Sudbury school

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Sudbury schools practice a form of democratic education in which students individually decide what to do with their time, and learn as a by-product of ordinary experience rather than through classes or a standard curriculum.[1] Students are given complete responsibility for their own education and the school is run by a direct democracy in which students and staff are equals.

The 'Sudbury' name refers to Sudbury Valley School, founded in 1968 in Framingham, Massachusetts, the first school of this type and the inspiration for other schools to define themselves as Sudbury schools. These schools are not formally associated in any way, but generally maintain good communication with each other, and recognize a loose camaraderie.

Certain facets of the model separate it from other democratic schools and free schools, although there are evident similarities:

  • De-emphasis of classes: classes arise only when an individual creates them, and staff are not expected to offer classes as any sort of curriculum — most democratic schools offer at least some basic curricula. Sudbury schools' attitude on classes stems from the belief that every individual learns what they need to know through life and that there is no need to try and design a curriculum that will prepare a young person for adult life.
  • Age mixing: students are not separated into age-groups of any kind and allowed to mix freely, interacting with those younger and older than themselves; free age-mixing is emphasized as a powerful tool for learning and development in all ages.
  • Autonomous democracy: Another prominent difference is the limitation — or total absence — of parental involvement in the administration of Sudbury schools; Sudbury schools are run by a democratic School Meeting where the students and staff participate exclusively and equally. Remarkably, the democratic School Meeting of a Sudbury school is also the sole authority on hiring and firing of staff — a facet that separates these schools from all others.


[edit] School Democracy

All aspects of governing a Sudbury School are determined by the weekly School Meeting, modeled after the traditional New England Town Meeting.[2] School Meeting passes, amends and repeals school rules, manages the school's budget, and decides on hiring and firing of staff. Each individual present — whether student or staff — has exactly one vote, and most decisions are made by simple majority.

Several aspects of running the school are often delegated to other parties so that School Meetings do not get bogged down with the minutiae of detail. These may include elected administrative clerks (who may be elected from staff or students) and committees of volunteers. Additionally, corporations and cooperatives are formed by the School Meeting for a specific area of activity that a group is interested in organizing, such as sports, art or computers.

School rules are normally compiled in a law book, updated repeatedly over time, which forms the school's code of law. When a school member has infracted against a school rule, such as by harassing or hurting another member, or by mismanaging a delegated responsibility, the problem is dealt with through the School Meeting's judicial system, in which all members of the school community participate.[2] Usually, there is a set procedure to handle complaints, and most of the schools follow guidelines that respect the idea of due process of law. There are usually rules requiring an investigation, a hearing, a trial, a sentence, and allowing for an appeal.

[edit] Learning

Sudbury schools are based on the belief that no kind of curriculum is necessary to prepare a young person for adult life. Instead, these schools place emphasis on learning as a natural by-product of all human activity. They rely on the free market of ideas, and free conversation and interplay of people, to provide sufficient exposure to any area that may prove relevant and interesting to the individual. Students of all ages mix together; older students learn from younger students as well as vice versa. Students of different ages often mentor each other in social skills.[3]

Implicitly and explicitly, students are given responsibility for their own education, meaning the only person designing what a student will learn is the student themselves or by the way of apprenticeship. As such, Sudbury schools do not compare or rank students — the system has no tests, evaluations, or transcripts.[4] Still, some schools — mostly in the United States, and including Sudbury Valley School — offer a graduation procedure for those who wish to receive a high-school diploma. Students who choose to use this option must present a thesis on how they have prepared themselves for adulthood, and about entering the community at large. This thesis is submitted to the Assembly, which reviews it. The final stage of the thesis process is an oral defense given by the student in which they open the floor for questions, challenges and comments. Finally, a vote determines whether or not to award a diploma.[5]

A striking feature of Sudbury schools is the ubiquity of play. Students of all ages — but especially the younger ones — often spend most of their time either in free play, or playing games (electronic or otherwise). No attempt is made to limit, control or direct the play — it is seen as activity every bit as worthy as academic pursuits, often even more valuable; play is considered a valuable tool for learning individuals, particularly in fostering creativity[6]. The pervasiveness of play has led to a recurring observation by first-time visitors to a Sudbury school that the students appear to be in perpetual "recess"[7].

  • Apprenticeship
One of the staff's tasks when they are asked for it in Sudbury schools, is helping the students reach their goals when they make vital decisions for themselves in ways that no adults could have anticipated or even imagined. When to stay on campus and when to move on, are often a difficult question to decide. For instance, Sudbury Valley School's first official outside apprentice went to work for the hospital pathologist, since there was no way it could be arranged for him to do autopsies on campus. At age fifteen he could have taken one of two turns. Either wait six or seven years until he was old enough and through with college, and then go on to his chosen field; or he could move ahead when he was ready, which was right away. The school saw no reason he should wait, and arranged an agreement as assistant, free of charge as part of his education and in return he received specific training spelled in detail. Everyone involved approved the terms. Similarly, another student apprenticed to a theater and further on got a degree in theater. A third one apprenticed to a professional photographer by the age of sixteen, and today he is a an art photographer. So far, they assert, only one apprenticeship has failed. That happened when the Master turned out to be too irresponsible to keep his end of the deal. After a while, the student gave up and looked elsewhere. This is frequently done, they adduce, by apprenticeship programs sending students out to real-life work situations that are infinitely more effective, cost almost nothing, are welcomed by the community, and are eagerly embraced by students, whose ambition, after all is to "make it" in the real world.[8]

[edit] Subtleties of a democratic school

Certain nuances in the operation of Sudbury schools emerged during the years they have been in existence, five subtleties that are essential in defining them:[9]

  • Political Neutrality
Sudbury schools are usually apolitical. These are schools in which they consciously do not pay attention to the political views of the people who seek to become members of the community: party affiliations, philosophy, class, about any of the features that separate political factions in society. Political activity is not allowed to take place on the campus, while alternative schools are virtually all identified with specific political movements which is part of a pluralistic scene when you are aware of that and when you ask for it. The reason is the idea, practiced also in the American public school, that people of divergent political and social views can work together in a common enterprise where they have common goals other than politics, that in such a noble enterprise as the search for knowledge, truth, and enlightenment, everybody can work together.
Official meetings of any group in these schools operate according to some set of explicit, formal procedures. The chief function of rules of order is to protect all views and to give them as detached and thorough an airing as possible enabling for decision making, as opposed to the most prevailing models of decision making in schools, the authoritarian model, and the one run as a continuing encounter group. Rules constitute the main protection for reason, intellect, objectivity, detachment, and minorities in a group context, as opposed to feeling and emotion. It is the existence of a clear, explicit procedure that protects and encourages people to introduce motions, thence coming to feel that there is access to the political process to all.
The Rule of Law is generally acknowledged to be a cornerstone of orderly, organized society. In these schools, laws are always promulgated in writing, and careful records are kept of the body of precedents surrounding each rule. There is a simple process accessible to all members of the community. There is no opening, however small, for arbitrary or capricious authority to step in.
The public schools remain one of the last bastions of autocratic rule in our society. There is in fact no rule of law, by and large the same as in alternative schools where power resides in the momentary whim of the majority at a given instant. They hold the unity of the community to be of prime value and to take precedence over everything else. So they will usually undermine any attempt to institute the rule of law, since that would tend to make an individual feel secure and protect him when he chooses to stand apart.
This is the idea that everybody, every member of the school, student and staff, has a vote. It is really a simple idea, as opposed to the idea of democracy as it is sold in Academia, in the heart of our educational system, where the idea is a Greek one: democracy is for the privileged. Confusing the issue of subject matter with the issue of political power.
These schools have a strong tradition that there exist rights belonging to every individual member of the school community, and that these have to be protected in every way possible, for example the right of privacy. Because of this right there isn't any kind of intervention in the private affairs of students -- intervention that characterizes other schools.
Protecting the rights of individuals is not an absolute concept; it's a much more subtle one where the line is drawn between community interest and private interest that involves a great deal of judgment. The idea of individual rights is absent from schools, because the rights of people in schools are simply not respected, even if there is occasional lip service paid to this.

[edit] Alumni

Sudbury Valley School has published two studies of their alumni over the past forty years. They have learned, among other things, that about 80% of their students have graduated from college[citation needed], and that they have gone on to become successful in many areas of life[dubious ]. They conclude the data presented in the studies leaves no doubt that a person's attending Sudbury Valley, whether for a short or long time, doesn't have an adverse effect on the options available to that person: they claim that former students enjoy, at the very least, the full range of life choices available to every other group of young people going out into the world, and that they enjoy a childhood of freedom, respect and trust. There have, as yet, been no formal studies of graduates of other Sudbury schools, but anecdotally, they seem to have similar results.[10][11][12]

[edit] Sources

  1. ^ "Sudbury Valley School: About Us". Retrieved on 2009-02-28. "Most often students are not concerned about whether learning is taking place. Doing what they choose to do is the common theme; learning is the by-product." 
  2. ^ a b "Sudbury Valley School: About Us". Retrieved on 2009-02-28. 
  3. ^ Collins, Jeff. "The Sudbury Model of Education". Hudson Valley Sudbury School. Retrieved on 2009-02-28. "Age mixing provides a safe environment for students to work on their social skills. Students that are not confident of their social skills can practice them and work to improve them by interacting with other students; whether older, younger or the same age. Students of all ages can look to more mature students or the staff as role models.
    In Sudbury Schools, it is very common for students to learn from other students. Sometimes the teaching student is older than the learning student, sometimes the teacher is younger than the learner, and sometimes they are the same age."
  4. ^ "About Sudbury School Model". Retrieved on 2009-02-28. "One major difference between conventional schools and sudbury school is that sudbury system does not have any tests, evaluations, transcripts, etc. The school does not compare or rank it's students." 
  5. ^ "Graduation Thesis Procedure," Mountain Laurel Sudbury School.
  6. ^ Greenberg, Daniel. "Worlds in Creation". Sudbury Valley School. Retrieved on 2009-03-09. "Allowing children to play freely is a necessary prerequisite for a society of adults who have the freedom to be creative" 
  7. ^ Greenberg, Daniel. "Reflections on the Sudbury School Concept". Sudbury Valley School. Retrieved on 2009-03-09. "When visitors arrive at the Sudbury Valley School for the first time, they usually get the impression that they've come during "recess." Everywhere children are playing and happily enjoying themselves in various ways. If they stay a while, they start wondering when recess is over as do many parents when they discover "recess" extending for years." 
  8. ^ Greenberg, D. (1987) Chapter 4, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," Free at Last - The Sudbury Valley School.
  9. ^ Greenberg, Daniel. (1987) The Sudbury Valley School Experience, "Subtleties of a Democratic School".
  10. ^ Greenberg, D. (1996) "OUTCOMES." Retrieved on 2009-03-19 (see with Explorer).
  11. ^ Greenberg, D. and Sadofsky, M. (1992) "Reflections of 'SVS Kids,'" "Legacy of Trust: Life After the Sudbury Valley School Experience."Retrieved on 2009-03-19.
  12. ^ Greenberg, D. and Sadofsky, M. (1992) "Some Final Thoughts," PART VI, CONCLUDING REMARKS, "Legacy of Trust: Life After the Sudbury Valley School Experience."Retrieved on 2009-03-19.

[edit] See also

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