TIM Walker related an interesting story in the latter part of his book, about the Sudbury Valley School. He showed his students a short YouTube clip featuring the school and what it was all about. He thought that his students would love to be in that school.
Surprisingly though, his students thought it was “too radical” and they weren’t very comfortable with that. They particularly found something “wrong” about a school that allowed its kids to play video games all day. In the end, they still preferred having a teacher guide them.
What’s my take on this?
Well, first of all, I think it’s safe to say that most students in Finland enjoy school, or at the very least, they don’t hate it as much as in other places where school is more rigid and traditional. They have an easy schedule, frequent breaks, cool teachers who don’t get mad at them easily, or pressure them unreasonably -- hey, what’s not to like? Sounds like a lot of fun.
Here is the danger, and take note that I am not saying this to disparage the teachers or administrators as if they were secretly plotting something diabolical. No, the danger comes from the system itself which conditions the students to have someone “guiding” them all the time, so much so that they feel uncomfortable when you take that guidance away.
Greenberg calls teachers in the traditional system as “entertainers.” Good teachers are usually good entertainers -- they keep the class interested and motivated to “learn,” and I would think that there would be a lot of great teacher-entertainers in Finland (simply because they support each other and are not that stressed from the more rigid requirements of their traditional counterparts). Because of this, students feel they are “learning a lot” from these teachers and taking that away would somehow diminish their learning.
But that is wrong.
What each person needs to develop is a sense of identity and direction, to know that his or her choice matters, and that others can respect that choice -- whether or not it seems good or bad. In a Sudbury school, nobody tells you what to do. You do what you choose to do, and you either reap the benefits of doing so or suffer the full brunt of its consequences. Sudbury staff do not entertain the kids nor do they feel any need to do so. If a child wants to learn something, he may sometimes even need to convince the staff to teach him.
The process is slower at first because you have to wait for each individual’s maturity to kick in. You don’t just gather them all by a certain age group and begin lecturing them about this and that because the “experts” say that’s the right age to begin teaching that material. Each person eventually has to develop that inner drive and say, this is what I want to do, this is what I want to learn, and no one can stop me.
That’s the value I see in a Sudbury school.
Email me at email@example.com. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.