Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Book Review: Free to Learn

Free to Learn
Peter Gray
Copyright 2013
235 pages

Taking a break from SVS Press books but still wanting to continue my Sudbury research, I picked up Free to Learn, an examination of what it means to play from an anthropologist (and also father of an SVS student)'s perspective. I'm not sure I really have much to say in review because I completely internalized the entire thing while reading it, enjoying it much more than I expected to. It's an easy read, apparently, as Gray's words leapt off the page and melded themselves immediately into my view of reality.

One of the things I enjoyed most about Free to Learn is the scale from which Gray speaks as an anthropologist. While exploring the world of alternative education, most every bit of literature I come across asks the Why question--"Why is our education system the way it is?" To which the unanimous response reads, "Well, the Industrial Revolution." But Gray, not accepting that as the complete answer, explores further, back to hunter-gatherers, the earliest humans, and plays with concepts he finds there.

In fact, play is exactly what he does, as he, himself, admits. "...I would estimate that my behavior in writing this book is about 80 percent play. That percentage varies from time to time as I go along; it decreases when I worry about deadlines or how critics will evaluate it, and it increases when I'm focused only on the current task of researching or writing. ... I am taking into account not just my sense of freedom about doing it, my enjoyment of the process, and the fact that I'm following rules (about writing) that I accept as my own, but also the fact that a considerable degree of imagination is involved. I'm not making up the facts, but I am making up the way of stringing them together. Furthermore, I am constantly imagining how they will fit into the whole structure I am trying to build, one that does not yet exist as concrete reality." (p. 140, 151) That play through which Gray writes is palpable throughout and makes for an entirely enjoyable experience.

Before reading Free to Learn, I knew, perhaps only through intuition, that play was an important part of learning, just not to this extent. Gray teaches us, through an examination of evolution, that play IS learning and that it is a powerful force, indeed. I can't recommend this book highly enough.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


I cannot make children do anything.

I can keep them safe.
I can model behavior and communication.
I can listen.
I can be a sounding board.
I can explain.
I can provide logic.
I can comfort.
I can encourage.
I can love them.

But I cannot make children do anything.


Note: I wrote this a few weeks ago after a particularly difficult day with a 17-month-old I've been babysitting. It went through a series of purposes throughout its creation. First it was merely a reminder to myself in the moment of what I had control over. Then it was a disclaimer for parents of children I teach or have taught in the past and a sort of explanation about Sudbury education. Finally, I realized it was as true for myself as a future parent as it was for other parents. It rings true for all situations, but I may edit it a little more before attaching it to the school.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Books Included in the Sudbury Valley School Starter Kit

Summaries updated as I read them

Free at Last: The Sudbury Valley School
by Daniel Greenberg
1987 (1995 reprint), 184 pages
If you are looking for somewhere to start delving in, this is it. I consider this the quintessential Sudbury book. It is the first book published by Sudbury Valley School Press, and covers, in quick, easy language, all of the introductory questions parents have.

The Sudbury Valley School Experience
by various authors
1985 (1987, 1992 reprints), 234 pages
This is the second-most turned to book about Sudbury education. In a series of short articles and vignettes, adults at SVS describe different aspects of school life. It ends with A School for Today, 25-page account of how Sudbury works and why it's perfectly fit for modern times, that would be great to share with parents.

Starting a Sudbury School: A Summary of the Experiences of Fifteen Start-Up Groups
by Daniel Greenberg, Mimsy Sadofsky
1998, 220 pages
Written specifically for potential founders, if the title didn't give that a way, this one is incredibly practical. It guides step-by-step through a lot of nitty-gritty and answers questions I didn't know I had. This is one to keep nearby and check every so often for recommendations on how to go about different situations. 

Legacy of Trust: Life after the Sudbury Valley School Experience
by Daniel Greenberg, Mimsy Sadofsky
1992, 332 pages
The first (SVS Press) study of SVS graduates, 188 individuals that graduated over the span of 21 years after SVS was established. Great to have on hand when speaking with parents who are new to the movement, as it answers such questions as, "Will my child be able to go to college without classes and grades?" It probably isn't something they would want to read in its entirety, but perfect to flip through for a little while. I keep mine highlighted for easy reference.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Sudbury as a Metaphor for America and Learning to Trust

"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." - John F. Kennedy

Welcome, fellow humans, to the year 2017. This is, again, a reminder that social constructs are merely facades of barriers, and if you have a desire to break one down, the only thing stopping you is your own hesitancy.

I am afraid of starting a Sudbury school. It's a fear I keep not in the foreground of daily life, but one continuously simmering on the back burner of my mind.

It's akin to the fear I have of having children.

I know that once I birth this thing, it will no longer be in my control. I will have the illusion of control over it, but it, itself, will be its own, autonomous being. Making my way slowly through the books by Sudbury Valley Press reminds me of that over and over.

To create a platform for the democratic process to exist is to acknowledge the relinquishing of control, giving it, a gift, to the people. At times, that will hurt. It will seem as though it is destroying itself, this thing that was created with such great effort and sacrifice. The people will convince themselves to go in a direction entirely antithetical to what I believe to be right, and there will be no way for me to prevent it from happening. There will be nothing for me to do besides trust. Trust in the system. Trust in humanity.

How apt it is that I'm writing this at the dawn of 2017 when the American people at large are struggling with the same thing.

A friend and I once had the most open-minded discussion of politics I have ever experienced. We realized, together, that he is a libertarian because he trusts humanity, while I am a socialist because I think humanity needs to be protected from itself. It was an eye-opening realization, one I haven't known what to do with since. I felt guilty upon realizing it and tried to take it back at once, but I knew I never could. It was a truth I had learned about myself. It was a truth about myself that I disliked.

I want to be more trusting. I want to trust that there exists enough kindness and love in humanity to overcome the hatred, anger, and fear that keeps presenting itself throughout the world. It will be an ongoing struggle, one that I may fight my entire life. But every time I succeed in this way of thinking is a victory, and it will get easier, one small victory at a time.

I must trust in the children, the future of our planet.

(That is, at least, easier than trusting adults, those who have learned to lie and cheat and think only for themselves. Wait. There I go again. Breathe. Let it go. "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." Good. Continue.)

When I came back from my first visit to a Sudbury school, I told Joanna that the concept most concerning to me was Judicial Committee. In brief, because it's not my current goal to explain it in its entirety, the students agree on certain rules. If someone (adult or child) breaks a rule, it gets written up as a complaint to a jury of peers who investigate the matter and determine what should be done about it. I told Joanna that I could see it easily being something that I try to enact while everyone else rolls their eyes. Something that I, alone, fight for. Something like nearly everything in the classroom I attempted while I taught high school.

"Then drop it," Joanna replied. If it gets to that point, we don't do it. It is only for them, after all. When they complain that someone keeps doing something they don't like, we remind them that we had a process for what to do when rules were broken. Ask them if they want help setting that system up again or if they want to create something entirely new.

Trust. Trust in the system. Trust in humanity.