THE current educational system is another Gordian knot of tangled problems. Aside from the problems we usually read about in the news like lack of infrastructure (e.g. classrooms), equipment and skilled teachers, there is the students’ apparent lack of motivation, increasing stress levels and disconnect with the needs of industry -- that means that graduates find out that very little of the little they learned has any practical use when they start working.
For decades also, educators have tinkered with the system trying to untangle this knot -- making a few modifications here and there, but they always seem to end up not solving anything or very little at all.
Very few know, or have heard, that this knot has been solved. Just as Alexander the Great sliced the Gordian Knot with his sword, it is somewhat appropriate that another Alexander -- Alexander Sutherland Neill -- cut through the Gordian knot of education by founding Summerhill School in 1921 with the revolutionary idea that children learn faster and better without coercion -- a stark difference from traditional schools which until now use different methods of coercion to make students want to learn things we adults deem as important.
Summerhill was one of the first democratic schools and is the oldest one still in existence. Neill wrote a book with the same title expounding on his ideas and it generated a whole flurry of debate and interest that led to an explosion of “free schools” in the United States in the 1960’s.
Dan and Hanna Greenberg built on these ideas and established the Sudbury Valley School in 1968, and holding steadfast and true to its democratic principles, became the only school from that era still in existence today. Dan is also a prolific writer and has published many books expounding his ideas on education -- which I have written much about in past articles. These ideas have spread and there are now several Sudbury-model schools all over the United States and in other parts of the world.
Even though these ideas have existed for a long time -- in fact close to a century for Summerhill -- they seem to have made very little headway into the educational system. This, I see, is another “nature of the beast” problem. The democratic school model is so different from traditional education that it would require a massive shift, not just in thinking, but in implementation, training, and even infrastructure.
It would take a courageous, even heroic, public official to make such changes that would mean people losing their jobs because their skills no longer apply, or because they would become redundant. The system itself would be naturally against such a model even if shown that it works better and more efficiently than the current model.
Sudbury Valley School, for example, runs on less funding than it costs the American government to fund public education on a per student basis. Imagine how that savings would scale, or how that would apply to our country -- we who are always complaining that the education budget isn’t enough -- a huge part of which I believe is wasted on bureaucracy and unnecessary expenses.
But the light at the end of the tunnel is that more and more parents are becoming aware that the system simply doesn’t work, and are more willing to commit to a system that will ultimately benefit their children without stunting their natural curiosity and love for learning.
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