Category Archives: kids — freedom and responsibility

Harkness/Exeter vs Sudbury

I was recently reading about the “Harkness Method” first used at Phillips Exeter Academy in the 1930s.

Seems to basically be the Socratic Method/graduate school seminar style teaching with ideally no more than 12-13 people.
The basic idea makes some sense but lots of complaints too.
Here’s one rant:

Pros: able to discuss ideas not just facts, not just teaching to the test, discussion not lecture. (I think a flipped-classroom could do this too. As could a larger lecture using an electronic “Student Response System”.)

Summary of Cons:
– if teacher lets clueless and extroverted people talk too much
– if quiet students don’t speak up but grades depend on it
– if students aren’t prepared
– if students like to learn on their own

So I guess like just about anything, something that seems like it could be very useful if done properly, is still probably bad or at best useless or more-of-the-same to many people depending on their preferred learning style. Oh, and their interest in a topic.  I don’t think it’s going to magically make you interested in history if that’s not your thing.  Ken Burns maybe.  Probably not Harkness.

In other words, I still find that FREEDOM is the way to go. Choose a book or textbook, choose a seminar, choose a youtube video, choose a friend to talk with. And freedom to be a little interested, somewhat or very — without someone full of expectations and looking for teachable moments. And ultimately, the freedom to quit. Where else can you get that at the K-12 level except a Sudbury School or Democratic Free School?

Researchers know now that lots of behavior and goals (and bad habits!) are socially contagious. (See for example the myriad of references in Chapter 8 of “The Willpower Instinct” by Kelly McGonigal. So being surrounded by a group of free peers for a few hours each day is likely to be a pretty ideal situation — that’s a Sudbury School.

I also think that there is something difficult to describe about being in situations for 5-6 (or more!) hours a day for 180 days times 14 years of your life where there is someone who is the authority and expert (the teacher) that really warps the mind in ways that are difficult to fully appreciate.  Someone tell me because I don’t know: “Do I know enough yet?” and really “Am I fully a person yet?” So extrinsic.  

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Filed under kids -- freedom and responsibility, kids are complete people, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School, teaching

10,000 hours

I’ve written about this before surely, kids are in school for 5 to 5.5 hours each day over 180 days (MA has 900/990 learning time laws for public school) so that is 14 years * ~950 = 13,300 hours(!) for Pre-K through 12th grade.

Right now (still? I think this has been off-and-on for a long time) our 8 year old is OBSESSED with drawing animals, dragons, etc. and crafting “creations” out of popsicle sticks and a glue gun. Oh, and pottery. Luckily since he goes to Sudbury Valley School, so he has all the time he needs.

I really don’t see how he would have time to do all of this very serious thinking and doing if he was having to do and think about what OTHER people wanted him to — both in school and homework time. (In fact, maybe my 13,000 hour estimate is low?)

What a gift to be free for 10,000 hours.


Outliers by Malcom Gladwell

New Study Destroys Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule “Johansson argues that deliberate practice is only a predictor of success in fields that have super stable structures. For example, in tennis, chess, and classical music, the rules never change, so you can study up to become the best. But in less stable fields, like entrepreneurship and rock and roll, rules can go out the window…”

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Filed under 10 000 hours, freedom, kids -- freedom and responsibility, kids are complete people, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School, time, woodworking / shop class

Today I walked to school. The Red sox won last night.

“Today I walked to school. The Red sox won last night.”

From my school journal when I was 7, turning 8 in 3 days. (back in the 1970s)

I think I walked pretty much by myself on the way to school, and maybe with 2 or 3 friends on the way back. I remember having to wait in class until all the buses had left before the walkers were released.

I mean, that’s pretty amazing, given that my school was a full 1/2 miles walk and on 2 roads without a sidewalk. But I don’t remember thinking anything of it. It was just normal. Today (2015) that would seem pretty unusual I think.


— Marco’s Village
“I wrote an article a year ago that described my son Marco’s roaming range. Well, he’s 6-1/2 now, and I’m happy to say that this range has expanded considerably. I call the area pictured below “Marco’s Village” because he’s familiar with many people and places within this area. He feels safe here, and we feel comfortable letting him roam within this area.”

— A 1979 first-grade readiness checklist asks if your child can travel alone in the neighborhood, but not if she can read.

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Filed under free-range kids, kids -- freedom and responsibility, safety, shifting baseline

Standardized testing is so 1.0

Standardized testing is so 1.0 “On a recent morning at Riverside Elementary School, Alyssa Walter, 7, opened her first-grade “data binder,” in which she recorded progress on reading and math tasks throughout the year.”

Comments include:
“Preparing students for their cubicle lives in an Orwellian future is probably the fairest thing we can do, I guess…”
“There is plenty of research data that says physical activities improve learning, attention and scores. But no one is pushing physical activities as requirement in any school.”
“Well, can’t say this trend isn’t preparing kids for life in the real world, where, as adults, most will be poked, prodded and bullied by number by bosses and HR managers all their lives.”

I really do think traditional schools will eventually move in the direction of “continuous testing” aka data collection. So there is no need for a test… you’ve been collecting the (standardized) data all along. “Big Data”.

At our kids’ Sudbury school the “data” collected I suppose includes:
1. The number of times they add money to their discretionary account (tracking the amount of clay they bought and/or the number of fundraiser lunches they’ve partaken of?)
2. Sign-in and -out times. Since there is no fixed start and stop times, kids write down the time when they arrive and leave. But I don’t think this makes it into a database actually. Just for the attendance clerk to note people who are not attending. It also helps people at school know who is there. For instance, if it is 10:15am (or 4:15pm) and you can’t find Ansel, you might first check to see if he has signed-in (or out) for the day or not.
3. J.C. violations. Not much to learn there…
4. If you look at the list on the side of the microwave you can see the “data” of who is certified to use it. But no dates. Darn! Still that’s something I suppose!


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Filed under big data / personal data collection, contrarian, kids -- freedom and responsibility, kids are complete people, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School


AGILE is a process used in software development. It works with software. It works with kids and families.

Family meeting once a week.
Write it down. Make daily checklists

The 3 questions for family meeting (focusing on the family, not individuals):
1. What’s working well in our family this week?
2. What’s not working well?
3. What can we focus on in the week ahead?

To me, this relates to the more general ideas that:
1. Kids are fully people.
2. People are happier in communities where there is direct democracy. Like Switzerland and Sudbury Schools.

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Every day is show and tell day at Sudbury Valley School (or not)

This weekend at my grandmother’s 100th birthday party, she asked my youngest (7yo) if they did “show and tell” at his school. He didn’t really know how to answer because frankly, every day is show and tell at Sudbury Valley School. Well not exactly. It’s also NEVER show and tell… of course no one HAS to bring personal stuff from home. But certainly for those who are interested, it’s EVERY DAY… you can of course bring any amount of STUFF from home to work with/play with, and show other students or staff.

It’s not uncommon for said 7yo to bring a roller-suitcase filled to the brim with stuff that he plans to work on/play on while at school.

Today for instance, he is an actor in a movie someone is working on at school and so last night he brought home a handwritten checklist of props and proper attire he should bring with him. It was a lot of stuff! And he joyfully and excitedly gathered it up this morning, anxious to get to school.

I wonder if his cousin is in the movie because he is serving on JC (read: jury duty) all this month, so he has scheduling complications as he won’t be available for filming from 11am for an hour or so (or less) each day depending on their case load.

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Filed under kids -- freedom and responsibility, kids are complete people, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Aren’t you a little young to be ordering pizza for delivery? Yes, yes I am!

This awesome scene from Sudbury Valley School is right out of Phineas and Ferb.

[Mom] “Did you bring your money to school?”
[7-year old] “Yes.”
“What for?”
“To order pizza for the party.”
“Where’d you get the pizza?”
“From Gianni’s.”
“How did you order it?”
“I called them and ordered it.”
“Whose phone did you use?”
“I went to the office and Jean let me use her phone.”
“How much was it?”
“About $13.”
“Did you give the driver a tip?”
“Yes, $5.”


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Filed under kids -- freedom and responsibility, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School