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Friday, December 24, 2010

"Free" School is Democracy in Practice

This morning I caught the last few minutes of an interview on MSNBC about a school that doesn't assess students, doesn't give grades and, in fact, has little structure. It certainly caught my interest, so I almost immediately started a web search to find out more about this Sudbury School Model. I discovered that in a Sudbury School, of which there are now over 40 in the world, it is up to the individual students to decide how to spend their time and what they want to learn. 

The founding principles behind this model were formulated in Sudbury, Massachusetts in 1968, and an article discussing the pros and cons of this model was published earlier this year by the Seattle Times.  More specifically, the article highlights activities at the Clearwater School in Bothell, Wash., where the one weekly structured activity is a weekly meeting to vote behavioral matters and to give younger students the floor to request privileges.  Who votes?  All faculty and students -- regardless of age -- get one vote on all matters.

While a lack of formal structure does not fit the needs of every student, the authoritative model of our public schools where students have little to no say in their own education is equally inappropriate for meeting the needs of every student.  Over-assessment versus no assessment?  Giving students a degree of control over their own studies and schedules -- as long as they embrace the opportunity -- puts learning in the right perspective:  the desire to learn and excel must come from within each of us.  Schools cannot drill it into us through tests, grades, and regulations. 

Regardless of the administrative constraints, I believe that each teacher is responsible for igniting that special individual spark in a student that leads to successful learning for learning's sake. Comments?

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