Monthly Archives: October 2014

Don’t quit your day job…

“I want to mention here that my latest favorite band, _____ , all have day jobs and don’t even try to make money from their music. And if we ever get an unconditional basic income, we will get to listen to millions of people who don’t have to compromise … ”

— Ran Prieur, Oct 17 2014

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Filed under art, creativity, person: Ran Prieur, welfare, work, work-life balance

Thoughts on “Dreaming of an unschooling village”

Interesting article you wrote:
Dreams of an unschooling village

Our family moved to Framingham, MA to be close to Sudbury Valley School. Let me address a few points you hit on in your article:
– learning from real life
– free play
– nature

The tricky thing about this is that a lot of work today is not work that works well for kids seeing what is going on — “the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker”. There are plenty of hours in the day for them to see me working at my computer. But that is BORING after a few minutes… they can’t help out. And when they are older, the Sudbury model makes it easy to incorporate apprenticeships or other “real world” learning into one’s day as approprate. The idea that one can have a cohousing or other intentional community where many/most of the parents are around and doing things that are of interest to kids is slightly flawed in my opionion for a few reasons.
1) young kids are mostly not going to be interested (see FREE PLAY below)
2) the young adults could learn a thing or 2, but the chances that there will be a match between work interests is slim)
3) most adults are going to be working either offsite or even if onsite, it’s not necessarily going to be interesting to kids.

And then there is work work, but in MA (and most places I assume) one can’t work until you are 14. LINK

Much more common is finding matches in hobbies. Avocations rather than vocations. Artistic and music pursuits, sports, cooking, gardening, hiking, etc, etc. So that’s very valuable of course, but this will mostly be outside of traditional work/school hours as far as the adults are concerned. So one is still left with what would be interesting to do during those mid-day times. My answer, especially if both parents are working: SUDBURY VALLEY SCHOOL

Sudbury Valley School!
“In a survey of hunter-gatherer researchers… all said that the children in the group that they had studied were free to explore on their own, without adult guidance, essentially from dawn to dusk every day. They were allowed such freedom beginning at about age 4… on into their mid to late teenage years, when they began to take on adult responsibilities.”

This mirrors glimpses I see at Sudbury Valley School. Much of the activity one sees w/ younger (4 thru pre-teen) qualifies as “play” in most people’s definition of the word. Not until people reach mid to late teenage years (young adults) do people shift substantially into thinking about “work”… either more academically minded pursuits or otherwise focusing substantially specifically on how they plan to make a living.

Sudbury Valley School! If the trees, fields, huge climbing rocks, stream, fishing pond, pavement for basketball/4-square/scooters/etc isn’t enough, it abuts a state park which students can visit freely (age 8+ with another or 13+ by self)

Check out all those barefeet in the photos of the kids at school.

Having unlimited access to “outside” is a huge plus to Sudbury vs traditional schools.

But also don’t get too excited! It’s not like anyone HAS to go outside. What if you want to use a computer inside all day? What if you are happier in a city? You can’t predict how it will all work out. But the fact still stands… even if you are inside working and playing inside all day, it’s important to know you can go outside and there is a nice outside to go to. It’s your choice.

Sudbury Valley School (in particular) is in suburbia. And it’s the type of American suburbia which is just out of reach of substantial public transportation. Nearby downtown Framingham has some limited buses and access to a commuter rail line that goes to Boston (50min, 30min by car) and Worcester. But getting around mostly means cars (or taxis, or walking/bikes). But several families (including ourselves) have moved close enough to the SVS campus that our kids can easily walk or ride bikes to school. Some do so through the state park. Others on local roads. When our kids are older, they are maybe going to wish they had a car. And/or that they we lived in the city. And maybe that they didn’t have to help mow the lawn. Such is the flip-side of all the wonderful nature. We’ll see! I actually think Framingham is the best of both worlds. Close to shopping, and a short trip to the city, but still with all the beautiful woods and farms.

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Filed under Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School, what is work, work

Happiness and hard work

The Problem With Positive Thinking
“Mental Contrasting…. When participants have performed mental contrasting with reasonable, potentially attainable wishes, they have come away more energized and achieved better results compared with participants who either positively fantasized or dwelt on the obstacles.”

Victor Frankl — On Superficial Happiness vs Purpose/Meaning
My problem with this article is it is using “pursuit of happiness” in a manner that is inconsistent with the meaning in the Declaration of Independence where it does mean something closer to finding meaning and purpose. One has to agree on definitions of terms before one writes a long articles.
Define happiness?

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, by Daniel Greenberg
“The word happiness did not mean the same thing in the 18th century in American English as it means today. Today we relate the word to the concept of joy or pleasure. Happiness back then meant the realization of an individuals potential. This country is based on the goal that every individual citizen should be free to pursue their dream and to realize it.”
“… In a nutshell, if you think about the pursuit of happiness and all this phrase signifies, you are almost forced into a Sudbury-model school.”

Cal Newport —
He writes about workplace happiness and generally the idea that it comes from hard work
“…it leads people who have a “passion” to believe that all they have to do is match a job to that passion — if they do so, they’ll love their work from day one. In reality, however, they are almost certainly not going to love their work from day one, as this love requires traits like autonomy, competence, and impact that can take a while to develop. The result is that they end up confused and anxious, believing, perhaps, that they choose the *wrong* passion and that they should switch to another job. The notion of “passion” has become a red herring that distracts them from the real path to meaning and satisfaction.”

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Filed under happiness, meaning of life, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Dumbing down playgrounds

I knew it was only a matter of time for this playground in Lincoln! The one in like it in Littleton (Castle in the Trees) is on the block too. And shhh…. there’s one in Salem, NH too….

If you read the recent evaluation of the Castle in the Trees, it talks about there being wood posts larger than 2″x2″ that are too high, and that’s a problem because they are “platforms”. In other words, kids could climb on them.

Maybe the safety experts haven’t seen my little kids playing on the new “dumbed-down” playgrounds of today. They climb ON TOP of pretty much every surface meant to be climbed through. So I am sure those are also surfaces that are being used as platforms that are way too high. Should these new playgrounds be closed too? Some also have low-areas where kids who are tall enough could seriously whack their heads.

Oh well. It’s too bad. Not that I think these particular “old-school” playgrounds were amazing. They are pretty good in some ways, but from a playability standpoint, not the best I’ve seen either. And there are of course some things that are not the safest things ever. But neither is climbing a tree 30 feet up, skiing, bike riding, riding in cars, etc. I let my kids do those things too.

The problem is that I can almost guarantee that what replaces them will be B-O-R-I-N-G. But here’s hoping. I’ve seen some good “new’ playgrounds too.

A separate problem almost all of the playgrounds I’ve been to in the suburban Boston area have is that they are in the middle of nowhere — at a stand-alone park or next to an elementary school not easily accessible to anyone without a car. Sometimes I visit such playgrounds (including the ones in Lincoln, Littleton, and Salem NH) and they are COMPLETELY deserted except for my arriving family. So you know how much fun that is? Approximately zero.

I guess this is just a rant about a bigger issue… suburbia. The best playground I’ve been to with my kids (location: top-secret until another day when I decide to spill the beans) is in a dense neighborhoody part of a town that one could walk to. This same playground is actually “new school” but somehow manages to be pretty fun. It also helps a lot that it is usually PACKED with kids (due partly to it’s location, partly it’s awesomeness.)

OK so here’s my checklist I’d use to rate playgrounds:
– good playground
– good location (near other stuff, walkable)
– good sitting and shade for parents
– well attended
– play surface not made of toxic/smelly crumbled-up rubbery spongy pavement stuff
– some real and decently high good-ole swimgs a plus

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Nothing against Minecraft, but…

“Nothing against Minecraft, but wouldn’t it be great if parents tried to catch up with their children’s and their children’s peers fascination for Sudbury schools, in the way they did with Minecraft when it began to catch on?”
— Jim Whiteford, 10/8/2014, on the Discuss Sudbury Model email list


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(Traditional) Education Is Not Correlated to Success

Ansel and Leander’s School — Sudbury Valley School at this week.

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The Wolf



If you build software for a living (or otherwise), go read these three posts.

  1. @rands: The Wolf
  2. @kellan: “Wolf” narrative considered harmful (also biologically unlikely)
  3. @codinghorror (from 2004): Commandos, Infantry and Police

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Filed under art, computers, contrarian, programming, software, technology, work

School vs Summer Camp

I find it interesting that one often hears or reads testimonials from parents (or  alumni) about how transformative their experience at a certain (usually- but-not-always  “overnight”) summer camp has been, but yet they are equally attached to the school they are sending their kids to the other 9-10 months of the year which in many ways expouses the polar opposite in ideals and structure.

Camp: play, freedom, age-mixing with teen-age counselors

School:  sitting, following someone else’s agenda, no age-mixing — spending the entire day with other kids who are exactly the same age (or at most 1 year’s difference)

How does this make sense? I guess the idea is that the school year it’s time to buckle-down, but then I would think you would hear lots of testimonials about the transformative effect of school.  “It was so hard to sit still, but wow it was an amazing experience!”

At least swap the 2 and 10 months.  Not too long ago, kids went to school for only a few weeks a year.  Like summer camp today.

Or go whole hog and send your kids to a democratic free school, like Sudbury Valley School (SVS) and let them have a transformative experience all year long!


I’m not saying there isn’t value in mixing things up and doing different things at different times of the year — e.g. our kids enjoy having a break from SVS to do other things, and I enjoy the seasons in New England — skiing for part of the year, swimming for part of the year, etc.

I’m also not under the delusion that a democratic free school / Sudbury school is trying to serve the same purpose as a summer camp.  My sense of the summer camps that have such rave reviews (from my kids as well) are the ones (in additional to having ample time for free play and freedom to choose activities instead of following a set plan) also have excellent teen-age and college-age (or older) counselors who excel in their roles as active mentors within their cabins/tents and during free activity periods.  That’s not exactly the same thing as a Sudbury School either where any mentoring is absolutely student-initiated.   My sense (again, from my kids) is that the active mentoring aspect is nice to have for a little bit — a few weeks per year, OK– but my kids (even when they were 4 and 5) end up MUCH preferring the complete freedom they get at SVS for a few hours each day (now it’s 5 or 6 hours, but when they were little it was just a few.)

You should see the excitement I see as they get ready for school (there is often a lot of gear!  They are WORKING on things!) and head off toward the main building to sign in each morning.




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Filed under camp, mentoring / apprenticeship, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School