[Discuss-sudbury-model] RE:autonomy and whether contact with algebra is necessary

From: Fiona Berry <fiona.berry_at_btinternet.com>
Date: Tue Feb 25 09:12:00 2003

The thread of postings about whether children will become educated or not
using a sudbury valley schoolmodel - or unschooling - has brought me out of
lurkdom. I am a mother of three children, living in the UK, who are home
educated. I have to say that I would send them to a Sudbury Valley School
if I had that option, and have even dreamed about starting one of my own.
Unfortunately I don't think that the legal requirements for schools in this
country would allow it to happen. The authorities nearly threatened the
future of Summerhill when they inspected it a couple of years ago, because
they do not force their students to attend classes. They only seem to have
escaped because they do offer classes, even if it isn't compulsory for the
pupils to attend them, and so they can be said to be discharging their
duties under the law to offer education (in the Department for Education and
Skills' view) even if children are not taking this offer up.

I can't get over the stupidity of their attitude, when a cursory look at the
results that the school obtains in terms of fulfilled and creative
individuals is amazing and compares extremely favourably with local
secondary schools. My only explanation is that they fear it would endanger
their own education business if schools such as Sudbury Valley Schools were
seen to be effective.

They have similarly critical opinions about parents who home educate: they
lump us together with excluded and truanting pupils and assume our children
are a social danger because they are out of school. Few of the officers who
deal with home education at a local or national level appear to know
anything about unschooling or autonomous methods of education, and care

I can recognise the sense of what Michael said in his original posting,
because it is so easy to be led into a false ideas about what is going on in
school. I have recently been given a copy of "Mathematician's delight" by
W.w. Sawyer, in which he likens the teaching of mathematics in many schools
to the process of teaching the piano to a totally deaf child. The child
will understand that they have done something right or wrong due to the
expression on the teacher's face, but may never come to an understanding of
why they are doing what they are doing. When children are taught the how
but not the why of mathematics, he calls this imitation mathematics, which
is joined by many other imitation subjects - imitation history involves
learning dates and names but having no understanding of the whys of history,
imitation Shakespeare involves making it incomprehensible and forcing
children to act it badly, rather than showing them at the right time for
them that it can be wonderful and the language uniquely beautiful.

The one thing that no-one can know in child rearing, is what would have
happened if one had done the other thing. I cannot know how my children
would have developed, what they would have gained or lost if I had kept them
in school. Conversely, my friends cannot know how their children would have
developed if they had unschooled them.

Roland Meighan is a writer and educationalist that I admire in the UK, and
he says that a child's life ought, like an adults, to be a mix of the
autocracy, democracy, and autonomy. So although parents have to take
responsibility for some of the choices in a child's life, there ought also
to be areas where they are able to make choices for themselves. It seems to
me that Sudbury Valley schools have the mix at about the same level for
children as real life has it for adults. Most schools allow children so
little autonomy that they can't even decide when to go to the bathroom, to
eat, to drink, let alone make decisions about what it is right to learn and

It is true that children who are educated within the unschooling or Sudbury
Valley School model may never choose to learn algebra and may never get to
the point where they will love to learn the next stage of it. On the other
hand, if they decide to pursue algebra to the exclusion of all else, they
might end up at University level before they reach the age of twelve. As
others have said, there is no agreement worldwide about what an educated
person should know - the curricula of different countries varies
considerably. So in France, we would all be learning philosophy as a
compulsory subject throughout school. In England, mathematics has become a
superstition of vast proportions, and much that used to be in the secondary
(11-18) curriculum has been taken back to the earlier curriculum.

The time that compulsory education starts, the amount of homework given to
children, the length of time spent at school, the content of the
curriculum - these are all different on an arbitrary basis. in England, the
institution of a national curriculum which lays down exactly what should be
taught for every week of every year of every child's school life, has
actually had the opposite to the intended effect - children are less well
educated at the end of their school career than before. I believe that this
is partly because the freedom to change the curriculum to take account of
the children in the class and their learning styles has disappeared from
schools run by the state. 25% of the children leave school functionally
illiterate and innumerate. Thus, although they have been exposed to algebra
since primary school (7-11) they fail to be enthused or engaged in maths at
a very basic level.

As I have already written to Michael, offlist, I believe that questions are
the answer to education, and any system which doesn't allow people to ask
their own questions, and find their own answers, isn't educating, in my
not-so-humble opinion.

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Received on Tue Feb 25 2003 - 09:11:40 EST

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