Monday, December 26, 2011

So...An Unschooling School?

I've been intending on making this post for quite a while now and just never got round too it.
Now in the aftermath of Christmas I find myself actually sitting with a few spare minutes on my hands and this subject on my mind.

I few months ago I was reading a wonderful series of articles by Peter Gray on how children educate themselves and I came across this particular article talking about a school that sounded like no school I'd ever heard of.
Up until this point we were pretty decided that for our family any type of school was not for us...but I had no idea that a school like this existed or could even work. Now that I've discovered this school I think we would be more than happy sending our children there if we could. Just shows you there is always room for changing your mind :)
Sadly this school is in the USA and far from us.

The school in question is Sudbury Valley in Massachusetts, USA

So what is so different about this school you ask?

Well...as far as I can tell it's a school that allows children to unschool themselves in the company of others!
Seriously, read the article and see what you think, but I'll do a basic summary of how I understood it.

  • The school consists of around 200 students ranging from 4 years up to 18 years, and around 10 adult staff members.
  • The school is run like a democracy and is administered by the School Meeting, which consists of the staff members AND all the students. Each person has a vote...so a 4 year old has the same vote as an adult.
  • Staff members are hired on a yearly basis and are voted in and out by the School Meeting, which means the students have a say in who works there.
  • School rules are enforced by the Judicial Comittee which changes regularly in membership but always includes a staff member and students of all ages. Staff members are treated the same as students and no one is above "the law".
  • Students are free to do what they want all day, everyday, as long as they don't violate any school rules.
  • None of the school rules are about learning, they are all to do with protecting the school and the students e.g. no noise in designated quiet areas, no defacing school property, cleaning up behind yourself, no harrasment of anyone else etc.
  • There is no curriculum, grading or attempt to motivate students to do anything.
  • Classes are offered but not mandatory.
  • "certification" is required to use certain equipment, such as sharp kitchen utensils.
  • The staff members are not considered teachers as such, just adult members of a community who are available to help, guide and direct when someone asks them. They do still teach but it is only when asked and often though just answering questions, offering solutions, discussing ideas etc.
  • The school is equipped with wonderful facilities, including music rooms, computer rooms, kitchens, art rooms etc, to great outdoor facilities including a pond for fishing, a forest and various sporting equipment and areas.
  • There is no age segregation in the school, or segregation of any kind. There are no requirements for a child wishing to study at Sudbury other than that they need to adhere to the school rules.
  • The school has been around for about 40 years or so.
  • Approximately 90% of their graduates go on to study at a college (compared with 69% of graduates from the public school system)
  • Graduates of Sudbury are found in every career field and walk of life, they seem to have no difficulties pursuing higher education should they so wish and surveys of previous students are almost unanimous in reporting that they are glad that they attended Sudbury Valley and that they think it prepared them better than a traditional school would have for the realities of adult existence.

So what do you think?
Think it's unrealistic and would cost too much? Well actually their school fees are less than the average private school in South Africa.
Not convinced?
Do yourself a favour and watch this

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