THIS article was supposed to be “Summerhill Four” but I decided to also acknowledge another source material I draw from when researching democratic schools.
The Sudbury Valley School was founded by Daniel Greenberg, Hanna Greenberg and Mimsy Sadofsky and it operates in more or less the same way that I’ve described Summerhill these past three weeks.
But while Summerhill operates in the UK and was founded in the 1920’s, Sudbury Valley School operates out of Massachusetts, USA. One of its founders, Daniel Greenberg, has written several books and numerous articles on how and why they do what they do.
I just read a thought-provoking chapter from The Sudbury Valley Experience and I’d like to share some excerpts here:
“Schools today are institutions in which learning is taken to mean being taught. You want people to learn? Teach them! You want them to learn more? Teach them more! And more! Work them harder. Drill them longer...But learning is a process you do, not a process that is done to you!”
For those who have some trouble distinguishing between learning and being taught, here’s the difference: The first is active participation, usually with interest, and the other is being force-fed material that is usually of little or no interest to the student. Understanding the difference between those two is what separates good teachers from the bad. Sadly, and frankly, we have more of the latter kind of teachers in our school systems today -- but not entirely their fault as they were brought up in that kind of educational system as well.
As I said before, it is extremely difficult for those who have been exposed to years and years of in-the-box education to start thinking out-of-the-box. I, for one, am very grateful to a handful of outstanding teachers I’ve had who understood there was much more to life than getting high grades and memorizing their lessons.
But back now to Greenberg. I love the following paragraphs:
“People go to school to learn. To learn, they must be left alone and given time. When they need help, it should be given, if we want the learning to proceed at its own natural pace. But make no mistake: if a person is determined to learn, they will overcome every obstacle and learn in spite of everything. So you don't have to help; help just makes the process a little quicker. Overcoming obstacles is one of the main activities of learning. It does no harm to leave a few.
But if you bother the person, if you insist the person stop his or her own natural learning and do instead what you want, between 9 a.m. and 9:50, and between 10 a.m. and 10:50 and so forth, not only will the person not learn what s/he has a passion to learn, but s/he will also hate you, hate what you are forcing upon them, and lose all taste for learning, at least temporarily.
Every time you think of a class in one of those schools out there, just imagine the teacher was forcing spinach and milk and carrots and sprouts (all those good things) down each student's throat with a giant ramrod.
Sudbury Valley leaves its students be. Period. No maybes. No exceptions. We help if we can when we are asked. We never get in the way. People come here primarily to learn. And that's what they all do, every day, all day.”
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