On Wednesday the third, the first day of the school year, the kids came streaming off the buses and nearly broke down the doors, even though they were unlocked. I myself had just set my personal record for my bicycle commute (still though, the rest of the staff were already there when I arrived). Kids were hoping out of cars all morning and racing towards the building like it was made out of gingerbread, or as if it were some kind of supercharged happy-magnet. Everyone was eager to trade the decadence of summer for the nourishing thrill of getting the band back together, reuniting the clans, and returning to work on the ten thousand projects of making a life. And of course everyone was off to work immediately - no need to ever wait around here.
This school exists to secure students’ right to self-determination in their education (not to “grant” or “allow” those rights). In doing so, the school renounces subjugation and takes a clear stand for trusting people - including children - to live their own lives with equal rights and access. What happens next is remarkable, and elegantly logical. “What I see happening here,” said one parent walking through the building last week, “is real human interaction.” I see it too: all day long all over campus there are groups of students and staff sorting things out, solving problems, building and dissecting worlds, and laughing and laughing and laughing a lot, which brings me directly to what is probably the most important thing to know about our school: it is fundamentally a joyful place. Not that anyone walks around the place with rictus grins plastered firmly in place. We argue and bicker, relationships form and dissolve, people fall down; everyday someone’s crying. But the dominant mode of being here - the baseline that most people return to - is joy, or one of its many corollaries.
...laughing and laughing and laughing a lot, which brings me directly to what is probably the most important thing to know about our school: it is fundamentally a joyful place.
Near the end of last year, a woman called the school just to say she thinks that “what [we’re] doing is harmful to children.” She said that children, left to their own devices, don’t challenge themselves and wind up as lazy, useless parasites. I told her I disagreed and invited her to send me an email if she wanted to talk about it any further (she didn’t). I mention this because it’s a common criticism, and and I’d like to address it in this “back to school” post, because the truth about it has been all too evident during the first days of school, as new Sudbury students and old have dropped right in to the struggle to figure out the best way to live. Challenge is ultimately unavoidable. Growing up is necessarily a challenge, and as the dictum of the organic universe “grow or ossify” tells us, growing up never stops (hopefully); there is never any finished product or perfect person. By securing the right of freedom for our students, we strip away all the extra (and often irrelevant) challenges students at traditional schools face, which allows our students to invest their energy in engaging the vast project of growing up human, and of negotiating freedom within the context of a community. It also allows them to ignore challenges that have no meaning for them and pursue the ones they are drawn to for whatever reason. So, caller, I can’t apologize for our students’ freedom, but I can assure you that it does not free them from facing challenge. What it does is prepare the ground for real human interaction, and it is that joyful ground from which ascents are launched and challenges are undertaken.
Last week I was in the art room with a few younger students and one of them offered this: “I like art. I like it because there aren’t any rules, it’s all up to you, it’s not like minecraft (even though I like that too) where you have to follow different kinds of rules that keep you from making what you really want to make. In art, there are endless possibilities...” Indeed. Welcome back to school, everyone. Welcome back to endless possibilities and endless challenges; welcome back to this joyful place.