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Sudbury Schools... what do you think?
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xcriteria Offline
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Post: #1
Sudbury Schools... what do you think?

I attended AERO's annual conference for the first time over the last week, and one thing I got to experience was learning more about Sudbury/democratic schools.

I saw a discussion/Q&A panel with students from several democratic/free schools, and went to a session with students and staff from Hudson Valley Sudbury School.

All of this was incredibly interesting. School Survival has mentioned democratic schools on its alternatives page for many years, but until recently, I didn't know all that much about them. SoulRiser's attempts to run School Survival forums democratically at various points didn't exactly work out well, and we haven't had any members that I can recall at the moment from democratic schools, though if you've joined some of our hangouts over the past months, you might have talked to Dakota, who goes to one.

For those who aren't familiar, Sudbury schools are based on the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, MA, which was founded in 1968. Here's a video about Sudbury Valley:



Watch on YouTube

And here's an article about Sudbury/democratic schools: How Students Lead the Learning Experience at Democratic Schools

The AERO session I attended was specifically about Hudson Valley Sudbury School in Woodstock/Kingston, NY.

Hudson Valley enrolls students from ages 5 to 18, and it's a private school where parents pay tuition, though as with Sudbury schools in general, it's a lot less than most private schools. As a school, students are expected to attend every day during school hours, but there are no required classes or set curriculum. Students are expected to participate as members of a democratic community, which includes mostly-optional meetings to discuss issues. Each student and staff member has a vote at School Meeting. This means that students outnumber teachers with votes, and teachers themselves are hired (and sometimes fired) based on these meetings.

One aspect of this democratic model is that there are a set of rules, which can be voted on and changed based on the meetings. If anyone breaks the rules, others can write up the incident and the situation is discussed at Judiciary Committee (JC) by whoever chooses to attend. Any consequences are then voted on by those who are there.

When it comes to graduation, students at Hudson Valley have three choices. One, is to not do anything in particular. Another is to submit a statement and graduate based on a vote at a meeting. The third is to get an official NY State Regents diploma by taking exams in several subjects, as other schools in NY offer.

Staff don't impose any particular learning on students. Any classes are set up based on requests by students, and a lot of the learning occurs through conversation, and students just doing whatever they choose to do.

Other democratic/free schools have similar approaches, though details may vary a bit, and each school with these kinds of models has their own culture and ends up with somewhat different rules... those rules are generally based on the goal of maintaining a functional community that leaves each person free to learn and do what they want without disturbing others.

The Sudbury/democratic/free school model can be contrasted with the North Star Teens / Liberated Learners model, which is specifically for teens, doesn't have required attendance, and in most cases have a lot of classes and workshops offered by staff (or members) regardless of whether members ("students") ask for them... though they're always voluntary.

What do you all think? Would you go to a Sudbury/democratic school if you could?

My own view is that this model works well for some people, and has the overall benefits of learner-centric education, but I'd personally prefer an educational model that isn't actually a "school" -- in other words, something with optional attendance. This model may also not work with a population of students who are very disruptive and disrespectful, without some changes... and some have argued (and observed at some democratic/free schools) that the focus on meetings, rules, and consequences, even in an environment of mostly "do whatever you'd like" can end up being problematic.

(A recent variation on the free school model, initially formed out of a free school that ended up with some of these problems, is called Agile Learning Centers. ALCs have more of a focus on addressing problems through dialogue and try to keep meetings to a minimum, though they have a lot of the other elements of democratic/free schools.)

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(This post was last modified: 05-27-2015 10:15 PM by xcriteria.)
05-27-2015 10:07 PM
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robotjox Offline
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Post: #2
Sudbury Schools... what do you think?

I have mixed feelings about democratic schools. One of my friends runs one.

While they are in many respects superior to normal schools, they do suffer some of the same implicit short comings that democracy does - i.e. majority rule :-)
One aspect I am especially critical towards is the way punishment is conducted - if someone misbehaves there is a hearing with witnesses and so on. Afterwards the "guilty party" has herself to choose the punishment she thinks is reasonable. I don't know of this is common practice in all democratic schools, but it gives me the shivers :-)
(This post was last modified: 05-28-2015 12:44 AM by robotjox.)
05-28-2015 12:44 AM
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xcriteria Offline
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RE: Sudbury Schools... what do you think?

Yeah, agreed about the punishment aspect. I do get the sense that Judiciary Committees that hear any complaints people have, and issue punishments for violations of rules, are common practice in democratic schools, though of course that may vary.

Of course, if you don't break any rules, you have nothing to worry about. Smile

I think the approach Agile Learning Centers takes is interesting, like I mentioned above... I'll write more about that later.

Peter Gray & allies launching the Alliance for Self-directed Education

ASDE Newsletters: #1 Announcement | #2 History of ASDE | #6 Education Liberation


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05-28-2015 12:57 AM
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robotjox Offline
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Sudbury Schools... what do you think?

Yes, I will emphasize that I think Sudbury schools are a better alternative to school. I conducted some field studies there as part of my university project on school survival, and I sense that the children there thrive in ways they wouldn't in traditional schooling. Most of the kids I talked to had bad experiences from the public shools they had attended before they came to this Sudbury School.

Interestingly, Sudbury schools fall under homeschooling laws here in Denmark Smile
05-28-2015 01:09 AM
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xcriteria Offline
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RE: Sudbury Schools... what do you think?

Yeah, I hear again and again and I've seen it this last week, that young people who are in Sudbury schools and similar models of learner-centric, mixed age, freedom-based education are confident and capable in ways that are rare in factory-model schools. A big part of the difference is that they learn to interact with adults and others of any age as peers.

It's so messed up that people remain trapped in conventional schooling despite hating it, when these other models exist. A big part of the problem is simply that they don't exist in enough places... another snag in a lot of cases is that they usually require tuition.

That's why lisafromjackson and I are building Catalyst Learning Network, an online learning community that can replace school and help students convince their parents there's a better way. As we find more people who want out, I'm hoping we can inspire people to launch more of these learner-centric models.

Peter Gray & allies launching the Alliance for Self-directed Education

ASDE Newsletters: #1 Announcement | #2 History of ASDE | #6 Education Liberation


School Survival & Catalyst Learning Network featured on AlternativestoSchool's blog
“Mom, Dad, can I stop going to school?”

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when the Stakes are High

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05-28-2015 03:12 AM
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c00ldud3 Offline
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Post: #6
Sudbury Schools... what do you think?

One of the comments I found described my thoughts perfectly.

"The majority of the schools in the United States are authoritarian nightmares. Where every minute of every day of the child's life is regimented and controlled. These authoritarian nightmares called "public" schools are the real reason children and teens commit suicide at alarming rates and are [doing] drugs [and consuming alcohol]. Modern American public education is a failure and Sudbury style schools are a solution."

05-31-2015 02:49 AM
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brainiac3397 Offline
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Post: #7
Sudbury Schools... what do you think?

Decent in tone, totally biased in word.

It should be noted that a)USA is highest for young ppl suicide. b)Drugs and alcohol have nothing to do with school(please tell me how it's not the whole libertarian-anarchist-socialist hippy-pothead-MTV Party culture that's permeated the younger folk for nearly a decade causing this alcohol and drug consumption).

Let's stick to facts non? We start spouting angry emotional bullshit, and nobody gonna take you seriously.

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(06-14-2013 08:02 AM)Potato Wrote:  watch the fuq out, we've got an "intellectual" over here.

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05-31-2015 10:17 AM
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Money morkel Offline
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Post: #8
Sudbury Schools... what do you think?

Sudbury schools are based off of Sudbury valley school in Framingham, MA, which was founded in 1968. It is a democratic school that is run by the School Meeting, where all students and staff have one vote. The School Meeting decides on all the day-to-day running of the school, the school rules, and any hiring or firing of the staff.
There are no grades, no tests, no scores. Classes are held only by request. The staff don't encourage the students, but they do provide resources if requested. The students are responsible for deciding what they want to do, and they can pretty much do anything they want all day.
06-29-2015 04:48 PM
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