Category Archives: Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Margaret Knight

(Note: Framingham, MA, USA Town Meeting just passed a law that bans plastic bags at checkout that goes into effect in 2018. So I was interested to learn that the inventor of the first machine for automatically cutting, folding & pasting together paper bags lived in Framingham for 24 years and that she was inventing all along since she was 12.)

Margaret Knight

Born: 1838 Died: 1914
Occupation: inventor of the bag-making machine

Anyone who has ever carried a purchase home in a paper sack or a lunch to school in a paper bag is familiar with the handiwork of Margaret Knight. Her invention, the bag-making machine, greatly simplified the production of flat-bottomed paper bags, thus making these bags a common feature of 20th-century life.

Knight was born on February 14, 1838, in York, Maine. Her parents, James and Hannah, were cotton mill workers. When Knight was young she moved with her family to Manchester, New Hampshire. As a girl she was known as a tomboy, preferring to whittle things out of wood rather than play with dolls. Her formal education consisted of a few years of elementary school, and by age 10 she was working with the rest of her family in a mill. At age 12, after witnessing an accident on the work floor, she designed her first invention, a device to keep a shuttle from slipping out of its loom. She left the mill around 1857 and for the next 10 years she traveled about New England, supporting herself by upholstering chairs, repairing homes, and engraving silver.

In 1867 Knight went to work for the Columbia Bag Company in Springfield, Massachusetts. The company made flat-bottomed brown paper bags, similar to the paper grocery bags of the late 20th century. At the time the bags were cut, folded, and pasted together by hand. Knight became intrigued with the idea of inventing a machine that would perform all three steps mechanically, and for two years she experimented with different bag-making machines. When her supervisor complained that her experiments wasted valuable company time, she got him to leave her alone by suggesting that she might sell him the rights to whatever machine she invented. (In fact, she kept the rights to herself.) Finally, she came up with a workable wooden model, which she sent to a Boston machinist to copy in iron. But while the machinist had the machine, a fellow named Charles F. Annan saw it, copied it, and applied for a patent. Outraged, Knight hired a lawyer and sued Annan for stealing her idea. In 1870, after a lengthy, heated hearing, the U.S. Patent Office examiners found in Knight’s favor.

After receiving her patent, Knight entered into an agreement with the Eastern Paper Bag Company in Hartford, Connecticut. Knight received $2,500 for the right to use her machine, $25,000 in royalties, and 200 shares of company stock, which paid quarterly dividends. She reportedly sold the patent rights at a later date for between $20,000 and $50,000.

Around 1890 Knight moved to Framingham, Massachusetts, where she worked in a shoe factory. Over the next four years she patented several machines for cutting shoe leather. She sold her four patents to a group of Boston investors while retaining a one-fourth interest in each patent; she later sold this interest to the Boston Rubber Company. Around 1900 she became interested in automobiles, and for the rest of her life she designed various automobile parts including valves, rotors, and at least two types of motors. By now Knight, who never married, enjoyed a lifestyle comfortable enough that she could afford to assign most of her automotive patents to her favorite nieces and nephews.

In addition to profiting handsomely from her inventions, Knight achieved a measure of fame in her own lifetime. In 1872 the Women’s Journal, a feminist publication, published an interview with Knight and an accompanying article that praised her for her achievements. Her obituary in the Framingham Evening News called her a “woman Edison.” Altogether she is credited with having been awarded 27 patents, and she invented a number of things that she never bothered to patent. She died on October 12, 1914, in Framingham.


From: American Inventors, Entrepreneurs, and Business Visionaries, Revised Edition, American Biographies. p231-232

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Bernie Sanders’ and Hillary Clinton’s Childhoods of Play


“I would get up on a Saturday morning when we weren’t in school. We used to play with what we called a Spaldeen rubber ball. And you would throw it starting off at the red brick, then the white brick, red brick, white brick. And then, you know, you would win I guess if you threw it all the way up there.”

“Literally I would leave 9, 10 o’clock in the morning and I would come back at 5 o’clock in the evening, exhausted. I had been running all.. day.. long. But it was a happy exhaustion. And by the way, I learned something also about democracy. We didn’t have much adult supervision. So the games were all determined not by adult cultures, [but by] kids themselves. So we would choose up a team. There was no other person dictating anything. We worked out our own rules. It was a very interesting way to grow up.”

– Bernie Sanders with Scott Pelley (CBS News) in Brooklyn, NYC, NY
FEBRUARY 10, 2016, 6:51 PM



“I was born in Chicago, but when I was about four, I moved to where I grew up, which was Park Ridge, Illinois. It was your typical 1950s suburb. Big elm trees lined the streets, meeting across the top like a cathedral. Doors were left open, with kids running in and out of every house in the neighborhood.

“We had a well-organized kids’ society and we had all kinds of games, playing hard every day after school, every weekend, and from dawn until our parents made us come in at dark in the summertime. One game was called chase and run, which was a kind of complex team-based hide-and-seek and tag combination. We would make up teams and disperse throughout the entire neighborhood for maybe a two- or three-block area, designating safe places that you could get to if somebody was chasing you. There were also ways of breaking the hold of a tag so that you could get back in the game. As with all of our games, the rules were elaborate and they were hammered out in long consultations on street corners. It was how we spent countless hours.

“We had so much imaginative game-playing time—just unstructured fun time. I had the best, most wonderful childhood: being outside, playing with my friends, being on my own, just loving life. When I was a kid in grade school, it was great. We were so independent, we were given so much freedom. But now it’s impossible to imagine giving that to a child today. It’s one of the great losses as a society. But I’m hopeful that we can regain the joy and experience of free play and neighborhood games that were taken for granted growing up in my generation. That would be one of the best gifts we could give our children.”

The quotation is from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “An Idyllic Childhood,” in S. A. Cohen (Ed.), The Games We Played: A Celebration of Childhood and Imagination. Simon & Schuster, 2001.

As mentioned at Peter Gray’s blog

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Thomas Jefferson’s 5 justifications for schooling

“GATTO: If you go through the twenty volumes of Thomas Jefferson’s writings, you can distill five principles that Jefferson said were justifications for schooling.

The first two were to teach people their rights and to teach them how to defend those rights.

The third was to know the ways of the human heart so well that you can be neither cheated nor fooled. There isn’t a school in the United States, certainly not a public school, that would dream of trying to aim for those goals.

LAPHAM: What are principles four and five?

GATTO: Four deals with the relation of citizens to experts: a citizen must never be intimidated by experts; experts deal only in facts, but important decisions are matters of philosophy and valuing, not fact. So the expert must always be subordinate.

And five is that an educated person possesses useful knowledge: how to build a house, how to grow food, how to make a dress, etc.”

John Taylor Gatto, Harper’s Magazine 2001

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The Commitee of Ten 1892

Where 2016 curriculum came from… November 1892

1 Latin
2 Greek
3 English
4 Other Modern Languages
5 Mathematics
6 Science (Physics, astronomy, and chemistry)
7 Natural History (Biology, including botany, zoology, physiology)
8 History, government, and political economy
9 Geography (including physical geography, geology, and meteorology)


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2016 still like 1870

“Even in 1870 we were preparing children to be scholars. Why were they learning Latin and Greek? The answer was that all the “important books” were written in Latin and Greek, but that was never the real answer. Even in 1870 there were books written in English. And, although we don’t make every child learn Latin and Greek any more, we do still make every child algebra.”

Roger Schank


“… Harvard won’t go for this. Where are the liberal arts? What about discussing great ideas? Fine, go to Harvard for that. But it is time that some universities start paying attention to undergraduates in exactly this way, by helping them be what they want to be. No courses, just helping students attain skills and practical experience in what interests them.”

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Why history and not botany?

“Why school subjects ever came to be standardized I cannot guess.  Why history and not botany?  Geography and not geology?  Maths and not civics?  I think the lesson may lie in the words of the old public-school headmaster: ‘It doesn’t matter what you teach a boy so long as he dislikes it.’  — A.S. Neill from p104 of Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood

“All that any child needs is the three Rs; the rest should be tools and clay and sports and theatre and paint and freedom. … I am not decrying learning.  But learning should only come after play.  And learning should not be deliberately seasoned with play to make it palatable.” p102

“Creators learn what they want to learn in order to have the tools that their originality and genius demand.  We do not know how much creation is killed in the classroom with its emphasis on learning.” p108

Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood by A. S. Neill

SEE ALSO: Guest Post by Jess
“…I’d just like to point out that the subjects that are chosen are, well, chosen…why biology and not botany, why algebra and not agriculture…”

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Woohoo! Yeah!

“Woohoo! Yeah!” (yelled at the top of his lungs)

This is my (newly) 8-year-old son’s reaction to his realization that tomorrow is Monday and there is school (Sudbury Valley School).

What joy this joy brings to his dad’s heart!

Not that he is always this totally pumped for school… he’s a home-body kinda kid, so “transition-time” can be difficult for him even, but he’s never particularly fussed once he gets in the mood and gathers his gear and projects he’s working on. And there’s never really been “Sunday-night-blues” (in anticipation of the coming week) to speak of with either of our kids.

But turning 8 means a few new “big kid” privileges and responsibilities at school, and he is excited and ready for them!

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