We’re sure you’ll agree that the most important question is: what is all he needs to know? We have been sold a bill of goods, packaged as ‘core curriculum.’ Most well educated adults do not know or remember anything on a ‘core curriculum’ test… that’s how important it is.
We live in an Information Age. Information doubles daily, and the entire so-called ‘core curriculum’ is small blip on today’s page of information. Even a five year old realizes how absurd it is to insist that everyone still learn that same blip of information.
When a child at a Sudbury school discovers his own passion, there is a flurry of learning, discussing, researching, discovery that takes place. If, for example, he wants to learn math to contribute to his current passion, he can request a math class. Research at Sudbury Valley School documents that children learn all of the math that we teach in traditional elementary schools in 20 hours when they want to learn it for their own purposes.
Research with graduates of Sudbury schools has never indicated any lack of knowledge on their part; quite the contrary, they have not only achieved success in their chosen fields and consider themselves to be well-rounded, well-educated adults, but they are also happy, contented human beings.
All children are born curious and self-motivated. This is how they learn to walk, talk, use computers (better than most adults) and explore the world around them. Unfortunately, traditional schooling often puts a damper on this motivation by requiring what, when, how and where children will learn. Often, by 2nd or 3rd grade in traditional schools, it becomes clear that children are bored and they do not like school, or they are becoming ‘people pleasers’ and ‘perfectionists,’ or they are angry, or they consider themselves to be ‘dumb’ or ‘losers,’ or they are called ‘unmotivated’ and often given other labels. For some children, these problems happen much earlier.
Remove a child to a supportive, free environment once again, and they will soon re-discover their innate curiosity, their joy in discovery, their personal interests and passions. This is called the ‘unschooling’ process in Sudbury lingo. It is fascinating to watch. There is usually an intense boredom that sets in prior to this re-discovery. Children or teens who are used to being told by the teacher what to do have to readjust their whole being – thinking, feeling, behaving – to a free and supportive environment once again. When that adjustment is made, they soar. There are no labels because there are no problems when they are directing their learning. Parents cannot believe that the child they once considered ‘unmotivated’ is the same person who is running out the door to school!
Traditional schooling has given all of us a misunderstanding of the value of play in childhood by relegating it to a place of nonimportance in the child’s school day. Nothing could be further from the truth or more harmful to child development.
Physically, children need to move, and current research indicates that they learn more when they are moving. Play almost always involves movement. It also involves an intensity and focus that are precursors to the same level of performance that children will show when they find passions and their career interests.
Further, creativity demands play. We play with ideas; mangers play with new processes; scientists play with hypotheses and experiments; inventors play with new toys, vehicles, products; marketing professionals play with new slogans; and pioneers in all fields play with finding new ways.
Children learn all sorts of things from each other during play. Listen to a group of any age: they learn that there is more than one way to do something; they discuss politics from their family’s perspective and hear how other families think; they dream about the future and share their dreams; they take charge one day and follow the next; they are honest with each other about their feelings; they examine the workings of machines; they hear about a friend witnessing her baby sister being born; they hatch a plan to protect their inventions; they help younger children with a project; they find a way no matter how long it takes… the list and the learnings are endless.
Children also learn about society through their interaction with others in play. They learn the importance of rules and boundaries, the importance of working it out, the value of all members of the group. They develop skills in leadership, initiative, cooperation, responsibility, collaboration, fair play, compassion and justice.
Most importantly, they learn all of these things in the process. They learn experientially because it is part of their play. That is very different than the focus of traditional schooling which believes that it is their job to teach these things, usually through manipulated activities or to ‘please’ the teacher. Children ‘own’ what they learn on their own and most children discard the majority of what is taught to them when they did not ask to be taught. (Teenagers, probably more so.)
When she decides she wants to go to college and chooses the college she wants, the experience of all Sudbury schools is that there will be no stopping her. Read the story in Free at Last of the Sudbury Valley School student who decided she wanted to go to Wesleyan University after the application deadline had closed, and how she accomplished it. Like her, most Sudbury graduates get into their first choice of college because of who they are, not what a transcript says. And today, most colleges, including Harvard University, have a specific Admissions Officer assigned to interview students who were home schooled or who attended free, democratic schools.