I was talking to the father of a newly enrolled student recently. During the conversation he told me about his experiences telling his friends about having his son enrolled at the school. He said the basic conversation goes like this:
Accompanying this sound is a rather quizzical look. While not saying any words, the sound and the expression convey a lot of meaning: thoughtfulness, concern, incredulity, and a large dose of “I don’t know what to say about that”.
Clearly, the friend was not expecting that the answer to his query about school would be “Sudbury”. He likely had a standard, pat reply prepared. Something like, “that’s great” or some other comment meant to move the conversation along to the next topic. Now, however, he is stuck for a reply. Now, he has to actually have a real conversation about schools and perhaps, even worse, about education in general.
The reality of the situation is that most people in our larger community who have heard of our school or Sudbury in general don’t know all that much about us or what we do. HVSS operates under an entirely different paradigm than other schools, so it takes time to get a good understanding of it. When pressed about what they actually know about Sudbury, most people admit that they only know “what they have heard”. At that point, a real conversation can take place. It is in these conversations that the truth about our school gets spread and the reputation of our school is built. Likely for the first time, the friend is faced with someone who knows the facts. Not only that, they are getting the facts from someone they know, and therefore someone whose opinions matter.
Now faced with defending their choice of school for their child, what does a parent say? The parent has maybe 3 or 4 sentences to make his case. In business, this is known as the Elevator Pitch. For newer parents this can be a moment of indecision and uncertainty. I would like to suggest a few possible replies when this situation occurs. Perhaps my favorite reply starts off with, “Yeah, I heard a lot of rumors about the school too; then I decided to check it out for myself. I learned that…” This opening acknowledges the presence of rumors and then indicates that the best approach to dispel the rumors is to research the facts. At this point, you can continue with the aspect of the school that matter most to you. Some examples are:
- “… the school puts an emphasis on the skills that really matter like confidence, personal responsibility, and persistence instead of simply the ability to repeat back answers to questions.”
- “… the school really values community and the kids are part of building that community.”
- “… the students are not required to follow the Common Core. Instead they get to focus on what is important to them and really spend time pursuing their passions.”
- “… studies have shown that over 90% of Sudbury graduates who want to go to college are accepted by their first choice.”
At this point, the uninformed skeptic is thrown for a bit of a loop. He sees that there is a lot more to the school than he has heard and that rational people look at the school and decide that it is best place for their children. It is this type of conversation that changes minds and perceptions and, I believe, that it is the occurrence of these conversations in our community that is starting to change the perception of our school from the “everything goes” school to the “freedom with responsibility” school.
It takes a bold, confident parent to face explicit or implied doubt about their choice of school for their child. It takes the type of parent that thinks independently and is determined to do what they believe is best despite the judgment and ignorance that they might face on a daily basis. I would like to acknowledge our parents for their strength and courage and thank them for having the “Sudbury Conversation” with their friends and relatives.