I first learned about Sudbury Schools, while reading Peter Gray's Free to Learn, which is about the history of play and its important role in child development. In it he discusses having sent his son to an alternative school in which children as young as four years old choose their own curriculum and participate in weekly town hall-style meetings. In fact, students at these schools vote every year on who will be hired as staff members, and they are equally responsible for crafting rules and enforcing consequences. More controversially, I think, they may choose how they spend all of their time at school -- reading, talking, playing music, but also climbing trees and playing video games. Sometimes there is a lot of tree climbing and playing videos games.
I have always been interested in ways to allow students to play a larger role in classroom decision making and offer them more choice in with whom they worked,where they worked, and when they worked on assignments. Personally, I have always felt most invested in communities where I had rights as well as responsibilities. In fact, I think having that freedom, experimenting with it, and seeing what happened is how I learned to be responsible. Still, I had never really considered also allowing students to choose what assignments they worked on in the first place!
The more I thought about the Sudbury model, the more it made sense that something like that could work for many people. I have forgotten tons of the math and science content I learned in high school because I was not really interested. I did not see the value of knowing it beyond a certain point. I feel like I learned the most in my English and social studies classes, where I was able to read my own texts and pursue my own questions more often. I have held on to many of those ideas ten years later.
More recently, experts have argued that people of all ages do their best work when it is alligned to their own passions, and public school teachers are allowing students to pursue independent projects during 20% of their instructional time. What if it was more time than that? Would not the same principles hold true?
In a recent conversation about Sudbury Schools, the school's founder, Daniel Greenberg, said that there is nothing that other schools can learn from their model. He has continually claimed that it is all or nothing. I disagree. I think teachers everywhere should be grabbling with these kinds of questions.
If you are interested in seeing pictures from two California Sudbury Schools, please check out my Flickr albums from my visits to Diablo Valley School and Leeway Sudbury School.
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