Part 1: Where we Stand Today
Chapter 4: The Solution: A Strategy for Education in America Today
Read Part 1, Chapter 3: Our Un-American Schools
Read Part 1, Chapter 3: Our Un-American Schools
At our March informational meeting, a skeptical father asked me a very straight-forward question. He explained that after reading about the graduates of Sudbury Valley School he was convinced that this kind of education did not harm kids in their future academic pursuits and careers. But if it didn't make any difference one way or the other, why send a kid to a Sudbury-model school? That question stayed with me for several days. It had been such a great opportunity to explain why this form of education is so important and I had somehow not risen to the occasion.
Fairhaven School's two fundamental principles are, of course, freedom and democracy. But sometimes, since these two ideas are sensible and decent in their own right, we lose sight of their importance as educational cornerstones, of the fact that they set conditions in which real learning can best occur.
Doing nothing at Sudbury Valley requires a great deal of energy and discipline, and many years of experience. I get better at it every year, and it amuses me to see how I and others struggle with the inner conflict that arises in us inevitably. The conflict is between wanting to do things for people, to impart your knowledge and to pass on your hard earned wisdom, and the realization that the children have to do their learning under their own steam and at their own pace.
What do kids learn at The Circle School? More than I can know or name, I'm sure. But what do we see them learning? Here's what some of the staff have seen in recent months ...
I have seen kids learn to value reading as a functional tool. They read the agenda for the School Meeting to determine whether or not to attend this week. They read about upcoming field trips and other events on the front door. When they serve on the JC they must read the complaints they are investigating. They read the muffin recipe, to divvy up the ingredients for various people to bring in. They read the school law book to determine what law was broken, so they can fill out a JC complaint.
An article in a local Massachusetts paper recently described Sudbury Valley School as a "School with No Rules." The reporter obviously hadn't seen the 30-page rule book which Sudbury Valley's School Meeting has created (over 30 years) and to which all students and staff are beholden. Why our schools need so many rules? It's the same question that was posed about democracy when it first emerged. In the absence of an overarching authority figure -- king, parent, teacher -- rules are the backbone of a just and orderly society. Painstaking attention to the process of rulemaking and enforcing is a necessary component of any democracy.
Oh, how I like Yu-Gi-Oh. I am not a seven-year-old boy, but a 36-year-old mother. Since September my five-year-old son has begun his formal education at the Hudson Valley Sudbury School. One of the biggest learning tools he has embraced is that of Yu-Gi-Oh and I cannot sing its praises enough.
I wanted to share some anecdotes about my stepson Jyles' experiences with The Circle School, because to me they embody the beauty of this program. In the evening, after his first visit to TCS in September, he said to me, "You know Marianne, at first I thought that it seemed like kindergarten there. After a while, I started to feel that it wasn't kindergarten at all, but that it was like college. Finally, now I've realized that it really isn't either of those things. What it is there is life."
I'll begin with a little background about my children coming to The Circle School. Last year I came to the school as a new staff person. Zeb and Jyles, my stepchildren, were soon to follow, enrolling last year. My own three children have gone through an arduous campaign with their birth father to do the same. There was jubilation in our household late in the summer when he finally agreed to allow them to come.
By all measurable standards, the children are all bright successful students. They were in the gifted program, received excellent grades, had friends, and participated in various extra-curricular activities. However, despite these classical standards of success and enrichment, the children were neither happy nor satisfied with school. Instead, they constantly felt bored, unchallenged, and frustrated. There were many behavioral manifestations of these feelings. The most obvious one was a constant resistance to going to school each day - usually under the guise of being sick. Less direct, but equally disturbing, were the furrows in their brows while discussing their boredom in class. They felt isolated because they were smart, or different, or did not choose to get in trouble or shave their legs.
Realizing that youth is the time in which most of our long-standing opinions and personality traits are formed, those of us between the ages of six and sixteen were herded like cattle onto buses. Many of us had only heard rumors about the place we were going; we didn't know what these camps were to really consist of.