The Distribution of Power

My purpose in writing is to help parents who are thinking about Sudbury Valley School. Those parents who are attracted to this model for their children need to provide them with the support that will make their SVS experience most effective. They do support their children by paying the tuition and providing transportation, but one of their most important contributions is to protect them from well-meaning relatives and friends who have a different understanding of what it means to be educated. It is my hope that this will be part of the ongoing dialog that is necessary to enable parents to protect their children from being undermined by those who do not understand the model or reject its philosophy.

Since we are born with the ability to solve difficult problems, and, our current mainstream educational system undermines this gift of nature, it is important to look for new models of education that are able to capitalize on nature’s gift. SVS was the one of the first to demonstrate that to be effective learners, children should be in a culture where there is distribution of power.

I have participated in the Sudbury Valley School educational experiment these past 45 years, and I think I have a much better understanding of why we are not solving our societal educational problems. The critics of our current model of education will help me to make that case.


Ralph Waldo Emerson:

I pay the schoolmaster, but 'tis the schoolboys that educate my son.


Henry Adams:

They know enough who know how to learn.


John W. Gardner:

Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.


Chris Dede’s written statement to the Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology panel in 1997:

The most dangerous experiment we can conduct with our children is to keep schooling the same at a time when every other aspect of our society is dramatically changing.


Mainstream schools were needed to make the Industrial Revolution a success when it was in its early, primitive stage of development and needed human “robots” to supplement the technology available at that time. We owe those schools a debt of gratitude for their help in making the Industrial Revolution fulfill its promise that the basics of life [food, clothing, and shelter] can be provided to everyone.

During the past half century, industrialized societies have entered The Post Industrial Age.

For the first time in the history of our species, those of us who have entered The Post Industrial Age are able to take the basics of life for granted.

The reason so many children are having so much trouble now is that we are living in this new era, but they are still forced to attend a coercive educational system.  The following excerpt is taken from page 19 of Peter Gray’s recent book, "Free to Learn."

And yet, the hue and cry that we hear from pundits and politicians today is for more restrictive schooling, not less. They want more standardized tests, more homework, more supervision, longer school days, longer school years, more sanctions against children’s taking off a day or two for a family vacation. This is one realm in which politicians from both major parties, at every level of government, seem to agree. More schooling and more testing are better than less schooling and less testing.

Schools are the institution that we have chosen to prepare children to meet the needs of society, but our schools are failing us, for we are not prepared for The Post Industrial Age. Nature has provided us with the gift to innovate but our schools have undermined that gift and substituted a controlled curriculum taught by “experts” who are forced to ignore nature’s gift.  

The views expressed on this page are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Sudbury Valley School.