Re: Multiplication Tables

Jim Rietmulder (
Thu, 09 Jan 1997 07:43:01 -0800

In response to Dale, Jim Rietmulder here -- long-time staff member and
parent at The Circle School, a Sudbury model school in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Dale wrote...
>I want to know if the Sudbury Valley schools are INDIVIDUAL student
>directed or is the student's education controlled mostly by the
>rule(democratically and by peer pressure) of the group...

Even in our small school (27 students) there is enormous variety in
individual and small-group activity and character. There is no stigma
attached to interests and activities that might be regarded as "nerdy" in
other settings. And there's no stigma attached to such passions as playing
backyard football *all*day*long* or mixed-gender mixed-age fantasy play
*all*day*long*. (In this last category, for example, ten people in an
all-day restaurant simulation, starring cooks and waitpersons and host/esses
and cashiers and patrons of all stripes; both genders; ages four to fifteen;
intensity like you wouldn't believe. And no stigma attached to choosing not
to play, but to sit and read a book instead.)

Dale wondered...
>What if a student wanted to learn the multiplication tables up to the
>10x10's during the next couple weeks for whatever reason. Would he or
>she find someone to teach them to him or her at a Sudbury Valley

I don't know about "teach", which shifts the responsibility to the
"teacher", but he or she would find someone to *help*them*learn* the
multiplication tables, if that's what they were committed to doing.

My now-eleven-year-old daughter got it in her head a couple of years ago to
learn the multiplication tables. In the car, at home, and at her
grandmother's house she'd ask to be times-table quizzed, and for help with
problems from a math textbook that she borrowed from the school library. I
once overheard a visitor in our home ask her why, if she can pursue what she
wants at school, was she spending her out-of-school time on *this* subject?
She remarked that she was just too busy at school.

I don't know what pictures came to our visitor's mind, but I knew exactly
what she meant. Then and now, from the moment she arrives at school until
the moment of departure she is immersed in one thing after another, with an
earnestness and intensity that characterizes much of what happens at school.
She goes at it as any true professional does, in hot pursuit of their
passions. With a schoolful of professional passion pursuers to mix with,
she doesn't want to take time out for stuff that she can pick up on her own
when there aren't higher personal priorities to attend to.

For other kids, though, pursuit of solitary activity is steady and seamless
between home and school, whether it's reading books, building elaborate Lego
creations, or obsession with computers. None of these activities is

Jim Rietmulder

>Maybe some examples would help.
>What if a student has a neighbor buddy that just got a Radio Amateurs
>license and decides he or she wants to learn the Morse code up to 5
>words/minute during the next month. Would the student be able to find
>at least one other person(staff or student) at a Sudbury Valley school
>willing to spend the next month helping him or her learn the code?
>What if a student decides that a year from now he or she wants to win
>the State Spelling Bee contest. Would he or she be able to find
>someone(staff and students) at a Sudbury Valley school willing to spend
>the hundreds of hours with him or her in practice to become a spelling
>bee champion? Would the other students, that did not want to learn how
>to spell, make fun of him or her? According to what I read peer
>pressure is the most important influence on young adults. More
>important than family background, school quality, . . . . anything else.
>What if a student wanted to make a presentation to the legislature or
>the local school board or whatever in the next couple months. Would he
>or she be able to find a speech coach and a willing audience at the
>school to help him or her make an effective presentation no matter how
>politically correct his or her message might be to the other students
>and staff?
>What if a student wanted to learn the multiplication tables up to the
>10x10's during the next couple weeks for whatever reason. Would he or
>she find someone to teach them to him or her at a Sudbury Valley
>I want to know what the Sudbury Valley model schools experiences are
>toward the efforts of INDIVIDUAL students that attempt to define
>themselves differently than the majority of staff and students at the
>school. How much help(I would call it teaching) should he or she expect
>from the staff? How well would the other students accept his or her
>I do NOT have good memories on these accounts from my experiences in the
>alternative establishment. Dale