Daniel Greenberg

Daniel A. Greenberg, one of the founders of the Sudbury Valley School, has published several books on the Sudbury model of school organization, and has been described by Sudbury Valley School trustee Peter Gray as the "principal philosopher" among its founders. He is a former physics professor at Columbia University, and is described as the school's "chief 'philosophical writer'".

Articles by the Author

Back to Basics

Why go to school?

For people who like to think through the important questions in life for themselves, Sudbury Valley stands as a challenge to the accepted answers.

The first phrase that pops into everyone's mind is: "We go to school to learn." That's the intellectual goal. It comes before all the others. So much so, that "getting an education" has come to mean "learning" -- a bit narrow, to be sure, but it gets the priorities clear.

Then why don't people learn more in schools today? Why all the complaints? Why the seemingly limitless expenditures just to tread water, let alone to progress?

The answer is embarrassingly simple. Schools today are institutions in which "learning" is taken to mean "being taught." You want people to learn? Teach them! You want them to learn more? Teach them more! And more! Work them harder. Drill them longer.

But learning is a process you do, not a process that is done to you! That is true of everyone. It's basic.

What makes people learn? Funny 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.

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Free at Last

Sitting before me were a dozen boys and girls, aged nine to twelve. A week earlier, they had asked me to teach them arithmetic. They wanted to learn to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and all the rest.

"You don't really want to do this," I said, when they first approached me.

"We do, we are sure we do," was their answer.

"You don't really," I persisted. "Your neighborhood friends, your parents, your relatives probably want you to, but you yourselves would much rather be playing or doing something else."

"We know what we want, and we want to learn arithmetic. Teach us, and we'll prove it. We'll do all the homework, and work as hard as we can."

I had to yield then, skeptically. I knew that arithmetic took six years to teach in regular schools, and I was sure their interest would flag after a few months. But I had no choice. They had pressed hard, and I was cornered.

I was in for a surprise.

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Child Rearing (excerpts)

“One thread that runs through every point in this book – letting things go their own way, letting children develop their own curiosity freely, letting people make all the mistakes they can on the way to developing their judgment – is that all these things involve an enormous amount of time, and require patience. You have got to have time to work things out. Perhaps the most devastating feature of our society is its preoccupation with speed. In fact, the single most effective tool society has for squelching creativity and independence is rushing everybody to death. How often have I seen people who have almost reached their goals suddenly stop and say, ‘Time is flying by, I have got to move on,’ and then all of their relaxed ability to work things out goes down the drain. It is just plain ludicrous to think that a person has to have ‘made it’ by a certain age. Some people find their life calling at six, others at thirty-six, others much later. Things have just got to be allowed to work themselves out in their own good time.”

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A Clearer View (excerpt)

To celebrate the Sudbury Valley School’s 30th anniversary, a series of six talks was presented showing how the people who struggled to implement this new educational model deepened their understanding of topics such as play, conversation, and democracy. The talks were collected in this wonderful book which packs a big punch in a little volume. It is particularly valuable for parents considering Sudbury education for their children.

“We didn't focus on the relationship between democracy and other values of the school, even though we talked about its interrelatedness to other values. We didn't really grasp it. Last year, a lot of the pieces fell into place for me personally. It happened as one of those eureka experiences which really don't mean that much to somebody else who doesn't have it. The setting was an informal meeting with a group of parents and some students and staff members. One of the parents asked the students in the room, ‘What is the most important element of the school for you?’ The questioner didn't want to know what the staff felt was most important; she wanted to know what the students thought was most important. Without hesitating, one replied, ‘Democracy,’ and he talked briefly about empowerment. That was what democracy meant to him. The last thing I expected a student to say in response to that question was ‘democracy’. I expected ‘freedom’, ‘the ability to do what you want’ – but not democracy."

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Education in America (excerpts)

Associated School: 

How does the prevailing system of schooling in America measure up to modern day requirements? A collection of essays addresses this question from various angles. They were first published in the most widely read newspaper in the suburban Boston area.

“The only way the schools can become meaningful purveyors of ethical values is if they provide students and adults with real-life experiences that are bearers of moral import. Such experiences are notoriously absent from the current daily routines of public schools. They include, for example, students making choices that are significant for their lives, within the school setting; choices such as how to educate themselves to be productive adults. They include students exercising judgment in consequential matters, such as school rules and discipline. I could go on at length giving examples, but the point is simple, and needs little elaboration: to teach morality to students, they must have opportunities to choose between alternative courses of action that have different ethical weight, and they must be allowed to evaluate and discuss the outcomes of these choices.”

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