Below is a list of some of the concerns that parents have raised. If you have another concern or question, feel free to contact us:
Children are natural learners. They are naturally curious and they will learn anything that they are interested in, and anything that helps them to make sense of the world, without coercion. Children will naturally explore their environment and want to interact with and become as competent as the people around them. In the process they learn to sit, crawl, stand, walk, run, and maybe most importantly, they learn how to speak and master language in their first few years of existence, without being taught.
Learning does not necessarily happen in classes. In Sudbury schools, learning takes place in a various forms, such as in play, in conversation with different people, in working out a problem with other students, etc. They will learn according to their interests, their own learning style, and at their own pace.
Sometimes children may be bored and not do anything. Boredom is a process before they discover something they are really passionate about, or before they become creative. In fact, in this information era when children are easily overstimulated by excessive information, they may need more time of doing nothing in order to have time to relax, to understand themselves, and to really find out what they want to do.
For children who have been forced to learn something that they are not interested, or children who have too much pressure in learning, when they suddenly have the freedom to pursue their interests, they usually need a transition period. In this transition time, it’s normal that they will do nothing all day, in order to compensate for the overly stressful period before. They may also need a period of time to explore their real interest, which has been buried in the overly packed scheduled before.
Some teenage students in a Sudbury school in the US tested the staff by deliberately doing nothing everyday. They wanted to see if the school really allowed the freedom of not doing anything.
No matter which situation, we respect children’s choice of doing nothing and trust that this is part of their self-directed learning process.
That’s great! Children are learning tremendously while playing. When they play, they are learning many skills such as analytical skills, persuasion skills, social skills, and problem solving. More information on the importance of play can be found in an article written by Professor Peter Gray.
This is a misconception. Students at Sudbury schools can do as they please as long as they follow the school rules and don’t violate the individual rights of others. If a student breaks a school rule, then another student, who has witnessed this infringement, has the obligation to file a written complaint. By living in a community such as Sudbury schools, students learn to respect the boundaries of other members in the community.
When a 9 year old, who doesn’t how to read yet, prefers to climb trees, build forts and do sports, staff members at Sudbury schools would not try to bribe or guide the child into learning how to read. There is no value judgment that reading is better than non-academic activities or vice versa.
However, when one student violates the boundaries of another student and the offender doesn’t stop despite protests, a staff member or a third student should intervene and provide guidance to the offender and tell him or her that this behavior is not acceptable and report it to the JC.
At this stage, we are answering this question based on the cases of Sudbury schools in the US and other countries.
There are many studies about graduates of SVS. The most recent one is the book The Pursuit of Happiness by Daniel Greenberg, Mimsy Sadofsky and Jason Lempka published in 2005. The study indicates “that close to 90% of SVS graduates decide to continue to pursue their education in a formal setting.” In fact, all of the graduates who want to go to college are accepted, most to their college of first or second choice. Other graduates follow the passions they developed at school and open their own business or become professionals in fields such as dancing, cooking, writing, theatre production, photography, carpentry, construction and music. Compared to society at large, SVS graduates are over-represented in the following areas: entrepreneurs, arts, computer and mathematical careers and helping professions such as social service, community activities and health care. An excellent summary of how SVS graduates fare in the job market can be found here.
While graduates from the mainstream schools apply for universities through a standard process, Sudbury students may take a creative and unique approach in applying for universities such as requesting a personal interview, showing their projects, etc. Though we are talking about cases in the US, we believe students who are self-motivated, passionate, creative, responsible, and who have a clear goal in life, will try every means to get accepted by universities, if this is what they want.
Actually, this is a question that was posed to a graduate of SVS and his answer was something like this: “I would worry more about sending my child to a traditional school, where, for 12 years, someone else decides what your child is exposed to, what they should read, study, learn, etc. And then sends them out into the world where they are then expected to make their own decisions. That’s something to worry about.”
The staff members are supposed to be good role models for the students, and they are responsible for the day to day functioning of the school. This includes, but is not limited to admissions, enrolment, fiscal management, institutional management, public relations, upkeep of the building etc. When a student wants to learn about a particular subject and requests help from a staff member, the latter has to be ready to satisfy the student’s needs. In addition, staff members can initiate their own activities, e.g. “I am going to bake moon cakes on Wednesday at 10am. Anyone interested, please sign up here.” But this is done in the spirit of sharing an activity which the staff member enjoys doing, rather than trying to implicitly teaching mathematics and chemistry through baking. Some articles on the function of staff members can be found here.
This question touches on one of the fundamental principles of the school/philosophy, i.e. trusting children and giving them the opportunity to take responsibility. Once children reach a certain maturity (which happens at a different age for each child) we can trust them to do the right thing when it comes to watching TV/playing video games. Watching TV/playing video games can be a very social activity with other benefits as well, e.g. some kids learn to read by playing video games because they want to know what is going on and master the game. Some children might want to play video games all day long for a certain period of time, but that particular interest will wane at some point and be redirected with the same intensity to another activity.
Students who want to watch TV have to be “certified”, i.e. they need to learn the rules and responsibilities involved: you have to turn off TV and clean up any mess after you are finished. There is one TV/DVD player (for roughly 150 students) which students can reserve for 30 minute slots. So if a student wants to watch a 2 hour movie, then s/he needs to be certified and needs to convince three other certified students to join, which involves negotiation and social skills. If a student exhibits those skills, then s/he has sufficient judgment to decide how much TV s/he wants to watch.
During the most recent summer vacation I watched a lot of the World Cup matches as I really like football. My son who is almost six usually woke up around 6am and sometimes joined me watching extra-time. It was fun watching it together, he became interested in the name of the players, which countries they are from and playing football. Since then we have been kicking a football for fun much more often than before at his request.
Like with anything else children learn how to read when they are ready. Some children learn when are 5, others when they are 8. The process itself is much shorter and smoother when the child really wants to read. In his book Free at Last Daniel Greenberg has one chapter devoted to this question and he has the following to say about it:
“In close to two decades, there has never been a case of dyslexia at Sudbury Valley. No one knows exactly why. The cause of dyslexia, the nature of dyslexia, the very existence of dyslexia as a true functional disorder are matters of great dispute. Some authorities say that as much as 20% of the populations suffers from this alleged disorder. When kids are left to their own devices, they eventually see for themselves that in our world, the written word is a magic key to knowledge. When curiosity finally leads them to want that key, they go after it with the same gusto they show in all their other pursuits. Each child seems to have their own method. Some learn from being read to, memorizing the stories and then ultimately reading them. Some learn from cereal boxes, others from game instructions, others from street signs. Some teach themselves letter sounds, other syllables, others whole words.”
Our philosophies are very much like unschooling in terms of learning. Same as the unschooling approach, we do not set a fixed curriculum for children to follow. We trust that children learn best when they learn something that they are interested in. The difference is that Sudbury HK is a community that is democratically governed. Children interact with a group of people of different ages. They are part of the community and participate in governing it such as suggesting school rules, voting on school matters, becoming Judicial Committee members, and so on.