I recently graduated from MLSS and will be entering the next phase of my life. I wish to say one more thing before I go. I have spent the last fourteen years of my life attending MLSS. It’s hard to express all that the school has been for me; but I want to give it a try.
First, I would like to thank all of the staff at MLSS and Sudbury schools across the world, my fellow Sudbury students and their parents, who make the kind of education I had a possibility. It is the kind of education I have had that I think we could use more of within our culture. We as a society have decided that freedom and democracy are what is best for our citizens, save for those who have not been alive for long enough. I had the pleasure of becoming who I am, for the most part, in a free, democratic community. While my same age peers were experiencing the thrills of compulsory education, I was arguing about philosophy, playing games with my friends, learning the language of the Aztecs and deciding who I want to be. The freedom afforded to me by my education has not only enabled my personal and academic success, but given me a life experience which is simply better than the one I would have had, had I been restrained by a compulsory education. I would choose to live life as a child in a Sudbury school rather than a compulsory school, just as I would choose to live my life as an adult in a free nation, rather than a non-free nation.
Growing up in a Sudbury school, I have seen myself and others grow, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually; in a free and positive environment. It is widely believed that many young people are immature because they are young, and thus immature. I have seen that many young people are treated as if they were immature, and are thus so. Children are robbed of one of the most important elements of growth: the ability to make bad decisions. They are forced into every important decision of their life until they are an adult, at which point they are expected to be able to make decisions for themselves.
There is one more thing I would like to mention. There is another danger to the loss of the ability to make personal decisions beyond personal growth: quality of life. People are prone to make decisions they perceive as better for other people, than they would make for themselves. This combined with the authoritarianism inherent to the concept of compulsory education creates a negative and often hostile environment. It seems logical to state that a negative environment made up of people forced to be there will become more negative. Given that the rate of depression among children and adolescents is five percent, I don’t think the question of quality of life should be overlooked.
I will be graduating soon (hopefully), so I have been thinking a lot about the graduation process. At MLSS to graduate you must write a thesis about why you are ready to join the adult community. You also give a presentation about a topic and in a fashion of your choosing. In a traditional school at graduation you are given a piece of paper for having had the ability and willingness to follow orders for four years.
Which of these processes seem more logical?
Life is filled with problems. It is in part, the goal of education to learn how to solve these problems. Students at MLSS not only have plenty experience solving problems that occur during the School Meeting and Judicial Committee, but problems they seek out in the form of puzzles, as well.
It seems like a short logical leap to say that people who spend more time solving a greater diversity of problems will be better equipped to solve problems. Students who are free to find and solve problems do, from Rubik’s and video games to chess and riddles.
In a traditional school students are assigned teachers who were hired by someone else, normally years before the student started attending the school. At MLSS students not only have an equal vote with staff hiring and firing staff whenever there is a vacancy, but in rehiring them every year, as well.
The idea of students hiring staff often seems weird to people who have just learned about the Sudbury model; but it makes sense from the students’ perspectives. The only person who is affected more by the decision to hire a staff person than the students is the potential staff person themself.
Students are free to decide what qualities they believe are most important in a staff person and vote accordingly.
There are many parents who believe it is important to make sure their children engage in many extracurricular activities, so that they will be “well rounded.” The idea is that if the only academic engagement students experience is through classes, tests and homework their education and base of experience will be too narrow.
At MLSS we do not have to worry about the students being well rounded. They are constantly engaged in activities outside of or beyond traditional schools’ curricula. They are free to seek and test not only their own interests, but the interests of the students around them, as well. They play chess and soccer, learn how to do handstands and solve rubik’s cubes, play musical instruments, create art, learn other languages, write and cook.
In a traditional school environment extracurricular activities are something you work towards; in a Sudbury school new activities are the natural consequence of self-exploration and social interaction.
In a traditional school students are expected to learn how to be responsible by doing what
they are told. In a Sudbury school students learn how to be responsible through practice.
They already are responsible for deciding what they will do and how they will do it. Which
way do you think will produce adults who can responsibly take action?
It is common to see a parent or teacher tell a younger child to apologize after a transgression. The thought process being that it is important to teach children to apologize. Some people will even go so far as to force the other child to accept the apology.
At MLSS we do not believe it is our place to force a child to say things they may not necessarily mean. It can cause children to think that running through the ritual of apology is more important than sincerely expressing sorrow or regret and be a negative experience for both the child forced to apologize and the one forced to accept.
In a traditional school environment education happens in straight lines. What you learn in the third grade builds on the second grade, which in turn, used the first grade as its scaffolding. You go from beginner to advanced.
In a Sudbury school students do not always learn in straight lines. A student might very well start learning a subject, stop and start a different subject, and then turn back to the first. In an example such as language, this could be beneficial. For instance, if a student starts learning Spanish, stops to learn some Italian, and goes back to Spanish, their knowledge of Italian could help them with their Spanish. A student could also start learning a subject which is viewed as more advanced than a subject they do not yet know. There is no particular reason a student shouldn’t start learning calculus before learning about U.S. history.
What is success? In a traditional school success is simple - good grades are success, better grades are more success. The ultimate success is getting into a good college, which leads to a good job, which leads to a good career, which is part of a good life.
I could write a paragraph here about what success is in a Sudbury school, but I’m not. I don’t know what college is good, if any, for you. I do not know what your ideal career is. I cannot say if any of those things make you successful. I cannot define success within a Sudbury school, because I cannot define success for another person.
Once, when I was at soccer practice, a few of my teammates, who all went to traditional school, asked me if there were any teachers at my school. I asked them what they meant and:I said that a teacher is anyone who teaches. One of them asked me if there were any people who are just supposed to teach. I responded by asking if our coach was a teacher given that he taught us how to play soccer better. One of them said no, because a teacher teaches in a classroom.
In a traditional school there are people whose job it is to impart knowledge to their students. Whereas, in a Sudbury School anyone who knows something you do not can teach you. In the ideal traditional school students seek knowledge and truth from their teachers, in a Sudbury School students seek knowledge and truth from everyone.
Liam Marshall-Butler is currently a student at MLSS.