Freedom and Responsibility

The Sudbury motto is “Greater freedom comes with greater responsibility.” In Sudbury, children have a lot of freedom; at the same time, they need to be responsible for themselves.

1. Freedom of oneself
In Sudbury, members have freedom on all personal matters. They can choose what to play and learn, what to eat, when to go to the bathroom, whether to join an activity, etc. As long as the matters do not affect anyone else, Sudbury respects their personal decisions.

The Sudbury model of education embraces “mistakes” rather than avoiding them. Children learn a great deal from mistakes. Even when children make a decision that does not benefit them, they learn from their mistakes, adjust and be responsible for the outcomes. They also know much about themselves in the decision process.

The staff members (adults) in Sudbury assist the members when asked. The adults may share their own experiences with the students, but they do not direct them to a specific path. The young people realize that they are the one who is in charge of their lives. They decide what to do with their lives every day and take responsibility.

2. The community rules
All rules in the Sudbury community are discussed and voted on. Not only do all members have the right to express their needs and boundaries, but they also have the right to vote. The purpose of the rules is to protect every member’s safety and freedom so that everyone in the community can enjoy being themselves without affecting the whole group.

If any members (including the adults) transgress a rule, they need to take responsibility by fulfilling a sanction. The Sudbury community is generally very empathizing. Nevertheless, temporary or permanent suspension is possible if a member keeps violating a rule for a long time and influencing the community as a whole.

3. Certification system
Another system that is related to responsibility is the certification system. Members need to be certified to use specific facilities independently, such as ovens and kettles. To be certified, members need to be able to control the tools or appliances and clean and tidy them up. The inspector, who could be a staff member or a student, is voted in the School Meeting.

The above chart shows the philosophy of freedom and responsibility in the Sudbury setting. Putting the philosophy into practice will involve a lot of trial and error, reflection, learning, communication, correction, and improvement. It’s dynamic because Sudbury is a living institution serving a live community.

For example, at the very early stage of the Hong Kong Sudbury community, we had a “No eating in indoor areas” rule. Then an 8-year-old boy proposed to abolish the rule because it was too hot to eat outdoors. After some discussion, we did vote to cancel it. However, later on, there were recurrent incidents of soup spilling on computer desks, littering of candy wraps, and uncovered lunch boxes that attracted many ants. We then proposed to set a rule dealing with the cleaning issues. In the end, we voted to allow eating in indoor areas except for the computer areas, no drinking any sweet drinks indoors, and set up a cleaning system in which every member signs up for a cleaning task at a specific time every day. The rules are ever-changing according to the community’s needs, and everyone learns to handle freedom and responsibility in the process.

As a staff member in a Sudbury community, I feel that the kids who are free and respected genuinely want to abide by the rules to protect the community because this is a place where they cherish much.

Dealing with freedom and responsibility is such a big lesson in life. Children naturally learn about it in Sudbury.