After five wonderful years in our current location in Davie, School Meeting recently voted to move our school to a bigger space near downtown Fort Lauderdale. We are excited to announce a partnership with MUSE Center for the Arts (99 SW 14th Street, Ft Lauderdale – one building west of Andrews Ave and 3 blocks south of Davie Blvd) for next school year, where we will have lots of room to play, learn, and grow!
Our new 7,000 square foot facility includes two dance studios, an art room, music rooms, classrooms, and a big lounge area. Our students will also have access to Marando Farms, an organic, locally grown and pesticide free farm right across the street, where they can visit the animals and grow their own garden. And if that’s not enough… We will have a van for impromptu field trips to the nearby playground at Hardy Park, the nature trails and fishing lake at Snyder Park, the beach, and everything else that downtown Fort Lauderdale has to offer. See pics below…
We are celebrating our 5-year anniversary! Join us at Your Big Picture Cafe for a talk by Mikel Matisoo entitled “What is the ‘real world’ and how do you prepare for it?” We would love to see you there. Click here to RSVP.
Usually I like to focus on the positive aspects of being at Sudbury Valley. I enjoy thinking about the many facets of life in our little community which is so rich with wondrous encounters and experiences. Every single student is like a whole world and in the course of time each one of them shows me something new that I never knew before. That is what keeps me wanting to work at SVS all these many years and why it is never boring to be there.
Of course, life is never perfect and neither is Sudbury Valley. Disagreements and misunderstandings often occur, as they would in any group of people who share space, time, resources and responsibilities. Students and staff alike have to learn to live with these problems and overcome the discomfort or anger that they may feel from time to time. I am no exception and I admit to having made my share of mistakes by doing or saying things which were hurtful to others. Sometimes I have been insensitive, neglectful or forgetful. I have done many things at SVS, and I have been seen by students at times when I was less than wise or intelligent. Usually they point out my inadequacies and I can accept their laughter at my expense and even their anger, because it is clear and above-board. They tell me to my face what bothers them and give me a chance to explain or apologize. Most of the time I am astounded by the kindness and tolerance that the students exhibit and it has taught me to be more understanding of others than I had been before coming to SVS.
Occasionally, I am angry or hurt by others’ mistakes or insensitivities and then it falls on me to discuss the matter openly with the persons involved to give them a chance to explain or apologize. By and large people at the school get along quite well because of this ability to air grievances and work things through face to face. In cases where communication between people is impossible they can choose to avoid and ignore each other.
Unfortunately, this mode of interpersonal interactions is thrown out of balance when it is interfered with by others who are important to the individuals in the school but who are not a part of the daily life of the school. What I am going to describe has happened every year since our inception in 1968, and uncannily is enacted as if according to a script which is always the same. I would find it bizarre and amusing but for the pain that it causes to all the participants in this drama, including myself.
This is how it unfolds. Students are led to understand by their parents directly or by subtle suggestion that it would be good for them to take some sort of class. The kids agree in principle but can’t bring themselves to do it. What we see is kids who ask for a lesson, and then behave in a manner which isn’t congruent with wanting to take the lesson. Thus they forget their appointments, or their homework. They may come to the lesson with an attitude of “tell me what I need to know so I can get this boring stuff done with as fast as possible and be free to do what I enjoy doing”. Time and again we see bright kids learning very little and hating every minute of it. They often ask the staff for instruction just before they leave for the day, or while the staff person is in the middle of another activity which makes it clear that no lesson can be given. These modes of behavior are in marked contrast to the way they behave when they want us to help them do something that they really want to do. Then they hound us with questions, wait for us to have time to attend to them, retain what we teach them and avidly do work on their own. They are purposeful and focused and it is evident in their whole demeanor that nothing will stop them from pursuing their interest. The contrast with the behavior of the same students when there is an externally imposed push to take classes is remark- able.
When children are questioned by their parents about classes which they really are not interested in taking but which they engage in to please their parents or allay their anxieties, they are in a quandary. How are they to explain their non-performance? They hem and haw and under enough pressure they begin to project their own behavior on the staff. They say, almost with no variation, that Hanna, or Denise, or Danny, or Joan, or Mikel, or Mimsy, or Carol were too busy to help them, or didn’t show up for class, or were too late to do it, or were uninterested in teaching. Sometimes we are accused of going shopping instead of attending to the students! At first when I heard these complaints say about Joan, or Mimsy I thought to myself, “It’s possible that it’s true, but it is strange that they are both attributed the exact same behavior when I know them both to be so different. Mimsy is so well organized that it is unlikely that she forgot an appointment, and Joan is usually in the Art room and easy to locate. When she goes shopping it is for art supplies with a student and all the other kids in the room know where she went.” I wondered: could it be that the whole staff at SVS talks a good line but refuses to be attentive to the students needs? Could it be that all of us are identically forgetful, uninterested in attending to the students needs and dedicated to shopping during school hours? It didn’t make sense.
It was only after numerous repeats of these accusations, leveled at all of us at one time or another, that the pattern began to show itself clearly. The formulaic nature of these criticisms belied their truth and revealed their origins. The students want to do what their parents think is good for them. However, they find this difficult to do at the school. They are too busy doing what they think is interesting and important. Only at the end of the day do they remember what they “ought” to have done. They need an explanation for their parents and for themselves, which will not reflect badly on them, and so they attribute their own forgetfulness, or lack of interest, or preoccupation, to the staff. The trouble is that what they say doesn’t fit the characters of the particular staff involved. It does, however, fit the stereotypical reaction of kids to parental pressure to learn things which the parents think are important to learn but which the students don’t.
Neither I nor other staff members hold a grudge against the kids. We know that both they and their parents are doing what they think is best and that we have to cope with these complaints as part of our job. But it does upset me that often the parents involved don’t want to hear what we have to say on the matter. They usually are offended when we imply that the child lied to them because the child did not want to disappoint his or her parents. They also often don’t agree with us that “suggesting” things to learn to their children constitutes pressuring their children, and that it is not in harmony with the school’s approach to education.
It looks to me that when things get to this stage the children are better off in a different kind of school, where there is a curriculum which the children are obliged to learn and where the teachers coerce them to learn it. I believe that it would be better for the family, and the children in particular, not to attend a school where they are daily put into a situation of conflict between following their own idea of what is important to learn and listening to their parents’ advice. It causes the kids to be depressed, guilty and anxious and worse, insecure about their future.
Yes, SVS is an all or nothing approach to children. Parents either do or don’t trust their children to acquire the skills needed to survive in America according to their own judgment. If the latter is the case, it would be better to transfer the children to one of the many humane and kind schools available which believe that children need more help and guidance than we provide at SVS.
Copyright The Sudbury Valley School Press, Inc.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
M-F July 8 – Aug 2
9am – 3pm $150
9am – 3pm $175
Contact us to register.
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.
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…
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.