Amelia Iaia's Thesis

Associated School: 

My experience at HVSS has enabled me to develop the problem-solving skills, the adaptability, and the abilities needed to function independently in the world that I am about to enter because I am prepared to reflect, to change, to take risks and to confront the questions; “What do I want to?” and “Why do I want to do it?” 

At Sudbury we talk a lot about Hitting the WallHitting the Wall is a time of transition. It’s when you have no idea what’s next - it’s a gap year, it’s when you’re looking for a new job, it’s when you’re right out of college, it’s when you are questioning anything and everything.  You find yourself wondering, what am I doing? Why am I even going to this school? What is the point?  You worry that you’ll never have a good idea again, that you won’t be successful, that your life has no purpose, that you are untalented and all of your accomplishments have been pure luck. Hitting the Wall is being forced to ask yourself, “what do I want to do?” and “why do I want to do it?”  When you do confront those questions head on, it’s liberating, you feel limitlessness, and opportunities seem to appear out of thin air; it’s a chance to reinvent yourself. 

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Alanna Fowler's Thesis

Associated School: 

In 2004, when I was three years old, my mother started homeschooling me.  She taught me simple things like shapes, colors, how to spell my name, ect.  We traveled a lot, and it was the best option for my family. Around age seven I started going to a small  homeschooling group where I learned basic math and beginning reading. That summer I went to a camp at Hudson Valley Sudbury School.  I enjoyed it a lot and asked my parents if I could enroll. They were hesitant at first but decided to give it a try. When my dad started suffering from kidney failure in 2009, the structure of the school worked very well for us. We had a lot of appointments to go to and the school’s flexibility allowed me to stay with my father.   My parents wanted me to have fun at school and have a place that I could be myself. So this is how I started my journey at Sudbury.

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Wasting (Almost) Everyone's Time Teaching Lots of Math

Wes BeachA number of claims are made about the value of everyone learning algebra, geometry and more, but I don’t think any of them stand up to scrutiny.

Before I get argumentative, I want to say very clearly and with conviction that math is a powerful tool and a beautiful subject for many people. Some people have a passion for math, and I respect and admire this. Other people need to complete math courses to reach their goals; this is, of course, sensible. It’s just that math isn’t for everyone; lots of it are not needed in most people’s day-to-day lives.

I often hear, In today’s technical world, success at work requires knowing math. I once asked a telephone repair person who was fixing the phone in my office if he had enjoyed high school. Yes, he did, he said. Did you take algebra and geometry? I asked. Yes, I did, he said. Do you use it in your work? No, I don’t, he said.

I asked a former student who is now a nurse if she thought the high school math she learned was necessary in her work. Yes, she said. How long would it have taken you to learn just what you actually use? I asked. A few hours, she replied.

I suspect that most of my readers can’t remember the last time in their adult lives that they factored a trinomial or wrote down anything that involved imaginary numbers.

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Emily Orr's Thesis

Associated School: 

Emily OrrFor the last decade and one year, I’ve been watching students grow up, and have been surrounded by people who have watched me develop over the years.  It’s something I’m so used to. From the day I sat down for my enrollment interview, something felt instantly normal and right. There is something incredibly exciting about the fact that this is what the last eleven years behind me has lead up to.  I initially thought before I sat down to write this that I should probably have a solid idea of what I want out of life first, but I’ve come to realize I can’t precisely know just yet. I need room to explore more before I can pinpoint anything, and I am excited to go out into the world and see what it has to offer me, and what I can make out of it.  I’ve come to the point where I’m ready to explain through words who I’ve become, and who I want to be. What I do know is what I’m passionate about now, and that I’ve attained the skills I need to pursue those passions.  The ability to practice with motivation, to do things on my own, to know my limits while pushing to exceed them, and advocating for my needs or others needs.  Curiosity, problem solving, adaptability, independance, strength, understanding and acceptance of imperfection; These are just some of the skills I have worked to develop and will hold forever.  

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Let's Talk About Screens; "Screen Time" and Self-Directed Education

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There is an ongoing cultural debate about “screen time” and its effects on well-being. Most of the evidence is theoretical or anecdotal; there are no large-scale studies, meta-analyses, or longitudinal studies involving children and touchscreens. The debate is often confounded by the breadth of activity included in the term, “screen time.” This article won’t take a position on whether screen use is inherently good or bad, or on whether “over-use” even exists; instead, it describes how the Self-Directed Education (SDE) environments mitigate the potential of over-use and its associated suite of problems, while also creating a productive space for the “screen time” debate to unfold.

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The Psychological Ecology of Sudbury

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When I tell people about how Hudson Valley Sudbury School (HVSS) works, they sometimes ask if it’s like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. They imagine a vicious world of savage children struggling for supremacy, gnawing on limbs, and skewering random stuff with sharpened sticks.  They even bring up anecdotes from their own experience to suggest that we should expect brutality to rein under the conditions we maintain at our school; they’ll say something like, “in my high school, if the teacher ever stepped out of the classroom, even for a second, a fight would break out.”  I understand - I’ve even worked in a school where that was indeed the case. If not a fight, something transgressive would happen - a champion would emerge from the rows of desks to make some raucous gesture of contempt for authority, to the hoots and applause of classmates.  And when we attempted to have unstructured time, like a recess, there was almost always an actual fistfight. At that school, the adults micromanaged the students as much as possible. The more control a teacher was able to exert over students, the more highly that teacher was regarded; power, and the control it afforded, was the highest good.  The most effective teachers were known for directing students with military precision, drilling them in posture and guidelines which sharply restricted how they could move their bodies, even while seated, and where they could direct their gaze at any particular moment. In such an excruciating and oppressive environment, tense but utterly boring, people find ways to rebel - not because they can’t handle freedom maturely when they find or steal a moment of it, but because they are deprived of it.  Their “transgressions” are hardly evidence of immaturity; they are, rather, evidence of an unhealthy ecology of relationships. The boys in Lord of the Flies were cultivated within a culture of mistrust and assimilated into a brutal hierarchy at their mid-20th century English boarding school.  Left to their own devices, they recreated the ecology of their native psychological habitat. Lord of the Flies is not a cautionary tale about freedom; it’s a cautionary tale about oppression.

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What the Sudbury Model is Really About

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As a child of the 1990’s, I grew up a cultural orphan, severed from the traditions and worldview of my ancestors, even of my grandparents.  I had no religion, or explicit system for understanding and thinking, and I experienced this lack as a bewildering vertigo. Nevertheless I longed for meaning, and I was thus vulnerable to every sweet-talking spiritual terrorist and ancient sage who popped into my field of vision.  The philosophical foundation of my psychic environment was materialistic and nihilistic, and for much of my childhood I tottered about swollen with anxiety like a balloon on legs. Matchstick legs. I felt, experienced, and lived all this rather than understood, thought, or articulated it; I was engulfed in a cloud of uncertainty which masqueraded as freedom.  These days, I know this to be a phenomenon new to the human scene, and that it is called “postmodernism,” but at the time it was the only world I knew - the lonely, drifting planet of my birth.

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Compulsory Math is a Bizarre Institution

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Math is vital to civilization. But it doesn’t follow that everyone should be made to study it.

Math is a ubiquitous requirement in school curriculums all over the world, even though most adults don’t know any math and are no worse for the wear. So what gives? Why do we require every child in the country to receive 10-13 years of instruction in math?

One reason seems to be that math is a natural fit for our data-obsessed society; math skills are easier to measure than other types of academic skills, and educators and policy makers can compare scores, compile data, make comparisons, and utilize it all for political ends. Another reason is just that, having signed kids up for compulsory education, we need to find something for them to do, and math fits the bill nicely: it takes lots and lots of time to get a classroom of diverse cognitive abilities on the same page and progressing together through sets of skills, plus all those numbers and equations look good on a blackboard, and there’s always more worksheets if you finish early. Presumably, math is also relevant to making a living, but that’s only true for a select few..

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Strength in Solitude

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Most of my days as a staff member at the Hudson Valley Sudbury School are busy as can be. My list is often long and I usually leave having only crossed a few things off because the joys and bustle of the day took me in other directions. But, on occasion, I arrive without a list and end up spending most of my day floating, wandering through the halls looking for who might possibly want my help, or heck, even my company. But, like today, everyone is seemingly content, engaged in their own pursuits and I am more of an unnecessary fly on the wall. In these moments I struggle, much like our students, to figure out how to be productive, to answer the bigger questions about my usefulness in our community, and in the world. I struggle with being alone.

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But They’ll Just Screw Around All Day!

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Many people - and the institutions they create - insist that kids cannot handle autonomy in their personal lives, that free kids will inevitably use autonomy to debase themselves, developing indulgent self-regard and failing to learn vital skills like the discipline to delay gratification. At other points in history, majorities of people have also insisted that members of particular races, ethnicities, and genders could not handle autonomy either. But this patronizing attitude, a hallmark of someone ensconced in the narrative of Man vs. Nature, has consistently been proven wrong, and it turns out that even kids(!) thrive when they are free, provided they have a basically safe and nourishing environment.

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Hudson Valley Sudbury School

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