During the course of our journey to establish the first Sudbury model school in the UK I’ve had numerous discussions with parents which boil down to the same basic question. What kind of person does well in a Self-Directed environment?
Is it a school for very active younger children? The ones that find it hard to sit still for long periods of time, who find it hard to concentrate on written work? Children still mastering their gross motor skills, balance and coordination and not yet ready to form neat little letters on paper? Absolutely, our school will give these children the freedom to move, to play and learn in physical ways. To create models of the world through imaginary play, cooperating with their peers. They will see the value of skills like reading and writing through real-world use and develop a proficiency in them in their own time with no conception of ever ‘being behind’.
Is it a school for the strong willed? Those who struggle with authority and refuse to follow arbitrary rules? Absolutely, a democratic community where all members have equal rights and an equal voice regardless of age or any other factor is a perfect environment for students like these. Students moving from a mainstream setting to a Sudbury type school realise very quickly that there is no point in rebelling against the authority of the School Meeting, because you are essentially rebelling against yourself. Instead of complaining or fighting the rules students learn to use the power of their voice and vote to change the things they disagree with.
Is it a school for students with diverse learning styles? For those that don’t get on well with phonics or tests or memorisation? Absolutely, in our school students will be able to go about their learning in whatever way they see fit. To learn through play or as a byproduct of another project, from the internet, through conversation and debate, through making mistakes but they can also learn by following a course text book, in a class with others that share their goal, from an online course or any other formal goal driven method, if that’s what they choose.
What about special needs? Well, it depends on the individual, to thrive in our school you will need to be willing and able to be an autonomous member of the community. For many children with special needs such as those on the autistic spectrum, with sensory processing issues or dyslexia the environment of mainstream school is one of stress and pressure. The noise, the bright lights, the closeness to so many other people all day long, uncomfortable chairs, the pressure to sit still and not fidget or stim, the pressure to learn in a specific way to a pre-designed timetable creates anxiety, which leads to outbursts and undesirable behaviour. In our school yes there will be lots of other children but not nearly as many as in a mainstream school and no one will be forced to stay in a room with lots of others. Anytime the buzz of activity gets too much students can seek out a quiet room or corner and take some time to themselves in peace. No one will be forced to sit at a desk, if you prefer to draw or write sprawled on the floor, balanced on a yoga ball or curled up in a bean bag that’s fine by us.
So is it then a school for those that don’t fit into a mainstream setting? Well yes and no. We believe that self-directed learning is the most efficient, long-lasting and profound way to learn. That a self-directed democratic learning environment creates the optimum conditions for learning in the 21st century for all students. The only requirement is that the student is willing to take on the responsibility for their own education and to live within the rules the community sets for itself. Just because a student seems to be coping with the mainstream curriculum doesn’t mean that they are using their time most effectively or learning the best material for their life, right now. Just because a student isn’t getting into trouble or doesn’t seem to mind conforming doesn’t mean their will isn’t being quashed. If your child loves to write essays or learn about physics or take maths tests how amazing would it be for them to spend as much time as they wanted on these things? To set their own goals and challenges, not to get a better grade but to satisfy their own desire to learn.
Casi Clausen, co-founder and staff member at The Open School, notes that The Open School often receives more applications from parents of boys than girls, she believes this is because “boys in traditional schools have obvious indicators when they’re not thriving” leading their parents to seek an alternative. The same parents seeking freedom for their son often don’t want to rock the boat for their daughter that appears to be doing “just fine”, but Clausen says “girls struggle in school just as often as boys. They’re just better at hiding it.” As a parent of both a son and daughter Clausen states that if she were forced to send one child back to public school she would choose her son every time. Why? “Because I believe his determination would survive that system, while my daughter’s natural inclination toward pleasing would be further rewarded and entrenched. She needs the education provided at The Open School more than my son does.”
We started the project to found East Kent Sudbury School not because we think it will be a great school for a few special children, but because we think it will be a great school for all children. All children deserve the opportunity to determine their own lives and interests and to be empowered to enact change in their environment, to know that their voice matters. To give your child this opportunity, register them for our priority list today and be the first inline when enrollments open.