Re: [Discuss-sudbury-model] socioeconomic status of staff

From: Jesse Gallagher <>
Date: Fri Oct 31 08:49:00 2003

Jeff said:

Albany Free School is a very exceptional case. They managed to buy up the entire area around their school in the 60's (I think) for very, very little money. They were basically falling down and with a lot of sweat equity they made them all livable. Most schools don't this option.

It was Albany Free School...

Good to know my memory hasn't completely vacated these premises.

I agree that their situation was unique, but it seems like any SVS startup could just as easily select for location in order to have the same opportunity, or one very similar. The problem, I think, is that where the folks in Albany were willing to (wanted to?) open up shop in a depressed urban area, many folks might not perceive that to be the best environment for a school.

Even existing Sudbury schools could adopt a more flexible attitude to finances to make themselves available to more students.

I guess the focus is what's really important. From what little I know, AFS started with the idea of building a successful free school and realized that they were also re-building a community. They seem to have embraced that dual role, having successfully made the free school model available to almost everyone, financial considerations aside. The fact that they have made it a priority to successfully mirror the demographics of their locale has also allowed them to enjoy institutional financial support that Sudbury schools, to my knowledge, have not had access to.

I was just discussing this with a homeschooling "colleague" of mine yesterday. I was sharing with her my plan to organize a "cooperative unschool" and she asked if I had considered sending my children to the Sudbury school in our area (about 30 minutes from my home). I told her that I had considered it--that, in fact, homeschooling had originally been my second choice, but that the absence of free schools in my geographic area had made it the only viable choice.

I love the Sudbury School philosophical model, but there are real holes in the practice that have kept me away from the school that ended up opening near us.

The Sudbury schools that I know of draw the limited student bodies that they do because they are unable to slide their tuition like AFS--the idea of paying $9,500 a year for my two children to be unschooled by strangers is unappealing. In fact, it is consistently unappealing to the one group whose educational philosophy is most attuned to the Sudbury model--homeschooling families that unschool.

Even if the tuition were not a direct impediment for my family, it would remain an indirect obstacle, because it works to keep the enrollment numbers down. I don't know the real figures for the existing Sudbury model schools, but it seems to me that they would appeal to a very small percentage of the population--people who value the free school model but who otherwise lead mainstream, double-income lives or folks who are just plain wealthy whether they wanted to be or not. I'm sure some single-income professional families fit into the picture also, but these types of families are clearly not numerous in the US.

When I last looked in to my local Sudbury school they had an enrollment just over 10 and they had very limited facilities available. Not very surprising for a startup school, but when contrasted with the active homeschooling group we have--between 12-18 kids getting together 2-3 times each week--the numbers didn't add up.

When I was briefly involved in the founders' group of our local Sudbury school, I was struck by the fact that out of over ten families, I was the only homeschooler. Some folks had their kids in public school, some had kids in private school, many had no kids at all--they were just in love with the model. Passion for and knowledge of the Sudbury model is both commendable and necessary for a startup to even get "started up", but you need children for the school to work as designed. In my opinion, Sudbury school startups--and perhaps even existing schools-- owe many of their difficulties to the fact that the school begins as an abstraction and the children are added as sort of an after thought. Perhaps the group I was in contact with is not representative of all, or any, Sudbury model schools, but I see this general theme inherent in the nature of the institution.

Of course, Sudbury model schools can't be all things to all people, but it strikes me as particularly unfortunate that the educational model is available to and touches so few children. It is even more unfortunate that the great body of unschooling families, who frequently want more of what Sudbury has to offer their kids, and the Sudbury model schools, who invariably seem to be struggling --for both financial reasons and reasons of integrity of the educational theory-- with enrollment, can't create a mutually beneficial arrangement.

I don't mean to bash the Sudbury model here. I am glad that Sudbury schools exist at all, and that they provide an example of what education could and should be. I would simply like to find a way to make them available to larger numbers, and re-assessing the financial workings of the schools seems to be the first order of business.

It doesn't make sense to me that the finest model of education available to Americans can't support large and vibrant student bodies, and can barely support the exceptional men and women who staff the schools. There must be a better way...

Peace, and apologies to any I may have offended with my frankness,






Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize that we can't eat money.

Cree proverb

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Received on Fri Oct 31 2003 - 08:48:16 EST

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