Category Archives: Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

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

Kids are fully human

“[W]hat has struck me the longer I have worked with children is how much they are like adults, how little I need, on some level, the philosophies of Jerome Brunar, Piaget, Lev Vygotzkgy”

“I will share a new song, but so will the children. I will teach table manners, but so will the children. I’ll comfort when child is hurt or when there’s a dispute, but sometimes the children do this with more ease and grace than us adults.”

“In a universal way a toddler will handle a problem often in a way I would admire, laughing with a friend and looking deeply into her friend’s eyes until the friend is laughing. Coming to watch and observe a friend who is crying, to see what is wrong and how to help. Organizing a game which pulls others in and makes one and others happy, interested, engaged, purposeful.”

Well said.

excerpts from a post at: Maria West’s blog

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

Bored of Directors

Interesting… reading the corporate bylaws of the kids’ school — Sudbury Valley School​. They are on the board of directors — all students and staff “teachers” are. And yesterday at their weekly meeting, the board (“School Meeting” — like “Town Meeting”) elected the new officers and clerks of the corporation thru next Sept. Some positions are commonly held by staff, but others, including the president of the corporation “School Meeting Chairperson”, the law clerk, and the elections clerk are usually students.

But also interesting… my kids aren’t yet interested and didn’t know about the election, which is fine too.

Related and funny:
Nikole Beckwith (SVS alumna) tells the story of her becoming JC Clerk (judicial committee) and telling the principal of her former school

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Filed under Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School, SVS alumni

curiosity not passion and vocation

Elizabeth Gilbert — her book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear,” which is part memoir, part how-to for living a life that’s less routine and more curiosity-driven.

A few notes from the interview:

–Greek word: Eudaimonia — the happiness that comes when you are engaged with your creativity at the highest level.
–We more commonly call it “being in the zone” or “a state of flow”

Gilbert on passion and vocation — scrap that and “focus on the tiny, friendly impulse of curiosity which is within all of us”

Her friend who takes up ice skating at age 40… “this is the only thing that makes her feel so alive…”

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Filed under art, creativity, play, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

A for effort. Can a growth mindset itself be developed?

Is teaching a growth mindset possible? (In other words, does a person think their intelligence/talents are fixed traits or that they can be developed?)

“In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.” — Carol Dweck

Dweck thinks so. 10 minute TED talk below complete with brain scans.
(Or play at 1.25 or 1.5 speed! :-)

In the face of difficulty: “I love a challenge”
“You know, I was hoping this would be informative”

The math video game she mentions I guess is this:

Another way of looking at it is… maybe we are all born with a growth mindset, but many of our experiences can pull it out of us. So the idea should be to not so much teach it, as to not suck it out of people in the first place? Flip side of the same idea I guess.

So that’s why I think Sudbury Schools are approaching things in a reasonable way. Whereas I think most traditional schools are very risky in that it is quite likely that they will suck the growth mindset out. Some kids might make it through intact, but it’s a serious risk.

Hal Sadofsky on which is the riskier approach — Sudbury or traditional school

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Filed under growth mindset, mentoring / apprenticeship, nature vs nurture, person: Carol Dweck, raising kids / parenting, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School, talent vs skill, unconditional love, underestimating kids, video games

Whatever you do, don’t go into debt for college

Excerpt from an interview with Ran Prieur at Boing Boing:

Avi: What advice would you give to a smart kid in high school right now?

Ran: My first advice would be: Whatever you do, don’t go into debt for college. This is a point about college that some people don’t understand. And that is, the main thing you learn in college is how to think and act like an educated person.

If your parents both went to college, then they raised you, then you already know how to think and act like an educated person. You don’t need to go to college to learn that. If you come from a lower class family and your parents did not go to college, then college is much more beneficial to you.

People who’ve been to college and learn to think and act that way get a lot more respect in the dominant society. Just the way you say words, the way you carry yourself. So that’s a big benefit of college. You don’t necessarily have to pay tuition to do that. You could learn that by osmosis. Hanging out in a college campus.

When I was in high school, I was completely unmotivated. I did not know how to motivate myself at all. I was just going through the motions. So I went to college because college was the thing to do. It was a lot cheaper back then in the late 80’s when I went to college. My parents had some money saved up so I didn’t have to go on debt for college.

But, boy, I would not want to be a smart kid in high school right now because unless you’re tremendously good at self motivating, it can be hard for you to quit high school and not go to college and find something to do and not just crash and burn.

Maybe I would say go to community college to get your basic stuff out of the way or hang out at a college campus. If you could get a staff job at a college campus, then you can kind of get the college experience, and even take a few classes.

I don’t know. I would not want to be a kid in high school right now. The generation that is coming up now is going to have a really tough time. Be adaptable, that’s the advice I’d give.

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Filed under advice, alternative education, college, person: Ran Prieur, raising kids / parenting, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School