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!