Junior Knows Best

Public, private, parochial, charter, magnet, small-by-design,
homeschool. With the array of educational options for kids these
days, it can be overwhelming to decide who the right people to
teach your children are. The Sudbury Valley School (SVS) in
Framingham, Massachusetts, insists that the best educators are
actually children themselves. Hara Estroff Marano, writing for
Psychology Today, finds that kids doing
what they do best — playing — is a highly effective teaching
method. Writes Marano: ‘Psychologists believe that play cajoles
people toward their human potential because it preserves all the
possibilities nervous systems tend to otherwise prune away.’ The
school, which has served as the model for some three dozen
others, encourages play, as well as other activities that
facilitate children taking control of their own academic
destinies and enjoying the resulting confidence.

With 25 hours of mandatory attendance each week, staff members
(not ‘teachers’) on hand to help interested children, and textbooks
available, the Sudbury schools are equipped to help the students
map their own courses of learning. Nathan Conz of the
Hartford Advocate, encapsulates the
tack this way: ‘There’s no need to force material down a kid’s
throat, especially when it’s a subject the kid isn’t interested
in. In time, a student will learn what he or she needs to know.’
Conz visited the Mountain Laurel Sudbury School (MLSS) in New
Britain, Connecticut. Upon observing two playful students, he
declares: ‘They’re free-range children. And that’s not a knock.
The model seems to have served them well.’

Conz points to MLSS’s first graduate, Nick Marshall-Butler, a
16-year-old whose SAT scores are in the 90th percentile and who
plans to take preparatory classes at Harvard Extension. Marano
finds that while only about half of the students at SVS go directly
to college, most get there eventually, echoing the Sudbury
philosophy of bucking tradition and finding one’s own path to
educational goals. Many of the 800 graduates of SVS have been
successful in the gamut of professional options, with 42 percent
going on be entrepreneurs. If there’s anything to laud, says
Marano, it’s that most graduates ‘are unusually resilient,’ ‘feel
that they are in control of their [destinies],’ and ‘lead deeply
satisfying lives.’

Despite such successes, it’s still tough to convince parents to
do away with teachers, classes, homework, and grades. Students may
come to a Sudbury school for a number of reasons: failure to adhere
to test-intensive schools, lack of social interaction in
traditional schools, or a propensity for kinesthetic learning. And
Sudbury’s model is not an option for all. With tuition at $6,000
per student, parents may be taking a leap of faith on a school
system that doesn’t teach reading. ‘The youngest and longest-term
students are largely from well-educated families that have the
confidence to buck convention,’ writes Marano.

Whatever their reasons, some parents are fully embracing the
Sudbury model. Jeffrey Hohl, a father of six, sold his house to
move closer to SVS. ‘You don’t realize until you’re an adult how
natural it is to learn, how interesting the world really is. We
adults think we know how to do it and that children don’t and
therefore we have to teach them how,’ he says. ‘After spending many
years in the business world, it dawned on me that you learn best
what you really want to learn.’

Go there >>
Class Dismissed

Go there too >>
Free-Range Kids

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