Clearwater is one of about 30 schools that follow the philosophy of the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts. Such schools are sometimes called “free” and “democratic” schools, where students are responsible for their own learning and have a significant role in governing the school. They also have many parallels with “unschooling,” a movement embraced by some homeschooling families who don’t follow a set curriculum.
The writer goes on to describe what some of the students do with their time at the school and what some of the graduates have done after leaving Clearwater. There is the ubiquitious critic who:
[questions...] whether students at Sudbury schools truly learn what they need, and whether they are exposed to enough to figure out which subjects they might love. Even Alfie Kohn, a well-known author and harsh critic of public education, says Sudbury Valley is too radical for his taste. He prefers the Sudbury approach over what he considers public schools’ “enormously counterproductive practices like grades and standardized tests.” But he doesn’t think students learn best left entirely on their own.
“There’s a role for teachers to initiate possible avenues of inquiry, to spark interests that kids might not have had before. To coach and guide and observe,” he said. “I don’t take the view that the kids have to take the lead all the time. I think we miss a lot that way.”
Pondering these comments, I sense something missing in this view of child-led learning, as if there is some invisible essence that isn’t easily perceived from a spectator’s point of view. What is missed is that all such learning involves relationships with people of many ages and interests and accomplishments: parents, family, friends, mentors, and, in the case of a school like Clearwater, teachers who support and respect each child.
This kind of learning doesn’t rely on scope and sequence and testing and grading. It is informal and invaluable. It doesn’t preclude formal academic pursuits but encourages one to embrace the learning and adventure inherent in the human experience. Maybe that is the most important lesson of all.
Posted by Sandi