Alternative

Parent Perspective: “Have you lost your mind?”

Truth.  I am a little surprised that the reaction from friends and family to the idea of starting a Sudbury school has been wholly positive.  And for those whose reaction is a little doubtful, they are helping me to improve my pitch about starting the school.

Most of the people I have shared the concept with have asked questions and smiled. Some nodded and moved onto to other topics or wished me the best of luck.  And then there were the ones whose eyes lit up, who see this as the school they have been looking for their son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter.  They want to know more.  When will it open?  Where will it be?  How much will it cost?  What happens when you finish with your Sudbury education?

I was expecting something different.  In talking with other founders who have launched a Sudbury School, each has shared with me the stories of adults who have had an overtly negative reaction to the idea that kids can be in charge of their own education.  Some got downright angry.  A few even tossed out threats.

For those of you who are considering Sudbury for your child, or are planning to support the decision of a family member or friend to embark on this journey, be prepared for the negative nancy to come along and blurt out, “Have you lost your mind?”

It is for you that I share this essay borrowed from Johanna Schmidt, a longtime Fairhaven School parent and author.  I have copied the text from the Fairhaven School blog.

Are You Thinking Sudbury Parents Must be Insane?

Back when both of my children went to a highly rated public Montessori School, I occasionally ran into acquaintances whose children attended Fairhaven School.  I smiled and nodded politely as they described the model of this “free school” where the kids decided to do whatever they wanted all day, while thinking “Are you CRAZY?”  I couldn’t believe that any intelligent and loving parent would take such a risk with their child’s education.  Didn’t we all agree that solid education was the only way a person could accomplish anything in this mad world?  Were their children sad misfits who simply couldn’t survive other more conventional models of schooling or were they (the parents) impossible idealists completely cut off from reality as we all know it?

Understand, I am a career educator, started teaching right out of college and never fully stopped.  I have taught in public schools, private schools, taught adults, children, and currently teach and administer a program at University of Maryland, partially because I want to be able to afford to send my children there someday.  So I have a lot invested in the world of education as we know it.  If it’s all a big mess than what on earth have I been doing all these years?  If kids don’t actually need teachers, then surely college-age students don’t need me.  How threatening is that?

So.  Here’s what happened.  My eldest son B, got up to 7th grade, where the high-performing public Montessori school took especial pride in preparing a high percentage of their students to successfully test their way into the math and science public magnet school in our area that has the reputation (there’s just no other way to say it) of being the ONLY option for people who can’t afford private school.  We were told that all the 7th graders would be doing between 30 and 100 math problems a night, in homework, in order to increase their prowess and take their rightful places as rulers of the planet.  And I broke.  I snapped.  I couldn’t see it, couldn’t do it, couldn’t subject my child or my family life to it, suddenly thought “Good grief, K-12 is all institutionalized academic rigor and stress and tests, then University is more institutional academic rigor and stress and tests….what kind of education is that, really?” and I compared my own paltry schooling but extremely happy childhood with the one I was providing for my son, shook my head in disgust, and began looking for alternatives.

One thing led to another and I found myself on the back porch at a neighborhood party while two enthusiastic parents related how their son, who had been miserable at a neighborhood public school, actually enjoyed going to Fairhaven, was happy and acting more responsibly at home, and was occasionally cooking them eggs for breakfast without even being asked!  Will you think less of me if I admit it was the promise of my progeny becoming some sort of unpaid cook/housekeeper that made me start to listen?  And once I started listening and entertaining dangerous thoughts, I couldn’t stop.  Then I visited the campus and I was sold.  I wondered “How could a place that feels so good be bad for my sons?” In retrospect, I wish I had had the emotional courage to ask myself years before, how could a place that felt as bad as their former school felt, possibly be good for them.

My husband and I took a deep breath, clutched each other’s hands, and in the face of more raised eyebrows than you can shake a power point presentation at, we jumped off the educational cliff.  That’s what it felt like to me, enrolling at Fairhaven.

The first thing I noticed was different about B. after he started at Fairhaven was that all of his health problems evaporated.  Asthma, allergies, digestion problems, all of which he had suffered for his entire K-6th grade years.  All gone. He didn’t take many classes that first year, and that really freaked me out.  But he was happy and healthy, and my husband and I decided maybe we were just giving him a well-needed break.   He was doing such interesting things and had great friendships so I knew it wasn’t an entirely bad move, but we weren’t complete believers yet;  I kept worrying about my son’s pathway to college.  I couldn’t see it. If I list for you here my son’s involvements and accomplishments, and why I now believe my son will be able to create a future for himself, it will sound an awful lot like bragging, and B. will not allow me to publish this blog.  He’s a thoughtful, modest fellow and would prefer to impress you in person. If he chooses to go to college, he’ll go.  I can see that now. He’s fourteen.  Why, I ask myself, why, why, why did I think I should be able to see it any sooner?

Parent Perspectives: A life of learning

This is my typical day.  I awaken, shower, get dressed, eat something and brush my hair and teeth and help my little guys do the same (although my husband shoulders more of the morning work than I do, by far – thanks, honey!)  I drive to work, after dropping off my son at school.  I sit at a computer, send messages, prepare memos and reports and answer questions.  I plan events, figure out how to solve problems and communicate with colleagues, clients and fellow professionals.  After the day, I move through a well-choreographed dance of kids’ activities and assignments, all the while running a direct selling business and this blog.   Occasionally, I even find time to read books for pleasure, do projects, watch TV or play games.

When I read this list, I am struck by how so many of the skills needed to do these things were learned outside of my traditional schooling.  My mom taught me the basics of personal hygiene and domestic duties.  My dad taught me to drive. I am self-taught with the skills needed to send an email or design a visual presentation.   I sought out the training needed to learn to plan an event or advocate for my company.  I took advantage of training offered in my community or workplace, and if could not find what I wanted there, then I went further to look on-line or to gather information from others who I admire.

I am not done learning.  I am hungry to learn more.  I am finishing up a class on-line for a new crafting skill.  I listen to audio books in my car.  I watch videos or news shows to get caught up on current events or dig deeper into something I have come across during the day that interests me. I sign up for lectures, attend luncheons and read blogs.

The core skills of reading and writing were learned in school and for that I am grateful, but my learning did not start in preschool, nor did it finish at the end of my schooling days. It began the day I was born and continues even now, as I learn how to prepare this post. It is a journey and every day brings new information to digest and choices to make.

That is lifelong learning.

Destination-unknown

As humans, we are wired to want to learn.  In fact, some might say that it is essential that we do.  Gerald Fischer, of the Center of LifeLong Learning and Design at the University of Colorado, states,

Lifelong learning is an essential challenge for inventing the future of our societies; it is a necessity rather than a possibility or a luxury to be considered. Lifelong learning is more than adult education and/or training — it is a mindset and a habit for people to acquire.

But who is instilling that in our kids?

Nowadays, kids sit passively in school, receiving information that is usually not relevant to the real world.  For the record, I do not believe that is because the system is out of touch, but because the system is too massive and bureaucratic to keep up. It takes months or years to affect change and in the mean time, kids are growing up and aging out, unprepared for what is expected of them or needed from the modern work place.

Fischer uses a great analogy that really hit home for me.  Right now, choice in traditional education is the equivalent of a television with 100+ channels.  A passive watcher can pick one of the many channels, but the information provided is static and someone else decides what content to use.  Yes, we can switch the station, but we are still a passive recipient of the information, no matter what channel we pick. Worse yet, we are couch potatoes, staring at a screen, just watching and watching.

In the real world, we want people to get up off the couch and engage.  We want them to actively learn and challenge the way things are done to see if we can do them better. And with new information being poured out into the world with each passing second, we want people to be adaptable, to make proactive choices, to fail fast, to grow and prosper.

If we expect that of them at age 18 or 22 or 30, then we need to teach them how to do that when they are children. We need to give them the freedom to learn what they want so that they can determine where they’ll find their place in the world.

That is what “free schools” offer.

The Philly Free School shared these thoughts,

The students decide what to learn and when to learn it, every day.  The school IS its students, situating it forever in the now and the yet to be. I can think of no other way that a school can hope to keep up with the rapid pace of change in the 21st century. They are poised for whatever comes next, because they ARE what comes next.

If you are thinking that your kids should be more in control of what and how they learn, Sudbury might be a fit for your family.  Join us this Sunday, January 11, at 3:00 pm to learn more about the efforts to open a Sudbury model school in North Florida.  Click here for details.

Step one.

Tonight, December 29, the Sudbury School of Jacksonville held its first informational meeting.  With 8 people in the room, we discussed the Sudbury model, watched a short video about another Sudbury School and shared the story about how my husband Josh and I came to pursue this path, for not only our family, but our community.

In attendance were educators with grown children, as well as parents with small children.  We had folks with kids in “A” rated schools who believe their kids should enjoy school more and parents looking for alternatives to schools that they don’t believe are a great fit for their kid(s) now.  There were lots of questions and we took lots of notes.  The biggest surprise of the night was a woman in town who had researched starting a Sudbury school a few years ago!

It. Was. Awesome.

Thank you to all of the folks who came out.  It was so more exciting than I anticipated and I think it was a wonderful beginning.

If you missed it, not to worry. We are planning our next meeting for on Sunday, January 11th from 3 to 4.  (Kids are welcome, if the weather is nice.  They can play outside and we’ll have a sitter here to help out.)  I hope you’ll join us.

In the meantime, feel free to join our Facebook group or like the school’s brand new Facebook page.

Finally, here are a few links to articles and videos I came across in the last few days:

Is this kind of school new?

The Democratically-run school has been around for years. Specifically, Sudbury Valley was founded in 1968, but there are others, some modeled after Sudbury and some not, which were started earlier and many more which have been founded in the last 40+ years.

Here is a list from the Alternative Education Resource Organization’s website of Democratically run schools from all over the US. I have also included a static page of Sudbury Schools from the US and around the world on this blog.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA