Why go to school?
For those who like to think for themselves and question life’s important questions, Sudbury Valley presents a challenge to the accepted answers.
The first thing most people think of when it comes to school is that it’s a place where we go to learn. That’s the main, intellectual goal of school and it comes before any others. So much so, that the phrase “getting an education” is synonymous with “learning.” This might be a bit too narrow of a definition, but it makes the priorities clear.
If schools are falling behind, why isn’t anyone doing anything about it? There are a lot of complaints, and a lot of money being spent just to keep things the same.
The answer to why schools are struggling is that they are trying to make students learn through teaching them, rather than having them learn on their own. If you want people to learn, you need to let them learn on their own and not try to force them to learn through teaching them.
You learn, you don’t have learning done to you. That’s something that’s true for everyone, it’s a fundamental principle.
Or is it? What causes people to learn? It’s funny that anyone should ask. Over two thousand years ago, Aristotle started his most important book with the universally accepted answer: “Human beings are naturally curious.” Descartes put it slightly differently, also at the beginning of his major work: “I think, therefore I am.” Learning, thinking, actively using your mind: it’s the essence of being human. It’s natural. Or is it?
Even more than the great drives – hunger, thirst, bad – when you’re completely absorbed in something, you forget about all the other drives until they overwhelm you. Even rats do that, as was shown a long time ago.
Who would think forcing people to do things they don’t want to do is a good idea? I’m not talking about people with disabilities that make it hard for them to do things on their own, or people with mental impairments that need special clinical care. No one makes people eat by shoving their face in a bowl of food every hour, and no one makes people have sex by locking them in a room with someone for eight periods a day.
It is more ridiculous to try to force people to do something that comes most naturally to them than it is to sound ridiculous. A lot of books tell parents how to keep their children from exploring, but once they are mobile, it is hard to stop them. Parents get frustrated when their children destroy the house and they look for ways to confine them. As children get older, they get into more trouble.
School is a place for people to learn. In order for people to learn effectively, they need to be given time alone to process information. If they need help, assistance should be provided. However, it is important to note that if someone is truly determined to learn, they will find a way to do so regardless of challenges they face. Therefore, while help can make the learning process easier, it is not necessary. Overcoming obstacles is a key element of learning, so it can be beneficial to leave a few challenges in place.
If you continuously bother and interrupt a person while they are trying to learn, they will start to hate you and the subject you’re forcing them to learn. This will result in a loss of interest in learning altogether, at least for a short while.
Just imagine that every teacher in every school was forcing their students to eat spinach, milk, carrots, and sprouts.
Sudbury Valley does not restrict its students. If they need help, the staff is there for them, but they do not get in the way of the students’ learning. The students are there primarily to learn, and that is what they do.
The next thing to focus on after “learning” in school is always the practical details. Most people don’t really care what or how much they or their children learn at school, as long as they can have a successful career; get a good job. That means money, status, advancement. The better the job you get, the better the school you went to.
The top-ranking schools mentioned manage to stay at the top because the alumni of these schools are grateful for their education and continue to support the schools financially. This creates a never-ending cycle in which the best and brightest students are able to attend these schools, and when they graduate, they go on to do great things and give back to their alma maters.
The school that will prepare a student best for a good career at the end of the twentieth century is most likely a school that is up to date with the latest technology and trends.
The mind is the only tool we have to work with The age we are living in does not require us to toil over the answer because everyone else is discussing it. This is the post-industrial age; where information is key and being creative is what will get you ahead. The future is for those who can use their minds to handle different types of material and ideas; old and new. The mind is the most powerful tool we have.
Activities like these are not common in most schools, not even as extracurriculars. Imagine if they were part of the regular school day!
The activities at Sudbury Valley are the curriculum.
Though it may sound unbelievable, it is true that all of our graduates who wish to go on to college and graduate school always get in, typically to their first choice of schools. This is despite having no transcripts, no records, no reports, and no recommendations from teachers – so what is it that college admissions officers see in these students that they are so willing to accept them?
And these very same qualities made our students disruptive, insolent, and unruly. Even if it is hard to admit, you know the answer. The qualities that make our students bright, alert, confident, and creative also make them disruptive, insolent, and unruly.
Some are listed in the Alumni Directory The achievements of our students show that they are successful in a variety of fields. Our students are doctors, dancers, musicians, businessmen, artists, scientists, writers, auto mechanics, carpenters, and more. You can find some of them listed in the Alumni Directory.
If someone asked me today which school would give their child the best opportunity for career advancement, I would Sudbury Valley without hesitation. It is the only school that does this job effectively at the moment.
Sudbury Valley has dealt with Future Shock head on and been successful. There is no longer a need to stay stuck in the past.
Back to basics: the simple lessons about good schooling
Gordon Brown used a large part of his Mansion House speech to discuss his vision for schools last week, with a focus on education being his top priority. There would be a renewed emphasis on boosting the teaching profession, personalised learning in the classroom and more one-to-one help for those who need it most.
David Cameron had announced that he did not support the building of more grammar schools, but then appeared to unannounce it. Research published last week showed that it is difficult to teach certain groups, particularly white, working-class boys. There needs to be a debate about what we want our schools to do and what we can learn from good schools.
Even though it is something that we take for granted, schools should still foster good citizenship. In this country, universal education has always kept one eye on the goal if making good Americans out of all of us.
The principles America was founded on and has been steadily expanding are known to all of us.
This country is a democracy where the government is ran by and for the people. The people elect officials to represent them and make decisions on their behalf. The majority rule in democratic societies.
Laws. This country is a nation of laws. No arbitrary authority, no capricious government now giving, now taking. Due process. Laws.
This country is a people with inherent rights. Our forefathers refused to ratify the constitution without a Bill of Rights added in writing.
And, so far as possible, cultivate in them habits of civility, self-monitoring, and mutual respect The schools should, as much as possible, cultivate habits of civility, self-monitoring, and mutual respect in their students so that they can contribute productively to the political stability and growth of America.
- be democratic and non-autocratic;
- be governed by clear rules and due process;
- be guardians of individual rights of students.
A student that is raised in a school system with these features would be prepared for life outside of school.
The schools are distinguished by the absence of three American values.
All schools seem to be run in an autocratic way, even the ones that are considered “progressive.”
There is a lack of clear guidelines and innocent people are being accused of causing disruption.
They do not recognize the rights of minors.
The only exception is Sudbury Valley, which was founded on these three principles.
It is likely that the personal freedoms cherished by our predecessors and each future generation will never be fully secure until our young adults, during the crucial years when their minds and attitudes are being formed, are taught in schools that reflect these fundamental American values.