The Sudbury Model of Education

Associated School: 

The fundamental difference between a Sudbury school and any other type of school is the student's level of responsibility. In a Sudbury school the students are solely responsible for their education, their learning methods, their evaluation and their environment.

In a public school, the state takes responsibility for most aspects of a student's education including curriculum and evaluation. The student is left with little responsibility except to learn what is taught, how it is taught, in the environment in which it is taught and then to reiterate it back at evaluation time.

In a non-Sudbury private school, the school administrators take a larger role in determining a student's curriculum than in a public school. In some private schools, the school takes responsibility for evaluation, while in others the school administers the state tests. In most private schools, as with public schools, a student has personal responsibility only for learning what someone else determines is important to learn, at a time they think it is important to learn it, in a way someone else has determined it should be taught, in an environment designed by someone else, and they must do this well enough to pass the evaluations written and graded by someone else.

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"OK, So You're Sort of Like..."

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Associated School: 

After hearing a short explanation of our school's philosophy, many people understandably try to link it with something already familiar to them. The most frequently mentioned "so-you're-sort-of-likes" are listed below. We have tried to be fair, but clear, in distinguishing ourselves from other philosophies. However, all the subtleties of these educational models are not laid out and comparisons are not made from every angle. We hope that the explanations below serve to clarify what the Sudbury model is really about, and what it is not.

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Lessons of a Sudbury Education

As we sit in our school's main lounge, trying to write about the underlying lessons of a Sudbury education, we often find ourselves "off task." We are watching the bustling activity around us…Jeff, a staff member, and Sonya, a 14-year-old student, are working on math problems in order to move her closer to her goal of becoming a vet. (She's contacted Cornell University to find the best method of getting into their program.) Cody, age 11, and Madison, 15, are reading medicine cards for all who walk by. Eli, 5, and Kiran, 6, are comparing new Magic Cards and talking about the mysterious gum switcher—the spearmint and cinnamon gum from the School Store have seemingly switched bottles.  The Judicial Committee members file into the JC room to start the daily session but Natasha, 15, one of our JC clerks, has to find a replacement for the 5- to 9-year old representative to the JC who is out sick. Success—Sophie, age 8, is filling in. Lisa, a staff member, and David, age 16, are discussing whether or not putting "spring water" on a bottled water label ensures you aren't getting someone's random tap water. A man drives up attempting to deliver food to the Zena Elementary School, a public school down the road. While only a few miles away, the Zena Elementary School couldn't be more different then The Hudson Valley Sudbury School on Zena Road.

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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 Public School Nightmare

I want you to consider the frightening possibility that we are spending far too much money on schooling, not too little. I want you to consider that we have too many people employed in interfering with the way children grow up--and that all this money and all these people, all the time we take out of children's lives and away from their homes and families and neighborhoods and private explorations--gets in the way of education.

That seems radical, I know. Surely in modern technological society it is the quantity of schooling and the amount of money you spend on it that buys value. And yet last year in St. Louis, I heard a vice-president of IBM tell an audience of people assembled to redesign the process of teacher certification that in his opinion this country became computer-literate by self-teaching, not through any action of schools. He said 45 million people were comfortable with computers who had learned through dozens of non-systematic strategies, none of them very formal; if schools had pre-empted the right to teach computer use we would be in a horrible mess right now instead of leading the world in this literacy. Now think about Sweden, a beautiful, healthy, prosperous and up-to-date country with a spectacular reputation for quality in everything it produces. It makes sense to think their schools must have something to do with that.

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In Praise of Yu Gi Oh

Associated School: 

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.

For those of you who do not know what Yu-Gi-Oh is let me give a brief overview. Yu-Gi-Oh is a playing/trading card system in which people duel each other based on the cards in their decks. It is similar to Magic Cards, but it is based on Japanese Anime. The cards have different values, actions and purposes. Alas, I will not try to explain how the game is played with my limited understanding. Instead, I suggest you get some hands-on dueling lessons from someone under twelve.

There are tons of Yu-Gi-Oh spin-off consumer items including everything from a television program to toothbrushes. The television show is a series in which duelers duel each other. And while most parents try to limit television time, the Yu-Gi-Oh show does teach those watching the powers of each card. New card packs come out every few months, of course, necessitating a significant monetary outlay. However, we have found that desire for new "booster decks" can create inspiration to earn and save money.

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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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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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Contact Us

Hudson Valley Sudbury School

84 Zena Road
Kingston, NY 12401
 
Phone: 845-679-1002
Fax: 845-679-3874