Posted in education, schools

Why I think Sudbury schools are ridiculous nonsense

From the time I first heard about Sudbury schools maybe 5–10 years ago, I was absolutely stunned and horrified. While I’m a huge advocate of progressive pedagogy and self-directed learning, I draw a very sharp line at so-called schools where students get to do whatever they want all the time. It’s radical even for a democratic school. At least London’s famous Summerhill School and Israel’s Democratic School of Hadera have actual classes and tests!

The adults who work there aren’t called teachers, since classes are held only by student request. Many photos from these schools show kids playing video games, watching non-educational videos, reading comic books, and other decidedly non-academic activities. Students are even allowed to sleep every day without any investigation into what’s causing this.

HUGE safeguarding red flag when parents are excluded from their own children’s education, with no information or decision-making powers. If I’m blessed with kids before time runs out, I sure as hell would want to know if Samuel or Margalit were playing Minecraft, reading comic books, or sleeping all day instead of engaging in actual academics!

When there are serious problems at real schools or in workplaces, they’re not “solved” by freaking Democracy Circles. Can you imagine you and your co-workers discussing how much you hate the boss on company time, and having the authority to fire the boss or put him or her in the naughty chair for a month? Or a clique of school bullies deciding on the punishment for unpopular kids after lying to teachers about what’s really going on?

Barring a legit learning disability, children should not be illiterate past kindergarten. I’m absolutely horrified that anyone would think it’s totally normal to not know how to read and write at age TEN or higher. We don’t live in an oral culture. Successful life and learning are kind of really dependent upon literacy, and huge knowledge gaps are created when kids don’t have these beyond-basic foundational skills.

Guess what, not all learning is meant to be fun, creative, and self-directed. Left to my own devices, I would’ve learnt a lot about history, world languages and literature, religions, social sciences, art, and music history. The only math class after sixth grade I enjoyed and excelled in was trig. Science didn’t come easily to me either. And forget about gym class!

What kind of fantasy world are you living in where children Magickally develop interest in and learn everything they need to know about algebra, geometry, trig, biology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, even basic math without any formal instruction or natural inclination that way? Oh, wow, Janey figured out that 10×4=40 by counting the wheels on her toy cars! What a born mathematical whiz kid!

Many times, children have to be formally instructed to learn something, and we often don’t discover a special interest for a subject unless we learn about it in school. You’re not preparing them for adult life in the real world if you lead them to believe they don’t have to follow directions and schedules, do things they don’t always want to do, and sit still for more than 30 seconds at a time.

Kids depend on adults to steer them right, not let them do whatever they want all the time and figure out on their own how to read, write, and do basic math. Even many progressive schools that give students great leeway in choosing their own curriculum and assignments still teach math and science more traditionally.

True self-directed learning looks like a student studying Latin, German, Japanese, painting, European and Middle Eastern history, anthropology, psychology, astronomy, botany, British literature, and zoology alongside core requirements, and choosing fencing, archery, horseback riding, and swimming in gym class. Not playing video games and watching anime all day and counting that as educational.

And did I mention they graduate by writing an essay proving they’re ready for the adult world? Don’t even get me started on their creepy “age-mixing magic.”

Even in a proper school, self-directed learning isn’t right for everyone. Some kids need formal, traditional classes and instruction, have no motivation to explore subjects independently, and wouldn’t know where to begin with creating their own assignments.

If I have kids, they’re 100% NOT attending a hippie free-for-all school!

Author:

Writer of historical fiction sagas and series, with elements of women's fiction, romance, and Bildungsroman. Born in the wrong generation on several fronts.

2 thoughts on “Why I think Sudbury schools are ridiculous nonsense

  1. “Students are even allowed to sleep every day without any investigation into what’s causing this.”

    And that is probably the line which I would draw when it came to progressive and democratic schools.

    My views on democratic schools were partly created by the reading of John Holt – he was into the Danish and Swedish free schools in particular.

    [this was 20 and more years ago – though I had known of Holt since I was a little girl].

    What would make a child want to sleep?

    On another note: why is your hypothetical girlchild called Margalit?

    Anf forty is a rather big number to be subtilising.

    The clown outfit meme made me laugh.

    “True self-directed learning looks like a student studying Latin, German, Japanese, painting, European and Middle Eastern history, anthropology, psychology, astronomy, botany, British literature, and zoology alongside core requirements, and choosing fencing, archery, horseback riding, and swimming in gym class. Not playing video games and watching anime all day and counting that as educational.”

    That is what I believed Sudbury education was – at least from their own literature.

    I thought it was like the Centres for Talented Youth except they went the whole school year and not only during the summer.

    ***

    “When there are serious problems at real schools or in workplaces, they’re not “solved” by freaking Democracy Circles. Can you imagine you and your co-workers discussing how much you hate the boss on company time, and having the authority to fire the boss or put him or her in the naughty chair for a month? Or a clique of school bullies deciding on the punishment for unpopular kids after lying to teachers about what’s really going on?”

    The closest I have found to Democracy Circles in my own life is the practices of restorative and transformational justice.

    The “on company time” is indeed a problem – but “outside company time” may be unenforceable.

    And some of them can indeed be very union-like. [I believe that was the model Sudbury was thinking about in the 1970s and 1980s].

    “Having the authority to fire the boss or put them in the naughty chair for a month?”

    A month would be a less severe “punishment”/sanction than some of the ones I have known students to do [outside the Sudbury world.

    Democracy Circles are there for people to feel heard.

    [And, yes, this is probably one of the situations where the ‘magical age-mixing’ might not work].

    What are the adults called? Friends [like the Quakers?] Facilitators? Community members?

    Yes – maths and science do tend to be cumulative and are dependent on sequential learning.

    Science came much more easily to me than a lot of mathematics.

    Tell me more about the Democratic School in Hadera.

    Summerhill changed a lot with Zoe Readhead’s leadership – especially in the first few years of her tenure.

    The point about safeguarding is a big one.

    I believed that parents would find out the same as any community member – or that the relationship would be mutual in some way – like showing during visiting days or open houses.

    [or some of the families are very involved in the place – such as would be in a homeschool co-operative or Community Supported Agriculture – but not a kibbutz].

    Age-mixing can indeed be magic.

    Especially if your previous experiences have been tightly limited among your generation.

    [though why is it considered more “magic” per se than race-mixing or gender-mixing or another immutable characteristic?]

    Like

Share your thoughts respectfully

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s