DIY School

by Michelle Hunt

“In today’s world creativity is as important as literacy… degrees aren’t worth anything now. It used to be if you had a degree you had a job.” ~ Sir Ken Robinson

As an artist I hadn’t considered teaching until my employer asked me to train a group of people that was interested in the type of animation I was doing. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the experience and this led to the crazy idea of me becoming an art teacher in the public school system. The five years I spent in the trenches completely changed my view on education. Why was standardized testing so important and creativity undervalued to the point that funding for the arts was practically non-existent?

Frustrated to understand the problem, I started at the beginning. Our modern-day education system was created and financed in the mid-1800s by factory owners as a means to assimilate the millions of immigrants who were entering the US into a docile, obedient workforce. Over 100 years later, the system remains mostly unchanged: students are grouped based on age as if they had an expiration date, the bell rings to signal that students must move on to the next station (or class), and those who question authority are punished without a say in how the system is run. This is certainly an effective way to acclimate workers to a bleak and repetitive future in a factory, but not to the Knowledge Age of the 21st century.

“[Knowledge age worker-citizens] need to be able to think and learn for themselves, sometimes with the help of external authorities and/or systems of rules, but, more often, without this help. Nor is it viable to teach students any particular ‘one best way’ of knowing – or doing – things. Instead they need to teach students how to work out for themselves what to do.” ~ New Zealand Council for Educational Research at shiftingthinking.org

It all finally made sense to me. The current education system was designed for a bygone era. What we were doing to these children wasn’t going to help them thrive in the future. I ended my career as a public school teacher and set out on a new path to find alternative education models for my own daughter. Since 2009 I have been a staff member and resident artist at Sunset Sudbury School in Davie, FL.

Sudbury was conceived on a democratic model where students create their own community and system of rules. Do It Yourself School! At Sudbury schools, students are encouraged to use their natural thirst for knowledge, to explore the world, and to learn how to communicate with honesty and fearlessness. Curriculum is not proscribed, so students set their own goals and manage their own schedule without intervention or coercion by others. Much like in real life, students are responsible for their day – choosing the subject matter, the place, and the time for their pursuits. The students themselves, not the teachers, determine whether they wish to work on their own, in a small group, or in a structured class setting. Because they are free to choose what interests them, students quickly become experts in locating and processing information.

In this democratic environment, students are able to develop characteristics that are key to achieving success in the Knowledge Age. They are curious and enjoy learning new things, confident enough to rely on their own judgment, and capable of pursuing their passions to a high level of competence.

The Sudbury School produces graduates who have retained a vital curiosity and interest in the world around them. They tend to be highly adaptive to new situations and able to work productively alone or in collaboration with others. I believe that this creative approach to life and problem solving is the key to innovation in 21st century science, business, and the arts.

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Entertainment, Boredom and Responsibility

by Hal Sadofsky, Sudbury Valley School Alumnus and Founder of Blue Mountain School,
The original version of this article can be found here.

The most fundamental educational lesson we hope our students will learn is that they are responsible for their own education, and in fact for their own lives. Actually internalizing this, and all that goes with it is the best lesson they can have for the rest of their lives. I believe that it is important for people to acquire knowledge and skills, but I don’t believe I can or should force them to do so. Much more important is for our children to learn that if they value something, it is worth working for, and that if they have a goal they care about, they need to take responsibility for realizing it.

The alternative, and the standard approach in our society, is to assume that the professional educational establishment knows what our children should learn for the rest of their lives, and that they are able to teach it to our children. I find this idea suspect on two counts. First, I doubt that any body of knowledge imparted in school is likely to be sufficient to last a person the rest of his or her life, and I doubt the efficacy of teaching students who aren’t strongly motivated. But more importantly, I question the accompanying attitude: that learning is centered on the teacher and the teaching institution instead of the learner. The effect of the standard model is to teach dependency; to teach that school is where you learn what you need to know, and then the rest of your life is something separate.

Let me try to describe in these terms what I value about our educational philosophy and contrast it with what I find most objectionable about conventional pedagogy.

  1. One of the goals, stated or not, of most teachers in conventional schools is to be entertaining. This is not such a terrible thing in and of itself, and its easy to understand the motivation; regardless of whether it is a good teaching style, entertained students are better behaved, more attentive, and often better disposed to their instructor. I think this is something we don’t particularly want to emulate at Blue Mountain though. Entertainment is fine, and it is natural for people to want it, but I feel the entertainment shifts the responsibility for learning from the student to the teacher. By requiring school to be an entertainment we send the message that in order to learn, students need to have knowledge presented as an entertainment.

    At the same time, the message is that the pursuit of knowledge and skills is supposed to be entertaining undercuts work and knowledge that isn’t always entertaining. I’d like my children to understand the rewards of difficult work that isn’t always entertaining. But I want them to learn this the only way I think is possible; by doing work they care about.

    In particular, my response to a bored student in a class I’m teaching is essentially well, this is what I’m teaching, and I’m willing to discuss alternatives, but it’s really up to you to decide whether you are interested enough in the material to deal with your boredom.

    But my response to a bored student at Blue Mountain is more along the lines of This is life! It is up to you to chart a course that you find interesting and worthwhile. We could entertain you and distract you from that job but ultimately it is your job, and ultimately, you’ll have to recognize that.

    It is critically important that our school not interfere with the processes that occur in students as they mature, and as they learn to evaluate for themselves what they find interesting and worthwhile. This doesn’t mean a staff member can never approach a student he or she has a relationship with and say by the way, I just read this book I think you might like. What it does mean is that we don’t see it as the staff’s role to approach a 6 year old who can’t read, and say hey, want to work on your reading with me? It’ll be fun!

  2. To have a chance to find pursuits that engage them, our students need to be free to pursue their own interests on their own schedule. There are both moral and practical imperatives here. The moral imperative is that I don’t believe schools and teachers really have the right to dictate to students what to think, what to think about, and what bits of knowledge to consider important.

    From a practical viewpoint, its clear that coerced learning isn’t very effective; in addition it is strongly counterproductive to the goal of producing independent adults who are capable of pursuing paths that they find worthwhile. Note that this means we give our children the freedom to pursue their own educations not because we trust them to do what we believe is important, but because we trust them to (eventually) figure out what they think is important.

    We can’t promise parents that their children will learn algebra. We can promise them that no one at Blue Mountain will give them an A in a class in which they’ve learned nothing. We can also promise that if a student truly cares about something, they’ll be able to think about it.

    This comes back to giving our students space and freedom to think about, and work on, what is important to them. The sort of education I’m describing, and the model that Blue Mountain subscribes to, is very idealistic, and also rather difficult. In particular, it requires that we not be frightened by the fact that our children may not always be engaged in, what to us, looks like productive activity. We need to not be frightened by the fact that our children aren’t doing classes, and therefore must be falling behind, while our neighbor’s children are taking classes all day long (not necessarily learning any more, I hasten to point out). Finally, we must not be frightened if from time to time, our children complain that they are bored. This complaint is their first line of defense against doing the hard work that they will need to do to come to terms with their own interest, loves, hates, and so on.

  3. The last context in which I want to discuss the role of boredom is in terms of responsibility. One of the things that Blue Mountain teaches most consistently, and in varied ways is that each of us is ultimately responsible for ourselves. This is demonstrated in numerous ways every day. Everyone needs to be prepared to clean up his or her own messes. Everyone needs to take his or her turn on the Judicial Committee. Everyone needs to face the censure of the school meeting, or possibly worse punishment, for infractions of the school’s rules, so that the school can function in a civil way.

    Beyond this, because the school is run by the school meeting, students have the responsibility for making choices about not only the details of how Blue Mountain is run, but the big decisions about who to hire for staff, how to use the building, what rules pertain to campus versus off campus, etc. These are choices that may well impact the survival of the school, so the responsibility in this case is very real.

    Especially significant from the point of view of traditional education, students are responsible for every aspect of their own education. This is both a blessing, and a huge responsibility. We’re saying in effect: this is your life, make what you want of it. This is perhaps the hardest part of being a student at such a school. Certainly this affects the youngest kids less, but the older kids are constantly aware that their activities will be determined by them, not by the school, and simultaneously that most other schools don’t think they are capable of dealing with this responsibility in a sensible manner. We do expect them to use this freedom well, but not because we expect them to buckle down and take the right classes, but because we expect this freedom to give them the space to explore their interests, and to learn what they care about. We trust that the knowledge they need will be accessible to them when they get to the point where they really care about it.

I wrote this note because I feel there has been an undercurrent of dissatisfaction at Blue Mountain coming from certain students. This is due to the fact that some of the older students feel insufficiently entertained. My point here is that this is not an accident. Entertainment isn’t our job, and it isn’t our job for a number of good reasons. Now, I’m not going to try to encourage students to remain bored, but I do want students to realize that their boredom means something, and how they ultimately choose to deal with it is their responsibility. Furthermore, the fact that they are forced to wrestle with that is one of the finest points of this type of education.

Copyright The Sudbury Valley School Press, Inc.

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A “Taste of Sudbury” Summer Camp

A “Taste of Sudbury” summer camp is a unique opportunity for children ages 5 – 13 to experience the freedom and challenges of life at Sunset Sudbury School during the summer.

Weekly Session:
M-F July 8 – Aug 2
9am – 3pm $150
9am – 3pm $175

Contact us to register.

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Sunset Sudbury Attending the 2011 Sudbury Conference

Sunset Sudbury will be attending the 2011 Sudbury Conference that takes place from July 24th to July 26th at Fairhaven School on 17900 Queen Anne Road, Upper Marlboro, Maryland. This conference is a congregation of Sudbury schools from across the country that unites to learn from one another and improve their unique style of alternative education. Kathy Williams, the Co-Founder of the Sunset Sudbury School in Florida explains, “This conference is a great opportunity for us to network, learn from each other and build our existing knowledge of running a Sudbury Model School.”

Sunset Sudbury School is a K-12 school located in Broward County, Florida. Sunset Sudbury is a non-profit and private establishment that is operated democratically. In fact, all Sudbury schools are managed in a way that students and staff members have an equal say. The “curriculum” at Sunset Sudbury, and other Sudbury schools, is not anywhere near identical to what most individuals would associate with an educational syllabus. Instead, the learning style is based on typical human social interactions and a free choice of the student to study subjects that truly interest them.

The 2011 Sudbury Conference includes six different sessions over the course of three days. The sessions encompass topics from the business end of running a Sudbury school to what techniques work for the students and which don’t. There are several guest speakers with different levels of expertise in their field of study. The 2011 Sudbury Conference is an excellent way for many Sudbury model schools to get together and share their experiences. This invaluable learning opportunity could help Sunset Sudbury grow to an even more knowledgeable and prosperous school, not only for themselves, but for the wonderful children they are educating.

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Sunset Sudbury Communtiy Lending Library

Sunset Sudbury School is proud to announce its new community lending library. We have books on Creativity & Culture, Learning, Parenting, and of course the Sudbury philosophy. Whatever your education philosophy, you’ll find some interesting reads. Here are just a few.

Rethinking the old paradigm…

Education classics…

Attachment parenting gems…

Check out our complete library here… http://www.gurulib.com/sunsetsudbury
 
Please contact us at info@sunsetsudbury.org or call 954-404-7785 to come by and borrow one of our books. Thank you to all who donated the many education and attachment parenting books!

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Sunset Sudbury: The Children’s Imagination

Ever wonder what might be your child’s ideal school? Well, I got a little glimpse today when three students came running up to me today very excited to tell me all about their “magic school”. They insisted I write this down so they wouldn’t forget.
 
The Magic School has…

  • fairies with pixie dust for flying and a magic glowing flower,
  • sharks that help you swim and don’t bite if you don’t bother them,
  • water fountains and real mermaids,
  • bounce houses and water slides,
  • stars that glow,
  • a real-life Rapunzel,
  • rainbows, snow, reindeer, and a beach,
  • new markers (and you get to keep them),
  • it’s in Colorado,
  • only kids can go, but parents can pick them up,
  • gifts that don’t run out,
  • squirrels that don’t bite,
  • flowers you can climb on,
  • shots from the doctor don’t hurt,
  • Rapunzel can sing out splinters with her magic song,
  • Santa Claus is there,
  • invisible gold rocks that you trip over and then the fairies make you fly,
  • there’s a lot of things…

The independent learning environment at Sunset Sudbury allows the children to be as creative as possible and to have such wonderful imaginations, like the “Magic School.” Contact us if you are interested in learning more about our self directed learning school in Broward County.

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Five Reasons to Enroll your Child in Sunset Sudbury School

  1. Every student is honored at Sunset Sudbury School -  In a traditional school, the principal and the teachers have more power than students.   The students are the lowest entities in the school.  Students are ranked and valued, and devalued, based on academic and social measures interpreted by administrators.  At Sunset Sudbury School, all students are treated with respect.  The democratic school community – consisting of both students and adult staff members – determines the rules of the school community and the expectations for the community members.  Every student’s opinion and individuality is honored through the democratic voting process for all decision-making at Sunset Sudbury School.
  2. Sunset Sudbury School students want to go to school -  Students enjoy their school community and flourish in it.   The students arrive excited to start their day and leave reluctantly when their parents pick them up in the afternoon.  School holidays are met with ‘boos’ and ‘sighs’ rather than excitement or relief.   One family of a young elementary school student shared a weekend conversation.
  3. All activities are determined by the students – At Sunset Sudbury School, all activities are valued equally.  Whether a student chooses to explore bugs, watercolors, algebra, video games or world history, the activity is respected because the student chose to do it.  This allows a student to thoroughly study and explore a topic until they choose another adventure.
  4. Sudbury students are self-motivated – Just like when they were 3 or 4 years old, Sunset Sudbury students are eager to learn new things.  Traditional schools train kids to sit back and wait for the teacher’s instruction.  Sunset Sudbury students have a natural curiosity and interest in new things. Therefore, they are continually trying experimenting, learning new skills and asking deeper questions.
  5. Age-mixing versus separation by age. -  Image a 7-year-old demonstrating the reaction of baking soda and vinegar to a group of 5-year-olds with his self-made volcano. The 9-year-old jumps in to explain when to add more vinegar.  The students of all ages work together. When the students work and play together, students with small hands or less dexterity still get the fun and excitement of more detailed experiments.
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Radical K-12 Broward County School Defies Critics with Increased Enrollment after First Year

No Grades, No Tests, No Teachers.  No Problem!  Sunset Sudbury School proves that there is a need for a radical K-12 school in Broward County, Florida.

May 9, 2011 – Davie, Florida  — Imagine a school where students get to do whatever they want all day long.  Imagine those students later excelling in life and at the nation’s best universities.  Sunset Sudbury School, http://www.sunsetsudbury.org, based in Davie, Florida is proud to celebrate a successful first year.  The Broward County K-12 school was created based on the Sudbury School Model, a democratic school that takes student empowerment and child-directed learning to extremes.

Featured on The Today Show, MSNBC News, FoxNews and Sun-Sentinel for its radical approach to education, Sunset Sudbury School is truly a different paradigm for education. It is not just a slight alteration of what most people think of as a “school.” Indeed, it is much closer to what in recent years has come to be known as “un-schooling” than it is to any other kind of alternative school.

At Sunset Sudbury School, students from kindergarten through high school age explore the world freely, at their own pace and in their own unique ways. They learn to think for themselves and learn to unearth the knowledge they need from multiple sources, including Information Age tools. They develop the ability to make clear logical arguments and deal with complex ethical issues. Through self-initiated activities, they pick up the basics; as they direct their lives, they take responsibility for outcomes, set priorities, allocate resources, and work with others in a vibrant community of learners.

The fundamental premises of the school are simple: that all people are curious by nature; that the most efficient, long-lasting, and profound learning takes place when started and pursued by the learner; that all people are creative if they are allowed to develop their unique talents; that age-mixing among students promotes growth in all members of the group; and that freedom is essential to the development of personal responsibility.

In practice this means that students initiate all their own activities and create their own environment. The school provides a setting in which students are independent, are trusted, and are treated as responsible people; and a community in which students are exposed to the complexities of life in the framework of a participatory democracy.

Throughout its first year, Sunset Sudbury School has operated on a shoestring budget, relying on volunteer staff and donations from the community.  Nevertheless, Sunset Sudbury School enrollment grew by 30% this past year, and they have big plans for the future, with a Summer Camp, a site remodeling and other improvement projects scheduled for the coming months.

Despite criticism and naysayers who question whether the students are actually learning, the staff at Sunset Sudbury School can confidently say that the students have made huge accomplishments this past year. The list includes learning to problem solve on their own, expressing their interests and making decisions about student-initiated field trips and lesson plans, planning holiday parties and initiating art and community improvement projects – all without being told or forced to do so by an adult.

“We are so excited to achieve this important milestone in the growth of our school,” explains Kathy Williams, Co-Founder of the Sunset Sudbury School in Davie, FL.  “But we couldn’t have done it without the support and generous donations of our community, who believed in us and wanted to help us succeed.  We hope that more families will consider the Sudbury Model of education in helping their children become more independent. ”

The Broward County Sudbury School is conveniently located at 4200 NW 66 Avenue, Davie, FL 33024, near the Florida Turnpike, so it’s a perfect location for families from Broward and / or Dade County.

About Sunset Sudbury School:

Sunset Sudbury School, located in Davie, Florida, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, private school based on the 40-year old Sudbury model of education.  Sunset Sudbury School offers students ages 4 through 18 unlimited opportunities for self-directed learning in a supportive community environment.  Sunset Sudbury School is part of an international network of Sudbury Schools, all of which are based on Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts, http://www.sudval.org.   The concepts Freedom, Trust and Responsibility are at the heart of the Sudbury model.  Sudbury Schools are run democratically ensuring that students have the freedom to direct their own education. Sudbury graduates move into their adult lives as self-confident, articulate, resourceful and motivated individuals.

The Sunset Sudbury School is open from 8 am to 3:30 pm, with after-school care available upon request.  Sunset Sudbury School follows the same school calendar as Broward County Schools.

Visit Sunset Sudbury School online at http://www.SunsetSudbury.org, or follow us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/SunsetSudbury) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/SunsetSudbury) for more details about our unique alternative school in Broward County.

Media Inquiries:
Kathy Williams
Co-Founder
Sunset Sudbury School
Kathy@sunsetsudbury.org
Phone: 954-404-7785

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Why Self Directed Learning Schools are Better for K-12 students

It is our nature to be curious. Look at very young children, they are unstoppable! And I have never seen a bored newborn! It seems that when children are allowed to pursue their own interests and master their environment, which is when real learning begins. They are born with the ability to focus on and follow their own internal agendas. This was not valued in the industrial-era, and rightly so. But we are in a new era now and the game has changed.

Why are schools failing? Or you can ask why are so many students failing? I think the answer lies in asking one more question: Why are we trying to educate children that live in the information age in an industrial-era school system? The entire public school system was created by and for the industrial age. In order to exist in a functioning industrial society there needed to be immense standardization and acceptance by the students that all the “training” they were enduring was required by the industrial society in order to function effectively.

During the dawn of the post-industrial era, many children began to realize that the outdated techniques of imparting information as well as the information itself did not apply to their needs or the current social structure. This realization has been more intuitive than analytical, but it is nonetheless widespread. As a result, industrial era schools rapidly have been losing their ability to succeed at all in forcing a standard level of competence on everyone in the limited industrial subjects, no matter how many variations they introduced in the process.

“An effective education in the information age must be entirely free of the tyranny of segmented time.” Children in the information age must learn the exact opposite way they had to learn in the still present industrial schools. They must be allowed complete freedom to become self-directed people. The present society including the business world demands it.
If you are looking for alternative schooling in South Florida, look into enrolling your child at Sunset Sudbury, Florida’s fir Sudbury Model School. Contact Us for more information.

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Education Options for Children with ADHD in South Florida

“Leila, was that a dream? Or is your school real?” Suzy asked my daughter after spending the day at Sunset Sudbury School.  Six students sat in the art room working on their projects while explaining the school to Suzy. At first she couldn’t believe that the school didn’t have any teachers. Leila corrected her, “Everybody is a teacher here, even the kids.” It didn’t take long for Suzy to catch on. She is an incredibly bright and intensely curious seven-year-old. She speaks three languages fluently and is working on a fourth. She is really active, soaking in her environment wherever she goes. She was a pleasure to have at our school and all the students liked her.

Towards the end of her very busy day at Sunset Sudbury, she decided that the art room needed cleaning. With a broom in hand, she recruited three students to help her. She gently directed and coordinated their efforts. When the job was complete, Suzy decided that students needed reminders to keep the art room clean. Again she recruited student to make signs and post them around the room.

“How lucky we would be to have her as a student,” I later told her mother. She agreed that Suzy was very bright, but talked too much in class. The teachers at her public school (which is “in a very good school district in South Florida”) recommended that she be tested for ADHD. Suzy’s mom was genuinely concerned. My heart sank. I looked at her straight in the eye and said, “There is nothing wrong with Suzy. Don’t let them tell you that there is anything wrong with her and don’t let them tell her that there is anything wrong with her. It is more likely that there is something wrong with that school.” Suzy’s mom said thank you and broke down crying. I hope she got it.

For a different perspective on ADHD, see Peter Gray’s blog ADHD and School: The Problem of Assessing Normalcy in an Abnormal Environment and Sir Ken Robinson’s talk about Changing Education Paradigms (See Video Below).

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