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.
Sean Vivier is a former staff member at Mountain Laurel Sudbury School, a former public school and Montessori school teacher, and an aspiring novelist. He is currently working as a web developer.