CHARACTERISTICS OF THE SUDBURY COMMUNITY
Equal Status of All Members
The members in the Sudbury community include children and staff. The adults in the community are “staff members”, instead of “teachers”. Every child and staff member has an equal status, which means every one has the same rights, such as, the right to vote on all matters related to the community, and the right to pursue their own interests. Also, every person should be a responsible person, which means everyone has to bear the consequences of his or her actions.
Children are free to choose what they want to do everyday. They are free to pursue their own interests as long as they do not infringe on other people’s rights or violate other people’s boundaries. There is no fixed curriculum. There will be some courses offered once in a while, but they are not compulsory. If children want to learn a specific subject or skill, they will be the ones who initiate, ask staff members for help, decide on the learning schedule, etc. Staff members are there to help whenever they are asked.
The School Meeting is held once a week, where staff members and children can participate on a voluntary basis. All aspects of the internal running of the community are decided by the School Meeting, in which each student and staff member has one vote. This is an implication of children being treated as equals. As most things are decided by majority vote and as the children outnumber the staff members, the children have a major influence on how the community is run. The School Meeting discusses and votes on matters such as hiring and re-election of staff members, the level of tuition fees to be charged, how to spend the income in a responsible manner to ensure a balanced budget.
The experience at Sudbury schools show that older students tend to be more active in the School Meeting and the younger students usually attend only if there is something on the agenda which directly affects them.
The Judicial Committee (JC) is held every day. The purpose of the JC is to resolve any conflicts in the community. It investigates written complaints about possible violations against the community rules and makes sure that a due process is applied. As a result, children enjoy freedom, but they don’t have license to do whatever they want to do. The JC consists of elected Judicial Clerks, children on JC duty and one staff member.
The Rule Book
Each member of the community can propose new rules or suggest amending/ abolishing existing rules to the School Meeting. These are then discussed in the School Meeting and the ones that are passed are collected in the community’s Rule Book. Anyone who feels that a rule has been broken can write a complaint to the Judicial Committee.
Children’s age range is from 6 to 18 years old. Children of different ages mix together in the campus. There are no classrooms separating the kids according to their age. Children play with and learn from each other.
There are no tests, exams, grades, or any other external measurement imposed to evaluate children’s learning. Each person is the best judge of his/her own efforts. Children can ask other people to provide criticism, comments or advice for them to improve their own work if they want. And if they want to evaluate themselves by some tests, they are free to ask for help too.
No Value Judgement on any Interests or Subjects
We view each interest and subject as equal. For example, if a child is interested in painting, we will not direct him or her to learn some academic subjects. The study of law does not have a higher value than the study of hair styling skills.
The Role of Staff
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 community. This includes, but is not limited to upholding the core principles of the community, promoting the Sudbury philosophies, administrative work, enrollment, fiscal management, institutional management, public relations, and etc. When a child wants to learn about a particular subject and requests help from a staff member, the latter has to be ready to satisfy the child’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 teach mathematics and chemistry through this activity.