A local TV news crew did a story on Houston Sudbury School that aired last night. Although HSS takes issue with the idea (presented towards the end) that Sudbury-model schooling is for a very specific type of kid (it really does work for many many types of kids, just because it is such personal learning) it was otherwise a very fair (albeit, shallow) representation of the school. We are grateful for the chance to expose a bit more of the world to the idea of self-directed education in a democratic setting. We were treated with respectful curiosity by the crew and felt safe and supported in talking about the model and our school.
Here is the segment: http://www.click2houston.com/education/houston-school-allows-students-to-make-rules
But, as expected, there was a bit of pushback from the public about the idea that kids do not need to be controlled, managed, forced to learn whatever adults deem worthy. Much of the commenting can be dismissed as generic internet trolling, but some are the typical comments we get about our school. It is not surprising that the ideas presented by Sudbury schools (and unschoolers of all kinds -- that kids can be in charge of their lives and learning) was shocking to the point of threatening to many adults.
Everyday, we see at the school the observable evidence that freedom works for kids in every way -- learning any skill they need, advancing their maturation, facilitating self-discovery, learning to overcome challenges and obstacles, discovering a world of possibilities for themselves, developing empathy and ethical reasoning, honing critical thinking, and learning to exist in community. This is our "curriculum" -- intelligent, compassionate, *whole* human beings who are thoughtful agents of their own lives and in the world. This is something no "regular" school can ever facilitate.
Yet this idea seems to threaten adults. Rather than offer them relief from the burden of trying to control and manipulate towards a certain outcome for kids or giving hope for the future knowing our kids can handle whatever is thrown their way and might be the very ones to save this wretched world, some adults are offended by the ideas presented by Sudbury schools. It is not a stretch to speculate why: we live in a culture that values power over others more than empowerment. We live in a culture that values competition over cooperation. We live in a culture that has a twisted view of justice and of who "deserves" respect and compassion. We live in a culture where the majority of adults are recovering from their own childhood wounds around school, learning, shame, and their most core value as human beings. Given all these factors, the responses are ultimately understandable.
But, know this: Yes, kids can learn all they need to know through life, play, conversation, exploration of their interests, and their own intense natural curiosity and motivation. Yes, kids can be responsible for their own lives and make good choices, including decisions about how their school is run. Yes, kids deserve, as humans, agency and power in their lives and respect for their individual rights. School, as most people conceive of it ---"reading, writing, 'rithmatic" as the news anchor referred to it -- is the historical aberration. Natural, self-directed learning is the norm for humans. As is being responsible at a young age for their own lives and communities (just ask your grandparents ). It is all true. This is real and it works.
Know this, too: these ideas are also true of adults. If they can look past the wounds, limiting assumptions, and negative inner-voices, adults will find that there is still a curious, adaptable, playful, excited-about-learning part. This is the part that helps adults constantly adapt to changes in the world. It's there. Say hello to it. And thank it for assuring the continued survival of our species.
Some will never be convinced of the innate power we each hold to learn, relearn, and adapt. Even when they see it in front of their own eyes in the form of babies learning entire languages without "instruction" or a grandparent learning to navigate the latest iPad app through trial and error. Fortunately, for kids, there are enough who know this is true. Let's hope more come to understand.