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Sudbury Valley School, since its founding in 1968, has been a place where children can enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as they grow up in the newly emerging world. From the beginning of their enrollment, no matter what their age, students are given the freedom to use their time as they wish, and the responsibility for designing their path to adulthood

2 Winch St
FraminghamMassachusetts 01701

Articles Published by the School

Kingdom of Childhood Growing Up at Sudbury Valley School

From interivews by Hanna Greenberg; Edited by Mimsy Sadofsky and Daniel Greenberg

I came to Sudbury Valley the first summer we were open. I was seven. I was really surprised when I saw the school. The picture I had before I came was nothing like what it turned out to be! I had imagined it to be a place with rooms that had labels according to what you did inside the rooms a room that said "Science," and a room that said "Reading," and I don't know what else. My picture didn't look like the public school I went to, but it also didn't look like a house; it looked institutional.

The school is such a great looking building to a little kid, big and old and kind of mysterious. It was exciting to go there and find out that it looked like some old mansion, where you can get lost or hide from people if you want to and not be found, and things like that. I remember just feeling joy at being at this place where I could do what I wanted where I wanted. The school was physically beautiful, and to be around this beautiful place and not be constrained was wonderful. The grounds were also incredible, and walking around on the rocks were really frightening! They were big. They were several times higher than I was, and people were jumping around on them. It amazed me that people were just going up there to this far away, scary place and nobody was attempting to make them not do that.

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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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A Few Words on SVS

The Sudbury Valley School has been in operation for more than 30 years now, and several other schools around and outside our country (the United States) see our school's success and are modeling their schools on ours.

The school accepts students from ages four and up, and awards a high school diploma. It is a private school, which relies upon tuition and does not engage in fundraising. Studies of our alumni show them to be "successful" by any criteria; most have gone on to their first choice career or college, most have a comfortable income, and (the best definition of success, in my mind) most are happy people.

The physical plant is a beautiful Victorian mansion on a ten-acre campus. It is furnished like a home, with couches, easy chairs, books everywhere (rather than hidden in a library), etc. The grounds are excellent for sport and games, and the school has several facilities; music rooms, an art room, a high speed Internet connection, a darkroom, a piano, a stereo, a pond great for fishing, several computers, etc.

Students (from age four on up) are free to do as they wish during the day, as long as they follow the school rules (more on school rules later). The campus is "open" and most students come and go as they please, without having to check with an office or other such nonsense. No one is required to attend classes and, indeed, classes are rare and bear little resemblance to the usual notion of a "class." There are no tests or grades of any kind. Students and staff (teachers) are equal in every regard. The students and staff refer to each other by first name, and the relationships between students and staff can't easily be distinguished from the relations between students.

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Learning to Trust Oneself

Life is a journey and upon reflection I realize that, in my journey, I have been trying to recapture what was mine as a young child.

The accomplishments of young children up to the age of five are remarkable and have been acknowledged by many before me. They learn to sit up, to crawl, to stand up, to walk, to gain command of spoken language (even several languages), among other things and since almost all babies accomplish these enormously difficult tasks, we are not as awed by their accomplishments as we should be. Rather than recognizing how successful they have been at teaching themselves tasks that would be very difficult for any adult, we have gotten the idea that when they are four or five we can now take over their education and really teach them all the "important" things that they will need to know to be a successful and productive adult. We want to share what we know, offering them short cuts to our hard earned knowledge, and save them from making mistakes. Even if I were to concede that our intentions were good, which is not at all a foregone conclusion, I would argue that we have never been able to come close to doing as well for our children as they have been able to do for themselves.

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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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The Art of Doing Nothing

Teaching, inspiring, and giving advice are all natural activities that adults of all cultures and places seem to engage in around children. Without these activities, each generation would have to invent everything anew, from the wheel to the ten commandments, metal working to farming. Man passes knowledge to the young from generation to generation, at home, in the community, at the workplace and supposedly at school. Unfortunately, the more today's schools endeavor to give individual students guidance, the more they harm the children. This statement requires explanation, since it seems to contradict what I have just said, namely, that adults always help children learn how to enter the world and become useful in it. What I have learned, very slowly and painfully over the years, is that children make vital decisions for themselves in ways that no adults could have anticipated or even imagined.

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Reflections on the Sudbury School Concept (excerpts)

How do Sudbury Schools work? For over thirty years, founders, staff, students and parents have written about this exhilarating new way of schooling children. Many excellent articles on the concepts and experiences that make up a Sudbury School have been collected in two books, this one and The Sudbury Valley School Experience, which together provide a solid introduction to this model of education.

“What do kids learn at a Sudbury school? Are there any guaranties? I actually think that there are, and I think the things that can be (almost) guaranteed are the most important things of all in an explosively changing world. A student learns to concentrate. A student gets constant opportunities to make ethical judgments. A student learns to be treated with total respect. A student learns to appreciate the outdoors. A student learns to be self­-reliant. A student learns to be self-confident. A student learns what it means to set a goal and reach for it, to re-assess, to reach again, to achieve the goal, or to fail miserably, and to pick him or herself up and do it all over again, with the same or a different goal. A kid learns life skills. Real life skills. The skills that it takes to be successful at marriage, at child rearing, at friendship, as well as at work.”

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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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Associated School: 

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.

Most of the parents didn't want to think about the terror we would go through. A few fought back tears as we embarked on that first ride. Other, bolder parents, tried to prevent their children from being so humiliated and abused; and refused to give their children. But these parents were found guilty of breaking the truancy laws and subjected to the same kinds of humiliation as their children; being told by the Authorities that the State knew what was best for them.

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The Crisis in American Education (excerpts)

This book quickly became a classic and is still enjoyable and relevant. It lays out the foundations of the Sudbury model in clear, easy terms.

“No one would work to establish a new school if he wasn’t driven to it by extreme dissatisfaction with the schools already available. You simply don’t set out into the jungles of education, administration, bureaucracy, and finance unless you are thoroughly convinced that the present alternatives are incapable of serving your needs.

“The people who established the Sudbury Valley School have not been an exception to this rule. All have been actively seeking a new way in education, and all have made large investments of thought, time, and material to the fledgling school. Their commitment, too, is nothing new in the story of innovation and change.

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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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Contact Us

Hudson Valley Sudbury School

84 Zena Road
Kingston, NY 12498
Phone: 845-679-1002
Fax: 845-679-3480