Looking good on paper

I would bet every student at Sudbury Valley has at some point been pushed by someone outside the school’s community to defend the school. As a student, I've gotten used to full-blown interrogations about my school's "effectiveness." It has happened countless times and I've developed a pretty good script. Yes, my peers go on to college. Yes, they take the SATs. Yes, they look good on paper. But what I realized recently is that I don't care if my Sudbury education ever shows up clearly on paper.

Sudbury Valley gives students the space, time and outlets to get in touch with themselves. It is by no means a therapeutic school, but the best tools I've gained are in dealing with myself. The pressure in traditional school goes beyond the academic. To have a good looking college app, they say, you need to be well-rounded. Kids play sports they don't want to play and join clubs that don't interest them. At SVS the things you're engaging with are by your choice, and kids learn pretty fast that it's not helping anyone to do things they don't like. With nothing to live up to, students have a reason to and are essentially forced to engage with themselves on that level everyday. What do I do today? Well, what do I like to do? What do I say in this meeting? Well, what do I think?

For me, this growth happened in lots of meetings related to the governance of the school while I was trying to figure out what to say. I figured out pretty quick that what I really thought was often a bigger hit than repeating a version of what previous speakers had contributed or what I thought they wanted to hear. If people liked what I really thought, it could affect the school in a way that could make me like school even better. In the same way, saying something I didn't really mean, because I didn't want to try or for whatever reason, made me feel less engaged with the school and certainly didn't serve me. Engaging with my opinions and sharing them has given me a more immediate relationship with myself that has set me up to be more effective in what I do, even if I end up going to the same college I would have. It's not about the information quota I absorb, but richness of experience. Even if I learn the same amount, I'm better at knowing where my brain really wants to go and so the learning I am doing is way more rewarding.

People don't ask me or other people involved in the Sudbury Valley community questions about how honest students' experiences are, or how self-aware they are. I get why, but that's the part of my SVS education I'm most proud of. People do comment on how confident SVS kids are and I chalk that up to the immediacy kids develop to their honest, original thoughts. Even if it never shows up on paper.

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