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Go To School, Do Nothing.
March 4, 2004 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Go to school and do nothing. The Sudbury approach to learning is one in which the kids can do whatever they want. Literally. Want to play games all day? Fine. Want to read comics all day? Fine. Want to watch movies? Fine. From the FAQ: What happens if a student doesn't do anything? It is actually impossible to do nothing. I think what most people are concerned about is students doing what looks like nothing; for example playing video games, playing magic cards, reading all day, etc. The truth is that everything the students do has value. Take video games for example; this "teaches" reading skills, social skills, the ability to concentrate and focus, and, depending on the game, history, strategy, math or science. Is this a good way to educate kids?
posted by Atom12 (71 comments total)

 
it's ok when you can get a job in daddy's company whatever your qualifications.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:55 AM on March 4, 2004


It seems like humans left to their own devices might not end up with the best foundation in subjects we've deemed to be necessary after, you know, several thousand years of focused intellectual activity.

That's just me, though.
posted by jon_kill at 11:58 AM on March 4, 2004


I graduated from both an elementary and high-school just like this and it was amazing -- I think I would have ended up a total failure except for my experiences with school.
posted by doctorow at 11:59 AM on March 4, 2004


So, doctorow, you failed at everything, except for doing nothing at school?
posted by jon_kill at 12:02 PM on March 4, 2004


Reading all day is not doing nothing. It's not a great preparation for droid-hood but it's an excellent educational strategy.
posted by rdr at 12:02 PM on March 4, 2004


The way that would work is because kids get bored and run out of options inside an enclosed building, you hand them a book and they start to take interest in it by themselves. (Just give them a limited amount of video games and movies so there comes a point in time where they have no other options) I think it would work pretty well if you had really good teachers that could gently steer students in directions that would coincide with the interests of the students. I waited my whole life to get to college thinking I could choose my classes then and learn about what I'm really interested in, but when I got there I realized there were all of these required classes and other bureaucratic measures that really made what I was interested in not so fun anymore. It seems that most people end up being good at a particular thing, and if they had a choice would prefer a job in which they could apply this talent because it is enjoyable to them. I think to be really good at something, you have to enjoy it. The problem is, there would have to be colleges set up that would foster this type of education. Instead of professors, make them more like apprentices.
posted by banished at 12:04 PM on March 4, 2004


I have an aunt who went to one of these schools. She ended up being quite successful (and not in her daddy's company, either). She later got her masters in something or other related to printing. On the other hand I knew a guy in high school who had gone to a school like this and learned nothing. So it depends on the kid. But those it works for, it works well for.
posted by Grod at 12:12 PM on March 4, 2004


Sudbury has been discussed before on MeFi, at length.
posted by anastasiav at 12:12 PM on March 4, 2004


I think the results the Sudbury schools achieve speak for themselves.

The wording of this post also neglected to mention one of the other really interesting things about these schools — they are run democratically, i.e., a council on which each student and teacher has one vote makes budgetary decisions, hiring decisions, etc.

Most of the alternative schools of the 70s haven't made it this long; that the Sudbury schools have, that the movement is still growing, and that they have so many happy graduates, is telling.

Me, I was unschooled for most of my high school years — I think I turned out OK. I didn't spend my time doing nothing, because nothing is boring; I read a lot, did a six-month apprenticeship in tall-ship rigging in Manhattan, bought a piece-of-shit sailboat and sailed halfway up the East Coast, wrote for a dot-com startup, and met lots of cool people. And no, daddy didn't get me any of the jobs I held then or since.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 12:14 PM on March 4, 2004


I think for gifted kids that are completely bored with normal schooling, this is great (it worked for aaron). For most kids, I think they need the structure of typical education to help them focus and teach basic life skills (like grammar, etc).

Think about it: as adults we basically get to do anything we want after work before we go to sleep, and how do most of us spend our time? Do most of us sit around and read book after book on a path of continual self-improvement or do most of us watch some TV and play some video games to goof off?
posted by mathowie at 12:15 PM on March 4, 2004


"...as adults we basically get to do anything we want after work before we go to sleep, and how do most of us spend our time?"

mr_crash_davis has posted 98 links and 2945 comments to MetaFilter
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posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:28 PM on March 4, 2004 [2 favorites]


While I don't think an extreme lack of direction is the way to go, it does show that our current system of teaching all students the same way isn't always the best policy.

I know I wish I had more options and a push to do different things in high school besides the same old shit.
posted by angry modem at 12:28 PM on March 4, 2004


I think to be really good at something, you have to enjoy it.

Indeed.
posted by trharlan at 12:29 PM on March 4, 2004


This probably wouldn't work for everyone. On the other hand, the standard model doesn't work for everyone either. Choice is a good thing.
posted by languagehat at 12:37 PM on March 4, 2004


I think the results the Sudbury schools achieve speak for themselves

They can't.

You'd need to deal with a strong selection effect first. It's not like Sudbury-school students are a random sample of the population of American kids -- they select themselves in, or are selected in by parents. Parents who are much more likely to be well-off, much more likely to be highly educated themselves, much more likely to value education, much more likely to ``complete'' the kid's education at home; in short, much more likely to be the children of a teacher's dream parents than is a randomly-selected child.

The two relevant questions are whether or not Sudbury-style schools produce better results than other schools full of dream parents (or alternatively whether or not they produce better results given children of dream parents as inputs), and whether or not that style of schooling is better-suited or worse-suited to more common parents who don't place much value on education, per se, and who aren't going to be spending the same amount of time teaching their children at home, and are more likely to be single-parent households, and all that jazz.

What I see here is that the children of well-off, highly-educated education junkies are likely to do well in and after school. Well, duh.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:01 PM on March 4, 2004


Do most of us sit around and read book after book on a path of continual self-improvement or do most of us watch some TV and play some video games to goof off?

Interesting point. I can goof off for several hours (like that space between work and sleep) but after that I get re-energized to do something useful.

Therefore, if I was in one of these environments, I'd probably do nothing for a bit, but when the novelty wore off I'd try to make the best of it.

In fact, I started my own personal underground comics class and zine in high school. I remember slacking off sometimes, but overall the freedom it gave me made me work harder.
posted by jragon at 1:05 PM on March 4, 2004


While I agree the standard model is not for everyone, I fail to see how this model addresses some vital facets of a standard education. In most aspects of life there are unpleasant, even boring things to do which are a vital part of succeeding. This kind of education reduces ones tolerance for doing the necessary work.
I had a year structured like this and I completely lost what little academic discipline I had developed by that time. I no longer could be bothered taking notes (because I was just used to listening intently), or doing homework (except at the last minute) because it was mostly rote exercises. I managed to coast through the rest of my primary and secondary education with minimal problems because I did read a lot (usually instead of homework), and I was intelligent enough to pass the tests without studying. My wake up call came my first year in college, where I tried the same approach to a double major in Comp Sci/EE. Result was a first semester GPA lower than half of Delta House and the loss of my scholarship. It took me the next 5 years in a different major to get back to a respectable level.
I'm not saying this is the case for everyone, but this kind of education can be actively harmful to certain people's lives, even if they come out of it "well-rounded" or "well-educated."
posted by bashos_frog at 1:11 PM on March 4, 2004


Actually, this sounds exactly like many home schools.

From my experience with homeschooling my three for a four year period, I would have to say this works great for a particular type of kid. My son in particular thrived in many academic areas, particularly history which he developed a strong interest in. He did hate to write, but when we put him in a public high school he wrote as well or better than his peers. (He now has finally gained his appointment to the Air Force Academy [/brag}

However my youngest daughter thrives in a structured environment. She hated being homeschooled and only did what she was instructed to do-she wasn't lazy, just wanted the structure. She fit very well into a traditional school setting when we placed her back in. Her sister was okay either way.

I think for the types of students who are very intelligent, bored to tears with regular school, and who have a greater than average drive to accomplish tasks, this type of school would be better than the ordinary type. But I also think that there is something to be gained in learning how to deal with boring repetitious tasks, and in dealing with meaningless bureocracy. Real life is all too abundantly filled with these scenarios.
posted by konolia at 1:19 PM on March 4, 2004


bureaucracy

I used to know how to spell.
posted by konolia at 1:27 PM on March 4, 2004


I went to a horribly inept and bankrupt rural public school which was nonetheless run by religious fundamentalists. No foreign languages or AP classes, but daily prayers over the loudspeaker. Basically, no one there taught anything, so it was s similar environment to the Sudbury model in some ways. I knew a few kids who flourished, because they put time normally put into rote nonsense into independent inquiry. Most of the kids just smoked behind the gym, though, and our graduation rate was the worst in the state. There was a proud moment for my alma mater when our former quarterback and our former homecoming king were killed in a meth-lab explosion.

So there you have it. Your kids are just going to explode anyway, so who cares what kind of school they go to?

On a more serious note, I think the above comparison to homseschooling makes ROU's observation about self-selectivity all the more relevant. My girlfriend was homeschooled, and I can't imagine that any other environment would have fostered her intellectual curiousity in the same way. On the other hand, can you imagine if the parents that sent their kids to school to peddle crystal meth for them had home-schooled them instead? Yikes. Although I would always stop short of advocating for the removal of individual and family choices, it is interesting to think of what would happen if the highly motivated Sudbury and homeschooling parents were an asset to the public school system instead of to their respective alternatives.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 1:27 PM on March 4, 2004


At the risk of derailing, I have to take issue with this statement:
It is actually impossible to do nothing.
For most people, perhaps. For the clinically depressed, it is very possible to sit and do nothing for several hours.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:27 PM on March 4, 2004


I used to know how to spell.

You didn't homeschool yourself did you? :)
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 1:28 PM on March 4, 2004


i'm sorry if my post came across as too flippant. thankfully ROU_Xenophobe said it better than I ever could.
posted by andrew cooke at 1:37 PM on March 4, 2004


...one in which the kids can do whatever they want.


Have they read Lord of the Flies?
posted by gimonca at 1:38 PM on March 4, 2004


SUNY has Empire State College which is only independent study (disclaimer: my wife taught there for a while and I did some freelance evaluation work for them).

It was great for students that could be self-directed and didn't need the structure of a normal college classroom to remain motivated and to finish the assignments. If they weren't, they flunked out quickly or simply never came back (which was essentially the same thing). The various experiences people have shared here sound similar. The Sudbury concept will be ideal for some, and lousy for others. I would definitely have been one of the latter.
posted by tommasz at 1:40 PM on March 4, 2004


Do most of us sit around and read book after book on a path of continual self-improvement or do most of us watch some TV and play some video games to goof off?

Me, I watch some TV. Discovery, History Channel. Point being, watching TV can indeed be self-improvement, as long as you're steering clear of Survivor and American Idol. I also hack my TiVo, to make my TV experience more tailored to my experience. Or I get bored with TiVo and turn an old PC into a unix based PBX. Or go take helicopter flight lessons. And I did these sorts of things as a teenager too (well, at least until I took a few years off to feed chemicals to my brain, but that was more the fault of Mom being emotionally nuts than poor schooling).
posted by ehintz at 1:46 PM on March 4, 2004


In most aspects of life there are unpleasant, even boring things to do which are a vital part of succeeding. This kind of education reduces ones tolerance for doing the necessary work.

People say this every time the Sudbury school or other "alternative" education models come up, and I just don't believe it. There's a world of difference between being forced to do tedious, unpleasant work for its own sake, and choosing to undertake a tedious, unpleasant job as a means of achieving something interesting or satisfying. People put up with the boring part because they've learned how to look forward to the fun part, not because they've learned to suppress their curiousity and sense of play in order to avoid punishment for disrupting class or failing to complete assignments.

It seems like humans left to their own devices might not end up with the best foundation in subjects we've deemed to be necessary after, you know, several thousand years of focused intellectual activity.

If those subjects truly are necessary, it's because they are foundational tools which underly many fields of study - reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic being the classic examples. As such, kids who want to learn about other things will eventually *have* to learn these skills in order to satisfy their curiousities. It always worked that way for me, anyway, and most of what I actually remember from my basic education are things I dug into on my own.

I'm sure it's at least partly an individual thing, but the Sudbury model appeals to my way of thinking and learning so strongly that it's hard to imagine that it could possibly do any worse than the traditional learn-by-rote, learn-because-you-must system.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:06 PM on March 4, 2004


Hmmmm, that describes why my city needs to pay people minimum wage to study for their GED's. Not diplomas, since those are long past, but GED's.

Gotcha.
posted by Samizdata at 2:08 PM on March 4, 2004


Samizdata-- when you say that your city "needs to pay people minimum wage to study..." do you mean that they currently do that, or that they ought to do that?
posted by trharlan at 2:18 PM on March 4, 2004


Sounds like Summerhill.
posted by drezdn at 2:27 PM on March 4, 2004


Sometimes there are things that give us pleasure that are things we would never have chosen for ourselves. I think the Sudbury kids miss out on such experiences.

As an example, I offer the fact that it was compulsory for every student at the Colorado School of Mines, which I attended, to take an introductory geology course. I hated it at first and thought "what bullshit", but found to my surprise that the class was far more interesting than I had imagined, and quite enjoyable to boot.

I never would have picked up a geology text purely of my own volition. I would have missed out.
posted by beth at 2:35 PM on March 4, 2004


banished: I think to be really good at something, you have to enjoy it.

Absolutely. I love what I do. I am reasonably good at it too. Certainly I love it enough to care greatly to get better at it. I hate office politics, and the endless bureaucracy. But I love the things I do in my work (database web applications). It will keep me in my profession, if not the particular job I am in at the moment.
posted by SpaceCadet at 2:36 PM on March 4, 2004


A couple of comments:

First: Although he doesn't need defending (and doesn't know me personally), I feel compelled to point out that Doctorow is actually quite accomplished, thank you. If you don't know his fiction, then maybe you know his website.

Second: Tommasz, I want your wife's job: teacher at an all-independent study school. Sounds like easy money!
posted by ubi at 2:45 PM on March 4, 2004


It depends what kind of higher academic experience you expect the student to have. I went to an elementary school very like this one, and then to a relatively rigorous junior high and high school, for which I found I'd been poorly prepared by my elementary school's anarchic "self-regulated" pedagogical style.

This school takes kids through age 19, so maybe those that stay right through will be mature and independent and well-equipped to go to college and be self-directed. But a child not prepared before age 12 or so to perform arbitrary makework, alone, for abstract rewards, in polite deference to unquestionable authorities may not do well in the traditional high school environment...
posted by nicwolff at 4:33 PM on March 4, 2004


Uh, yes, I'm still a little bitter.
posted by nicwolff at 4:34 PM on March 4, 2004


Traditional primary and secondary schools only really exist in order to put children somewhere everyday while their parents are at work. To babysit them. The experience would be horrible, except that you learn how to socialize, and sometimes get good teachers who inspire you to get an education in spite of the atmosphere.

So, I think it's a false dichotomy when you say that "doing nothing" at a Sudbury school is somehow worse than going through the motions at a regular school. Hell, it's quite conceivable to get through high school without doing much of anything--certainly without learning anything valuable--and being infected by an enormous amount of misplaced hatred for academia that keeps you from continuing your education inside or outside of school.
posted by Hildago at 4:34 PM on March 4, 2004


Sounds like pagan hippie camp montessori school.
posted by the fire you left me at 4:36 PM on March 4, 2004


There's a world of difference between being forced to do tedious, unpleasant work for its own sake, and choosing to undertake a tedious, unpleasant job as a means of achieving something interesting or satisfying.

Yes, and I'm sure a child is perfectly equipped to delay gratification months or even years of their own volition.
posted by kindall at 4:48 PM on March 4, 2004


This might be a good idea, but I'm a bit skeptical about schemes that rely on the assumption that humans are, somehow, not looking for the maximum reward for the minimum expenditure of energy.

Let's get some facts.
How many of these kids pick up books on calculus or linear algebra? How many of these kids have gone on to invent a new kind of efficient solar power?
posted by spazzm at 4:53 PM on March 4, 2004


I agree with languagehat (and others) on this one. I would have loved this and think it (or some variation thereof) should be an option for kids.
posted by rushmc at 4:59 PM on March 4, 2004


Sounds like it would be fun, but it is really good preparation for the lives of factory/service industry/office drudgery that await most people?

Not everybody's capable of being a rocket scientist or a poet. And toilets need to be cleaned and burgers need to be flipped and files need to be collated and data needs to be entered.

That's what ordinary education is for. Birth, School, Work, Death. Hell, I think that even the poets and rocket scientists should get at least a taste of that just so they can have some perspective.
posted by jonmc at 5:49 PM on March 4, 2004


Being a teacher (well, in one of my career paths, anyway), I am inclined to think that good teachers are absolutely essential, though they are few. That does nothing to invalidate some of the ideas expressed above, in favour of this kind of education for those who can benefit from it, though.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:07 PM on March 4, 2004


That's what ordinary education is for. Birth, School, Work, Death, Hell.

Yep, ordinary education leads straight to damnation.

Sorry, jonmc, couldn't resist.
posted by spazzm at 6:22 PM on March 4, 2004


Perhaps, jonmc, someone educated in such a fashion as to encourage independent thought and pursuit of one's own interests, even if he or she ends up with a less-than-challenging occupation, will still have a much more enjoyable and fullfilling life outside of work than someone who's teachers' main goal was to keep him or her quiet and docile for 12 years.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:24 PM on March 4, 2004


Jon, would you like to rephrase your statement so that it doesn't sound like you're advocating keeping people ignorant in order to ensure that we have a large under-class to keep the bourgeoise comfortable? Or is that what you actually meant?
posted by Hildago at 6:24 PM on March 4, 2004


.... :)
posted by Hildago at 6:28 PM on March 4, 2004


.... %->o/-|>D
posted by jimmy at 6:41 PM on March 4, 2004


That's what ordinary education is for. Birth, School, Work, Death. Hell, I think that even the poets and rocket scientists should get at least a taste of that just so they can have some perspective.

I'm starting to think Jon's actually a Goth, but in flannel-and-jeans drag. Non trans-gendered so much as trans-genred. Heh.

Also, one of my favorite songs from the very obscure but much loved Vancouver '80 pseudo-folk duo (+1) No Fun was called Work, Drink, Fuck, Die. Very funny, and a killer chorus.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:44 PM on March 4, 2004


I'm starting to think Jon's actually a Goth, but in flannel-and-jeans drag. Non trans-gendered so much as trans-genred. Heh.

Bite your tongue, wonderfowl.

Actually "Birth, School, Work, Death." was a late '80's hit for the Godfathers, if you must know.

Jon, would you like to rephrase your statement so that it doesn't sound like you're advocating keeping people ignorant in order to ensure that we have a large under-class to keep the bourgeoise comfortable? Or is that what you actually meant?

Hildago, I've done nothing but the jobs I described all my life, so that's the last thing I meant. But the reality is that life isn't Lake Wobegone and not everybody's above average, and also there's all kinds of jobs, most of which are not especially intersting or glamorous that have to be done. I think we shouldn't fill people's heads with chimeras like "fulfillment" and "purpose." It's just feeding people false hope. That's sure as hell what it did for me.

But what convential education taught me is: how to endure boredom, how to minimize effort, hoe to get over on authority, and how to deal with diverse and difficult people.
posted by jonmc at 7:18 PM on March 4, 2004


That's what ordinary education is for. Birth, School, Work, Death.

What an utterly repellent thought. I could not possibly disagree more. I am sorry you have had a bad experience with eduation, Jon, but we needn't formalize it as a factory for producing lowest common denominator individuals.
posted by rushmc at 7:23 PM on March 4, 2004


Well is there a model if the model is absent ? If I can do anything, I could as well reinvent the wheel one thousand times, or I could just sit an watch the flowers grow. Anything goes.

For instace, I know some "kid" of age 15-16 who is definitely smart but doesn't even -bother- to learn more; he's "happy" with what he has got (provided by family)
and family is gently "pushing" him to find a way he likes, to do something that in contemporary society is going to pay you at least a certain amount of money, to learn something more interesting then moving object from point A to point B, which a well trained ape could do.

The truth is that everything the students do has value. Take video games for example; this "teaches" reading skills, social skills, the ability to concentrate and focus, and, depending on the game, history, strategy, math or science.

This is total bullshit. One could play videogames for years and may not develop any interest at all on how videogames are made ; at a certain point, if you do not show the kid that there is something behind what it sees, he may as well not see it or not care enough to see it, only because the inner structure is not evident.

For instance, I deeply hated math when I was younger. Deeply. Then I met a teacher who was able to present maths to me in a way that thrilled me and sparked interest, while I later recognized that the initial way math was presented to me was utterly insane, in a way in which axioms fall from above and you are taught that you -must- follow axioms without further questioning ; disproportionate punishment (luckly, not physical) was administered (like for instace " you ass you don't understand 2^3, you constant failure").

So at times is teachers fault (teaching is very very hard, believe me if you never teached a problematic kid you haven't got the faintest idea) , but other times is kid not intentional fault; the fault being that of thinking with wrong assumptions and not recognizing them as wrong because the kid simply doesn't already recognize the nature of the fault (for instace, kids that hate math usually find maths not boring, but untolerable and they can't explain why, they sometime refuse to be exposed to math and forcing them is useless)

So I guess that letting the kid doing anything he wants is good for detecting kid natural interests and attitudes ; but at a certain point the kid must be stimulated, must be shown there is something that is NOT superficially evident and that he may be interested into ; if he shows interest, that interest must be exploited by the teacher who is supposed to help the kid overcome the problems that (many times) are counter-intuitive (for instance it is counter intuitive that the earth is round, because you see the earth as flat and you hardly can go in space to see it isn't flat at all).

Just letting kids do what they want _forever_ is a lost bet, unless one is so _lucky_ the kid actually learns to do something not trivial or invented or discovered one million times.
posted by elpapacito at 7:34 PM on March 4, 2004


we needn't formalize it as a factory for producing lowest common denominator individuals.

No, but we need to be realistic, too. Don't fill people's heads with visions of granduer when chances are they'll spend their adult years saying "paper or plastic."

I read a lot for my own edification, but I realize that left completely to my own devices, like the kids in this article, I'd sit on my ass listening to records and scarfing Ho-Ho's. That's just how I am. That's how most people are.

The pursuit of higher knowledge is dandy, but the toilet still needs cleaning. And at least one of the purposes of education is to prepare people for life and life isn't usually about walking through the clouds looking for deep meaning. For the majority of the human race it's about bare survival. For a lot of the rest, it's simply about doing the grunt work to keep the world funcyioning. People need to be prepared for that, too.
posted by jonmc at 7:35 PM on March 4, 2004


Other than listening to Bad Religion, this is the only place where I see people using the word 'dichotomy' in a sentence. I hope that counts for something.
posted by Keyser Soze at 7:48 PM on March 4, 2004


I've seen public school, private school, boarding school, and "hippie weirdo commune" school. I'll take the alternative school every time. Sure, I learned things in the other environments, but I learned things that mattered to *me* at the alternative school. (And for the record, I did well in college and subsequent years.)

Here in Texas public schools, they're making 1st graders take standardized tests, so their entire year is spent drilling for this fill-in-the-bubble form. To make sure that the kids meet the "No Kid Left Behind" criteria for the school to receive it's funding, they've eliminated recess, field trips, play time, art and music. Pretty much, they trap these 6 year olds in a desk for 8 hours...and then wonder why all these kids are being diagnosed with ADD and hyperactivity.

When my son is old enough to consider school, I'll probably home school if a suitable alternative school isn't available. I think it's a crime to stifle the mind or the energy of a child. The school system is designed not to educate, but to create conformity. Conformity of thought, conformity of behavior, hell...even conformity of dress.

Knowledge and education are free for the taking by just observing the world. You can teach physics by feeding the ducks, you can teach geometry and astronomy by setting up a telescope. You can teach history by visiting archeological sites. You can teach a love of the written word by reading to them, with them, listening to them read to you...pulling out the Shakespeare and performing your own comedy. There's an entire culture out there waiting to be explored and learned.

I just don't see any reason to trap their little bodies in desks and force them to color inside the lines when there's so much more to life than that.
posted by dejah420 at 9:27 PM on March 4, 2004


Well, Jon, what do you think about education for education's sake? Or perhaps education for democracy's sake: training a more qualified crop of voters. I still think it's better to have better schools than not.
posted by Hildago at 10:25 PM on March 4, 2004


Alternative school for me was like a breath of fresh air after normal school, reminding me that learning doesn't have to be drudgery. Learning is not one size fits all, nor should it be.
posted by biscotti at 10:39 PM on March 4, 2004


There's an alternative school-type place around here called North Star Center (formerly Pathfinder) that's a mini-school/social center for kids 13-18. Started by two disgruntled schoolteachers. Seems like all of these places are in Massachusetts. First of its particular kind, though a couple others are cropping up from its model. Around 45 people, and the model is to keep education around that size - they would franchise if they got too popular rather than growing, as the student body of a few dozen is part of the point.

It's open 4 days a week and participants are legally homeschooled. $2500 a year, but there's a sliding scale and you can do work (clerical etc.) to help pay. You can use it however you want - technically you can just attend one interesting class there, or you can go all week and treat it like school. There are a 2 or 3 fully paid employees, mostly a volunteer or semi-volunteer basis. Teachers are former schoolteachers - retired professors, "expert" guest lecturers, etc. Examples of classes that were provided when I was there are literature, geology, creative writing, music improvisation, number theory, and nonclassical logic. More than one of those listed came and went during my stay - I'd estimate the class roster changes completely every 4 or 5 months, save for standards like Literature. Since the idea is to be tailored and interactive, and all the classes are electorate (and you can just walk in and out of classes, though of course that's not looked upon well in general), the level of the classes varies a lot. It's hit and miss - difficulty ranges from nonexistent to Senior college course level. Overall, it's a good model, and with a system for providing just a bit more real, enforced education like a school fitted on it would be the ideal education system IMO. It's cheaper, too, on a cost-per-student basis - though it's hard to imagine what hundreds of thousands of semiautonomous 50-person schools dotting the nation would look like ;)

I haven't had much exposure to the "large free school" idea, really. I went to a Charter school as a kid for like one grade (second), but most Charter schools aren't very radical anyway.
posted by abcde at 12:00 AM on March 5, 2004


Also, for people who argue that their kids need structure: even at age 4, the abject, rabid need kids have for socialization and structure can't usually be explained as a natural tendency. It's an idea that propogates very efficiently and the trick IMO is to try to keep your kids from being contaminated by it. I'm not exactly saying kids need to learn "individualism" - I just mean kids acquire a lust for peer groups and organized days very early and it gets imprinted pretty strongly. If you homeschool (or otherwise progressively educate) a kid in the first place, it helps to avoid that need for structure in the first place. The correct attitude toward authority and the social norm is to view it as a fact to work with, not as revered or as an enslaving opponent. Kids who tend, naturally or by imitation, to seek it out should be especially guided away from it if anything.
posted by abcde at 12:13 AM on March 5, 2004


Yes, and I'm sure a child is perfectly equipped to delay gratification months or even years of their own volition.

Of course not; but it does not follow that forcing a kid to do boring things for no good reason will help them learn how to delay gratification as a means to an end.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:42 AM on March 5, 2004


wow! finally a high school that truly prepares students for college!
posted by magikeye at 1:49 AM on March 5, 2004


TRHarlan:
They do so currently. Out of public funds. Makes me a bit sorry that I actually graduated unassisted.

Step 1 - Fail high school.
Step 3 - PROFIT!
posted by Samizdata at 3:32 AM on March 5, 2004


FWIW, I suspect the Sudbury students are not all as wealthy as one might think. Sudbury (and most of its imitators) also has an interesting policy (or did last I checked) that tuition will not exceed per-student public school funding in that district, i.e., the school itself doesn't have any more money to work with than the public schools do.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 6:34 AM on March 5, 2004


Don't fill people's heads with visions of granduer when chances are they'll spend their adult years saying "paper or plastic."

Yes, because that's something you so often hear people with Ph.D.s saying...
posted by rushmc at 7:50 AM on March 5, 2004


Yes, because that's something you so often hear people with Ph.D.s saying...

Who are an infinitessimally small portion of the population, rushmc. We're talking about grade-school kids here. The plain facts of the matter is that most of them (and I include myself among them) are simply not going to be getting Ph. D.'s, or winning Nobel Prizes, or being movie stars. They'll be doing regular everyday jobs. Which an education is at least somewhat obliged to prepare them for.
posted by jonmc at 7:54 AM on March 5, 2004


I spent most of my high school years following my own path, indulging in unstructured learning in whatever directions I chose. I think it did me a world of good and I wouldn't be where I am today without it.

Of course, the public school I attended for those years didn't call it "unstructured learning," they called it "truancy."
posted by mmoncur at 7:56 AM on March 5, 2004


No, but we need to be realistic, too. Don't fill people's heads with visions of granduer when chances are they'll spend their adult years saying "paper or plastic."

The problem isn't that people with all the hippie book learnin' get uppity, the problem is the notion that you are what do for money. Never believe that. It only leads to grief no matter how good your job is.
posted by furiousthought at 8:00 AM on March 5, 2004


Here are a couple of comparisons between Sudbury schools and other alternative schooling systems, such as Montessori and Waldorf schools.

re jonmc's comments: Schools that encourage self-directed learning have historical ties to anarchist philosophies going back at least to the 19th century, so it's unsurprising that their mode of instruction would have little to do with preparing someone for the life of a worker in modern industrial society. That's not the point. The original purpose of compulsory education (and in my mind, by far the most important) was to ensure a citizenry educated enough to be capable of governing themselves in a democratic society. Therefore, a good education encourages individual autonomy, self-organized cooperation, and critical thought, not lockstep conformity to the totalitarian dictates of authority. There's plenty of time for mindless drudgery and dreams deferred later; we don't have to start crushing our kids' spirits when they're five years old.

Lastly, if a school that encourages us to be the happiest, most engaged people we can be doesn't lead us to accept or be content with the McJobs that society has made our fate, why blame the school? Maybe there's something wrong with society.
posted by skoosh at 8:00 AM on March 5, 2004


Here you go, the reality of our idiot-and-fool-producing curriculum should please you, Jon.
posted by rushmc at 8:07 AM on March 5, 2004


They'll be doing regular everyday jobs. Which an education is at least somewhat obliged to prepare them for.

Um...how does one in any way need ANY kind of education in order to say "paper or plastic"?

And what furiousthought said: education is always valuable in its own right, not just as preparation for a life of shelf-stacking, and the earlier you get kids thinking for themselves, and taking an active role in their lives, the higher the chances are that they'll do something OTHER than say "paper or plastic" for a living (don't worry, there will always be plenty of people to do those jobs), and even if they do end up with such a job, at least their life outside work will be richer because they had the chance to develop diverse interests early on. Alternative schooling isn't for every kid, but it's equally not something to be dismissed as useless for life preparation simply because you don't see its value, or it wouldn't have worked for you.
posted by biscotti at 8:23 AM on March 5, 2004


Nice post, dejah420, and I'm in the exact same boat. Via my job (newspaper writer/editor) I've lately gotten some rather revealing glimpses at how public education really works, and the sheer amount of bureaucratic bullshit flabbergasts me. I'm tired of "learning strategies" and "process objectives" and the rest of the educatorese; more and more, I'm coming to think that this sort of technological approach to educating living, breathing kids cannot help but be a sham. Which has led me to consider teaching my own kid at home.
posted by kgasmart at 8:30 AM on March 5, 2004


Sudbury (and most of its imitators) also has an interesting policy (or did last I checked) that tuition will not exceed per-student public school funding in that district

Yahbut, in New York that's only a limit of about $9500/year.

I didn't mean to imply that Sudbury kids were all the sons and daughters of jillionaires. Only that you're unlikely to find the children of poor farm workers or of unemployed single mothers there, which is going to skew ``output'' statistics mightily.

Nor do I think that Sudbury schools are a bad idea. Maybe they'd work fine as a general mode of instruction for all students. I'm just saying that Sudbury alumni doing well is not good evidence for Sudbury schools being great for all students.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:08 AM on March 5, 2004


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