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Sudbury School (wikipedia.org)
29 points by robto on Nov 20, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 7 comments

> While there is no accepted definition of a Sudbury school, the intended culture within a Sudbury school has been described with such words as freedom, trust, respect, responsibility and democracy.

I'm trying really hard not to be immediately cynical about this, but a lot of this page doesn't make any sense.

Most of these sources are primary, where the "Sudsbury Valley School Press" sells books of information about its schools, and they're apparently acceptable citations.

A lot of the ideas here are noble and interesting, and can challenge the way people think about teaching their kids.

At the same time, I don't think it's possible to treat most kids with their own education until they're in high school. And what's even better is that neither my opinion, nor theirs, is backed by scientific evidence in a peer-reviewed journal.

Some of the concepts within are interesting, like keeping parents out of their child's education (assuming the school is good enough that the parent doesn't need any control).

But it's a system based on beliefs and beliefs alone.

Call me cynical, but I don't get it.

Reading that article reminds me of the Montessori system, which did get developed using scientific methodology.

They seem to differ in a few aspects: Montessori is an early education system, and it does aim to develop specific skills (fine/motor and sensorial skills, and eventually reading and writing). But the two seem similar in that they empower the children to choose their own activities.

Rather than dictating specific activities following a schedule, Montessori structures learning by providing a large variety of "materials" (basically mini-puzzles that challenge a specific sensorial/motor skill with increasing levels of difficulty), and letting children choose their own activities. The teacher takes a passive observer role, merely demonstrating how activities are done (e.g. sorting sticks in order of length)

The rationale is that children are naturally curious and can frequently get into the "flow" with a puzzle.

Wikipedia has this to say about studies:

"A 2005 study and associated review concluded that Montessori education results in comparable (but not higher) academic achievement to traditional approaches. The review also concluded that studies have found no detectable differences in personality as a result of attending Montessori schools.[25] The study of the public high school in the Milwaukee Public Schools found that Montessori students, aged 3–11, outperformed control groups on maths and science,[26] and that Montessori had some of the largest positive effects on achievement of all programs evaluated.[27] Another study that compared the academic achievement of 543 urban 4th- (n=291) and 8th- (n=252) grade students who attended Montessori or traditional education programs failed to support the hypothesis that enrollment in a Montessori school was associated with higher academic achievement.[28]"


I'd be curious to see more studies w/ montessori+sudbury education compared to traditional (especially considering many "montessori" schools nowadays have mixed methodologies that differ from the original methodology developed by Maria Montessori)

I learned about the Sudbury school style of education from a book called "Free to Learn" by Peter Gray. A Wikipedia article can't do justice to such a radically different approach to education. Keep in mind that our current factory style of education is a relatively recent development in the span of human history. Newer is not necessarily better.

> our current factory style of education is a relatively recent development... Newer is not necessarily better.

That may well be, but the breadth and depth of what there is to learn, the sheer number of people being educated, and the communities, societies and professional lives that education is intended to prepare people for, have grown and evolved so much over the past few hundred years, particularly so as we look ever more recently, that I'm not sure there's much meaning in comparing older styles with new and saying what's a better or worse method, without taking it in context.

The current system may not seem better but perhaps it's just that we've had to adjust things for the worse in order to scale, so that now children are learning 10x less effectively, but have access to let's call it a 'potential' education which is 1000x greater than what existed 100 years ago. I.e they're getting a smaller slice of the potential pie, but the potential pie is massively bigger and growing all the time, so they're all actually doing better on an absolute scale, even though it seems on the surface like the educational experience is worse.

There's a fairly good documentary about the sudbury school somewhere, I'll come back and edit this post if I can find it.

But the premise is largely one of giving students greater agency to pursue their education.

Frankly, even as someone who finds them fascinating I reject any notion that they would be successful outside of affluent communities. There is just no way that kids would learn without a very strong family based push behind them. It's kind of an interesting approach, but I really do believe that they can work, but only in a subset of situations.

I visited a Sudbury school once in Maryland, where most of the boys spent the day absorbed in video games. The teacher supported them, saying "this is how kids learn nowadays."

For all I know, she may be right. But it must be difficult for the parents to pay that tuition knowing they could do the same at home.

It also supports your point that affluent communities are the natural home for this kind of learning, although to my knowledge Summerhill School in the UK (the granddaddy) is not affluent in background.

Sounds like a gradeless, structureless, new age feelgoodery!


IN all seriousness - the concept is appealing, but I have trouble "trusting" it. Most of the evidence "for" sudbury schools seems to be anecdotal:


Not inherently bad, but I guess I'd like more quantified outcomes before choosing such a path for my own kids.

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