The precautionary principle states that if we aren’t certain of the outcome of something, we should err on the side of caution and ban it. It’s the ideology that wants to ban vaccines and biotech, even though there is no evidence whatsoever that they’re harmful. But folks imagine ways that it might, possibly, maybe hurt someone. So it must be banned. Whenever a new technology or a new service is presented as a hobgoblin to be outlawed, you can see the precautionary principle on full display.
The principle holds sway in most schools. How else could someone be suspended for biting a Pop Tart into the shape of a gun? Or balls be forbidden at recess, just in case that ball might hit someone? Or have a student’s entire day planned for them, because otherwise they might not be a successful adult?
In the process, we lose so many possibilities, from the simple joy of playing ball all the way to the life-saving power of modern technology. More than that, it robs us of our precious autonomy, of the right and the privilege and the chance to test our world, to see what works and what doesn’t, to make our own choices about what risks we deem acceptable. And if that doesn’t begin at an early age, people won’t have as much practice to use that freedom well.
No, we err on the side of freedom. You won’t find the precautionary principle in full strength here.
Which would you say is more important? A system? Or the people within that system?
Surely the people matter more. After all, systems arise in order to help people as their justification. And yet, we often blame people for failing to meet the needs of systems, when really, we should blame systems for failing to meet the needs of people.
In schools, this happens when teachers and parents demand to know why children don’t conform to the school’s expectations, whether or not it truly helps, no matter how much suffering it causes. Yet wouldn’t it make more sense to demand the system conform to the student’s needs?
Systems are a tool, and like any tool, they’re only useful so long as they accomplish what we want. We should be as ready to discard a broken system as we are to discard a broken hammer.
The institution of a Sudbury school is a system infinitely adaptable to any particular student’s needs and interests. Freedom and flexibility allow that. We base our system around the students. We don’t expect the students to conform to any one stringent system.
“When it comes to brain development, time in the classroom may be less important than time on the playground.” After many years of providing an environment where young people play as much as they choose, MLSS and other Sudbury schools already know its value. With this latest research, we have further evidence to support our experience. Follow the link below for the story.
Reprinted from the Fairhaven School website
The freedom of choice and communication in a Sudbury school allows students to build their own libraries of experiences. It allows them to form and modify and play with their own visions of how the world works and how to adapt to it. It allows them to be exposed to each others' visions about the world and how it works. Freedom allows them to develop their full human potential. With the speed of change and the adaptability required of man in the modern era, it is more obvious than ever that our children must be left free to explore, play and adapt.
Scott David Gray
reposted from Sudbury Valley School Featured Essays
"Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong"
Reposted from PsychologyToday.com/Evolutionary Psychology
If you have gotten a good handle on the evolutionary perspective applied to humanity, you can start to examine any and all aspects of the human condition from this angle – often leading to novel, totally out-of-the-box ideas on important aspects of who we are. One of the greatest scholars in the field of evolutionary psychology, who also happens to be a prolific Psychology Today blogger, Peter Gray, has taken this approach and applied it to the all-important field of education – with extremely provocative results.
Gray’s basic approach, which fits quite well with the theme of this blog series (Evolutionary Psychology and the Human Condition), rests on the idea of evolutionary mismatch. In questioning the nature of modern educational systems, Gray posed the following question: Is our modern, Westernized educational system similar to how education transpires in non-Westernized societies, which are our best models for what all ancestral, pre-agrarian human societies were like? In other words, do our modern educational structures match – or mis-match – traditional educational structures? And if there is a mis-match, what is the nature of it?
To get a full sense of this area of evolutionary educational psychology, you really should read Gray’s work directly! In short, he finds that modern educational structures mis-match traditional educational structures in many systematic, consistent, and significant ways. For instance, in examinations of traditional educational structures found across varied non-Westernized societies, Gray found that in traditional societies:
We are, after all, products of biological evolutionary forces shaped by selective pressures that existed in very specific environmental conditions - conditions that, in many ways, have little bearing on what your world may be like today. Perhaps this point can shed significant light on how we educate our young.
This blog entry is part of a series of blogs titled Evolutionary Psychology and the Human Condition.
References and Further Reading
Geher, G. (2014). Evolutionary Psychology 101. New York: Springer.
Gray, P. (2011). Free to Learn. New York: Basic Books
I had a conversation this morning with a person who’s always been skeptical of the Sudbury model.
She said, “I have a perfect example of why your schools don’t work. My granddaughter had to write a term paper for one of her first college classes, and she had NO IDEA how to do it! If she’d gone to a regular school, she would have had four years of training in writing.”
At our schools kids get training in problem solving and in being resourceful.
“She had to go in to the professor and explain that she had never written a term paper, and he gave her a bunch of materials and some reference books, and she wrote it.”
“How did she do?”
“She got a B+.”
Lisa Lyons, Staff Member, Fairhaven School
Reposted from The Sudbury Valley School Featured Articles page
Imagine the last day of a public school before summer vacation. Most of the kids will be quite happy. Giddy, even. They’ll be so exuberant that they may well act out and cause problems for other people. The entire last day is a barely contained celebration.
Now look at the last day before vacation at a Sudbury school. You’ll see sighs. You’ll hear complaints. Kids will wonder why they can’t go any more and try to figure out ways to do over the summer many of the things they’d been doing during the school year. Not to mention how bored they’ll be without school.
It’s amazing the difference in a culture without coercion.
The nice man is just trying to be friendly. “So you two girls go to The Circle School…What’s your favorite subject?”
The young girls are a little nonplussed. “We only take classes if we want to.”
“Oh. Well what do you do at school, if you’re not in classes?”
Brightening, the girls are now on familiar ground. “Mostly we like to climb trees.”
Now the nice man is confused. “How can you learn things like history if you’re climbing trees all day?”
The girls’ turn to look confused.
“Do you know what history is?”
Now the nice man is trying to help, to teach the girls something useful. “What do you think history is?”
“It’s like… things that happened…” the older of the two girls trails off.
Desperately trying to think of a polite rescue, I blurt out “I think you’ll find they know lots of history, even if they can’t define it.”
Now the man is in full-on teaching mode. “I see. So, do you know who was America’s first president?”
Both girls brighten, and the younger one smiles broadly: “George Washington; everybody knows that!”
“Well, how did you learn that? Can you learn that by climbing trees?”
Much dimmed, she murmurs “I think my mom told me.”
To my great relief, the conversation is interrupted by the arrival of the person we had come to see.
Some version of this painful exchange happens all too often when our students try to represent their experience with adults who are new to The Circle School. I think it highlights a very deep philosophical gulf between those who have experienced the magic that is The Circle School and those who have not. In simplest terms, most people associate the word “school” with teaching, while we associate the word “school” with growth and development.
The nice man (and he really was well-intentioned) isn’t even aware that his view of education is limited to a very narrow range of life experiences. Given a list that includes crucial and difficult assets like time management, teamwork, responsible self-reliance, critical thinking, civic engagement, and emotional stability, the comparatively simple subject of history falls far down on my list of essential skills for a well-rounded education.
But history can be “taught” (though not as easily as it can be learned) whereas those other assets simply cannot be taught in a coercive school environment. They must be struggled with, by learners, on their own time and in their own way. Easy stuff, like history, arithmetic, and literature, come along on their own – a side effect of an active life in a free community. The reverse, picking up emotional stability as a side effect of listening to a teacher talk about the presidents, ain’t gonna happen.
Yes, it is not only possible to know lots of history without taking a history course, it is very common at The Circle School. For us, school is a place where people explore their worlds, inner and outer, freely and responsibly, in a diverse and supportive community. Where the entire range of human skill, knowledge, creativity, and endeavor is available for striving and achievement. Where kids live their lives, growing and learning every day.
Most schools are about teaching. The Circle School is about life.
Reprinted with permission from the author, JD Stillwater
Please read more of JD's blog entries at the Circle School blog:
I went to a traditional public school and hated almost every year of it. I didn't understand the math after 5th grade and many years later realized that most math is written in code and I was never given the book that broke the code. I am a right brain learner, I recognized as an adult ,and math, in my day, was almost entirely taught from a left brain perspective. No one ever explained what terms in a word problem mean add, subtract, divide, or multiply. No one took the time to explain that a quadratic equation is shorthand for a lengthy mathematical statement.
If I had been fortunate to attend a Sudbury school I would have been able to seek out someone who could teach in a manner that I understood or have at my disposal the teacher's textbook so I could figure out for myself what it was I was trying to learn. I could also have opted to make the math relevant to my own experience. I could have measured my own bedroom to figure out the square footage, determined how long it would take to go to my grandmother's if my dad drove at a certain speed, or calculated what percentage of the grocery bill was allocated to dairy products.
I was fortunate to attend a middle school for about a year that did teach from a right brain perspective. Our math teacher had us doing tax returns for fictional families we designed. I was excited, engaged, and successful at comprehending the concepts and making the correct calculations. Unfortunately, that one year was followed by 4 years of torture in which my confidence in my ability to do math was eroded. To this day complex math causes my emotions to lock up my brain and send me into a fit of frustration and avoidance.
If you want your child's education to have real meaning in their present and future, trust them and send them to a Sudbury school where they can learn in a manner that allows them to clearly understand the material and make it relevant to their lives
Louise Thiessen MFT
Retired Family Therapist
Member of the Founding Team of Mt. Laurel Sudbury School
If you want your child to get an education that will really mean something to THEM in the future, that they can call on every day of their life, that will prepare them for the realities of the world outside, send them to a Sudbury school where freedom, responsibility, creativity, problem solving, and learning how to be self- directed are just a few of the skills they will have the opportunity to learn and to live.
Louise Thiessen MFT
Retired Family Therapist
Member of the Founding Team of Mt. Laurel Sudbury School
Many companies offer something called flex hours. Their employees may come in when they wish, as long as they accomplish their projects by a certain deadline. Workers can then make use of the times they know they will have the most energy and focus and thus be most productive. These companies trust their workers. They realize that it’s the work that matters, not the exact time of day that the work happens.
So, in a world of flex hours, why are public schools still so tied to an exact schedule? They still have bells that mimic the factory whistle, from a day and age when most people worked precise shifts in factories. Whether the kids are at their best at a certain time of day or not, they all have to be there from morning bell to dismissal.
In Sudbury schools, we’re also more relaxed about timing. Students may come early or late, so long as they come for 25 hours a week. We trust them with their own time, and in so doing, we better prepare them for the modern world. Think of it as flex hours.
Here’s the thing about freedom. We all use the word. We all say we want it. Yet we never seem to mean the same thing. Two people can use the exact same language and the exact same words, and they won’t mean the same thing.
To one person, you can’t be free if you’re forced to pay for someone else’s necessities. To another, you aren’t free if you have to worry about your basic needs. To one, freedom demands a recognition of gay marriage. To another, freedom is the right to refuse to recognize any marriage that isn’t between one man and one woman. Is freedom the right to bear arms or is it the right to be nowhere near weaponry? The right to smoke or the right to be smoke free?
Go to a public school and they’ll tell you that freedom is an education without charge. Perhaps some might demand more leeway for teachers in running their classrooms. Go to a Montessori school and they’ll tell you that freedom is letting children choose their activities... so long as those activities involve the Montessori materials and conform with the teacher’s wishes. A Waldorf school will tell you it’s the freedom to live by Anthroposophism (a philosophy that promises experience of a spiritual world through inner development). And there are a number of free schools where teachers still interrupt the children at play to determine what they should learn at that moment.
So let us be clear what we mean when we say our children are free at a Sudbury school. We mean that they may do whatever they please, within a loose set of restrictions determined by majority vote of both students and staff. Those restrictions all have to do with the boundaries of others. For example, we have rules against theft and assault and harassment, as well as leaving messes and interrupting people’s activities. We also have guidelines for school management and safety rules. If your actions wrong someone in some way, including if you’re likely to hurt yourself, you’re likely breaking the rules. Otherwise, you are free to live without limits.
So that is what we mean when we say freedom. Do as thou wilt, an it harm none.
A great read for those parents concerned that a Sudbury education might negatively impact their child's chances for admission into college. http://networkedblogs.com/WTUfF
Interesting article on the value of video games. http://reason.com/archives/2014/05/07/video-games-build-strong-brains
Mountain Laurel Sudbury School does not have accreditation. That startles and worries some parents when they first hear it. But that worry rests on some assumptions, and it begs a few questions.
What does accreditation mean? It means that a group - either a state or a private organization - has determined that a school has met a certain set of criteria that the group finds important. That’s it.
What does accreditation gain you? Nothing. A selling point, at most. Proof that a group of outsiders agree with you.
What does lack of accreditation prevent? Nothing. It’s still completely legal to operate without accreditation. The accrediting body will make no effort to stop you. Colleges still accept our students, including colleges considered very competitive. They can still get jobs and join the military and start businesses, if that’s what they choose.
Why do we not seek accreditation? Because we would have to compromise our philosophy. Accrediting agencies would demand that we test our students on forced curricula, which are antithetical to the freedom and personal responsibility that Sudbury schools hold above all else. We refuse to compromise the model.
So, in the end, accreditation neither offers us benefits nor prevents our students from living successful lives without it. And without it, we do not have to compromise what we know works. We’re happy unaccredited and independent.
"Don't you think there are things that every educated person should know?"
I hear this fairly often, generally in response to my stated disinterest in having Common Core standards in particular and national education standards ever in general. It's an eye-opening question for me , because even just a few years ago, I'm pretty sure I would have answered yes. But the current toxic educational status quo and its foundation of Making People Prove They Know Things has forced me to really examine my thoughts in this area.
The issue breaks down into three parts for me.
I. The List
In the English teacher biz, we wrestle with The Canon all the time, and that master list is always a work in progress. If you're old enough, you can remember the struggle surrounding the recognition that we might want to expand beyond the traditional list of Dead White Guys, but there have been many mini-arguments over the years, none of which have been conclusively settled.
But that's content. What about skills? Well, we agree on reading-writing-speaking-listening in principle, but in English-land there's ongoing debate about the usefulness of knowing grammar, and the process of writing (which was only "discovered" in the last forty years or so) is still metamorphosing. And in most places, the speaking-listening piece is a haphazard Rube Goldberg stapled to the airborne seat of our pedagogical pants.
And that's just my field. Multiply that by every other discipline. Factor in all the parents and taxpayers who believe that What Kids Should Learn is roughly the same as What We Studied Back In My Day.
But I do believe there are things students should learn, don't I? I mean, how else do I make decisions about what I should teach (because in my district, I make many of those decisions myself)?
Turns out, when I think about it, what I really have is a list of Things I think It Would Benefit a Person To Know.
I think any person would be better off knowing some Shakespeare. I think every person would benefit from being able to express him/her-self as clearly as possible in writing and speaking. I think there's a giant cargo-ship-load of literature that has important and useful things to say to various people at various points in their journey through life.
But this is a fuzzy, individual thing. Think of it as food, the intellectual equivalent of food. Are there foods that everybody would benefit from eating? Well.... I would really enjoy a steak, but my wife the vegan would not. And given my physical condition, it might not be the best choice for me. On the other hand, if I haven't had any protein in a while, it might be great. And a salad might be nice, unless I already had a salad today, because eating a lot of salad has some unpleasant consequences for me. Oh, and I do enjoy a lobster, which is fairly healthy, unless I'm have to eat while I'm traveling-- lobster makes very bad road food in the car. You see our problem. We can agree that everybody should eat. I'm not sure we can pick a menu and declare that every single human being would benefit from eating exactly that food at exactly the same time.
Ditto for The List. I mean, I think everybody should learn stuff. Personally, I'm a generalist, so I think everybody would benefit from learning everything from Hamlet to quantum physics. But then, I know some people who have made the world a better place by being hard core specialists who know nothing about anything outside their field.
So if you ask me, can I name a list of skills and knowledge areas that every single solitary American must learn, I start to have trouble. Every mechanic, welder, astronaut, teacher, concert flautist, librarian, physicist, neurosurgeon, truck driver, airplane pilot, grocery clerk, elephant trainer, beer brewer, housewife, househusband, politician, dog catcher, cobbler, retail manager, tailor, dentist-- what exactly does every single one of those people have to know?
II. And Why?
Let's pretend there is a list. What is it for?
Do we want people to be more productive workers? Do we want them to be more responsible parents? Do we want them to be kinder, more decent human beings? Do we want them to be better citizens?
Then why aren't we trying to teach them those things?
One of the most bizarre disconnects in the current toxic ed status quo is the imaginary connections between disconnected things. We have to get students to score better on standardized tests, because that's how we'll become the economically dominant Earth nation. Ignoring for a moment the value of either of those goals, what the heck do they have to do with each other?
Reformsters are constantly telling us that we must drive to Cleveland because that's the only way we'll make it to St. Louis. If you want to drive to St. Louis, first, let's discuss whether we really want to go to St. Louis or not and next, if we agree, let's map a path to St. Louis, not Cleveland.
So even if I have my tiny list of things I think absolutely every person must learn, the small irreducible list of content and skills that every educate person should know, I have another hurdle to climb.
Do I think the full force of law and government should stand behind forcing people to learn those things?
Should the federal and state governments say, "We think you should learn these things, and we will put the full weight of law behind that requirement. You will not be allowed to proceed with your life unless you satisfy us that you have learned the stuff on this list."
What is X such that I would stand in front of a diploma line and say, "Since you have not proven to me that you know X, I will not let you have a diploma."
"Don't you think there are things that every educated person should know?" seems like such a fair and simple question, but by the time I've come up with a short list of skills and knowledge for every single solitary human being, and then filtered it through the question of what deserves to have the full force of federal law behind it, my list is very short and extremely general.
Maybe you think that makes me one of those loose teachers who lets his students slop by with whatever half-tried work they feel like doing. You will have to take my word for it-- my students would find that assessment of my teaching pretty hilarious.
But The List approach is, in fact, List-centered, and I'm well-anchored to an approach to teaching that is student-centered. It is, I have become convinced, the only way to teach. We cannot be rules-centered or standards-centered or test-centered or teacher-centered or list-centered, even though we need to include and consider all of those elements. How to weigh and balance and evaluate all these elements? The answer has been, and continues to be, right in front of us. We balance all the elements of education by centering on the student. As long as we keep our focus on the students' needs, strengths, weaknesses, stage of development, hopes, dreams, obstacles, aspirations-- as long as we stay focused on all that, we'll be good.
What does every educated person need? Every educated person needs-- and deserves-- an education that is built around the student. Everything else must be open to discussion.
Reposted from Curmudgucation at http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/
Posted by Peter Greene at Monday, May 05, 2014
We have plenty of data from educational studies. But it’s one thing to have that data, and another to interpret it.
Something odd happens when you tell someone who works in a compulsory school about all the studies that show the power of intrinsic motivation. They start to project their own biases on the data. They determine that they need to allow their students more intrinsic motivation... intrinsic motivation that they will control.
Of course, trying to control something intrinsic defeats the whole point. Yet compulsory educators will note studies demonstrating the importance of freedom, and they’ll offer it as proof that we need both freedom and control. Despite no evidence whatsoever that the control helps.
We like to avoid that trap here. You’ll find no projections of dominance onto our conclusions. Sudbury schools rely on intrinsic motivation, no control necessary.
I had never heard of the Sudbury model of education until I met the man I would eventually marry almost 16 years ago to the day. I had read books on Summerhill school in England but when I began reading about Sudbury I was ecstatic. Learn what I want, when I want, and how I want. What a dream come true only too many years to later for me. I was already in my mid forties.
Both my husband and I felt and still feel that this is the way learning was meant to be done. Freedom, respect for the child, learning at one's own pace, and following one's inner compass are all part of the Sudbury model.
We have no children of our own but have felt the damaging effects of public school ourselves and wanted to give other children an alternative that was humane and fostered a child's natural curiosity. So, my husband began looking for other adults who were also interested in this model and might be interested in starting a school in the New Britain, Ct. area. There was an existing Sudbury school in eastern Ct. but we wanted to give families on the west side of the Ct. river an opportunity to attend without such a long commute.
We spent two years coming together, finding kids and families, holding informational sessions for the community, looking for a site, and finally opening the school in New Britain on the one year anniversary of 9/11. The initial group of students made this decision to honor those that died and to put into the universe an alternative to hate and fear.
It is 12 years later and the school is still in existence. Students have come and gone with numerous graduations. Those students have gone on to higher education, travel, careers, and jobs in various fields of their choosing.
I am proud to have been a founding member of an endeavor that supports a child's right to be free, respected, treated as an equal, and supports their natural curiosity.
MLSS Founding Member
It was a puzzling e-mail. Someone from another state wanted to know how we did things, to see if the way their local Sudbury school functioned was really the way Sudbury schools operate. As if a small Sudbury school in Connecticut were the keepers of the singular Truth of Sudbury. Comparing notes with other schools, we even found that this is somewhat commonplace - demands that one Sudbury school answer for the actions of another.
Here’s the thing. All Sudbury schools will have certain traits in common, such as respect for children, democratic governance, and due process for rule infractions. But we’re also all going to be different. Consider. Nobody would suggest that Germany isn’t a democracy because it doesn’t have all the same laws as the United States. Likewise, Sudbury schools are going to differ from each other.
Each of us have different School Meetings composed of different students and staff. These different people are going to have different felt needs and different ideas for solutions. So we’re going to vary. Different schools will have different tolerances for rough and tumble play. Or what precise line changes free speech to harassment. Or how often JC is invoked. Or acceptable noise levels. Or any other of a hundred things. Even whether we agree with every nuance of each other's posts.
We’re not a franchise. If anything, we’re a loose confederacy of independent, likeminded schools. We don’t all have to be carbon copies.
So, please, don’t tell us that another Sudbury school isn’t doing Sudbury “right.” If it’s their decision and they’re free to keep it or change it, then they are.
A beautiful example of self-directed learning. Many thanks to Brooke Armstrong of Arts & Ideas Sudbury for sharing...
"Recently, one of the girls at A&I has been getting in a lot of fights with her friends. They all pick on each other, as 8-10 year old girls tend to do. It hasn't turned into anything really worrisome at all, but they do really press each others' buttons some days.
At the end of the day today, I'm sitting at my laptop working on admin stuff. I overhear the aforementioned girl in the video room recording a video for her YouTube channel (by herself). 'Hey guys, this is a tutorial video about how to relax when you're mad or sad. There's six steps. The first is to just walk away so you can calm down...' She records a bunch of takes, repeating the same lines over and over until they are exactly what she wants. Here are my thoughts on this:
1. It's so cool that this kid knows how to record her own videos and upload them to YouTube. Could she be more of a 21st century kid?
2. It's awesome that she decides to deal with her friend-group drama by making a tutorial video about relaxing. She's using her natural creativity and interest in video making to help herself navigate how she feels about the friend tension and make concrete steps to help herself deal with it. Who says she needs an IEP or a 'management plan'?
3. Not only is she helping herself figure out how to deal with her issues, but she's making a video for other people to watch. She's conscious of the fact that others are probably dealing with similar struggles and wants to help them out, too.
4. THIS is what unlimited screen time looks like, for all the naysayers. If you think kids won't learn from having unlimited access to screens, you are just...wrong! Imagine all the things this kid is learning. The basics - the literacy skills and typing skills you need to even make a video in the first place - but also communication skills, persuasive language, coping mechanisms, and self-awareness. By the way, this is the same kid who spent hours outside in the pouring rain today enjoying getting totally soaked and buying hot chocolate off-campus with her friends.
This is what we mean when we say kids are happy at a Sudbury School. Not (always) that smiley, "I did it!" or "I'm having fun!" kind of happy. The deep satisfaction of solving your own problems and using your own interests to navigate your problems and your world kind of happy. Deep, true, satisfaction that comes from genuine, real-world problem solving."
Are the children in your life happy?
Brooke Armstrong, Staff
Arts & Ideas Sudbury School
1700 South Rd.
Baltimore MD 21209
Have you ever noticed how often children in public schools are
micromanaged? It’s not enough that they go to the bathroom and wash their hands. They have to read explicit instructions that give step by step by step guidance. It’s not enough to sit in a theater and listen with respect. Adults have to determine where they sit and with what posture. It’s not going from one place to another, but teachers have to form the specific line at what specific spot on the ground, while deciding when and where they stop to wait so the teacher can make sure the line still conforms to their expectations. What does this accomplish? It certainly does not prepare them to make their own choices and live their own lives. Not when every choice is made for them, down to the smallest detail, and they have no practice in decision-making. It does, however, prepare them to be controlled. To do as they’re told without question, to obey in an instant no matter how unnecessary or arbitrary the rule. The thing is, they’re unlikely to find much micromanagement in their adult lives. Adults wouldn’t stand for it, to start. And more and more, the workplace has become increasingly “flattened,” such that disparities in power decrease. They’ll be expected to participate in an environment where the manager tells the employees the end goal and the due date, then leaves the rest to them. A boss, unlike many teachers isn’t going to tell them every step along the way, no matter how picayune.
Which would you rather have your child grow to become? A child raised
in freedom with long practice in running their own lives? Or a person
who knows how to be micromanaged?
No matter how many times and how many different ways we describe our school, inevitably we find someone who joins, only to discover that we aren't what they imagined. They're shocked to discover that we don't prepare activities for the students unless specifically invited to, that we don't leave interesting tidbits around to manipulate them into learning what we have decided for them, that we really do let them play if that's what they want, that we don't tell them who they can and can't spend time with. We explain what and why in no uncertain terms, but some people after hearing us speak of freedom are still surprised to find all this freedom.
We want to avoid that shock. So, let us reiterate it yet again. We believe in educational freedom for students. Freedom is not us telling them what to learn. Freedom is not us interrupting their
activities. Freedom is not determining their associates for them. Freedom is not artificially limiting choices to a few approved activities. Freedom is not leaving activities around for them to
artificially discover on our time table. Freedom is giving all choice and responsibility to the child.
We hope this makes our model's philosophy abundantly clear. We'd like to avoid confusion if we can.
Most people probably think of praise as innocuous, or even beneficial. After all, what could be wrong with telling someone they're doing well? Still, there is a type of praise that is damaging. And that's the kind of praise meant to control behavior. When a teacher, for example, praises a student not because they're truly impressed, but because they want to reinforce that behavior for both that student and the other students that hear that praise.
Why so damaging? Because it makes the work about the praise, and not about the work itself or the work's logical outcome. People read not to learn from the reading, but to hear someone tell them they've done well. It destroys motivation. Effort becomes about pleasing someone,
not about accomplishment. So they will become less likely to put in that effort once that praise is removed from the equation. You may hear Sudbury staff speak well of the students, but you won't
hear us walking around to make sure we praise anyone's efforts. Those are their efforts, to choose or abandon freely without any input from us. We aren't here to influence their activities in any way, and to thereby take away their own inner drive. It may seem unkind to some, to refrain from broad praise. But we know it's far more kind to let them live their own lives without outside
There is a school in New Zealand called Swanson Primary. Recently, they looked upon the chaos of recess and decided, in order to resolve it, to do away with playground rules.
For most people, such an idea will bring visions of Lord of the Flies. They can imagine only the worst, that surely pretty much every child will end up hurt.
The exact opposite happened. Playground accidents went down. So, too, did bullying. It turned out that in a more relaxed atmosphere, there was less tension, and thus less cause for distraction and anger. The kids looked out for each other and respected each other because it made sense, not because it was forced.
How does this come back around to Sudbury? It can’t be said that we have no rules. But we do have fewer rules, and those rules that do exist are a) determined by the students and b) related to safety and other people’s boundaries. And we see the same level of safety as Swanson Primary has discovered.
Less concentration on authority, better results. It works everywhere.
Sean Vivier, MLSS Staff
Liam Marshall-Butler is currently a student at MLSS.