Sudbury Valley School was founded in 1968 in Framingham, Massachusetts by a handful of highly dedicated parents looking to form the kind of school they believed their kids deserved.
At SVS, people decide individually how they spend their time. Students decide what makes the most sense for them and pursue whatever interests they might have. They learn what, how, when, and if they want to. The school accepts kids ages four to nineteen who are completely able to mingle however they want to. Independence, trust and freedom combine to develop personal responsibility in a way that coercive schools never can.
Sudbury Valley School is also a participatory democracy for the students. Rules are made by the School Meeting which is composed of the entire student body and the staff members. Each person has the chance to speak on issues that are important to them and all decisions are made with a majority vote. When a student wants the school to spend money in a particular way, (s)he must convince the other voters that the expenditure makes sense. If enough of the community agrees, the purchase is made. The school meeting also awards annual employment contracts for the staff -- the students employ (hire and fire) the adults who work there.
Infractions of the rules are handled by the School Meeting's Judicial Committee. Students and staff work in rotation on the JC, serving to administer justice fairly. It is the job of the JC to investigate and punish perpetrators of offenses. Many SVS students and graduates remark on the pleasant efficiency of the Judicial Committee.
There is also an assembly of the (non-profit) corporation, which decides broad operating and fiscal matters. Parents, students, staff and some elected members make up the assembly. The assembly meets once annually under normal circumstances. The assembly satisfies a legal requirement of the corporate structure.
Sudbury Valley School offers what they call a high school diploma to the students who apply for one and then defend the thesis that they have "taken responsibility for preparing themselves to be effective adults in the larger community." The students present an explanation of why they are able to go out into the wider world and function as an adult to the members of the School Meeting who can award the diploma. They must also attend to the questions and concerns that arise from their audience during the presentation. Sometimes the SM will request that the student do further work before receiving the diploma.
SVS advertises and informs by publishing about their school and form of schooling. They sell many books and audio/video tapes about the school and philosophy as well as a few other miscellaneous items. They also provide support to startup groups in other areas who are opening Sudbury-model schools. There are at least 20 other Sudbury-model schools operating around the world, mostly in the US and Israel.
In the Sudbury Valley literature there are countless stories and explanations that are of interest to students, parents and educators. Some of these include:
Students at SVS learn to read when they are ready. Some of them are four and some are ten. In our culture, it eventually becomes obvious that reading is the key that unlocks virtually all knowledge. Because of this self-revelation and the absence of the common power struggles involved in coercive teaching of reading, kids tend to feel good about reading. Also, the long-time staff members at the school have been unable to identify a difference in the reading skills of their sixteen-year old students based on their starting age.
Danny Greenberg tells about students learning arithmetic. They invariably will eventually decide that those skills are important and so they set up a learning experience with one of the staff or older students. (Which the normal method for the initiation of formal learning opportunities.) The really striking part of this is that the entirety of mathematics through what is typically taught in the sixth grade in the US can be taught to a self-motivated ten year old with about 20 contact hours and some suggested homework. This is the conclusion after thirty years of teaching math this way -- not just one lone incident with a particularly gifted child. If this is so, why does a traditional school spend an hour each day for six years on the same result?
The power of non-coercive education can not be overstated. Students learn some particularly valuable skills at SVS that are completely neglected in the traditional classroom -- private or public. They learn self-directed responsibility. It's not just that they get to do what they want. The entire weight of responsibility for their future rests on their shoulders. They also learn to follow through on big tough projects because the things they do are all real-world projects that feel personally rewarding. In a traditional school, the curriculum breaks down and abstracts everything into learning tidbits that take exactly 47 minutes or less. Kids are often cited as not getting the big picture from this kind of handling. The experience of operating within a real democracy is highly instructive as well. Everyone who is interested learns how to work the system and what it means to be a participant in the governance of a small society. People sometimes say that the most common student activity at Sudbury Valley School is conversation and informal debate. How much better is a person at communicating when they have spent serious time through their youth having a broad assortment of discussions with a wide variety of people? In researching initiatives in vocational education, you find that industry complains more about the inability of new hires to communicate (speak publicly in a meeting, write professionally and simply explain their ideas) than any other single issue. SVS students must have a tremendous advantage in that way.
Some other miscellaneous interesting things about Sudbury Valley School include:
- The school has no entrance requirements; people are admitted on a first come, first served basis and there is no body of knowledge or position of privilege that must exist in order for inclusion.
- The tuition is lower than the local public schools spend per student and less than half of most private schools in the area.
- SVS is not equipped to handle many kinds of serious disabilities.
- The school offers no grades, transcripts, or other assessments; people know when they have reached their own goals.
- No SVS student has ever failed to gain admittance to the college of their choice.
Sounds pretty interesting!