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From the Japanese Translation of Free at Last
Afterword

From Legacy of Trust
Reflections of 'SVS Kids'

From The Pursuit of Happiness
Why They Like Their Jobs

From The Sudbury Valley School Journal
The Real Scoop About College


From the Japanese Translation of Free at Last

Afterword

By Mimsy Sadofsky

          After one has read Free at Last, it is tempting to think that the anecdotal sketches in it are idealized, and that there can be no such school in the real world. However, the school exists, and while attending is not quite a fairy tale existence, it is a place where children are very happy. Over the years, many studies have been done of the graduates of Sudbury Valley School to see whether an environment that is beautiful for childhood can also be a beautiful beginning for adult life. Any doubts should be put to rest by a new study, the result of in-depth interviews about the quality of their lives with former students who had spent many years in the school. The study was published by Sudbury Valley School Press in 2005 in the book The Pursuit of Happiness, by Daniel Greenberg, Mimsy Sadofsky and Jason Lempka.

          We wanted to know answers to all sorts of questions about our graduates. How did they fare in the job market? What types of jobs do they want? Did their education make it easier or harder for them to continue their educational pursuits in a more formal setting? Did they find that having no externally imposed structure to their days or their years made it uncomfortable for them to accept externally imposed structures later? Was their unusual background a detriment or an asset in forming new relationships in life? How did they react to the big bumps that everyone encounters on the road of life? What sort of community members did they become? And, most important of all, how did they feel about themselves: what are their values, how competent are they to manage their lives and how confident are they in their futures? In the following pages, I will try to summarize some of the findings of this comprehensive study.

          Sudbury Valley graduates are able to manage their searches for satisfying work assertively in all the ways as people are expected to in modern societies: they network, they write self-assured resumes, and they are articulate in interviews. To facilitate their acceptance, they get internships and apprenticeships, they meet people who can help them, and sometimes they just fall into great situations. In other words, they find jobs in the ways one would expect.

          It turns out that there is a much larger than usual proportion of entrepreneurs among this group. There is also an enormous range of careers. In our study we looked at how their jobs compared to those held in the society at large. What we discovered is that there is a great deal of difference between our alumni and the society at large in the following areas: our alumni are engaged in management careers to greater extent; a higher percentage are in computer and mathematical careers, and in educational fields; and the proportion of alumni in the helping professions -- social service, community activities, health care -- is many times higher than that of the society at large.

          Perhaps the most striking result of all was the spectacularly high number of our graduates pursuing careers in the arts. This did not come as a complete surprise. We have watched through the years as hundreds of students pursued music or art or dance or acting or writing and became very accomplished. We began to put the picture together after a little help, in fact, from one of our alumni, who understood and explained what was going on: verbal and artistic expression is present in every society. Creative expression seems to be almost a basic drive. It is also the way people use their leisure time, quite often, when they have leisure time. So it makes sense that people who feel they control their own lives become extremely accomplished in these fields. We saw it play out in their childhoods; we were excited to find that it continued into adulthood.

          The attitudes people bring to their career choices and career changes bear a little examination. The following quote is representative. It is from a college professor:

          When I was in college I had summer jobs programming computers and those were essentially to make money, although they were also really interesting. I was working at Kodak in an internal computer programming department. Somebody would come and say, “We need some programs to run the computers in our warehouses to go and fetch merchandise when we order it”; or, “We need computer programs to keep track of inventory”; or, “We need programs to keep track of how long operators are spending at their terminal and what they’re doing.” So they would come ask my little department to write the software for them.

          It was kind of an interesting look into the big business world, and it was also a really interesting job to have, because I’d always done a little bit of computer programming, and it’s something that I’m reasonably good at because the skills required are sort of things that come naturally to me. But one of the things I learned at this job that I thought in retrospect was a good thing to know is that the hard part of doing this kind of thing for a living is not writing a computer program but actually figuring out what the client wants. It’s the same thing in software design, where you’re not doing it for a specific client. The difficult part isn’t actually writing the software; the difficult part is figuring out how to make the application easy to use and make it do what people are going to want it to do. The difficult part is the design process, as opposed to the code-writing process.

          So although this was a job primarily to make money, it was an interesting job too, and because when I was finishing college I was thinking, “Okay, what should I do now?” One thing I could do was work as a computer programmer. That would be an easy job to get, it would pay well, and it was clear to me that if I went someplace like Kodak I could also get promoted pretty quickly because I was good at the sort of human interaction required to determine what’s needed in software design. On the other hand, it was also a boring job and I looked at it like, well, it’s not going to be interesting for very many years.

          So then I ended up going to graduate school.

          Another person told us that what she does – her second major career, as a lawyer, after first having trained to be a psychologist – is perfect for who she is. Many felt that an important factor in their choice of pursuits was that it fit their native talents. This was a constant theme from our graduates:

          I have pretty good empathetic skills so I can kind of key into people and better enable them to be who they are or express who they are. As a nonfiction film-maker, I’m very interested in this. I have no interest in doing fiction work; I have no interest in writing things and putting words in people’s mouths. I’m fascinated with real people, how they live their lives and what they do. It’s the greatest sort of privilege to be able to hang out with people and have them open up and reveal who they are and how they live their lives – to share that and be able to capture it and make stories out of it.

          Well over half of our respondents talked about having a passion for their work. And an impressive 35% chose their work for the pleasure of serving others. Typical is this quote, from a woman who works for a Non-Governmental-Organization (NGO) devoted to aiding people in underdeveloped regions:

          When I was in East Timor, I started out doing grants for the first few months. We were setting up our operations there and trying to put together some proposals to get funded so we could actually work. Then I was put in charge of the shelter program, so it was a matter of going into communities, identifying beneficiaries, working with staff, training staff, and then doing distribution of shelter materials so that people could build homes. About 70% of the houses in Timor had been destroyed when the Indonesians left, so people were basically living under nothing or under blue tarps.

          In Sierra Leone the work was more administrative in nature, because I was overseeing one of our field offices that had a number of programs. Some of the programs involved reunification of children with their families who were separated because of the war – for instance, some of them were abducted and forced to be soldiers.

          Now I work on the Africa team and I’m the main contact between our office and our heads of staff in the field. Right now we have offices in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and we’re opening an office in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I’m sort of the main person. If a policy issue comes up, if a procurement issue comes up, if somebody needs a truck, I’ll do that. If they need to discuss how to liaise with the Ministry of Health I might support them on that. I’m basically a sounding board and a support person. My role is to make sure that they can do what they’re there to do. I must say, I think I enjoy the field work more.

          A frequent question we hear from people interested in our school concerns how our students will fare when life is not easy. These questioners make the mistaken assumption that children free to pursue their interests will never choose to face difficulties. We know, and think everyone should know, that a life full of challenge is the most desirable life. It turned out that our former students feel exactly the same. They also talked a lot about seeking work that has meaning for them. Here is what a social worker had to say about her grueling and often thankless work:

          I worked for the Public Child Welfare Agency . . . for nine years, and that was really meaningful. The bulk of the time I was a protective service case worker. I worked with children at risk of abuse and neglect and I provided the families with services. I removed the children from the home when they weren’t safe and tried to reunite families that were apart. It was super meaningful work and very hard. Then I became a home finder. I trained foster and adoptive parents and made the placements. I coordinated which children went to which home, and re-evaluated the homes and lent them support. I really, really liked that job.

          One of the biggest worries most parents and most educators have about allowing children to be in charge of their own education is that those children will not be able to go on to higher education, or will not be able to take competitive exams and be admitted to what are considered to be excellent universities. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. From the earliest years of the school, every student who has wished to has been able to attend college; those that have wanted to have also gone to graduate schools to receive advanced degrees. Close to 90% of our graduates decide to continue to pursue their education in a formal setting. Often in the beginning of their first year they are worried that the other students, who spent so many years in traditional schools, might somehow have gotten some vital skills and information that the Sudbury Valley School kids didn’t want or didn’t know that they needed. These worries are quickly discovered to be unfounded.

          Most of our former students felt that they had big advantages once they entered universities. They had already developed the attributes that most entering students have the most trouble learning: they are competent; they are self-motivated; they are used to working independently; they are able to assert themselves in order to reach their goals; they are not waiting for constant feedback or help; and, last but far from least, they are going on to college because they want to, not just because it is what many feel is the next step for an eighteen year old. They are going on to higher education, in general, because they have something they want to pursue that is easier to pursue in that setting.

          These following statements sum up the general attitude of those who went on to higher education:

          I think it was a lot easier for me than it was for a lot of my peers at college. It seemed like they had always been told what to do in school, so they were used to following directions. Suddenly they had the freedom to pick their classes, and to have less time in class relative to the time it takes to do the homework, and things like that. I think that also there was not a good understanding of cause and effect: if you do your work you’ll get a good grade, and if you drink yourself into a stupor and don't get your work done you'll not get a good grade, you know?

          For me it wasn’t that hard, because for five years I’d been in an environment where I learned that there are causes and effects, and if you want to get something done, you need to look at the steps to take to achieve that.

          In spending your whole life at Sudbury Valley making your own decisions, and going after your own passions, you’re constantly having to make new decisions every day and change how you are. Anything you try to do – if you decide to go apprentice with a mechanic – the Sudbury Valley student will learn faster. They'll adjust because the environment is so dynamic. So to me college, mechanic school, massage school, starting your trade or working for a living, they're the same thing -- learning to acclimate. The beauty of Sudbury Valley is: you strengthen the natural abilities, and then all other things will follow.

          Some knew what they wanted before they started; others discovered their dreams while moving along the road of life:

          I took a couple classes at community college – I took a Spanish class and I took art classes and this and that – and at some point I just kind of realized I didn’t want to keep working low-paid menial jobs forever, and I needed to figure out what I wanted to do. Actually my original plan when I went back to college seriously was to be a midwife. Being a doctor followed out of that.

          I got to Sudbury Valley because of an odd set of circumstances: in seventh grade I wanted to skip ahead to eighth grade, since all my friends were in eighth grade and I was intelligent enough to do so. I had some fights with the guidance counselor. I was doing very well in school – there was no reason I couldn’t skip ahead a grade and be with all of the kids I considered my peers, but the guidance counselor said, “Oh! Well, skipping grades is reserved for very special cases.” I thought I was a very special case! So I made a deal with my mother: if she'd let me go to this alternative school for four years – that would catch me up to all my peers instead of the five years it would take to go through the regular high school route -- I would go into college early. That was our deal.

          So I went to SVS for four years, had a fantastic time, and I thought I was ready to go right into the “real world”. I was managing a coffee shop at the time and I thought I could stay there and maybe purchase it someday. But when the four years were up, my mom said, “Well, now it’s time to apply to college.” I didn’t really want to, and I sent out a half-hearted application. Little did I think they would accept me, but they did. So I went, very convinced that I would not like it, and that after two or three weeks I would just leave. But I got there and it was the greatest thing! It was so interesting, so much fun, and so easy compared to some of the processes and learning experiences I had at SVS. Basically, when college came around all I had to do was go and sit in the room and listen and I’d do well. I was way ahead of most of the other students who were sitting around me. I met a lot of people who really did a lot for me, and adjusting was very quick and very easy.

          Like the student above, most people enjoyed their college experience. They felt it expanded their horizons, exposed them to interesting teachers and discussions, allowed them to meet a wide variety of people with similar interests, and was just plain fun.

          Of course, we feel certain that all of our students are life-long learners and whether they continue in an institution of higher education or not, they are continuing their education. This person explains:

         

          I had to work on my rock star lifestyle and persona from the first time I started picking up on it, and I couldn’t do that in the constraints of public school. College really would have put me off on the sidelines for another four years.

          When I left the public school system, I really never wanted to go back into a classroom situation again. Usually that’s not the way I prefer to learn. I like to follow my own instincts. I know how to reference things that I need. I feel that I’m a unique character who really doesn’t need much of what’s being taught in a sterile atmosphere.

          We were interested in discovering what sorts of things make our former students enjoy their lives. Relationships were at the top of the list; realizing personal goals were second; activities that they were passionate about were third; being in a personal environment that they chose was also important; and to a very lucky few, everything in their lives made them happy!

          Here is one person’s summation:

          I like my books, I like the internet, I like my friends, I like the fact that I went to Sudbury Valley. I think I’m able, as a result of going to Sudbury Valley, to ask questions all the time and I think that’s very important.

          We were not surprised, since so many students enjoy the outdoors at school, to find that our graduates continued to appreciate Nature so much. One woman said:

          I seem to have sidestepped the speed and the time constraints and that hurriedness that our culture seems to be so bent on. I regulate my own time. I choose what I’m going to do. My work is very varied. I can do stuff outside; I can garden when I want to use my body and have a workout, and I have a studio, my very own studio, that I go to and do artwork in. And I have time to write. Another thing I like about my life is that I’m in nature a lot. I live in a field within the woods, so I kind of have the best of all worlds. The area between a woods and a field is really attractive to animals, so I see a lot of wild animals. It’s got gorgeous birds flying all over the place. It feels like paradise. If I want the lake, it’s just five miles away, so I can go to a beach. Life is good. Especially after traveling, I appreciate my choices even more.

          Few talked about economic issues, except occasionally to remark that they were fundamentally not worried about money. Some would have liked more economic security; most felt it was irrelevant. None felt that they were in financial distress. About 70% felt that they were living in their ideal location. For those who were not, it turned out that they tended to be the youngest group; by the time our graduates reach their mid-30's they are usually pretty happy about their circumstances.

          Alumni remarked, one after another, on the beauty of their level of freedom, of the availability of options in their lives, on how comfortable they were with their own maturing and learning processes, and how satisfied they were with their own character development. Here are two comments:

          This is kind of a general broad sweeping statement – but I guess what I like about my life is my capacity to enjoy life, to be able to meet any challenges that I face without a great deal of difficulty. Probably the greatest skill that I learned attending Sudbury Valley was being able to teach myself and being able to problem-solve. By being on my own I learned how to be competent and independent and when I needed to consult someone, one of the staff members, they were always more than happy to help. I just learned how to learn, and I relearned how to enjoy learning. So life is just an endless source of fascination and of pleasure for the most part.

          What I like about my life is that a lot of the things that I have put forth as intentions in the last ten years – things that I have wanted in my life and things I have wanted to contribute to the world – are really coming to fruition. I’m really enjoying my schoolwork. I’m enjoying learning how to become a therapist and the work that I’ve begun doing as a therapist has been really rewarding. I’m very, very happy with my home life. I’m enjoying living in a residential Zen community. Spiritually and emotionally, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I have strong friendships, good connections with people. I also feel that my relationship with myself is very healthy, and I’m having a good time. There’s a nice balance between the serious effort being put forth in my meditation practice, and school, and work, and a nice balance of all that with having a lot of fun. I’m just really enjoying being alive right now.

          Realizing their goals far outweighed making money. As one person said, “It’s really hard to make a lot of money doing any of the things that I really want to focus on” – but that hasn’t stopped him from going right ahead and focusing on what he wants, which in his case happens to be art and music. As a brilliant inventor, who lives in a non-electrified house in the woods, without running water, in northern New England, and runs a cutting edge high-tech business, said, “My style of living is what most people would consider poverty. And I love it!”

          For those who were still working hard to become happy, unrealized personal goals were the primary complaint – but those goals were constantly being worked on. The types of personal goals that alumni are striving towards and have not yet reached include a less hectic and less stressful life – something that puts them right in line with others in the 21st century.

          Beyond their lifestyle choices and satisfactions, we talked to these people about the values they held dearest. The interviews revealed that this is a group of people who give a great deal of thought and attention to their value systems. These are people who live an examined life and are constantly in touch with their own ideals.

          The following person’s values encompass a great deal of what we generally found:

          I value materialistic things less and people-oriented sorts of things more. It’s important to me to be able to take care of myself – to be happy on my own without being dependent on somebody else. It’s important to me to get along with people and to take care of my family. And it’s important to me to be able to provide a good life for my family -- not just my kids, but parents and siblings and aunts and uncles – and friends.

          Visual things are very important to me. It’s amazing how what I see affects how I feel. I think that’s because I’m an artist and I take in everything that I see. I’m passionate about my art. There’s just something about creating something from nothing that gives me a sense of satisfaction like nothing else.

          The environment is important to me – taking care of the environment and not wasting resources. I like being outside and I like being in nature. I spent a lot of time outside at Sudbury Valley. I used to spend a lot of time in the beech tree. That’s where I received my first kiss. I spent a lot of time climbing trees. That was one of my favorite things to do. And in the winter almost every single day I would cross-country ski.

          I like adventure and I’m passionate about love. I think I’m passionate about life and about living life and not letting it pass me by.

          Many people spoke about the centrality of spiritual values to their lives. Others felt that the values they learned in school at Sudbury Valley, such as egalitarianism, freedom, respect for others, and responsibility informed their daily lives. These are the central tenets of the school as an institution, and it is not surprising that the same people who came to the school resonated with those values. Here is a typical description:

          I’m committed to democracy. One of the things I am passionate about is politics. I’ve always been interested in politics. I guess the way I’d explain it is that I developed a view of society while I was at Sudbury Valley and of how a society could work. Sudbury Valley was a small society – around 100 people most of the time I was there. But there was fairness and there was democracy and there was self-rule and that gave me kind of a blueprint. Where I see that blueprint failing or not being mirrored in the society at large has troubled me, troubled me greatly. Those types of issues are very important to me.

          In their own lives, dozens commented on the importance to them of excellence, dozens more on the importance of leading a meaningful life, and many talked about wanting to make a mark in the world. Usually that mark was one of service. Here are some comments:

          If you decide to do something, do it in a real way with your best energy and your best will, as well as you can do it. That feels like kind of a core thing to me, not that I always succeed in doing that, but it’s a yardstick.

          I realize what I said is kind of abstract, but somehow that feels like the most important thing and everything else that I can say feels unduly concrete. Music is important to me and I value music, and careful thinking is important to me and I value that, and good writing is important to me and I value that. The parts of my research that seem really sort of critical and interesting I feel passionate about. And teaching, when I get very involved with a graduate student, it’s something that I often feel passionate about. And my family I feel passionate about in various ways. These are all specific examples of my general desire I talked about above.

          I like to be around the energy of Sudbury Valley School and I think I bring a lot of energy to the school as well. I feel so fortunate to be anxious to get to work every day and to feel that I’m really making a difference and that there’s great meaning to every day.

          I like to feel that at some level, in some way, I’m making the world a better place. I also like to interact with people a lot in a relatively positive way. This relates to why I'm a geologist and why I teach geology: people need to take the natural world into consideration when making decisions. I think the best way for people to do that is to have a better understanding of the natural world, although, there are situations where I think some government coercion could be appropriate. That’s one thing I’m passionate about.

          Some talked about how they were able to manifest their goal of helping others – a goal mentioned explicitly by a third of the interviewees -- in their professional lives.

          I like to empower people, to get them to see themselves for who they really are. That’s really an important aspect of my personality and I certainly try to provoke that in every person with whom I come in contact in my professional environment. I like to think of myself as a good professional, somebody who works really hard, and is outspoken, and is able to motivate people.

          In my present job [as a lawyer] I feel like I really do help people. Most of my clients are very grateful for my help. They are going through very tough situations and I feel good about what I do and how I treat other people, so that is important and gives me satisfaction.

          Self-realization ranked very high in the values mentioned. Being challenged was an explicit goal for a great many, as was intense involvement in their work and daily lives. For more than half the people, happiness itself was a goal.

          I really want to do something that I’m happy doing. It took me a while to figure that out. I worked for a while feeling, “Well, this is alright,” and then I realized, “No, I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life.” So working in a field that I’m really interested in has become very important to me. I'm very excited to be going into Egyptology, and being able to focus on that.

          I'm quite happy. My philosophy is that if you’re not happy, you’re not doing it right. So if I’m ever not happy with something, I change it. It’s kind of bending your path to make sure that what you’re doing gives you options that you’re going to enjoy doing. So as you’re going down that path, you always head toward the directions that will end up giving you those options rather than the ones you don’t like. The ones that get you in trouble from past experience, you don’t do again. So it’s really a not a conscious thing so much as something you learn as you go, and you avoid situations and things that you have found, in the past, you really didn’t enjoy that much.

          We were extremely gratified to find that virtually all of the people interviewed felt that they were in fact living their values. Only a very few thought that they were failing to live up to their own ideals.

          We all tend to admire people who can find satisfaction in their relationships with others and who feel well-equipped to form good connections. A childhood in school in an environment where people of all ages mix freely must, we felt, foster such skills. The results of our survey on this point were unequivocal. Fully 90% of the people surveyed felt that they were quite good at relating to others, often in spite of a fundamental shyness. Communication was quite important to them, important enough to overcome basic reticence in order to enhance their lives. Often they spoke about having learned to negotiate and to speak their minds in order to enhance their comfort with co-workers, with friends and with family members. Here are some of their thoughts:

         

I’ve worked for so many different kinds of people that I’ve learned how to make things easier, how to not rub everyone the wrong way all the time. Not that you have to keep the peace at all costs; if you feel strongly about something, you should speak your mind. But in matters that are just day-to-day life, you learn to cope with people being different individuals.

          Most of the things I’ve been involved with have been non-hierarchical structures. My own businesses I’ve run not as a boss, but as part co-op, even when they’re kind of my idea. I’ve always only really been comfortable working with people when they’re as excited about, and invested in, what we’re doing as I am. I’ve been in bands, and when it’s not a successful money-making band, you’re all doing it because you like the music that you create together, and they tend to be very cooperative too. There are certain people who write the songs and kind of decide the direction the band is going, and I’m usually one of those people, but other than that, everyone’s there because they want to be there. Everyone’s doing something together that they make together in that spot.

          I try to listen to what they have to say and then I tell them what I feel we should do. We usually try to take a little of what they know and a little of what I know and try to figure out the best and safest way to do what we have to do, whether it be forming some colossally huge, dangerous, one-sided concrete pour that could break and spill out eleven yards of concrete on us, or simply just the way we should build something. That's the only way that you can do something -- to listen to both sides and then pick a little bit from each one and try to come up with the best situation out of whatever you’re doing.

          I’m good at verbalizing what’s actually going on and getting people to see that they’re actually kind of saying the same thing but just in two different ways – that there’s a conflict because communication has broken down. They normally accept this. I think that’s one of the things that has given me a lot of respect. It usually starts out when one person comes to you to tell you the horrible thing that the other person did to them, or how mean they are, or how they can’t work with this person, and then when you get the two of them together and you sort it out with them, there’s a great reward for everybody.

          Many talked about using the skills they had developed in order to form good relationships with significant others, and with their children. Quite a few said that their general open-mindedness towards others enhanced their ability to parent.

          One important area which we were curious about was the resilience of our graduates. Everyone’s life includes changes and setbacks and everyone has to figure out how to deal with them. Our former students were proud of the resources that they used to cope with change. They felt that they had a great deal of perseverance and a lot of trust in themselves to deal well with minor and major catastrophe. A generally high level of self-confidence defines the group. Plus grit and determination! Here is one young woman’s tale:

          One of the darkest periods I had was when I was pregnant, and then right after I had my baby, because my husband was out of work, I was out of work, things were really looking bleak for us financially. My husband then got a job, but he was working in a factory doing 12-hour shifts, and I never saw him. We were living near the beach, but I never liked that town. I never liked living there because it was just too chaotic and too frenzied and I never saw the color green – there were no trees there at all. The ocean was beautiful, but I was living right next to a biker bar and I was in this mindset of, “Oh, is this going to be it? Is this going to be my adult life? I'm not going to see my husband, we’re going to be stressed, poor, and broke.” Then I thought about it and I said, “No. I learned at Sudbury Valley that I can make my own future. I don’t have to accept this; we can move forward.” I just drew upon a lot of the knowledge that I kind of inadvertently picked up at the school, and then it was my decision to go camping for the summer. It was scary, but I said, “Let’s do it! Let’s just save some money by camping and be out in nature and leave this beach.” Because we were there camping we got an opportunity for the store. And then again it was scary to go into that, but I just knew that I could handle it if I wanted to.

          And here is another:

          What I’ve always done is try to pinpoint why I’m not satisfied or what it is I’m unhappy about and then try to figure out what I can do, if anything, to change that. How I can look at something differently or change what I’m doing in my life. Change the job if it was a job. There have been moments when I’ve been unfulfilled personally because I’ve dropped something that is very important to me, like photography, or like horseback riding. At these times, I realize I have to bring my focus back again and do the things that I love to do, to get that center back.

          Change is the beauty in life for this person:

          The influence that the school had on me is a lot more than you even realize when you’re there. I think that the way that the school is set up, and the philosophy behind the school, sets you up for life. It’s a realistic version of what happens when you come out; I handle change really well. I’m pretty adaptable.

          When people found out that my wife was pregnant, they’d say, “Wow, your lives are gonna change,” and they said it in the most derogatory way, like you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, or, just you wait. It was almost insulting, and my response always was, “You know what? I like change! I like things to change! I don’t like to stagnate, I like things to move, and I like to discover and learn.” Without change, life would be pretty darn boring. Watching that kid come out into the world, and experiencing that whole miracle -- yeah, everything does change, and it’s for the better.

          Many former students talked about the influence that attending Sudbury Valley had on their lives. Here are a few:

          I miss Sudbury Valley so much! I say this to everybody. That was the best time of my life. It had such a huge impact on how I developed and the person that I am now. It is really amazing.

          Well, I don’t want to sound cliched – but the school was very important to me. My parents were divorced, my mom was depressed, things were screwed up in my life outside. The school was an opportunity to really think about life and it was an amazing influence. I spent 11 years of my life there, and I’m talking 8:00 in the morning until 5:00 at night. I hated when summer came around. I didn’t want to not be at school.

          Had I gone through a traditional educational system, I think I would have turned out very differently. I think that my confidence in myself, and my ability to tackle whatever it is I want to tackle, in large part came from having been given the trust to shape my own education, and the trust that I would know what was best for myself from a young age. I never find myself in a situation where I feel like I don’t have the tools to tackle it. Sometimes it takes a while, if it’s something new, but I never feel like I don’t have the inner strength and direction and ability to do whatever it is. That’s a huge part of how I see myself.

          Sudbury Valley School gave me a chance to really look inside myself and see what I was about. It also gave me a chance to learn about other people and how they act in situations when they’re in control of their day, and they’re in control of their life. I learned how to talk to people and how to communicate and in turn learned a lot from communicating with them.

          These people related their self-knowledge and self-confidence to having been treated as an equal in very basic ways during their formative years. For the people whose comments follow, it was being treated as an equal by both adults and young children that had an impact:

          Sudbury Valley was a major, major, influence. I really don’t think I would be where I am now or who I am without it. I’d gone to private school before Sudbury Valley where there was such big age segregation. You know, the teachers were like Sir and Ma’am and I remember everyone laughing at me -- nicely, but laughing -- my whole first week at Sudbury Valley because I’d go up to Denise or Mimsy and say, “Excuse me, ma'am.” And they'd be like, "My name’s Mimsy." It was just mind-blowing to be able to relate, to have these adults talk to me like I was a human being, not that I was underneath them, but just like I was a regular equal. And then to have these little four year old girls coming up and talking to me so boldly, not bratty, but just like, “Hey, I’m just like you. I deserve respect.” It was just by being in that environment that I relaxed a lot and realized that in real life age is not important and it’s who somebody is inside that matters.

          We were all pretty well equal. There weren’t very many of us at that point, but the staff and the students, there really wasn’t too much difference between us as far as any status was concerned. Everybody had their own say in any matter: I think this is one of the most delightful examples of something like that: A little girl got a complaint form and went to somebody -- she couldn’t write -- to get that person to write out a complaint against Danny. And she won! Everybody was listening just as closely to the five-year old little girl as they were to Danny. It gave you a sense of belonging, equality. Your self-esteem was probably better. Mine certainly was a lot better.

          For many people the freedom that the school gave them saved them a lot of time:

          When I was going through 6th grade, I was headed in the wrong direction. If you gave me a rule or an assignment, I would say, “Why?” and if it made sense, “Well, that’s a cool rule. I like that . . . I’ll do it.” But public school didn’t have a lot of that. It was teaching me a lot of things that bored me greatly, and I’ve always been very poor at memorizing dates and numbers and things like that. I like learning concepts and ways to look things up. So whatever they wanted me to do, I wasn’t going to do it. Sudbury Valley School came along and gave me absolutely nothing to rebel against, because every single rule was explained, made perfect sense, and I could understand that. There was a reason for it. It was logical. There was no point in rebelling against something that made sense. The laws of the school made sense. I stopped making that effort of rebelling. That probably saved me more than anything else, because I was able to channel into learning all that energy that I had been spending creatively rebelling against the system.

          The alumni in the study were asked if they felt in control of their own lives. The feeling of control over your own destiny is powerful, and intensely exciting, and the vast majority of our alumni do feel that they have that control. Of course, no one can escape random things that may happen, and the alumni knew that, but they had amazing clarity about the issue of empowerment:

          I have every influence on where I go, what I do, and I’ve planned out every step of my career. I’ve set goals and reached those goals, and now I have to go through setting a whole bunch more goals because I reached my goals so fast. Everything that’s happened in my life is the way it is because I made it that way. Obviously my wife has some part of it, because we’re a team; but everything that I’ve done to this point has been my doing. It was even my choice to go to Sudbury Valley. It wasn’t like my parents said, “You have to go here.” It was an option that was given to me.

          The final area that I would like to return to is happiness. The overwhelming impression we got from the interviewees is that they were seeking happiness, a deep happiness that has to do with all of the aspects of life talked about above -- a feeling of being in control of your own life, of living your own personal values, of having the activities in your life that you enjoy, of being able to learn and pursue the things that interest you, of having found -- or being on the path towards – work that is fulfilling, of being able to form stable and deep relationships; and, first and foremost, a deep sense of freedom.

          One young man with a strong intellectual bent, summed it up this way:

          I am very attached to the realm of activities which are usually classified as “academia”. I always tell people that the main reason I went back to Sudbury Valley as a staff member is that I have never been in a more intellectual community in my life. I have never seen another place where people would talk about everything starting from first principles, and mean it – and not for grades. People are in the conversations because they want to be there. They’re not trying to impress anyone with their knowledge, they’re not trying to win praise, they’re just talking about these things because they’re so interested. I wanted an intellectual community, I wanted to be part of that kind of give-and-take, and I really have seen very little of it outside of Sudbury Valley, although I’ve been to a lot of universities.

          And, finally, another described his life like this:

          My family, my friends, and my art have always been most important to me. Artistic creation and the time that you spend with the people that you love are probably the two most important things in life. I’m much more cued in now to how creating the work that you need to create, creating some beauty, creating something interesting, is totally tied to the people that you love. I need to make stuff, I need to make interesting things happen. It’s the thing that I do as an expression of my own humanity. Even if the only people I’m sharing it with are the people I love, those are the most important people to share anything with.

          I've totally divorced it from outer ambition. I used to be, I think, more outerly ambitious. Now I’ve realized that my real ambition is to simply do really interesting work. The people who you actually know and care about are the people who see it anyway. If it spills onto a few other people, that’s nice too, but you are fundamentally creating it out of your striving to break through your own barriers, to achieve your own excellence. You’re never going to do more than a tiny slice of all the possible art that can be created. You do your own little slice as well as you can. You get out there and you share it with the community that you’re in, which for me is now a pretty big community, because it includes a huge swath of the musicians in the area. So it’s not just my family in the direct sense; I feel a kinship with a very large group of fellow musicians.

          I have presented some glimpses of the lives of Sudbury alumni. The questions we posed revealed them to be, overall, a remarkable group of adults – adults who lead full, rich lives, deeply enhanced by their experiences at the school during their developing years.

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From Legacy of Trust
By Daniel Greenberg and Mimsy Sadofsky

Reflections of 'SVS Kids'

          For several years now, Sudbury Valley has been engaged in an ongoing oral history project. The object is to record and preserve recollections of life at the school through the eyes of former students and staff members. These reminiscences are gathered in the course of long, relaxed interviews, during which the questioner and the former student have ample time to converse at leisure and examine all sorts of issues in depth.

          During these interviews, the subjects also have a chance to talk about their experiences after leaving Sudbury Valley, and to reflect about the affect the school has had on their lives. Of the twenty-seven people in our study who attended Sudbury Valley as virtually their only school, seven have been interviewed as part of the oral history project.

          We have included some of what these people said. We believe this material will give the reader insight into the nature of these former students, their character, and the way they look at the world, all in their own words. These reminiscences do not prove any particular point, or generalize about all members of the group. Rather, these more extensive quotations may convey a slightly richer picture of some of our former students, and what they take with them from their experiences at the school as they go out into the world.

          Here are some of the things said by a young woman who was twenty-four years old, just graduating with honors as a student of criminal justice, when this study was made. She was twenty-one, and had just finished her freshman year, at the time her oral history interview was recorded:

          I used to think I was shy. I think I was trying to talk myself into being shy but I'm not; I'm not any more if I was.

          It's funny though, I don't say anything in class but the kids in my classes think I know everything that's talked about. I asked a kid, "What makes you think I know what I'm doing here?" and he said, "I don't know, just the way you are in class, you look like you're getting into it." I don't ask questions too much. Can't think of anything to ask, or I figure it out as he goes on with his lecture.

          Sudbury Valley prepared me to be independent, to set out what I want to do and do it. A few things have been hard for me, like not having expertise in grammar, not knowing what exams were about or how to write a good exam. Well, the mistakes I made in the first quarter, I figured out in the second one; and the ones I made then, I learned from later. I'm constantly learning what my mistakes are. At Sudbury Valley I learned how to take criticism. When a teacher makes a comment, if it’s a negative comment I don't say, "Oh, that's absurd. Why did he write that?" I go, "Yeah, yeah, he's right. I didn't do that." It doesn't hurt my feelings.

          At first I felt that the people I met who went to public school had it over me, but I thought of the things that I had over them -- like being in college not because my parents wanted me to be there but because it was something I wanted to do. If I want to better educate myself it's up to me.

          Take math. When I first started school, the very first class I ever had to take was math. What really aggravated me was having to do something that I didn't want to do. At Sudbury Valley if you didn't want to take math, you didn't take math. So getting used to going from no set curriculum to all this that you have to do was hard. But even though I may not always believe in the philosophy of the way the college is run, I have to change, I have to adapt to different things. As long as I feel I'm getting something out of it, it doesn't really bother me how it's set up: if I personally feel that I'm getting something then I'm satisfied. I don't necessarily agree with a grade system. I think it's foolish. But if I feel like doing something, I say, “I don't care.

          My English and my math SAT scores weren't anything to put on a piece of paper. I didn't study for them at all. I took them as a big curiosity thing because it was the first test I ever took that had a grade. Wow, a grade! This is going to be neat.” But those were the biggest strikes against me because those were my two weakest subjects. I just had no interest in them. But I learned from Sudbury Valley how to voice my opinion and how to say what I want and that's what got me into college. I said to myself, "I'm going to get myself in there one way or the other." I was persistent and I did it.

          They took me because I talked, I showed that I wanted to be there and that I wasn't being forced to be there, that it was something I felt I had to do. I walked right in and talked to the Dean. I was really nervous about my interview; it was something I never did before. He said, "What can I tell you about the University?" and that was an instant shock. I was kind of blank for a second, then I said "Well, to tell you the honest truth, I've already made my decision to enter this school, so I think I know as much as I possibly should know about being a student here. What I think you should know is about me and why I want to be here." And he moved around in his chair, looked back at me and said "OK, go for it." And I went on and on and on and he said, "OK, why Criminal Justice?" And I told him about the Judicial Committee. I told him about the staff. I told him about everything. He said, "You know something? I'm going to call my office and I'm going to tell them." He told me right then and there, "You'll see your acceptance letter," and "I'll see you in the Fall." I said, "Thank you very much."

          He mentioned the SAT's. He said, "You seem to be a very intelligent girl but you have really bad scores." And I said "Look, its because I don't have any interest in those two subjects, and I never concentrated on them very much. But I'm here now and I know I'm going to come across courses that I have to take that I have no interest in. I have the desire to do it now and I promise you I'll do it." He said "OK."

          I had confidence. I was scared, but I looked at it this way: I said, “OK, try it. I'm never going to know what's going to happen unless I try it. So if I try it and I screw up, I chalk it up and say "OK, I can't do it right now."’ But eventually I will.

          I was confident that I could do the work because I always had encouragement from people saying that I could do anything I wanted to do. Even a staff member who I never really talked to much would say, "Look, you can do it if you want to do it and you will do it." And other people, friends and everything. I think if you have a desire to do something and an interest in it you do it. You take the extra step to work a little harder or find out how to do it. I have to work harder than other kids because they know the tricks of the trade of cramming for an exam or taking a test. So I have to put in an extra couple of hours compared to what they do.

          I didn't start college for two years after I graduated from Sudbury Valley. I did a lot of other things first. I worked. I travelled. I worked for a little over a year because I had planned on going to Europe. I worked about sixty hours a week at two jobs; full time at Filene's, and then in a fruit and nut stand as part-time assistant manager. I saved all my money, and went to France. I was in Europe about six months altogether. Then I came home. I made the decision to come home before I spent all my money, because I had seen what I wanted to see, met people, done the things I wanted to do. I went to France, England, Germany, Switzerland, Italy. I bought a EuRail pass and just went to different countries. I learned a lot about being able to relate to people, being able to deal with hairy situations when you have to, being totally away from everything you're used to. I think that was one of the best things I ever did. Then I could come back here when I decided to, settle down and start studying.

          I came back in October of that year and I started applying to schools and deciding what I wanted to do.

          Another rather different perspective emerges from the laconic remarks of the twenty seven year old who is now the technical supervisor of a large copy machine service company; he was interviewed three years earlier.

          My work is satisfying because I'm on my own. I go to the office once or twice a week at the most. Dispatch straight from my last call at night to my first call the next day. Every day is different, it's always a different angry secretary that I get to meet. A very big part of my job is psychology, and calming people. Why does this machine suck?”"Oh, it doesn't suck." You just have to know how.

          And also the work. It's a puzzle. Every time I go to a machine to fix it, this machine is supposed to be doing something, and it's not doing it, and I have to figure out why. It's like you're driving, you're going down this road and you have a decision to make: Do I follow this road or do I follow that one to try to find the problem? If I follow this one, how long am I going to go down it, trying different things before I have to turn around and try a different one, or go back and start over again? It's a lot of problem solving, mechanical and electrical problem solving, and it's interesting and it pays well and you feel like a hot shit when you get this machine that's not doing anything, and you figure out the problem. But then there are days when you come back to earth and you can't figure out something easy.

          I think that Sudbury Valley helped me to deal with people, and not be condescending to them, or lie to them. I've got a good relationship with the customers, I think.

          I want to be comfortable, you know. I'd love to be rich, but if I have to do it at the expense of being aggravated, or unhappy, or get ulcers by the time I'm 30, I'm not going to do it. I'm not worried about it. I'll be financially comfortable.

          One thing that strikes me is that I know people who say to me, “Oh, I wouldn't know what to do with my time if I had a month off.” And I think "What are you talking about? Just use your time." I never feel that if the structure in my life was lost, what am I going to do? I don't feel lost. My ego doesn't fall apart in chaos if I don't have a schedule. I just live. I make my time what I want it to be. I never feel like, “Oh, my God, what would I do without structure imposed upon me from the outside?” So many people I work with talk like that. Even about my job: in my job, we're alone most of the day, most of the time. I'm a social worker in a hospital setting and we're on our own to make our own schedules and get our work done. A lot of people come here and don't know how to do that. They say, “Well, I don't know how to structure. This day is too unstructured for me. I won't get my work done because I don't know how to balance my day to get it done.” And that I can't fathom. That never happens to me. I wonder how I'm going to get my work done, but I appreciate having the freedom to organize my day the way I want to.

          I don't think going to Sudbury Valley gives you a problem with authority. If anything, you just have more understanding that the person in authority is the only one taking responsibility in many instances, but you have an idea of responsibility, so you can look at what they're looking at. If you've been to Sudbury Valley, you realize that this stuff has to get done, and you chose to work there and get it done. So even if you can't stand your boss, you realize you have to get it done. You're not at a disadvantage because you never had a boss in school.

          I'll just explain one thing about work. Just because you go to Sudbury Valley and you choose your own profession doesn't mean you're going to like your job. Just because you go to Sudbury Valley doesn't mean you're going to have a harder time with authority or getting to work every day because you have to. Or taking tests because you have to. You're not at a disadvantage. First of all, you're at an advantage because you're not fed up with it when you're faced with it for the first time. People who are dealing with it their whole life are fed up with it. By the time they get to college, they don't want to see another test.

          I looked for a college that had a heterogeneous population, as much as possible. They called it “diverse” in my day. I looked for a place that sort of promoted a certain amount of freedom for the students. The school that I went to had expectations but it didn't have a tremendous number of requirements, although I did apply to schools that had more requirements. I looked for places that had good departments in what I was interested in, in dance and in religion. I also looked for schools with good reputations. I visited them and felt the atmosphere and that kind of thing. I took out books from the library, read about the colleges, looked at how many stars they had, read what students had written about them, and visited. I was pretty careful. The interviews were the best feature of my applications I think, because kids from Sudbury Valley are used to talking. They talk a lot. Coming from that school and having to explain it, gives you sort of a leg up. You present as responsible, as articulate, as thinking. You're used to talking to adults. One thing about college is that you're used to having classes not meet all day every day, so that when you get to college and classes meet twice a week for an hour and you have free time, you know what to do with it, you know how to handle that, it's not a shock. And you're not shocked that, “Oh, my God, how am I going to learn this material if I don't sit every day in class?” You're used to intensity in classes. You're used to designing your own schedule. You're used to setting aside time to study because no one's going to do it for you. You have a lot of free time. You learn how to balance that. That comes very easy. What's a little bit hard at first is tests. It takes about one semester and that's it. You're fine.

          I think at Sudbury Valley you learn to respect how other people live because you live with them for half the day. You eat maybe two meals a day with them, you spend most of the waking day with a person. So you learn to respect how other people live and you wonder about how they live and that sort of translates, later, into the need to travel to do that. You learn respect for different types of people at Sudbury Valley School and now, travelling, I like to see how other people live. I like to see how people do their laundry in Venice.

          The following effusive, enthusiastic and extensive comments were made by the twenty nine year old musician and songwriter and who is now also the manager of a music store.

          I became a musician just by doing it. Just by playing. I guess I've always been a musician in some sense. I started writing my own songs when I was about eleven or twelve years old, as soon as I could play chords. I'd make up my own songs. And I've been doing it ever since. So it's been a good long time that I've been doing it, writing words and music.

          Obviously when I was younger I didn't really have an idea of where it was leading to. When I got older, I honed it more, but I didn't really have a niche where I was, where my place was in music, where my songs were. Not until maybe 1984 or 1986, when I really started writing substantial songs, where I could feel that this is a song. You know, this is a real song.

          When I left the school I got involved with a band, guys who were older than me. These guys were the first guys I was ever involved with who knew how to do harmonies. So I learned. Everybody in this band sang, so they let me lead sing a few songs. Then I started bringing in my own songs, and we'd learn them together. We played them. They liked them. And they were supportive of them.

          We'd play gigs. We had a guy managing us. We played a lot of schools and a lot of colleges. We were booked through a big booking agency in Boston, and we made enough money to pay back our expenses. A lot of times we'd have to rent power amplifiers or lights or a truck, so the expenses would be several hundred dollars.

          Our band evolved into another band which became very successful. We were in the WBCN Rock and Rumble in 1987 and went to the finals, played the Orpheum which was a lifelong dream of mine, and which was pretty great. Got a lot of air play. Got a lot of record label interest. Made a lot of contacts, did very well and then one of the members left because he said that he wanted to pursue his own thing which, to this day, he hasn't done.

          I moved on. Within the last three or four years, I got involved in playing a lot of acoustic shows. Just myself on an acoustic guitar and singing. Sometimes one of the other guys from the band plays as well. In the beginning I had some other people from other bands play with me, percussion, bass. And then I started moving it more towards a band format. Now I have a group of about eight different musicians — two backup singers, a bass player, a percussion player, a guitar player, and me and a keyboard player. I get gigs, but I'm not playing out as much because today the music scene in Boston is a lot different and you don't have people going out as much to clubs to see bands, where in 1987 people were flocking to clubs. The more you played, in 1987, the more people would come to see you. Now, it's the total opposite. We saw it starting to happen then, realizing that you can't play all the time, in Boston. So we started playing outside of Boston a little bit. Still, it was a very small circle.

          Now I have a very close friend, who I've known since 1982, managing me, someone who worked on the road with well-known artists. We went to L.A. and spoke with some different people and some different record labels. So I'm working towards getting a record deal. My manager believes in me, sees my vision, and knows that I'm going to make a record and we're going to get a record deal. We're going to make a hit.

          I find, when we're on, when the band is on and we have a great night, we captivate people. Now I'm living at home, I'm not working forty hours a week anymore. I have a brand new 8-track setup in my home studio, and I'm out here in the woods, away from everything that goes on in the city, although I'm very involved in the industry. And I find that now that I have such a low profile in the city, every time I'm out, people want to know where I'm playing next, what's going on, am I recording? I find that we get more and more people out to see us and people seem more excited about us.

          I love performing. I'd like to tour. What my manager and I are talking about doing is getting in a camper, putting the gear on a trailer, and going out across the country and playing clubs. I want to get out to the people. I really feel that the music that I'm writing, is different than a lot of other bands, because it has so many different aspects of music involved in it; it's an energy thing, it's a feel thing, and, as people say, it's a groove thing. I think it's different enough that people will be intrigued because it's like no other band. And I think it's accessible enough that people will understand it, that they'll get it, that the average working guy in Indiana or in Louisiana or in Wyoming or in Nebraska, will know what we're doing. It's not foreign to them. It's also a very visual thing. We have a great backdrop, a really cool, almost psychedelic looking backdrop and every show we try and do something a little different.

          What my manager and I are trying to do right now is shop a deal. I feel frustrated at times. I wish I was a little further. Now that I don't have a job, I am free to be where my heart feels I need to be, which is writing songs. However long it takes for me to get a record deal, that's how long it will take. When I get itchy, my manager always brings me back down to reality because that's really his job. I know that once somebody has the same vision, and sees what I'm doing and believes in it, I will have the opportunity to prove myself. All I'm looking for is an opportunity to prove to people that I'm a legitimate song writer and that I can write hits and make records that people will want to hear.

          I have my parents who love what I do and are totally supportive of it. The main reason for moving back home was that I felt that I had worked forty hours a week for so long — for ten, twelve years — that if I was really going to make it in this field, if I was truly going to be successful, I had to center my career around my career, instead of centering my career around my work. When I was working, it was forty hours a week, forty five hours a week and then I could do my music. There wasn't a lot of time to write. My thoughts were blurred. Now I realize that if I'm going to be serious about it, then whatever I do has to come after my music. Nobody else's store, nobody else's business can come before that.

          The thirty year old professor of mathematics, interviewed as a graduate student at the age of twenty-six, although far less talkative about his inner thoughts, nevertheless revealed a clear notion of where he was going with his life at each of its stages:

          I left school at about seventeen and I worked at the Natural Grocer [an innovative natural foods store] for a year and a half. I was interested in the Natural Grocer and I wanted to work there, and I wasn't at all interested in going to college at that point. I thought about it, but it was clearly something that I didn't particularly want to do right then. I didn't have any good reason to go to college.

          I decided to go to college because I wanted to do more music with other people who were interested in classical music. That was the primary motivation. The secondary motivation was that I wanted to see what it was like to be around a university and to be around other people who were interested in academic things, and to have a rich amount of academic things going on around me that I could participate in if I wanted to or talk to people about if I wanted to. I felt it was something that would be really different from Sudbury Valley in the sense that instead of being one person interested in something, if I was interested in something in college, I figured that there would be lots of other people around who were interested in it too. There would be lots of people to talk to. It turned out that as I got more interested in math, there weren't very many people I could talk to, because where I was there just weren't many people who were that good at math.

          I wanted to go to graduate school at MIT and I got in there. They looked at my college transcript, and they looked at recommendations, which was probably the most helpful thing. I had good recommendations, some of them from people who faculty at MIT knew. I went to England in between college and graduate school. I got a scholarship: applying for it was like applying to another graduate school. They award ten a year to Americans.

          Cambridge, England was fun. It wasn't so useful mathematically, but it was a lot of fun. The students there were really advanced. They were much more advanced than I was and so I was always scrambling to understand anything that a lecturer was talking about when I went to classes. I was getting sort of worried there, but after a while, being back here, I realized that I wasn't really any stupider than them. I just didn't know nearly as much. The undergraduate math program at Cambridge is really good. It's probably better than any undergraduate math program in this country and is certainly a lot better than mine was.

          My wife and I got to Cambridge a month early and we travelled in England and then when I finished in June, we travelled for a couple of months. We travelled for most of June and all of July and a little bit of August. That was really nice. Travelling in France was the best, because France is really cheap and you get good food all the time. And it's also really pretty. We travelled in England and in Germany and we'd stay in youth hostels and try to live really cheaply and then we went to France and, at the exchange rates then, for under $10 we could both stay in a hotel and for under $10, we could both have a good meal, with wine, at a restaurant. So it was really amazing.

          In her interview, the sister of the graduate just quoted saw the world from a quite different point of view, yet shared with her brother many of the same perspectives on life:

          When I went to college, the biggest gap in my knowledge was not knowing how to write a research paper. I mastered the tools that I needed to do it, and it didn't take me long. But to learn to write an essay took me longer. Not an essay on what I thought. That I can do easily. But an essay on what you're supposed to feed back to the teacher. Each teacher wants you to feed back something else, and what you need to know is not so much how to write, but what it is that teacher wants. It's a matter of learning what the teacher wants and not learning for the sake of learning. You're supposed to figure out what they think is important. I didn't know that when I went to college; I learned that there. To me, it's more valuable to learn what is important.

          I learn a lot from other people — from those who offer me knowledge, or those I can extract knowledge from. The people I don't learn from are people who stand up there and read from a textbook that I could also read from, and don't actually say what they think is important. They expect you to extrapolate, from something that they haven't said, what they might think is important. That's not learning. That's memorizing what somebody else thinks is important without having any reason to see why that person even thinks it's important.

          I wasn't that happy in that atmosphere. It's not that I didn't learn. But I didn't feel I got the kind of guidance in terms of the kinds of things I should be studying or things that might be significant later on. So you go on and you learn for yourself. But I could have done that without them.

          I work part time right now because I want to blow glass. I have to earn enough money doing something else to pay to blow glass, because it costs a lot of money both to take courses and to rent the studio (which costs $30 an hour). I also volunteer my time to assist other people and learn that way.

          I love blowing glass, but I'm not sure if I'll ever be good. You can make a piece that's pretty, but that doesn't mean you're going to be good. I have an eye for beauty, but I don't always know where the starting point is to get to that. I'm not sure yet if I can ever make a career out of it. It might just always be a hobby.

          I used to feel that I had to give, give, give and I had to teach people because I knew more about life and I had to somehow contribute. But now I don't have that. Something changed and that's gone. I don't feel I have to change the world or I have to convert people or show them my way. I just have to live. I just have to be happy in my life. My contribution to the world doesn't have to be some great change.

          It's not selfish, it's just not selfless. You don't have to be selfless all the time. Go enjoy life.

          I'm not saying I won't do things in the world. I still contribute. I still work on the kinds of things that I feel change the world that I can maybe affect. But I don't have to be doing something twenty-four hours a day to change the world. I can help people some of the time. Or maybe I can help them in another way that's not so giving of myself all the time.

          I think I'm a better person now. I think I'm more whole. There are a lot of people in the world who have to control everything, or have to always be serving, or have to somehow make everybody see things their way. I don't need that. I'm more self-sufficient in my emotional needs. If I become a physiotherapist, as I'm considering doing, I'm sure I'll be able to contribute to that field. I'll be able to help people get better and treat people the way that I've been treated by physiotherapists. But I also know that I can do something else and get satisfaction from that too. I don't have to give my whole self to be satisfied; I can just give a part.

          I have total confidence that I can do what I set out to do. That comes mostly from my track record. At Sudbury Valley you get a track record. Even as a young person, at Sudbury Valley you do things and you get things done by yourself or with others — with other children or with other adults. It's a self-confidence that you establish: you see how things work and you can go after something and get it done. One of the big things about Sudbury Valley is that it gives you that.

          There are some areas in my life where I don't have that track record, and where I don't have self-confidence. When I first started blowing glass, I was devastated when the first piece that I dropped on the floor smashed into a hundred little pieces. I was ruined for the whole day. I thought, “This is my piece. This is my dream piece. This is a concept that I had and it was so beautiful and now it's in pieces.” Once it shatters, it gets cold and you can see the color and you know how it was going to turn out. And you're devastated. Everybody else goes about their business and gets on with it and says, “You know, you have to get used to this. This happens.” But last week I was making a beautiful white plate. I really loved it. It was a new thing; I had seen somebody else's work that was white and I was inspired and tried it, and here was this gorgeous thing — and then it smashed into a hundred pieces. The person I was working with said, “How come you're not upset?” I said, “Well, I am upset a little bit, but I've broken pieces before. It's going to happen. It happens to the masters all the time, too.” Not as often, but it still happens to them. You just have to say, “Well, ok, that one broke, but I'm going to make another one right now and it's not going to break.” So you have to reestablish your track record. When you have things that are failures, you have to go and try it again, learn from what happened, learn from the mistake.

          Finally, we have the thoughts of the twenty nine year old musician, songwriter, art photographer, and entrepreneur owner of his own custom color photolab. Here is what he had to say:

          There are two big things I learned about democracy in the School Meeting, which I think apply equally well to life in America at large. To me they've always explained the incredibly low voter turnout that happens in this country. The biggest rule is, that everything's going to run itself fairly reasonably with or without your presence. Once you have a fundamental trust in the reasonableness of the society you're in, you don't have to attend to every detail, and not attending to every detail is not a sign of not caring about it. It's a sign of basic faith that the system will more or less run along reasonable lines with or without your attention and that you can devote your attention other places. That's certainly how I felt about a lot of political things in my later life. I have a certain faith in the government, in the country, in the overall will of the American people. I can pretty much sleep easy knowing that America as a whole is going in a certain direction. There may be variants, there may be scoundrels, there may be scandals, but the basic overall thrust is going to be fairly reasonable, and I don't have to lose too much sleep over it. So I don't find myself super politically involved. I find myself the opposite. I find myself realizing that democracy guarantees me a certain reasonableness in society and that I don't have to worry about that aspect of my life. And I think that's one of the best things about democracy, that you're not constantly looking over your shoulder wondering what's going to happen.

          The other thing was the cold hard fact of majority rule. There's a lot of times in the School Meeting — and this is a good example for life, where it's just as true — when your own particular interests and the majority's are not the same and you just have to bite it. It's just a fact of life. The larger group's will is the will that is usually gone with, and when your personal individual thing comes in conflict with this larger, greater, good of the community, a lot of times you just have to swallow that fact. For example, you can't expect the government of the United States to hand you money to do your particular project. There's a larger interest at stake. It's not just what you want to do with your life. So that was another big thing. A lot of people have to learn that lesson. When the majority feel a certain thing and you feel another thing, you just have to live with that and come back the next day happy with that instead of being permanently upset about it.

          The musical group that I'm working with now runs by the “one lone nut” theory. What we say is that if one person disagrees with the entire group, they basically have to eat their disagreement. If one person has a problem with something and it's not shared by any other person in the group, then it's their personal problem. Whereas if two people from different perspectives feel something strongly, we tend to take that as a sign that we should try to figure out another way to do things. That's the way the group runs.

          I felt more and more fortunate as I was out in the world at having had the school experience. I felt fortunate specifically at having been born at the time I was because the early years of the school were amazing years. I feel much more a child of the sixties even though I was only six years old then, than I feel a child of the seventies, when I was in my teens, which most people think of as their formative years. I think in many ways the sixties were a much more interesting time in our culture. There was a lot more up for grabs, a lot more questions being asked and I feel very excited to have been part of all that. That still informs a lot of my life, that experience. I've grown more and more to appreciate over time the lucky confluence of events that happened in my early childhood.

          I feel like I'm in an accelerated development in many ways. I was able to enjoy a period when a lot of people are just waiting for their life to begin. They hate their school or they hate their whole childhood or something, and they really start being themselves when they become adults. I haven't really fundamentally changed my behavior with the exception of paying bills. I'm doing the exact same thing I was doing when I was six years old except that I now allot a certain chunk of my time for paying my bills and for making money. That's the only difference. You can say that's a major thing but I'm not sure that is such a major thing. I mean, I think that's something you do, but the rest of my life is fundamentally like what it was when I was a kid. I do what I want to do every day. And that's a very unusual lifestyle. I feel like I have the inborn right, because I grew up this way, to stop what I'm doing in the middle of the day and play the piano for half an hour. Because I run my own business and I can set my own hours and I don't see why I should work eight continuous hours when I feel like playing the piano in the middle of the day. That drives my partner crazy, because I'll say, “I didn't have any time today to do grocery shopping.” And she'll say, “Well, you played the piano.” And I'm like, “Yeah, that's not grocery shopping. That's what I want to do.” I took time off from work to do something I wanted to do. I didn't take time off from work to do grocery shopping. I'll do grocery shopping after my work hours. I've set aside certain hours in my life every day for work and, if I can work faster and have some of those hours free for leisure, I take them. So in a sense, it's just the same except when I was younger I didn't worry about my bills.

          Travel has played a pretty big role in my early years. After I left the school for about five or six years I took every possible opportunity to travel and I lived for a year in Europe. I think that living for a year in Europe was probably for me in my life what a lot of people go to university for. It was being exposed to a very divergent bunch of cultural things that I wouldn't have been exposed to if I had just sat here in America. I was seeing a lot of different perspectives about the world at once. And it was also being very, very far away from home, in every sense of the word — physically, culturally, mentally, everything.

          I think a lot of people maybe go to university because it exposes them to life. They'll take a philosophy course. They'll start reading philosophers that maybe they wouldn't have read otherwise. Now, I don't go with that. If I want to read philosophers and I'm too lazy to get a book off the shelf, I'm not that interested in philosophy. If I really want to do something, it's all available to me at any time at any place. But the thing about going to Europe was that it gave me that totally outside perspective on my culture, on American culture and on my life. When I came back I was more determined than ever to do exactly the things I'm doing now. I realized a lot of good things about the kind of life I could lead in America. I also realized I had options. I realized, hey, if I didn't like the American option, I had a European option. I had other options. I could live anywhere I wanted to. It made me realize that the ultimate vote is the vote you take with your feet. If you choose to live somewhere, do it for the reasons that help your life. I'm where I am because this is one of the few big-sized cities where you can still get a lot of space cheap. When you're an artist and you need space for your band to rehearse and space for your theater company, that's a primary consideration. So being in a city where space is cheap feeds a lot of other artistic endeavors. I don't think I'd be here if rents were what New York's rents are. I would have found another place to be. I would have kept looking until I found some place first rate, wherever it would have been.

          Travel in that sense, too, has definitely played a big role in my life because it made me realize that places are important. You exist on your own to a certain degree but the place where you do something affects you and affects your options. You have to choose the place you're in like you choose everything else in your life or it will be chosen for you and you'll just have to live with the consequences. And I think that in a way that's true of the school. I definitely think the sense of place, the building, the physical surroundings, being in New England and specifically in Massachusetts with its tendencies of thought, those are all factors. You can't really separate them from being at Sudbury Valley School. The school would be a very different place if it was located in the hills of Greece. It might be the same place philosophically, but it would not be the same place in any other way.

          Seven sets of reflections, seven very different perspectives on life. Yet, common threads run through them, as we might expect from students long immersed in the philosophy and practice of Sudbury Valley.

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From Pursuit of Happiness
By Daniel Greenberg, Mimsy Sadofsky and Jason Lempka

Why They Like Their Jobs

          "Have a hard time going home at night. Too much fun working."

The Many Faces of Satisfaction

          In the last section we looked at the various factors that contributed to the respondents’ choices of their occupations. In this section we are going to examine their feelings about the jobs they have chosen. Inevitably, there is a lot of overlap in the language they used when replying to these two different lines of questioning: more often than not, the reason a person chose a job turned out to be validated in their work experience. The reader will recognize some of the same people they met in the last section as they read this one, but many significant new factors emerge as they talk further about their work.
          When respondents were asked directly what they liked about their jobs, their answers usually encompassed a broad range of factors. Consider the following reply:

          The job that I have now is very close to being my ideal job. I’m the administrator for a town’s Conservation Commission. I’m essentially in charge of a wide range of environmental work in the town, both from the standpoint of reviewing and permitting construction projects in or near environmentally sensitive areas, as well as managing about 550 acres of conservation land almost from a park ranger standpoint. And it’s terrific – I love the people I work with, I love the town, I’m given a lot of freedom to structure the work environment in a way that meets my needs -- it's terrific.
          Being at the local level really helps. When I worked as a consultant to the federal government, it was just so far removed from what was happening on the ground. I mean, I might be writing a report that would help create a policy that might be used by a local organization to do something in a particular location, but then again it might not, and even if it did I wouldn't know about it because the end result was so far removed from the work that I did. So I really like working at the local level where I can see the results and the fruits of my labor right in front of me.
      I work on so many different things in my job and they’re really all interesting to me. The only part of my job that I don't like is the law enforcement side of it; if people are committing violations of the State Wetlands Protection Act or the Local Wetlands Protection Bylaw, I have to issue fines, violation notices and enforcement orders, and tell them to clean up the mess or replant trees that they’ve cut in prohibited areas. That can involve conflict and nobody likes conflict. I can handle it, but it's not my favorite part of the job. Aside from that, everything else I do, I love. I'm really in the right place.

          In the above passage, teamwork, location, autonomy, fulfillment, variety, public service, are all seen to contribute to the respondent’s high degree of pleasure in his work. Figure 12 displays the full range of reasons given in the interviews for finding work satisfying.
          The reason that appeared most frequently, by a good margin, was “service to others”. Other factors that appeared to stand out were“challenging work, “meaningful work, relating to other people, fun” and hands on work.
          In the Chapter "Who the Alumni Are", Figure 6, (p. 20) we saw that forty-three of the respondents had spent seven or more years at the school -- that is, they spent at least part of what would have been their elementary school years, as well as what would have been their middle and high school years, at Sudbury Valley. When analyzing respondents’ replies throughout this work, we routinely compared the distributions for all the respondents with the distributions for the forty-three very long-term students. Generally, there was no significant variation between the two distributions. However, in this case we found some interesting differences, as shown in Figure 13.
          Whereas 17% of the full group reported taking pleasure in their jobs from relating to other people, 33% of the long-term group described this factor as important to their work satisfaction. Having fun was mentioned by 18% and 26% of the two groups, respectively; and enjoying hands-on work was mentioned by 15% and 26% respectively. It would appear that the long-termers were a little more focused on the interpersonal aspects, the enjoyment and the experiential nature of their occupations.


Figure 12 What makes jobs satisfying for the respondents.

Figure 13 What makes jobs satisfying for the alumni who were long-term students.

          Quite a few people were pleased that they were working in a company that was particularly enlightened. Here are two comments:

          It’s a really good company. In some ways it’s sort of – I’m not going to say modeled after Sudbury Valley – but a lot of its practices and policies are related to self-motivation and empowerment, so you really get to exercise personal initiative. They treat you really well, and pay you pretty well. It’s a good job.

          I love the company. I like the people in the company, and the company treats me great. I’ve been there a long time, so I’ve got a lot of seniority, and I have an excellent position. I feel as though I'll probably work there until I retire.

          One person waxed eloquent about the pleasure she got from being part of the creation of management guidelines for a swiftly growing company:

          I was running a store. I was the store manager. But what we were doing was really building the infrastructure in terms of how to hire, and how to train, and how to open new stores quickly with quality staff and quality service, by following guidelines so that you could get the same product at every store, that kind of thing. So I was running a store, but I was also doing all this other stuff. We had lots of fun; we put our heart and soul into it.

          Several people mentioned the autonomy they enjoyed within the framework of their employment:

          I like the fact that I get to make my own decisions. I'm very much on my own throughout the day. There’s not a lot of supervision that I need to follow. I'm left to my own devices, for better or for worse, which I've found mostly for better. In fact, in almost all instances better.
          I enjoy the type of project-based work where it’s three to six months in duration and then you move on to something else, and you have ownership of that project for the time that you’re working on it. What I didn't like about my last company is that it took many years before you got an opportunity to really take ownership of things. You’re at a fairly junior level and there’s a fairly rigid hierarchy in a management consulting firm. Because my current employer’s strategic planning group is smaller than the staffing levels at a large management consulting firm, you tend to get more responsibility.
          I really love my job and I don't consider it just a place I have to go. My approach is that what I'm being paid for is to manage a café, to make sure that there is an ample and good variety of healthful food there for people to eat and that we don’t run out of things. I do that really well, but that’s not necessarily a job where you start at 9:00 and end at 5:00. That’s a job where you come in and see what’s there and you have a burst of energy and you do a bunch of stuff and then either you just plow through or maybe you stop and take an hour off and do something in the middle of your day and then come back. Who’s to say whether I'm going to leave at four o’clock in the afternoon or ten o’clock in the evening? It’s very open, so a lot of my leisure time is actually spent at my workplace, when I'm by myself in a practice room or in a good conversation with a fellow musician. If I want to duck into a rehearsal room for an hour in the middle of the day, I just do it. If I am enjoying having a conversation with someone, I'll just do it. I'll take half an hour off to talk with someone who’s interesting, and then I'll work more later.

          Many people reported that their work was just plain fun for them. The following two comments were representative of the responses:

      I joined a company and started making games for a living. I’m bringing joy to people now. A lot of the skills from my prior television work converted over to game design. I am doing game design, just taking all the parts – the art and the programing and all of that -- and crafting the environment that people will be playing in, and the rules, and all that. Good fun – not exactly work for a living. You know, a definite artistic environment, very relaxed. You have deadlines, but after television – a deadline every six months or something is no big deal after having a deadline of 10:00 every night.

          The military has treated me terrifically. For one thing, as a woman trying to make a wage and progress in any kind of a career, I think you get more fairness in the military than out. When I got eligible to retire – right about the time my first baby came – I told my boss, “It’s been great, but I think it’s time to hang up my Major fatigues and become a civilian.” But he said, “Well, not so fast, we’re starting to let people telecommute – it’s working out great for the Air Force. It’s very cost effective in the military to have people telecommute if you happen to be on a job that lends itself to that.” So I got out and became a reservist and went right back into the military historian field and it has been great ever since. So for the past four years I’ve been telecommunicating for the Air Force. Currently, I do it two or three days a week.
          I work at home and I’m doing a lot of transcribing and editing, mostly oral histories, lectures and interviews with people. Right now there is a real push to get stuff about Korea before the veterans are all too old to tell any stories. The World War II guys are still telling stories, but the stories are getting pretty farfetched in a lot of cases.
      How can you beat it? I sit at my desk and I look out at the mountains and at the eagles and I transcribe. It’s awesome. Pretty cool. I don't have to wear a uniform. I don't even know where my uniform is.

          The overwhelming impression received from the interviews is of a group of people who by and large have pursued and found vocations that give them satisfaction and pleasure. The full gamut of these pleasures radiate from this person’s description of farming:

          It's an amazing combination of so many different skills and challenges – it's constantly creating efficient systems, it’s working with natural forces, it’s being outside. I’m a devoted cook and I love cooking with incredible ingredients, so it’s a way to surround myself with a dream assortment of vegetables a lot of the year. And I’m a social person – I like working with employees, and I like the way we market the produce, which is that dozens of families come to the farm once a week and pick up a basket of produce. We also sell at farmers’ markets -- so it’s very social and people just love it, which makes me feel good.
      It’s a wonderful way to raise a family too. I love hard work, I love using my body, I love working with machinery. I just really do love every aspect of farming, except sometimes there’s just too much hard work. But I actually love it. I wake up at dawn and I'm just so excited to go work on the farm. I'm depressed when it gets dark out and I can’t work anymore.
      I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing, which very few people can do. I live in an unbelievably beautiful area on a beautiful farm, and I’ve been able to pursue my dreams at a young age.

Challenge

          The enormous percentage of the interviewees who are engaged in entrepreneurial work, or are in management positions, testifies to the extent to which challenge, creativity, and constant stimulation are an integral part of their daily work life -- so much so that it comes as no surprise that most of them take it for granted, and that not that many singled out these factors specifically as reasons they enjoyed their work. However, many of the remarks made on this subject caught our attention.
          People enjoy challenge in all sorts of occupations. A carpenter said that he likes to do "anything that's challenging, that I haven't done before and that I have to use my head a little bit about."” A software engineer said, "I enjoy the feel, just being able to stretch my mind, of really being challenged over the natural course of my job." A lawyer commented, "I need a lot of stimulation, so I think change for me is good. It keeps me awake." A manager in a chain of copy and print centers remarked, "I’ve done a lot of different stuff. It’s always kind of a little bit different, and whenever I get tired of one thing they let me do whatever else I want." And this comment is from a person in the retail clothing business:

          I’ve been working in retail since I graduated. Well before I even went to college, I was working in retail -- and to me it’s interesting, it’s challenging. I manage a shop, I have a lot of people under me, and I’m in charge of a lot of things. I communicate well with my clientele in a very prosperous area in London—-- it's very rich actually, and it’s very challenging.

          Several people enjoyed the excitement of being busy in a multi-task environment.

          I get to interact with 400 different people, which is the best part of my job. I don't go sit at a computer. I don't sit down and just do one thing. I get to deal with complex issues in what I would call a seriously intense environment. That's the best part of it. It's different every day. There's always something.

          I work for an Internet start-up. There's no dress code, there's no hours. It's sort of very loose. As long as you get your job done, everybody's happy. It's not really high pressure, but we have a lot of deadlines, we have a lot of things that have to happen quickly, which is sort of the nature of the business. But that's good too, because it's never ever boring. I worked at a bank for about five months and that didn't really work out.

          I worked for a Boston based worldwide management consulting firm. I was an off-site technology coordinator for them, so I got to work with a lot of different people in the organization, primarily vice-presidents in the company, going around and basically being their tech guy around the world, wherever they traveled. The bulk of what I had to do was this: there were about fifteen core conferences around the world that we had to schedule and they would be for anywhere between 30 and 300 people. They needed IT infrastructure to support those people while they were at the conference, which basically meant replicating whatever support services they had at their home offices, which they were going to expect when they showed up at your door. So it was a matter of working with a lot of different vendors, working with a lot of different IT groups within the company, really having a lot of irons in the fire at the same time.

          Even temporary work unrelated to the person's primary career goals turned out to be satisfying for the respondent who got a kick out of the challenge in it:

          I had a job at a real estate tax service through a temp agency. I think it was a very good experience. Now I've got two-plus years of office experience under my belt and I've juggled all kinds of tasks. I answered phones, I dealt with customers, I ran a mail room, I ran part of a department essentially when there wasn't anybody else. Time management was also important because the business is very cyclical and several times a year it is extraordinarily busy and then at other times it can be really slow. But those times when it's really busy, trying to handle that and juggle that is challenging. I remember one particular tax cycle where I was kind of my whole department, and it was so busy I was coming in early and staying late, and I still felt like I never got through the stuff.

          Several alumni focused on the pleasure they got at learning new things at their jobs. A former student who worked at a large nursery while in art school found unexpected challenges:

          They have at least a thousand people working for them and a lot of them are from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico. So I've had to learn to speak Spanish. I've had to learn to drive and operate loaders and fork lifts and stuff. I'm working on getting my commercial driver's license. I've learned a lot of skills, and I've also learned a lot about how other people in the world, other communities in the world, act and treat each other and how they think of our society in the US. That's kind of been a big eye-opener. It's been interesting.

          Another artist found himself enjoying what he was learning in a complete different domain:

          After I started going to art school, I continued to work for a house painter from my home area. It was just the two of us, and I didn't do it so much because I needed the money, or necessarily for the love of house painting, but I did it because I learned a lot from him, and I learned a lot about being responsible for somebody else's professional life. That was a really important experience for me and I still work for him when he needs extra help.

          Another graduate looked for a succession of jobs from which he could expand his knowledge in several related areas.

          I've never worked at anything just for the money. I like to keep it something I can learn from. I worked pressing herbal extracts immediately after I graduated SVS. I worked retail at a couple of other places, such as natural food markets. I worked at an organic farm; that was a great job. Now I work at a florist, because it involves flowers and people that I like.

          The ability to be creative in a job was a key factor mentioned by several alumni. For a fashion industry pattern maker, this was particularly important:

          In every world there's always a little maverick fringe. I began by working in companies run by young women, starting up designers, so I worked the maverick fringe and made good friends with people who were a little different than the rest of the fashion industry. From there I moved to a larger designer which itself was actually known to be very different than the rest of the fashion industry. It was a very nice atmosphere.

          Teaching music in an inner-city high school turned out to be a unique creative outlet for an aspiring singer:

          I taught for a year and a half at a public high school in Manhattan, one of the inner city schools. It was a really amazing experience. The diversity of my students was just astounding. I had kids from India, Dominican Republic, Africa, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Bangladesh, Iraq, Iran.
          I built the program at that high school. My first year there they threw me into a room with a package of dry erase markers and no books, no piano, no music, no equipment, no television, no nothing. They just put me in a room and handed me 300 kids and said, "Teach music!" I built everything that program had. This was a business school, so obviously music wasn't necessarily everyone's favorite topic, but I had wonderful kids. I had no discipline problems after a while, which was sort of unusual because I was new, I was young, and I had a lot of special needs kids that were being mainstreamed and they were wild. I don't know exactly what it is. I'm good with teenagers, so I guess it worked out somehow.

          An avant garde artist, sculptor and performance artist brings creativity to the level of eccentricity:

          As a general rule, all the things that I do tend to be sort of ongoing things so that while, yes, I try to be open to particular spontaneities that might improve a particular piece, there definitely is an overall long-term drive that is the ultimate governing factor of whatever I'm doing.
          Depending on which mode I am in, I might be spending an entire day just foraging around in a landfill looking for bits of scrap material that would be the right things for repairing the various items from one of my main collections, or I might spend an entire day just running back and forth between the different areas of the shop and working on fixing things, or I might be working entirely on my website or going out and trying to do something in terms of publicizing the project, schmoozing the people in galleries, etcetera, or doing performances in various venues, both to publicize my work and also just for the sake of doing it.

          Even he, however, occasionally found the need to take routine jobs to earn some money - jobs from which he managed to extract useful experience each time:

          For the most part I've been pretty much involved with my own projects. I mean obviously I have worked, but for the most part I've tried to get jobs where I could pick up skills that would be useful to me for my own needs - getting a paycheck and hopefully picking up a little bit of knowledge, like working in a photomat, where I got to develop my own pictures. I also worked briefly doing museum restoration work, from which I picked up a lot of good techniques.

Meaning

          Many of the respondents indicated that they enjoy their work because it adds meaning to their lives. Their replies revealed a great deal about their personal value systems.

          Here is how a librarian put it:

          Since I've been out of college, I've been working in libraries, children's libraries, and I find that really meaningful. It's kind of my mission to change libraries to be more open. I think there's a lot of potential for libraries to use their meeting space for a whole host of things that they don't use them for now. For example, I have teenagers come into the library and they bring bands and they play music after the library is closed. This summer we put on a play where the high school students were teaching the younger kids improv acting.
          I think that libraries in the old-fashioned sense are unfortunately - or fortunately - kind of defunct. My vision of a library of the future is a space where information on all kinds of different platforms can be exchanged.

          This person felt that her work transformed the entire relationship of a community to its culture:

          I was the executive director of the Arts Council of my town for two and a half years. It certainly wasn't the pay that I really enjoyed, because as a nonprofit they didn't pay very well. But I worked on a project that had a lot of impact on the community. We took an old library building and, with a nineteen-member board of directors, we were able to raise $1,800,000 to restore it. It was remarkable because we are in a very remote area. There aren't any big industries, no high-tech corporations, so all of our funding had to come from private foundations and local individuals and small donations from businesses - a lot of really small donations and some fairly substantial ones. It was a big undertaking, something that a lot of people said couldn't be done, and now it's a cornerstone of the community and it's really being recognized.
          There are things that I initiated that have become pretty well established, like what we call the Cultural Round Table, which is a coalition of cultural organizations. It was basically a means of getting people together to talk, to have an opportunity to discuss problems and difficulties, and to enable a way to work together. There had been the feeling of competition, and this forum provided a way to schedule things so that you weren't, for instance, having performances on the same day as someone else and then ticket sales would suffer as a result, that kind of thing. That idea was then taken by the regional Arts Council, and now they're using these Cultural Round Tables and have established them in each of the six counties that make up the region. We have a Cultural Trust, which is fairly new, an endowment fund to fund the arts in the state, and they are looking for ways to distribute the money. They were going to send funds to the cities in the rural areas, but now they're finding that because of the Cultural Round Tables, they can send the money there, and then have a system set up where people can apply for the funding from a local organization. So one little tiny thing that I did has mushroomed into a really big thing.
          Artists are coming out of the woodwork. Now they have a place to exhibit their artwork, and a means of marketing it, and art education. That's going to impact the livability of the area, it's going to impact people wanting to come here - doctors and professionals and people like that - and it's increasing things like art fairs and sidewalk fairs. All of these activities now have a place to come together.

          A person who works in the environmental field found that his very first job after he graduated from college pointed him in the direction of a meaningful career:

          I worked for a large environmental organization. We worked on creating a code of environmental conduct for corporations and on a system which they could use to report annually on their compliance with those principles. It was to be used by people who wanted to invest in companies that represented their own personal views, and wanted some objective way of measuring whether their corporations were, in fact, meeting those criteria. I worked with an excellent group of people, comprised of individuals from a number of nonprofit organizations in the environmental field, and from different religious organizations and institutions committed to conservation. I felt the work I was doing was very valuable because I felt we were helping to change corporate environmental practices for the better, but then in addition to that, the people I worked with were just terrific individuals and I made friendships that are continuing to this day. That work convinced me of my need for further training and education in environmental science and natural resources management. It not only led me toward graduate school, but also gave me some of the credentials I needed to get into the graduate programs I was interested in.

          Several former students commented on the pleasure they got from providing service to others. A realtor mentioned how she enjoys "the chance to work with people on what for them is one of the most important decisions they can make. I enjoy the whole process of helping them to make a good decision." A respondent who works with disturbed children in a group home setting remarked that her "goal with employment is not to be bored and to feel like I am doing something useful; this work fulfills that goal." A social worker chose her profession because "I wanted to do something that meant something to me and that contributed to the well being of the community. Since earning money was going to take up a great deal of my time, I wanted to incorporate other goals as well." Another social worker explained:

          I worked for the Public Child Welfare Agency in the city I was living in for nine years, and that was really meaningful. The bulk of the time I was a protective service case worker. I worked with children at risk of abuse and neglect and I provided the families with services. I removed the children from the home when they weren't safe and tried to reunite families that were apart. It was super meaningful work and very hard.
          Then I became a home finder. I trained foster and adoptive parents and made the placements. I coordinated which children went to which home, and re-evaluated the homes and lent them support. I really, really liked that job.

          The former student who was a funeral director for about twenty years invested a great deal of compassion in his work:

          People make a lot of snide remarks, but it was very gratifying. People are in terrible shape when they arrive to settle their loved ones' final arrangements, and I've always been a kind, sympathetic, patient person. My work used a combination of every talent I've got. It was a good job for me as far as being rewarding in a spiritual way. I've got a whole box of letters from families thanking me for being so kind and helpful - and not trying to screw them.

          A former student who took a job in a nursing home in order to pay her college tuition found satisfaction as she became highly committed to the clients and their welfare: "I run activities like arts and crafts, exercise, a whole slew of things. The nursing home residents have very high levels of dementia. I have my own floor there and I really enjoy the work." She then went on to describe an incident that illustrated the extent of her involvement:

          My floor is for wanderers and behavioral problems. On my floor there are two women who are in their late 80's. I called them "my two little wanderers" because they wandered around but they always looked for each other. They don't know what planet we're on, they don't know what's going on, but they know each other. The administration decided to separate them. So I had a disagreement about moving one and not the other. The one they decided to move had just gotten back from the hospital and she was very frail.
          On the day of the move she was very upset, so I told one of the administrators, "I need someone else to be in the recreation activity so I can help her" - you know, I had 20 or 30 other people to look after. So she called, and someone in Social Service came up and said about my patient, "Who's Jean?" That's how well they know their clients! I explained the situation. I said, "I don't know who made this decision and I don't have any medical background, but I think it's a very bad idea because it's just going to upset both of them and I think they're going to go downhill. Jean's in a really bad state."
          Well, I got in trouble for speaking up for my residents' interests. And this has been sort of ongoing. I've seen the residents' families - they're all very upset about this - and I talked to them about it. I fully acknowledged to them that I disagreed with what the administration decided to do. So, I'm just sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop. I spend eight hours a day with these people, and I know them, and someone comes in and says, "Who's Jean?" I don't think it's right.

          The satisfaction of working with special needs children outweighs the difficulties inherent in this person's job:

          What I'm doing right now is substitute teaching, working with special-ed kids, which I really love. The pay is so low that you might as well say I'm volunteering. I don't really have to be working at this point in my life; I do it just because I really enjoy it.
          The kids dread it because here's a substitute and how much help can she possibly be? She doesn't know the kids, and some of the programs the kids are on are very involved, lots of subtleties. Also, kids with special needs may not respond well to changes and different faces. That alone can set them off sometimes; it's really hard to have a stranger among them. There were a couple of times where I walked in the door and people were openly upset. By the end of the day it was like, "Thank you so much for coming!" They might as well have just said, "We really thought you'd be a dud." So it's been rewarding.
          What I have found interesting is that very quickly people realize that I have some experience, I have something to bring to the table, and quite honestly I feel like now everywhere I go I'm respected. People know that when I walk in the door I'm not going to be dead weight. I'm going to be able to get the job done. Now people are calling and requesting me directly, which makes me feel good.

          Service to other people is a common denominator for all alumni who got involved in teaching. The former student who became a ballet dancer and went on to become a dance instructor at the university level had this to say about his experience as a teacher:

          I had a ball when I was doing it. My students would tease me; my dance classes were referred to as "philosophy classes." I would say, "Anybody can do a tendu. Who cares about the actual movement? If it doesn't mean anything. . ." So that was sort of my bent.
          Teaching is not something where you get a lot of instant gratification. I'd come back two years later to do something at the university and I'd run into a former student and he'd say, "Oh, man, what you taught me two years ago has really influenced how I see life in general." They would say, "It changed my life, blah, blah, blah," and I'd be thinking, "God, why did it feel like I was pulling your damn teeth? Why couldn't you just give me something at the time?" As I age I realize that that's the way it is, and it's not about instant gratification. But, oh, sometimes it is. You know, you have students who just take off! They hook into your style. Over the period of time that I taught there I saw people really develop. I'd teach them in one class and then the next year I would teach them again. I'd see their development and be blown away by it. It was really exciting.

          Service was the prime source of satisfaction to the woman who, quite literally, went to the ends of the earth to work with an NGO:

          I had never worked harder in my life than I did in East Timor. The first three months that I was there, it was still an emergency situation, and we were doing anywhere from twelve to eighteen hour days, seven days a week. But I was so charged. I enjoyed the work and it needed to get done. If you have a job in an office it can be like, "Oh, dod I do the filing today or do I do it tomorrow? It can wait until tomorrow, no big deal." But when people are waiting for shelter materials and until we bring them they're going to be living under a tarp issued by the UN, it's a whole other thing. I found that very challenging, very rewarding, but it also puts a lot of pressure on you. There were days when I just didn't think we could do it. People look at you and they think you're going to be bringing them materials so they can go ahead and build a house, and you're thinking, "I know these materials are not going to come from Malaysia or Indonesia for another three weeks, and how do I explain that to these people?" So it was very rewarding, but at the same time it could be very hard. I took the work not necessarily personally, but I certainly took it to heart, so when thingsdidn't go out when they were supposed to, that was very hard. But I actually really enjoyed the work until the very end.

          Teamwork and a sense of community were sources of job satisfaction for many former students. The cafe manager in an urban music school saw this as a primary goal of his work:

          To me the cafe has always been about extension of the school's community. Before I started running it, all they had was pre-made snacks, ugly food, and basically, beer and soda. I turned it into a really vibrant, fun place for everybody to eat. I started making a bunch of really tasty food. I keep the prices really low by working with simple ingredients and doing the leg work myself, rather than buying prepackaged, pre-processed stuff that you have to sell for a lot because you paid a lot for it. My basic thinking was, if people eat together, then it will be an exciting part of the community. Rather than trying to run out of the building, teachers are going to stay in and eat with their students at a table.

          The community that can be built up among co-workers who share responsibility was important to this chef:

          There's a real showbiz aspect to working in a kitchen. You're putting on a show and you're waiting for that time, 8:00, when the dinner's going to begin. You'd put all your effort into that and then you'd dance in the kitchen for a few hours and then there's that great feeling afterwards when you've accomplished it. There's a good brotherhood between the chefs just like there is between the players in a band. They're a rough and tumble bunch, which I am myself. They like to go out for a beer and stories afterwards. So I was actually very comfortable in that scene and it was a really good experience for me.

          A bartender exclaimed, "Waitressing didn't do it for me, but bartending I absolutely adore. It's a lot of fun, because you get to talk with people." The manager of a yoga studio enjoyed her work because of the "give and take of the whole thing. Everyone's kind of evolving, somewhat together and somewhat not, and it's like a bunch of friends and a bunch of people kind of helping each other." An assistant manager in a supermarket found it "was a fairly interesting job. There were about forty employees in the department. Over half of them were from other countries, and some of them barely spoke any English. It was definitely a learning experience. Obviously you can find people to translate, so it's not like you're learning the language or anything. I found there are so many strange differences in people's attitudes from different cultures. Things you take for granted, like ways that you would phrase a question, or ways you would go about asking for something, can definitely be completely different than the way they would go about it. So it was interesting trying to manage these people. That was not something I ever predicted I would have to deal with."
        A gymnastics instructor found her greatest satisfaction in fostering a sense of comradeship among her students:

          What I feel is really important in gymnastics is the camaraderie between the girls that makes it a team sport. I would have to say that if an elite gymnast walked up off the street and said to me, "Will you coach me as an elite gymnast?" I would probably recommend them to someone else. Since we don't have any other gymnasts like that right now in our gym, they would be extremely individualized, and I don't think that that's healthy for them. I think they need the companionship that they can only get from girls going through the same thing that they're going through at that time.

          The relationships that he forms with clients is the key factor that makes a golf tour director like his work:

          We've got beautiful golf courses here and I love showing people. I feel like I'm sort of a golf ambassador, or an employee of the Chamber of Commerce, because I love the area so much. I bring people out and I walk them around the golf course and I tell them where their shots need to be and I get them to score ten or fifteen or twenty strokes better than they would have if they had gone out on their own. They become your best friend. I do things like make dinner reservations on the way back from the golf course, I tell them what sightseeing things they should do. So it's more than just bringing somebody out to a golf course and dropping them off.

What They Don't Like

          Several former students made it clear that there were things about certain job experiences that they didn't like. Their negative comments were sometimes as illuminating as their positive ones. Here for example is what one person had to say after his foray into the world of retail giants:

          I've had a bunch of odd jobs, but an important one was working for a huge superstore chain. That opened my eyes quite a bit to corporate structure and made me realize that I never want to do it again.
        Although working there seemed fine at the beginning, I started to notice that it almost seemed fake, a fake smile, while behind the scenes, everyone was stressed out to the point of breaking. The face that they put forward was "Hi! How are you doing today!" Ugh. That's the way you have to act, but it went overboard because we had to act that way all the time, even to each other. If you're in a bad mood, you're in a bad mood. You couldn't show it. It was kind of weird.
        I ended up not being able to handle it. That kind of pressure didn't really work well for me, but I think that is true of retail business in general. It was a very high stress kind of job. It gives you more of a feeling of what's going on when you go into a store next time.

          The corporate world was hardly more appealing to this artist:

          I worked for an ad agency for a little while and I got to know exactly what they were about and how the whole program worked and the sequence of what you do to get into what position. That was very important information for me. I decided I didn't like it too much, and set out to pursue my own business and go into freelance work, which worked out very well.

          One person said, flat out, "I don't really like being in an office from 9:00 to 5:00 every day. I don't want to deal with a computer job anymore. That's not the life I intend to live." Another couldn't stand what he perceived to be an atmosphere of falsehood:

          I was a producer-director at a TV station. I ran the news depart-ment, built a new set, had a jazz show that was nominated for a Cable Ace Award. Then I left there and I went to a big-city station as an editor, but I started getting disheartened with the news. Because the big lie is that you're out to tell the truth - that it's not really about ratings, it's about telling the truth. And the real gist is, it's really just about advertisers, and you don't want to piss off the wrong people. It's just very corporate. Also I spent seven years doing local news, so most of my time was spent doing murders and fires, etc., and I wondered, "Who am I really helping with this?" I felt like all I was doing day-in and day-out was bumming out the public at home.

          A dedicated women's rights activist had a job she loved turn sour when she could no longer live with the daily threat of danger:

          While I was working at a Planned Parenthood clinic, we had a violent attack there. A man broke in and trashed the place. He didn't have a gun but he did have a huge brick which he threw through the reception glass window in order to break in, and a bunch of us were there. It was very scary. It's just a miracle that none of us were hurt because we were all standing right there when the glass window shattered everywhere. After this incident, which happened when I was twenty years old, I continued to work at Planned Parenthood until I was about twenty-five. I had just started working there when this happened. A year later I left - I was totally burnt out, and I took a few months off. But I wound up going back because there's a joke at Planned Parenthood: you never leave. That repeatedly happened with staff. They would leave and then come back a few months later, a year later - people always came back. When I finally left, the clinic director said to me, "How many going away parties have we thrown for you?" I said to her, "I've had three." But I have not been back since and I don't plan on going back. Ever since then I feel like I don't want to work in a place where my life's in danger every day. Reproductive freedom is something very important to me, but I don't want to work in a clinic. I don't want to live like that anymore. So I admire people who do it, and I'm proud of myself for having done it, but I don't ever want to do it again.

          Danger and corruption were also the factors that drove the person who works for an international NGO away from one of her assignments:

          On one difficult assignment in a third-world country, the first few months there I loved it, and then we had a problem in my office where I discovered that about 25% of the staff were committing fraud and trying to steal money from the agency through medical benefits. The idea was, if they need to see a doctor, they see a doctor, they get a receipt, and they get reimbursed. But people were writing bogus receipts. So I sort of figured out what was happening, did some investigation, talked to the country director, and I then had to fire a lot of the staff, which in any environment is a bad thing to have to do. In a country where you have 80% unemployment and you know people's children will be hungry after you fire them, it's extremely difficult. On top of that, some of the staff were very upset with me because I had discovered it and I was the front person. Even though I was not the one who made the decision for them to be dismissed, I was the one who handed them the pink slip, so there were a lot of former staff who were very unhappy with me. People were going to see witch doctors, and putting spells on me, and it got really kind of strange. So I wanted to get out of there, not so much because I wanted the comforts of home, but rather because I had staff coming up to me and saying, "Look, be careful. There's some people who are not doing good things."

          On a lighter note, a person who basically loves her job as a reference librarian in a town library, discussed the things that frustrate her at times:

          Well, I have days and then I have days. Sometimes I find the whole PC troubleshooting aspect of my job very wearing. My impression from talking to people and reading the literature is that pretty much all librarians find that. Before computers, it was the copier that was always broken. Librarians tend to be people who have advanced degrees who are interested in either the scholarly aspect or the working with people aspect, and then find themselves stuck with these machines as well.
          Since I work in a public library, I see a broad spectrum of human beings, everybody from toddlers to their great-grandparents, and therefore I get a broader spectrum of questions than I might if I worked in an academic setting. I also don't tend to get the more scholarly sorts of inquiries. So I do have days when I feel like my brain is atrophying. In effect, I'm on a public service desk and I'm there for whatever people need from me, including "Where's the bathroom?", which is the other big joke amongst librarians. We went to school to get a Master's degree so we can tell people where the bathroom is.

          One alumnus commented that "once you get something going to the point where it becomes profitable, it also becomes boring. What happens is, the boredom kicks in after a while and you do something dumb like selling the company." A direct link between a negative attitude towards a particular job and his Sudbury Valley experience is expressed by this former student:

          I had a really lousy office job for a while - very, very miserable - in which I was just stunned at how people were never given the authority or trust to do their job well. There was an office manager, the owner, looking over your shoulder every moment. It was very distracting. I came to realize that was how many work places were structured, and I guess my objection to it is similar to my objections to traditional school. The idea that people can't just be told the things that have to be done and left alone to do them, but have to be micro-managed, grows out of the same culture that is created by, and created, the traditional school model. Obviously I didn't have any fun, but I think that job had a significant role in making me who I am. I think that it made me more realistic about how deep the philosophical gulf is between what I view as the way to live one's life and the way much of the world seems to view it.

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From The Sudbury Valley School Journal

The Real Scoop About College
By Mimsy Sadofsky

Note: This was the second part of a session delivered by Dan Greenberg and Mimsy Sadofsky at the Spring 2000 meeting of the Massachusetts School Counselors Association. The first part placed the idea of college in today’s world in an economic and sociological context. Although not directed at Sudbury Valley families, there are some points in it that we tend to forget, both as parents and as worried students.

          This is the time of year when college fever runs very high. Kids are excited and disappointed everywhere. Acceptances arrive. Rejections arrive. Joy and devastation vie for position, sometimes in the same prospective student!

          So maybe we should take a look at what they are doing, and why.

Because I work in a school that has no grades and no separations by age or ability, as well as having no evaluations, the people in the school think a lot about the “college thing,” and other ways to gain admittance into careers that people normally think are available only to college graduates. In fact, one of the things people have always worried about, no matter what we can tell them has actually happened, is whether or not a kid from an alternative school is well situated for competitive college admissions. They are, of course, but first I wanted to talk about some other viable opportunities.

          For a long time we have been watching our students grow up and segue into the adult world, and we have learned many interesting things. First of all, for many people, college just isn’t necessary. It is the information age; now more than ever the total world of knowledge is at hand for every human being. So the self-motivated person, and often the person who is totally sure about what to do with his or her life (yes, like the rest of us, they will probably change their minds more than once, but that is de rigeur) can often directly move toward realizing those goals. Creative and intelligent people can often figure out how to live a life full of challenges and expanding horizons without a structured system imposed by others.

          So I want to talk about a few people like that.

          I am going to talk about someone who is a staff member at our school, Sudbury Valley (and hope to avoid embarrassing him). He graduated from this school in 1972, and it is important to note that he always was clear about his own intelligence. He does not consider himself an intellectual, but I consider him to have exactly the most important attitude of an intellectual: he knows how to follow his curiosity and does not shirk from the study that is constantly involved.

          Anyway, this man was a very colorful character as a youth, kind of wild-looking, and loved rock music. He wanted to be a famous rock musician, and he became a well known and a well-respected rock musician, right in the mainstream, before he changed careers and became a chef in a big hotel. In between, he joined a circus! He felt he could learn anything he needed to – and it has turned out that he can – on his own, one way or another. Sometimes it was by hanging around the people who already had the skills he wanted. Sometimes by apprenticing himself to such people. Other times by reading and inquiring. Often by all of the above at the same time. Meanwhile, he became a professional photographer, and has never stopped being interested in and talented at cartooning, drawing, and writing things other people wanted to read.

          At every step of his life he analyzes what has happened, what parts of what has happened he liked and wants to continue, and what he doesn't, and always makes decisions based on this type of analysis. Consequently, he has a unique viewpoint and an interesting one. We are thrilled that returning to work at his alma materbecame the next most exciting thing to him, and hope it remains so, hope that the open-endedness of a free school can keep him amused permanently! He is still a professional musician, still recording and still working with other professionals.

          His sister, meanwhile, graduated from high school, apprenticed in stables and became adept at animal husbandry, went on to drive 18 wheel trucks, and then joined the military, becoming a well-respected military historian, later earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

          There is another man whom we have watched over the years who had a similar journey of self-discovery, although into very different territory that the first; he owns what I think was the first computerized saw mill, and he himself invented all of the machinery for it.

          Here is what he says about his education:

          I think about it now and then, and I am doing exactly the same things I was doing when I was a student and created things out of plasticine. Except I am doing those things now in real life. I’m building a factory, and making machines, and talking to people all day long. Same exact thing, and very intensely. We talk about how to build the things, how to talk to the customers, all that sort of stuff.

          I didn’t go to college because I didn’t know what I wanted to do in college. My parents had the money set aside; I could have gone to any college. I just didn’t know what I would have wanted to learn. Anytime I wanted to learn something, I could picture how to learn it. Like when I wanted to learn refrigeration. I could see those guys working on refrigerators. I knew they were getting a lot of money. It looked like they were having a lot of fun. So I wanted to learn to do it. I didn’t quit my job and go to refrigeration school. I bought a book. And when I didn’t have a book, I asked the refrigeration guys what they were doing. Most guys, if you ask them, they want to tell you. And the more I could learn, the more questions I could ask that made sense, the more interested they would be in telling me. Pretty soon I was doing it. Then I got better and better as I did more and more and went into more complicated problems.

          There are many examples of“people with no college going on to very sophisticated careers.

          One young man is director of technical services in the research division of a bio-engineering firm. How could this be? He is darn smart and able to sell his abilities to others because of the self-confidence he gained throughout his early life, and he also studies like mad to learn what he needs to know every step of the way.

          Many people go directly into software and hardware fields. So many that one wonders what computer science degrees are all about. We can see no difference when our grads describe their work, and often their quick rise, between those who have studied computer science in college and those who plunge in, usually well before the completion of high school.

          Another young man left school determined to become a professional art photographer, did so through a series of very serious apprenticeships, and eventually opened his own color printing laboratory, specializing in high fashion as well as fashion catalog printing, while working on his own art work. Eventually he left this work to devote himself to businesses revolving around his other loves – music and performance. He opened an avant garde music café, and is now working in a similar business.

          It is important to notice that many of these people take the risk of entrepreneurship, successfully or not.

          So it turns out that lots of people work in jobs that are rewarding, entertaining, lucrative – and that really do not need post high school education. Especially people who are willing to rise, as cream does, to the top of whatever they are doing. I think that striving for excellence in everything you do is more important that anything else, and marks the people who do so as fabulously worthwhile employees.

          One of the things that kids from our school often decided to do, and I have to admit that we always encourage them if we know they are contemplating it, is “college later”. College is an extremely expensive proposition usually, and the time to do it is when you are dead serious about getting everything you can from your education. Encouraging this is often a difficult process because even today with the very high costs associated with many colleges, parents are worried that if their children do not go directly to college after high school they never will. We find that kids who say, “I am leaving school now, and am going to travel/work for a year or two and then go to college,” in fact do so. And, when a more mature person applies for college, if she decides to go the traditional route, there are quite a few experiences to put on the application that are usually impressive to admissions officers.

          We also find that ex-students who have what one might call a “consumer attitude” – not my phrase, but that of an alum – toward a college education are very well situated to get what they need. They shop and assess the product quality before they make decisions about where to apply. This often leads to something other than the knee-jerk get into the best college I can”-- whatever best means -- response. And it affects everything they do after they begin that college education too. They are not married to a course that doesn’t satisfy, either a particular course of study, or to a particular institution if it turns out to be the wrong one.

          This quote is from a young woman who persuaded her way into the college she wanted to go to:

          They took me because I talked. I showed that I wanted to be there, that it was something I felt I had to do. I walked right in and talked to the Dean. He said, “What can I tell you about the University.?” And that was an instant shock. I said, “Well, to tell you the honest truth, I’ve already made my decision to enter this school, so I think I know as much as I possibly could about being a student here. What I think you should know is about me and why I want to be here. . . . .

          He questioned her about her interest in criminal justice. And then he said,“"You'll see your acceptance letter. I'll see you in the Fall."

          Another person who started college a little later than usual says:

          My education in the art field was received at a museum school, which was probably the best art education I could get. Then when I wanted a degree, I went to a college to get the general education requirements. Most kids go to college because of the social life. I was the opposite. I went because I wanted to learn and I enjoyed every minute of my education.”

          I read some pieces in a series that the New York Times is doing this spring about admissions to Wesleyan College, in Connecticut. It was sort of “a few days in the life of the committee members making the admit/do not admit/waitlist decisions”. I managed to forget the actual percentage of applicants they accept, which is extremely low, but I did not forget what was to me the primary focus: they were looking for the unusual applicant, the applicant with an edge. So while I would not encourage anyone to apply to Wesleyan – just as well, since it costs so much – I know from both personal experience of our former students, and from reading these articles, that it is not an outrageous idea. It is just that, as with a bunch of the more elite colleges, no matter what your qualifications are, you can easily fail to get in.

          Another thing that we see more and more of lately is that a GED is not considered a big liability anymore by employers and colleges. Even the military do not turn a hair at a GED. This is recent. Up until not too long ago, the Navy would not accept anything other than a high school diploma.

          We have former students who somehow did not even graduate -- often they left before they thought they would to do something else more pressing – who have managed to become mainstream physicians, as well as accounting majors in good solid competitive colleges, and almost anything else. No one has ever whimpered later about lacking a diploma. They are attending schools such as Boston University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Naropa, and the University of Massachusetts.

          Now I want to talk a little about a much more prosaic way to go about entering the adult world. It is through the community college system. Everyone should realize what a beautiful system this is. Community colleges take motivated people with any level of skills, with or without high school diplomas, and help them get ready for a variety of vocations as well as for transfer into four year colleges. And it is on the last that I would like to concentrate for a second. More and more, as college costs soar, kids are looking for less expensive ways to combat them. Community colleges, segueing into the state college system, or into private colleges, are the ideal way. So we are seeing students who could easily gain admittance to the universities of their choice decide to spend a year or two in a community college first, gaining credits.

          I know that by now you have realizes that snob appeal is not what I am talking about. Rather I am talking about how to go on after high school. I want to read what a recent graduate wrote to us about Umass Boston.

          I eventually enrolled at Umass Boston as a dual major in philosophy and political science. I had gone for a year as a non-degree student, and that allowed me to enroll on the virtue of my grades because I am strongly opposed to the SATs.

          In any case, Umass turns out to be as well-suited to my approach to education as any university could be. It is for the most part, a working-class college. The average student age is 28, and so most students work many have families, and so on. In almost all cases, these are people who have, at some point in their life, explicitly chosen to go back to school. The breed of exceedingly naive 18-22 year old frat boy/girl is simply non-existent here. Everyone has been in the real world. There are many seniors who are students, and it would be impossible to judge who the professor in any class was if they weren’t standing in front of it. Of the many professors whom I have asked, all have verified that teaching undergrad students at any of the neighboring universities such as NU, BU, BC, Harvard, Tufts, all of which lack the particular virtues I have listed, is a nightmare. They absolutely love Umass students.

          Sometimes there are students who have been rejected by the colleges they are interested in. What do they do then? This also is starting to be a known thing: what happens if you don't get in? You go somewhere else. There are plenty of schools whose classes don't fill up either when they send their letters admitting students, or even when they admit the people on their waitlist. They are still shopping for students in May, June, July and even August. Many of these schools are private colleges and universities, and some of them are surprising. For instance, I have heard of this happening at the rather distinguished colleges in Maine. I have heard of it happening in some schools in New York State. I even know of a graduate of ours who was disappointed in his first choice college but loved the one he chose instead and ended up at graduate school in an Ivy League university. Often these are schools with high admissions standards, but they are nevertheless sometimes available late in the registration game, and a little more willing to take a chance at that point.

          There are hosts of institutions that offer extension courses; some are as prestigious as Harvard, others as prosaic as Umass Lowell. There is nothing prosaic about the education available through these courses, especially since they tend to enroll the most motivated pupils – those who have to work for a living, usually full time, but are totally zeroed in on a college education. As I have discovered myself, these people make great classmates.

          So my advice to our students is almost “don’t worry; be happy.” Or it would be if I said that kind of thing. What I do is encourage calmness, encourage the writing of the best possible essays, and encourage kids to think really hard about whether they are ready for higher education now, whether they want it later, or whether they want it ever. They also must figure out whether it is important to be going to school with other committed students, and make their decisions carefully to take that into account.

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