school

Youth is not wasted on the young. Adults are taking it away from them.

At least once per week, my sons each mumble the same phrase to me.  It might be on the way to school, still sleepy and wishing they could go back to bed.  It might be after a long day of sitting, practicing, repeating and testing, with very little play or physical activity.  It might be in the evening when I ask them to sit down and work on their book logs or worksheets.  It might be when they realize at bed time on Sunday nights that they have to get up in the morning and do it all over again in the weekdays ahead.

Mom, I don’t want to go to school anymore.

It is not that they hate to learn.  They embrace it at home – experimenting, building, talking, creating, researching, and exploring.   More than once I have seen a nugget of enthusiasm about a science lesson at school that involved an experiment or they come home bubbling to tell me a story about a notable person in history who made a difference in the world.  And then there are the moments of pride when they bring home good grades.  They know how important good grades are in the system they are in.

But the bulk of their days is spent doing work they don’t enjoy in a compulsory environment that they dislike.

Day in. Day out.  More of the same. Read. Calculate. Compute. Recite. Test. Repeat.

And I, like the supportive parent I am and want to continue to be, just smile and say that I understand, but it is important to go to school and learn.  I am telling the truth.  It is important to learn, but it feels hypocritical.  I now believe that there is a better way to teach my kids and I have not been able to bring it to bear for them yet.

This is their childhood.  It is the one time in time in their lives that they are supposed to be free.  They are supposed to play.  Yes, they are supposed to learn, but in this day and age, when we do not depend on seasonal harvests, when most families can relieve their children of hard labor, they should be allowed to be kids first.  They should be exploring, testing the limits of their abilities, following crazy, fun, silly and outlandish lines of thinking, randomly asking questions when they are curious and vegging out when they need it.

We need to change how we treat them as children, especially the ones who are miserable.  (If a kid is thriving in the current system, that is terrific, but I would submit that many kids who are doing “well” are not going to be prepared to do well as adults.)

Youth is not wasted on the young.  We are stealing it from them.  We need to give it back to them and let them use it to become the adults they are meant to be.

From Around the Web

Here are a few links to content I have found around the web that I found interesting.

Love to know your thoughts on these pieces.  Feel free to share your own findings too!

Around the Web: Village Free School article and more

A Portland school is changing lives for kids ages 5-18 and The Oregonian has picked up the story.

I love this bit from one of the three founders at the school.

At the Village Free School, there are three foundational rules: take care of yourself and others, take care of our space and things and respect the freedom of others. Otherwise, students have active authority in what they learn and how they chose to spend their school day.

While not a Sudbury School, there a a number of similarities like student-led classes and age mixing, albeit within age groups.

Here are a few other items I have uncovered from around the web.

Parent Perspective: By the numbers…or not.

Around the world, millions of people waking up today and focusing on new numbers for their new year. Lose 10 lbs before the summer.   scaleOr work out 3x per week. Read 100 books by the end of the year. Spend 15 minutes per day meditating. Regardless of the merits of the goal, using numbers can be tremendously motivating. For many, numbers keep us moving forward when we might otherwise give up.  Even small goals can seem more achievable with numbers. “I will have one cookie, not 12.”  And many would say that without measurement, there is no way to define success. Measurement via numbers is how the world evaluates job performance, company health and the efficacy of processes.  Sales people have goals which roll up to company revenue. Athletes and teams set times to beat, averages to improve, and wins (and loses) to record. Politicians need votes to win elections and polls to see if their work is well-received by the constituents they serve. Numbers hold us accountable to the roles we play and goals we seek to achieve as individuals and as members of a group. Numbers can also help an outsider make a judgment about a system, activity or pursuit that they are not actively engaged in. They offer hard data for the person who is not doing the work themselves. They show progress. They are “proof.”

However, using numbers to evaluate a system is not always straight forward.  We don’t judge the success of a gym by the weight-loss stats of its membership, although one could surmise that if everyone is dropping LBS like crazy, it is a very effective gym. However, that would imply that the gym can control who walks in the door, with what abilities and how much effort they put forth while they are there. We don’t determine the success of a library by the number of people who have read the books they checked out. That would assume that the library can control the quality of the writing or the schedules and intent of the readers.

Never the less, there is really one visible example of using numbers to make judgments about individuals that aim to prove a point about a larger system. Education. In traditional schooling, the numbers are mandatory. They are compulsory. You can’t NOT get scored because without the numbers, outsiders have a harder time determining what is working or what isn’t.

But the kids in the system may not be better for the score, even if the system is.

walnutcove-grades Kate Atkinson wrote a blog post on the Huffington post earlier this year about how grades and numbers have an unintended consequence, beyond the proof of merit of the system.

If you are in high school, there is a good chance that you have felt defined by your GPA, ACT scores, numerical averages, test grades or the number of AP courses you take. You may have felt inferior to a peer whose class rank is above yours. You may have been looked down upon because you take “regular” math instead of Accelerated Calculus. You may have felt less intelligent because everyone you know is taking more AP courses than you. For the majority of my high school career, I have been just like you. I didn’t share my unimpressive class rank with anyone. I lied about the B I received in math class because I knew my peers would think lesser of me. I constantly allowed low test grades to make me feel inferior.

Kate is made to feel “less than” because she is compared to the mean in order to achieve a holistic view of the system, but it does not serve her as an individual. As an advocate for a Sudbury school, I am not anti-grades, anti-testing, or anti-accountability. Instead, I am FOR giving humans the choice of how, when and on what they elect to be evaluated. The person who chooses to dance with hopes of professional dancing knows evaluation is part of the gig. For the student who elects to go to college, aspiring to be an engineer, accountant, or doctor, etc., course grades are an essential part of determining progress and preparedness for the tasks is expected. The difference is that the person makes the choice to be evaluated. If a student like Kate subjects themselves to a score or grade, they have a choice about how to react, just like a person who sets a goal to lose weight can use the number to motivate themselves. And if the number is not what they had hoped, they can see it as a success or failure. That is up to the student.

One of the most asked questions I hear about Sudbury is about how students who are rarely tested are able to perform in the “real world.” Again, I go back to choice. If I choose to work for someone or do something that requires testing, training, metrics, etc., then I also understand the role that those numbers play in my ability to be successful. If I don’t like the score, I change my methods. I work harder. I ask for help. Or I try something else. The fact is that traditional schooling is the only place were humans are involuntarily evaluated with little to no consideration to how it impacts their sense of worth or personal path.  No evaluation of a diet, exercise regimen, new year’s resolution, exam from an institution of higher learning or job evaluation forced upon humans because, in every case, the person makes the choice to be evaluated. But kids don’t have that choice…that is, unless parents give them a place where numbers are treated very differently. Enter Sudbury.

The Pressure is On.

2014 is nearly over.

And I am only “half” ready.

If 2014 is any indication, the time will zip by.  On the one hand, I am excited about a fresh start.  But there are HUGE unknowns that loom ahead.

The biggest one is the daunting challenge of how to change the course of our kids’ education.  The amount of time we have to make a meaningful change seems like it keeps getting smaller and smaller.   I know that there are others of you out there who are feeling uncertain of the path your kids will take too.  Maybe you have a teenager and you feel you only have a few years left to make a difference.  Maybe you are coming up on a transition from elementary to middle school or middle to high and you want to do something before your kid settles in to the next school.

Regardless, we all feel time slipping away.

For me, with each day, the pressure is more intense.

pressure

I think schools are feeling the pressure too.

Public and charter schools have more required of them, with less funding and, in some cases, with less time to impart the knowledge needed to pass the standardized tests that measure the success of their teachings.  The test scores not only impact the kids, but are often computed into the ratings of the staff’s performance and can affect the schools’ funding.

The stakes are high.

Maybe that is why so many traditional school systems are starting earlier and earlier to get kids ready.  Whether it is having middle school kids pick a track for high school that aligns with a specific career or college path, or piling on more and more homework to “help” with preparation, schools are requiring more instruction and more work in an effort to push kids to be their most successful.

In fact, I recently read an article about a kindergarten in New York who cancelled its end-of-the-year show in order to devote more time to college and career prep.

The interim principal writes,

The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers.

And currently, the determination of who is a strong reader, write, and so on, is a series of assessments…standardized tests. Not a successfully executed end-of-year show.

I do not fault the school for making the judgment call.  In fact, if I was them, I may have done the same thing.  If you can only be successful as a school or as a system if your students do well on a test, then surely, you must prepare for the test.  Starting earlier is a natural conclusion.

However, there are several problems with the way our system has evolved.  First, not everyone does well on standardized tests.  Moreover, even if you do well on tests, the methods of instruction most schools use to prepare kids for the tests is ideal for only a fraction of the population.  Generally, traditional schooling is not multi-sensory.  It is lecture based.  It utilizes rote memorization.  Most people don’t learn that way.

In addition, success in life is more than being able to do well on tests. I want our kids to have schooling that reflects modern society.  They need to learn to be self-motivated.  They need to learn to be adaptable.  They need to be able to be curious and innovative.  To achieve this, schools need more individualization.  More customization.   More interaction. More experiential-learning opportunities.  They need to be given freedom and responsibility.  They need opportunities to practice making choices for themselves.  They need to become accustomed to taking responsibility when those choices don’t pan out the way they’d like.

To the contrary, traditional schools pick the time, the place, the lessons, the curriculum, the delivery methods and the measure of success. Kids decide on next-to-nothing about how they are taught and that is doing them a disservice.

I also think that the assumption that a show would not help the students become “strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers” is also flawed.  Time and time again, we learn that life’s softer pursuits can be a great teachers.  Music. Art. Games. Theater. Sports. Cooking. Gardening.  All of these things require reading, writing and decision making.  They just cannot be assessed on a test.  And really, shouldn’t our 5 year-olds have an experience that exposes them to the world around them and allow them to lean into learning things that really interest them?

Shouldn’t we all have that?

When I was looking for a path that would give my kids the best start in life, I NEVER would have predicted that I would be an advocate for something like a Sudbury School.  No grades. No grade-levels. No lesson plans. No tests.

That said, I have come to realize that while some kids are getting exactly what they need from traditional schools, there are plenty more kids would thrive in a new or different environment. Sudbury may not be for everyone, but if you are feeling the pressure to find something else that might be a better fit for your kid, consider joining the effort to open a Sudbury School in North Florida.

Feel free to comment below and I will reach out to you with details about our upcoming information meetings.

Happy new year and much joy, prosperity and health to you and yours in 2015.

~Jennifer

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

Sudbury Perspective: The transition to the “real world.”

Some of the most frequently asked questions I have received about Sudbury are about the relationship between the staff and the students. Many parents worry about how the kids will adjust to “the real world” after they leave a Sudbury school. They are concerned that they won’t be able to adjust to having a college professor, a coach or eventually, a boss. I understand the question, but I think the answer is easy.

Sudbury students choose what and how they want to learn…and eventually develop a plan or idea about what they’ll do for a living. When the make a choice, they understand the responsibility of the choice. They know and understand what study might be needed, the probable workload and so forth. They embrace it because it was part of THEIR decision to pursue it. In the case of a job, I would think that this makes them easier to manage, should there be a managerial relationship. They want to be there. They want to do well.

Adults, whether teachers or bosses, don’t want to have to watch you or coerce you. Just ask a teacher. They want passionate people who are motivated by the work, the mission, the subject and who invest themselves into the outcomes. That is what Sudbury students are encouraged to become. Self-motivated and personally responsible.

Moreover, as another Sudbury-model school, Mountain Valley notes in a recent blog post, organizations are shifting away from lots of layers of management, and moving toward focusing on the quality and innovativeness of the work. People want freedom in the workplace, but they understand that there is trust involved in having freedom.

Why should education be any different?