Children in Charge of Their Own Schooling

Would you believe there is a school where children play, have discussions and pursue their own interests all day? Would you believe this school has no classrooms, textbooks, classes, subjects or teachers in the traditional sense? No tests, no essays, no assignments nor report cards? Would you believe that 80% of the students graduating are going on to be successful in college or university, while the other 20% find suitable employment in fields of interest to them?  Would you believe that there are no discipline problems in this school? Would you believe that this school has a range of students from 4 to 19 years of age?

Who would not want to go to a school like this?

It takes a certain mindset for people to really understand what this school is all about. After all we have been brought up to believe that schools as we know them are the best places to learn, despite the fact that most people attending pay little attention to what is being taught. It takes a mindset that believes that children will do from the beginning of time and especially since the day they were born: they have taught themselves.

Children are at first observers of their world around them. They watch you walk and learn how to walk. They listen to you speak and start forming words and then ideas to go along with those words. Children, through play, stretch their minds to test theories and ideas. They converse with anyone who will listen. They stretch their vocabulary and when they are ready to read build on ideas they find stimulating.

Schools on the other hand are authoritarian and hierarchical. They are top down, grade segregated, do as I say institutions that do the opposite to what they believe they are doing. They are turning children off because children do not like to be told what to do anymore than you do at the job you have. They like to explore and develop ideas. They like to talk, test out and build. They like to move. Schools traditionally shun all those things. Schools need to provide experiences that are relevant to their lives, not some hypothetical future but to their lives today.

The children in this school created “ a vibrant, joyous institution, overflowing with high-energy activity, fascinating conversation, and an abiding atmosphere of fair play, all without the benefit of a thick (or thin, for that matter) manual providing formulas and guidelines for its operation.”

The school was founded on two principles:

1: Children learn what they want , when they  want, when they need it. They will follow their own thoughts and ideas.

2: Immerse students in the democratic principles by giving them that responsibility from an early age.

Thats right responsibility formed from democratic principles. In this school the students are in charge. They set the rules and enforce them. They have a meeting every Thursday afternoon at 1 pm. to go over the business for the week. Everyone gets one vote. There are 210 students and 10 adults. The 4 year olds vote is as significant as those of the teachers. This way they learn how things work from an early age and respect the process.

“The first of these is the idea of Individual Rights: every person is endowed with certain “inalienable rights,” that are belonging to him, without qualification, as his rights. They cannot be removed, or explained away; nor can they be violated by any person, government, or power, as long as law and order prevail.”

“The second root idea is Political Democracy: all decisions governing the community are decided by the community in a politically democratic way. The first root idea, of Individual Rights, covers those actions in a person’s life that primarily affect himself, and for which he is individually responsible. The second root idea, of Political Democracy, covers those actions that primarily affect other people, and for which the community is responsible. There is no sharp dividing line; there never are sharp dividing lines in real life. But there are large areas to which each of these ideas applies independently, and these areas are generally agreed upon.”

“The third root idea is Equal Opportunity: every person has an equal chance to obtain any goal. There is no privilege in America, a phenomenon stressed even in our written Constitution. People are born equal, and they start out with equal chances in life.”  This applies anywhere in the world. We are all born equal. We are given equal chance to succeed.

It is a school where children are immersed in the culture of being respectful humans, they develop their individual intellectual potential and moral character. They are learning to function as citizens in the community. They become responsible for their lives, trust their judgement, gain maturity and formulate a plan for life after school.

It is said that the future belongs to those who can stretch their minds, use new and old materials in novel ways, take all kinds of ideas from a wide variety of sources and use them to the benefit of society.  Students at this school have the ability to cope independently, continuously, and successfully with the demands of life.

At Graduation, yes there is one, each graduating student must convince a ”group of peers that s/he is ready to be responsible for himself or herself in the community at large, just as the person has been at school.” Being responsible means that you are able to do that.

Yes The Sudbury Valley School has certainly done this in their last 50 years.

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Redefining Education

   Our forefathers knew that a good education was the path to a richer and more fulfilling life. That would be why so many children from wealthy families pursued education with a passion. Parents of poorer students would push but the child was seeing their parents and accepting what life had for them instead of pushing harder. Their help was needed to put food on the table. Today, when a good education is available to everyone, we face the question  what is an education? It is certainly not what it was 40, 50 or 100 years ago. We are no longer filling factory jobs.  Most jobs in good businesses jobs now require skills that are not learned in school.

   I propose it is time to redefine education. The methods, the thoughts, the attitudes we have towards education must change. No longer can we continue to foster the idea that the only education that is worthwhile is one that involves post secondary education. Education is about so much more than what happens in classroom. It is about the development of a necessary set of skills that help us anywhere our path will go.  No longer can we foster the idea that making a lot of money through education is the only way to go. These days we see millionaires who are younger than the age of 20 because they developed a computer program, an app or some other idea that was useful. Education is no longer about  going to a University or College. It is about what you do with the life you have been given. It is about taking advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you and making the most of it.
    Education starts in the home. It starts the minute a child is born. Parents are the first teachers, those who set the standard by providing the warmth, nourishment and love for the child. The child imitates their behaviours and attitudes, their ways of walking and talking and begins to adopt some of the thoughts that are shared daily. What training do parents have to ensure the best possible life for their child? For centuries it has been based on observances and experiences of those in the home. In some homes this is very successful but in others it is a disaster. We cannot continue to play hit and miss in this area. That is why there is a prevalence of books on the topic of child rearing. Caring people want to know. Often in schools we are facing children who do not have the luxuries of a happy safe, encouraging home life.
    Our present outlook and delivery of curriculum does not reflect the changing times. We are stifling inquisitiveness and the exploratory nature of childhood. We are steering kids away from being curious and following their interests towards following what we deem necessary for them. School is still about providing a set of skilled employees for the labor market. Our programs are set up to force a conformity of thoughts and actions. Educators talk about developing the ‘whole’ child – emotionally, intellectually, creatively. What does that look like and how does it work in the current setting? When we insist on conformity we get what we want instead of what is needed by the students. Students need the ability to seek, to understand and to synthesize information. In short they need to be taught to be creative and innovative as they work together towards solutions to problems or issues. This creates a sense of purpose and challenge. Students need to be learning about a wide variety of topics of interest to them so they can feel like they belong. As they research and analyze information this knowledge will help them to make informed decisions. They should be learning to develop arguments for or against real life situations and be able to support those arguments both verbally and in written form. A textbook education will never be able to do that.
     Schools today is not reflective of the society we want to become. Teachers have long known that when a group of students work together on a project they believe in sparks fly. This is often seen when teachers move on to the next topic of study and dullness sets in. There is no participation. The room is totally quiet with the enthusiasm disappearing. The lifelong pursuit of knowledge should not be onerous or burdensome which leads to self defeating thoughts and actions on the part of the students. It should be a learning experience where one is involved in their growth rather than merely being a by product of it.
    So what is education really about? What is your definition? Let’s redefine education so that everyone has the same definition. Let’s work towards giving each and every child a good chance of finding a fulfilling and satisfying life. Time to stop listening to, “We need more (substitute a job description in here),” and filling their quotas. Let’s make every child’s dream becomes a reality by encouraging them from an early life to explore and question and devise solutions. Only then will education be what it is supposed to be.

What is SOLE?

A question that comes up all the time is “What is SOLE?” SOLE is a way of learning developed by Dr. Sugata Mitra from his experiments with Hole In The Wall in 1999. In his research he discovered that with the following elements in place that students can learn.

 

  • Student-centered.

    • The desire to learn about a topic must come from within the students themselves. This places the responsibility for learning about it directly in their hands. 

 

  • Education through inquiry

    • Students will develop the question they want to follow. Any question will do but with skilled guidance the students will develop a stronger understanding about asking the right questions to get answers. Students will them work in groups of 4 , or alone, to find the answers to the questions.

  • Engaged.

    • Because the students have bought into the research because of the questions they are asking they feel a strong responsibility for the question. They want the best answer possible. This creates a stronger focus on finding the answer. They know the other groups are coming up with answers that will foster discussion.

  • Social and collaborative.

    • Because of the nature of working in groups students learn to trust each others ideas and become supportive as they search for their answers. Discussions abound around the topic creating more inquiry and stronger answers. The students learn how to work in groups, sometimes with people who they would rather not work with. Students are encouraged to solve the problems themselves in a positive manner.

  • Supported and encouraged.

    • The teacher or parent becomes a cheerleader who says all the right things, gives those pats on the back about the work the students are doing and gently pushes students in directions to find the answers.