RE: [Discuss-sudbury-model] compulsory element of sudbury model

From: Melissa Bradford <melissa.bradford_at_comcast.net>
Date: Wed Oct 12 21:49:01 2005

Hi, all. I'm Melissa from Illinois.

This is a very timely discussion for me. I've started two Sudbury
schools in the past 10 years, both of which have closed for various
reasons. I started an unschool group about 1 & 1/2 years ago with about
7 families. We now have 40 families and we meet at least weekly (more
frequently for most of the older kids) for playgroups/field trips, an
anime club, and overnights, and we are now talking about the possibility
of moving closer to a Sudbury-type arrangement. The key members of the
group have read at least one book about Sudbury Valley School and have
viewed at least one video.

The list of what my two children and I miss about Sudbury schooling, and
why we prefer it to unschooling, is really long. We miss the energy,
the dialogue, the activities, the fun. We miss the community. We miss
the daily interactions. There was always so much to do and learn, and
no waiting for mom to give you a ride somewhere. We miss the things you
can only do as a group, and/or do spontaneously - like making up your
own line dance with your girlfriends, and being in a rock band, and
making up fashion shows and talent shows, and playing capture the flag.
We miss always having the option of doing things with others or spending
time alone.

My daughter (12) especially longs for the social life, the pop music and
nail polish and fashions and dancing and other fun girl/teen stuff, so
much so that, out of desperation and a bit of curiosity, she tried
public school for 5th and half of 6th grade. (She decided to quit when
she found out that she didn't really have much time to socialize, that
the teachers used their power to make arbitrary/unfair decisions, and
she just couldn't stand doing one more meaningless worksheet.) My kids
miss the power they had in an egalitarian community. I miss the way
they develop their judgement skills, their social skills, their ability
to understand others so much more than in any other environment. I miss
the way they are challenged to define who they are just by virtue of
being around so many others who are different from them. I could think
of about 100 more things we miss if I had time. Some have mentioned
unschooling being real life, but how can it be real life when all the
kids aged 5 - 18+ are absent from the community 5/7 of the week? That
is our struggle.

There are some advantages I've noticed to putting together an
unschooling group. It has given all of us parents and kids a chance to
get to know each other well, as we sit around and enjoy each others'
company while the kids do their thing. Commitments do not need to be
made right away to the group but can evolve as needed. Many of the kids
are still quite young so they can grow up together. Most parents are
pretty close philosophically - much more so than we ever had with either
of the two schools. All the families obviously make their children a
number one priority, so much so that they are willing to give up some
income to do so. There is at least one parent from each family
available during the day to help out with things. The kids are
accustomed to self-direction. Also, it is much more affordable for more
people. Parents get to see for themselves as we get together how
important the group involvement is to their kids, and how amazing their
interactions are between each other. The adults treat the children with
respect and value their opinions.

I am trying, for the sake of this group and my role in it, to make sense
of the difference between parents who choose unschooling and those who
would prefer Sudbury. It's definitely a struggle sometimes for me to
understand why anyone would choose unschooling over Sudbury, since my
kids and I love Sudbury so much more than unschooling, but I am trying
to sort it out without being judgemental about their preference. I hope
that some of you out there who unschool can help me.

One thing I've noticed is that it seems that many of the parents who
prefer unschooling to Sudbury are introverts. I don't know much about
personality analysis, but someone explained it to me like this - that
introverts get their energy from being home, and groups put them off.
Sometimes their kids are the same way. On the other hand, sometimes
their kids are quite extroverted, but are nevertheless frequently
limited to staying at home and/or only doing things with parents because
it is what their parents prefer. From those kids I get the sense that
if they had a real choice in the matter or could make it happen
practically, they would choose to be in a group and/or away from their
parents more often than they currently are. But there are definitely a
few kids - not many - in the group who just like being at home.

Another thing that is clear to me is that a majority of the unschooling
parents do not want to have compulsory attendance, and what it often
boils down to is a reluctance to have commitments. They seem to dislike
the idea that they can't stay home when they want to, or that it will
infringe on their freedom to go to fun places as a family. I have to
admit that in the back of my mind, I wonder if the parents are the ones
opposed to it, not really the kids, but maybe that's not fair for me to
say. It's just that in my experience, Sudbury schools don't infringe on
the children's freedoms much at all, so I really have a hard time
imagining that a child would think that unless it was something that the
parents suggested to the child. Unschooling is like eating at home,
where you sit down as a family to eat at the dining room table, and
maybe you've helped plan the menu, and maybe you helped cook, and
sometimes you get to go out to eat and get to pick from the restaurant
menu. Sudbury is a great big pot luck on a banquet table where you
bring something to pass, and there is about every food you can imagine
on there, plus there may be a few master chefs who have brought dishes,
too. If you find a dish you really like, you can ask for the recipe.
There may be down sides - someone put the mac & cheese spoon in the
apple pie, someone ate all the deviled eggs before you got one - but
still, there are so many more choices. Why would anyone want to eat at
home (I think to myself) when they could come to this feast?

That's why it seems to me that kids have way more freedom at a Sudbury
school than they do unschooling; because they have so many more choices
of how to spend their time and with whom. Even compulsory attendance is
not really a big deal in light of the fact that there could be an open
campus policy. Yes, you have to clean up your own messes, and you have
to treat others with respect. You do have to deal with interruptions at
times. I don't see how that is much different from being at home, but I
guess if you like lots of quiet, alone time or only feel "at home" in
your own home, you would prefer to unschool. The quotes Donna from
Windsor House posted help me understand this a little better, but it is
still hard for me.

I can see that some might feel Sudbury schools infringe on the
*parents'* freedoms, or that the schools may give kids more freedom than
what the parents really want their children to have, so I wonder if
those are sometimes the unspoken concerns. Or maybe the parents don't
want their kids will be exploring the world without them? I'm not sure,
but I wonder about these things.

Some other things I've noticed: there are some unschoolers who are
committed to treating their children as capable of making decisions for
themselves, and there are others who are not. For example, I know some
unschoolers that limit TV, or limit how much their kids can go to
outside activities. I think this may be because some view unschooling
as only a "schooling" method, more like child-led learning, not a
broader child-rearing choice/philosophical decision about trusting kids.
Also, some of the kids I've met clearly are longing for much more social
interaction, especially the older ones, but it seems to me that some of
the unschooling parents don't value that type of activity as much as
others, or don't see it as a learning activity equal in value to
activities they can do at home or as a family.

One last thing - the kids seem to rely on their parents to do things for
them a lot more than in non-homeschooling families. Sometimes it seems
like those parents are just more nurturing than I am, which I admire in
them, because I realize that I probably err on the side of the "kick the
little birdies out of the nest so they can fly". But sometimes it seems
like the parents are enabling their kids, not on purpose, but just
because it is the nature of the relationship when you do everything as a
family.

So, back to the question of compulsory attendance, I don't know if
letting go of compulsory attendance will work or not, but I am not
opposed to trying it. I remember talking to people from Windsor House
at IDEC about how they allowed homeschoolers at their school, so thank
you, Donna, for adding your input to this thread. I'd like to ask you
more questions about WH in the future. One thing (out of many) I
learned through my involvement with Sudbury schools is that it is
politically costly to be rigid about issues other than the core
principles, and I'm not sure if compulsory attendance is a core
principle (although it may turn out to be logistically necessary). I
also agree with Jeff that Sudbury schools are actually a lot more
relaxed about attendance than the impression I had when I first got
involved with Sudbury schools.

What I'm thinking right now is that if we try it without compulsory
attendance, and it doesn't work, then we will know that it doesn't work,
and we can change it. I'm very curious how this will evolve. I'm
wondering if, once we get a regular place, people will see the
advantages of knowing you can count on others being there, too. I'm
wondering if the kids will want to be there on a more regular basis even
though the parents may not. I wonder whether, without compulsory
attendance, the children will truly have freedom of choice. What I mean
by that is, will their parents either exercise more control or try to
influence the kids' decisions in ways they would not do if we were a
typical Sudbury school with compulsory attendance and they had to "let
go"?

This thread has gone on quite a bit already I know, but if you've made
it to the end of this message :-), and you have any feedback for me, I
welcome hearing from you.

Melissa

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Received on Wed Oct 12 2005 - 21:48:58 EDT

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