I am often asked why I keep working at Sudbury Valley after so many years, doing the same things over and over and over. People wonder what sustains my interest in going camping at Nickerson State Park for five days, followed by an overnight at school for the younger students (ages five to ten) the week after – or how come I am not bored by being with the kids who are basically quite self-sufficient, or by cleaning the art room at five o’clock several days a week, a task that does become tiresome at times, but one I am happy to do because I am always amazed to see that by and large the students of all ages who use the room constantly without adult supervision do take care of the materials and equipment most of the time.
Yes, it does make me happy to see concretely how the hope of creating a place for children to be free has become a place where they thrive, and learn to become aware of the community and its needs and to care for the materials that are shared by all. But while this is very rewarding, it is not what draws me to SVS year after year.
So what is it then? I have asked myself that question often. I find my answer difficult to pinpoint, but I will try to articulate what I feel as best as I can.
What I love about young children is their sheer optimism. No matter how hard it is for them to learn new things like walk and talk and eat with a utensil like the adults, they never give up and try and try again. I find this ability inspiring and at times when I am about to give up I tell myself that if a baby can overcome disappointments so can I. At SVS we see this kind of optimism all the time.
At our school young kids “get out” in Four Square often and before long they master the game and get better and better at it. They learn how to read, write or use the computer, they get good at skiing or snowboarding, they climb higher on the trees and jump farther at the rocks, they become JC members and vote, and so on in every endeavor that they undertake. And they do new things endlessly.
On the last day of this school year I noticed that the younger population of the kids were busy doing the kinds of things that they always did while the older ones were saying goodbye, crying, and writing in their yearbooks. Of course the younger kids knew it was the last day of school and that a long vacation is going to prevent them from seeing their friends (they all complain about vacations) but they were able to enjoy the day they had together and played their games, worked in the art room, etc. They enjoy the moment at hand, and will deal with what comes next, next.
In truth, it is not what they do that astounds me; it is rather the calm serenity coupled with focus and determination that is unique. I ask myself how come adults have to work so hard at achieving the same state of being, while under their noses their own children know how to do it naturally. I wonder why or how we all lost what we knew as children, and I feel privileged to live close to it on a daily basis. Every day I find myself learning from these kids how to live in the moment, and that more than anything is what keeps me at SVS.