In several anonymous questionnaires, they often admit to cheating. Also, when Dr. William Glasser asked a gathering of Honors students if they always gave their all on every task, every last one admitted they did not. Furthermore, these students go on to hate learning, to see it as an obnoxious chore rather than the joyous experience it should be. All side effects of compulsion and the message that only grades matter.
Compare with any Sudbury student. It’s not about grades or doing as you’re told. It’s about exploration and discovery. Sudbury students uncover new ideas with delight, giving each new interest their all, and that love of learning stays with them.
So, would you rather have an Honors student at a traditional school, or would you rather have a normal Sudbury student?
Sean Vivier, MLSS Staff
Here’s one situation that I’ve seen hundreds of times. An intelligent young child or teenager has been underachieving in standard school, and has begun to have emotional and/or behavioral problems. Such a child often feels coerced by standard schooling to pay attention to that which is boring for them, to do homework for which they see no value, and to stay inside a building that feels sterile and suffocating. Depending on the child’s temperament, this coercion results in different outcomes — none of them good.
Some of these kids get depressed and anxious. They worry that their lack of attention and interest will result in dire life consequences. They believe authorities’ admonitions that if they do poorly in school, they will be “flipping burgers for the rest of their lives.” It is increasingly routine for doctors to medicate these anxious and depressed kids with antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs.
Other inattentive kids are unworried. They don’t take seriously either their schooling or admonitions from authorities, and they feel justified in resisting coercion. Their rebellion is routinely labeled by mental health professionals as “acting out,” and they are diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder. Their parents often attempt punishments, which rarely work to break these kids’ resistance. Parents become frustrated and resentful that their child is causing them stress. Their child feels this parental frustration and resentment, and often experiences it as their parents not liking them. And so these kids stop liking their parents, stop caring about their parents’ feelings, and seek peers whom they believe do like them, even if these peers are engaged in criminal behaviors.
Bruce Levine, Ph.D.
From Mad In America blog, Societies With Little Coercion Have Little Mental Illness
By BRUCE LEVINE, PH.D.
The entire philosophy of a Sudbury school is that we trust children to make their own personal choices. So it’s peculiar that we sometimes find ourselves with a strange phenomenon: a student who doesn’t want to be here.
Kids who volunteer to be here - especially those who championed it to their parents in the first place - experience all the benefits we describe elsewhere. Not so with the unwilling student. They tend to sulk and take little advantage of the opportunity. Often enough, they face Judicial Committee much more than most, because the rules of an institution they didn’t choose mean nothing to them. In the end, we usually have to remove them, if they don’t remove themselves.
Sending a child here against their will defeats the entire purpose of a non-compulsory democratic education. So, please, talk with your child before you send them here. Make sure it’s also what they want.
Sean Vivier, MLSS Staff
You’ve likely been part of this conversation. A child expresses exasperation with some aspect of their life. Then the adult dismisses it with a certain condescending contempt, as they look to you and shake their heads. These kids think they have it rough. You, of course, are expected to agree.
Here’s the thing. Kids do have it rough. The fact that they don’t pay income taxes or raise a family or pay the mortgage doesn’t negate that. It is quite possible that both an adult can have a rough life and a child can have a rough life.
Consider. If you strike an adult, you are guilty of assault. That’s not necessarily the case with children. Even where it is against the law, many people will refrain from reporting the crime either because they believe hurting children is right and proper or they don’t want the bother and conflict.
Plenty of children also face constant bullying. Of course you have it rough if you live in constant fear of verbal and physical attack.
Children don’t have the same kind of work as adults, but when adults go home, they tend to be done with their work. They can relax, while children are forced to bring much of their work home with them, so that their entire day is stressed.
More than that, they have no choice in their work. Adults have autonomy. Children do not. That alone brings a great deal of suffering to mind.
Keep in mind that something easy for an adult isn’t necessarily easy for a child. Of course many things are no trouble for you after 30 or 40 or 50 years of life. Much less so with only tens years of experience under your belt. Time management, for example, is easy when you’ve been doing it for decades. Less so when you have just the one.
But most of all, kids have it rough because they face all their struggles, and adults dismiss their concerns out of hand.
Sean Vivier, MLSS Staff
Liam Marshall-Butler is currently a student at MLSS.