Thursday, March 16, 2017

Children in Charge of Their Own Schooling

Would you believe there is a school where children play, have discussions and pursue their own interests all day? Would you believe this school has no classrooms, textbooks, classes, subjects or teachers in the traditional sense? No tests, no essays, no assignments nor report cards? Would you believe that 80% of the students graduating are going on to be successful in college or university, while the other 20% find suitable employment in fields of interest to them?  Would you believe that there are no discipline problems in this school? Would you believe that this school has a range of students from 4 to 19 years of age?

Who would not want to go to a school like this?

It takes a certain mindset for people to really understand what this school is all about. After all we have been brought up to believe that schools as we know them are the best places to learn, despite the fact that most people attending pay little attention to what is being taught. It takes a mindset that believes that children will do from the beginning of time and especially since the day they were born: they have taught themselves.

Children are at first observers of their world around them. They watch you walk and learn how to walk. They listen to you speak and start forming words and then ideas to go along with those words. Children, through play, stretch their minds to test theories and ideas. They converse with anyone who will listen. They stretch their vocabulary and when they are ready to read build on ideas they find stimulating.

Schools on the other hand are authoritarian and hierarchical. They are top down, grade segregated, do as I say institutions that do the opposite to what they believe they are doing. They are turning children off because children do not like to be told what to do anymore than you do at the job you have. They like to explore and develop ideas. They like to talk, test out and build. They like to move. Schools traditionally shun all those things. Schools need to provide experiences that are relevant to their lives, not some hypothetical future but to their lives today.

The children in this school created “ a vibrant, joyous institution, overflowing with high-energy activity, fascinating conversation, and an abiding atmosphere of fair play, all without the benefit of a thick (or thin, for that matter) manual providing formulas and guidelines for its operation.”

The school was founded on two principles:

1: Children learn what they want , when they  want, when they need it. They will follow their own thoughts and ideas.

2: Immerse students in the democratic principles by giving them that responsibility from an early age.

Thats right responsibility formed from democratic principles. In this school the students are in charge. They set the rules and enforce them. They have a meeting every Thursday afternoon at 1 pm. to go over the business for the week. Everyone gets one vote. There are 210 students and 10 adults. The 4 year olds vote is as significant as those of the teachers. This way they learn how things work from an early age and respect the process.

“The first of these is the idea of Individual Rights: every person is endowed with certain "inalienable rights," that are belonging to him, without qualification, as his rights. They cannot be removed, or explained away; nor can they be violated by any person, government, or power, as long as law and order prevail.”

“The second root idea is Political Democracy: all decisions governing the community are decided by the community in a politically democratic way. The first root idea, of Individual Rights, covers those actions in a person's life that primarily affect himself, and for which he is individually responsible. The second root idea, of Political Democracy, covers those actions that primarily affect other people, and for which the community is responsible. There is no sharp dividing line; there never are sharp dividing lines in real life. But there are large areas to which each of these ideas applies independently, and these areas are generally agreed upon.”

“The third root idea is Equal Opportunity: every person has an equal chance to obtain any goal. There is no privilege in America, a phenomenon stressed even in our written Constitution. People are born equal, and they start out with equal chances in life.”  This applies anywhere in the world. We are all born equal. We are given equal chance to succeed.

It is a school where children are immersed in the culture of being respectful humans, they develop their individual intellectual potential and moral character. They are learning to function as citizens in the community. They become responsible for their lives, trust their judgement, gain maturity and formulate a plan for life after school.

It is said that the future belongs to those who can stretch their minds, use new and old materials in novel ways, take all kinds of ideas from a wide variety of sources and use them to the benefit of society.  Students at this school have the ability to cope independently, continuously, and successfully with the demands of life.

At Graduation, yes there is one, each graduating student must convince a ”group of peers that s/he is ready to be responsible for himself or herself in the community at large, just as the person has been at school.” Being responsible means that you are able to do that.

Yes The Sudbury Valley School has certainly done this in their last 50 years.

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