A secure base full of challenges

(Original article by Michell, English translation by Sabrina)

In Sudbury, children are not required to stay in the classroom. There is no homework, no test, no exam… People tend to think children don’t need to face any challenges and wonder how they can deal with the real world.

In Sudbury, children are facing challenges every day. For example, they have conflicts with their friends; they get rejected or criticized by their peers. Sometimes, they don’t get the gift they wish at the Christmas gift exchange party. Their proposal is rejected in the School Meeting, or their playtime is interrupted by the JC meeting. They feel lost and bored when nobody tells them what to do; they are frustrated when not being able to master a skill. Everyone experiences emotions like anger, sadness, frustration. No one can avoid it. And when a group of free and autonomous individuals with different needs comes together, there might probably be more conflicts. Children naturally need to learn to stand up for themselves, compromise, communicate, face themselves, and take responsibilities in order to enjoy freedom together with the group.

“Kids get traumatized when they are alone with the hurt, not because of the hurt,” said Gabor Maté, a famous physician who has a special interest in childhood development and trauma. This reminds me of my time in a conventional school where teachers are the authority. There was a lot of right and wrong, should and should not. The teachers cared about making children do the “right” thing more than children’s needs and emotions. With lots of control, comparisons, and competitions, I was somehow traumatized in school.

In life, challenges are definitely unavoidable. Sudbury is not a place to shun away challenges for children. But the staff members are there to support the children when needed.  Sudbury won’t guarantee that children are free of conflict. But there is a system to deal with disputes openly and fairly. Anyone who breaks the rules will be sanctioned, whether children or staff members. Sudbury also won’t guarantee children would get what they want in a gift exchange party. But when children feel upset and disappointed, staff members support them and let them flow with their emotions. Sudbury also won’t promise all friendships will go well. But children there have unlimited time to explore life, to learn how to interact with people of different ages in a non-competitive, non-judgemental environment.
The role of the staff members is to support children when needed. They make sure children have time and space to understand themselves, express themselves, explore life, and learn to resolve conflict. Each child has their own path and challenge. Sudbury is like another secure base for them apart from their families.

People always wonder, how can Sudbury children who are treated with respect deal with the real world when people are not always respectful to them?

I think of an incident about an eight-year-old boy crying on the school bus. We usually let them release their emotions without judging them. The day after this incident, I was chatting with this boy. He said to me, “Yesterday, the bus driver told me not to cry. He said crying is no good.”
“So, what did you say?”
“I kept crying until I felt better.”
“Were you upset when the bus driver said that to you?”
“No. He probably doesn’t know crying is good for the body. Not everyone understands that expressing the emotion freely is a good thing.”

I am amazed that this 8-year-old boy does not react to others’ comments. More than that, he is so accepting when people don’t understand him.

When children grow up in an environment where they are respected, accepted as who they are, and supported when facing challenges, they will have the strength to deal with all challenges in life. What’s more is, growing up in such a space of respect and acceptance, they would also offer this to people around them.