People often wonder why my husband and I chose to put our children in a Sudbury School versus the conventional educational system. There are many aspects of a Sudbury School that we find compelling. At a minimum, it was important to us for our children to have the opportunity to grow up without the lessons taught by the underlying beliefs that are the foundations of the current educational system. Most of us can remember from our own schooling experiences, that although it might not be spoken, the following are definitely some of the lessons we learned by being there:
- Learning is something done TO me by an adult who knows more than I do about what I need to learn in my life and when.
- Important learning happens only when I am studying math, reading, writing, science and social studies.
- Playing is a break from real learning and is not important.
- Making mistakes and failing at something is bad.
- If someone doesn’t make me learn, I won’t learn what I need to have a successful life.
- I will never know what is out there in the world or know what options are available to me if an adult doesn’t show me.
- I can’t trust myself.
- Only adults are responsible enough to make important decisions about their own life and about the community in which they live.
- As a child, I don’t have a voice in how I spend my time. I can have my own life when I’m an adult.
- Adults are authority figures.
A Sudbury school is void of these beliefs and surrounds the child with an environment that supports the complete opposite. My heart overflows with happiness and pride as I watch my children, and all our students, live their lives each day with the following core beliefs of a Sudbury experience:
- I know best what I think, feel and need. My life is up to me to make happen and I have it within me to do it.
- Learning happens every minute of every day.
- Playing is the work of children and is integral to learning. Play can be a part of my entire life.
- Most of the time, I learn more by my failures than my successes. Failure can teach me important lessons. Failure is not to be feared.
- All the healthy motivation I need to live a successful life comes from within me.
- It is up to me to investigate the world and see what is out there.
- I can trust myself, because I know myself.
- I am capable of being responsible for myself and to the community around me far more than a lot of people give me credit for.
- I always have a choice and a voice in how I spend my time. I have practiced living my life every moment of every day. I have a right to speak my truth to anyone and be heard, and I have an obligation to listen to the thoughts and feelings of others and base my actions on both.
- I respect adults who act respectful and heavily weigh what they have to say, because I know that they have a lot of experience. I view people of every age as my equal and as having the same rights as I do.
When my oldest daughter was nine years old, out of curiosity she attended a public school for two days. She came home after the first day and told me, “They don’t trust me there. The only decision I made for myself all day was what I packed in my lunch.” At a very young age, she was able to see and feel the underlying differences of these two belief systems and educational models. People often confuse freedom with a lack of responsibility, which is not the case in Sudbury Schools. She was growing up in an environment that supported the beliefs of freedom, responsibility, trust and empowerment.
My own 18 years of conventional, educational experience consisted of public grade school, high school, college and graduate school combined. I still work at peeling away the ingrained belief system of conventional schooling and replacing it with the knowledge that comes with living a free and responsible life. I see my three children as way ahead of the game. I feel they were able to grow up knowing what I believe we all instinctively knew about life and ourselves when we came into this world.
Realizing these gifts of a Sudbury education, an environment that supports equality, responsibility, trust, and personal empowerment made it easier for my husband and I to take the leap of faith required to choose an educational path that is so radically different. And now that our two oldest children have reached adulthood, we clearly see that the risk was worth it well beyond our expectations and far outweighed our moments of doubt and fear.