A Student’s Experience in the Real World

There is a myth out there, a false idea called the “real world”. “It’s not like that in the real world.” “When you get out there in the real world, you’ll see.” The idea fed to children and students is that they must do unpleasant things to prepare for this monster, be it taxes, maintaining a space, feeding oneself, dealing with people, dealing with government, getting into college or getting a good job. The myth is that when you step into the “real world” outside school, there will be some form of these things that you are not ready or worthy to handle yet. I offer my experiences as proof that there is only one world, and that is the one we create for ourselves.

The first challenge outside SVS was getting into college. I started at Framingham State doing a night course in Biology. I did not like the professor, and it was an adjustment NOT to get up and leave, a la SVS style, but I knew what I wanted (to become a Chiropractor) and I was not willing to let this asshole deter me, so I found out what needed to be done, stuck it out, and passed with a C-. Adaptation is a skill of the SVS student.

Next I decided to attend Mass Bay Community College. I had problems with paper work and official forms. I did not yet have my diploma from SVS, the C- from Biology was not enough to take the Anatomy class I needed, and they wanted to test my writing skills before letting me attend. (To this day I still can’t spell.) By the end of my dealing with the assistant Dean, I was permitted to take Anatomy; given a forced entry into a psychology class I needed that was full, and the diploma issue was settled with a letter from SVS. So I got into classes I technically should not have without a high school diploma and got my first college A that semester. I ended up tutoring Anatomy for the college. (Still can’t spell.) After debating on the School Meeting floor for years, bureaucracy is no problem for me.

While attending the rest of my schooling at Mass Bay, I went to the Boston Shiatsu School to learn Chinese Medicine. After a curriculum change, a needed class for graduation was not going to happen for a small group of us. After getting classes started at SVS, it was second nature to make calls and arrange for teachers to come. I was only nineteen and adults were thanking me for making it possible for them to graduate. Focused desire is a skill of the SVS student.

After getting what I needed from undergraduate studies and finishing Shiatsu school, there was time to go live in Japan for a while before Chiropractic school. I knew no one stepping off the plane, but ended up teaching English, and I traveled from the top to the bottom of the country. For two months I was in charge of a small staff at a school in Hokkaido. Knowing how to ask for help and gather needed information are additional skills of the SVS student. (In this case I needed to gather info on HOW to ask for help, but that’s another matter.)

I arrived in Atlanta to study Chiropractic in September 2000. The school has a curriculum that uses 25 credits a quarter. Talk about shock. All of a sudden, I was in classrooms for more than 30 hours a week, and finding time to work as well as learn from Chiropractic technique clubs and seminars during my free time. Again, I knew what I wanted, and knew how to adapt. The first quarter kicked my butt, but I made it with help from others and tenacity. By third quarter my test-taking skills were up to par with my classmates (some of whom had Masters degrees). My ability to learn and understand a subject is far better than the average student’s; I can debate with anyone about physiology or human biomechanics.

From the perspective of work, lifeguarding was a favorite during school, moving up to aquatics director, overseeing lifeguards and teaching staff. (Leadership comes second nature to most SVS kids.) I taught gymnastics for all ages, swimming, tutored anatomy, psychology and English. (Still can’t spell.) Now, while attending Chiropractic school, I am teaching Sacro-Occipital technique to fellow students through a club on campus. I have also been earning a living doing Shiatsu and Chinese medicine (advertising, health talks, paperwork and not killing annoying clients are just some of the challenges).

So when does it get harder than SVS?! I’m halfway through grad school and making money with a vocational degree in Chinese medicine. I’ve worked as a laborer and also as a supervisor in more than one country and now run the only Shiatsu practice in Atlanta. So where is this demon called the real world? The answer is, it is only a myth. SVS is as real as it gets, folks. The real world is what we make of it, and the SVS world is made up every day directly by the children themselves. Everything children do at SVS is training for what is to come in their lives.

My first year I played 4-square and did little else. In that simple game I learned sociology, psychology, physiology, physics, the judicial system, communication skills, etc, etc. All of the issues I faced in that game, from dealing with a bully, to playing fair, to helping others and standing up for myself, have all come back to haunt me later in life. These are the things that SVS lets you develop; the rest of the skills will fall in to place as you need them.

If you know what you want and you can concentrate, you can get through college. If you can organize yourself and be with others, you can succeed in business. I could not read until I was twelve. This is not important. I still cannot tell you what a noun is. It has not affected me. I never took the S.A.T.’s, and have no idea what my IQ is. (I still can’t spell.) The only skills you need are the ones that make you powerful and whole.

At SVS, the students are given time to figure out what they want out of life. This alone is worth the education, but in addition you learn how to make it happen.

Once when I came back to an open house at Sudbury Valley, a little girl no more than six years old ran into me in the hall [thump]. She was no taller than my waist. I leaned over her with my towering 6-foot frame to intimidate her with a half-smile. She looked right up at me, and in that moment, she was six feet tall and in every respect my equal, smiling back. Tell me this little girl can’t get into any school she wants, with or without a diploma. That is Sudbury Valley School.

If you want college, I mean really want college, the skills will come. It may take you time to get your math in shape, to take physics, but if you know what you want, you will do it with the same love you had for drawing with Joanie, the same concentration used with Hanna in yoga class, the same intensity as arguing with Mikel in J.C.

Sometimes in the SVS halls you will hear, “I’m bored.” It’s music to my ears as I look back, because “bored” translates to, “I’m finding my center”, and when that student does, we will have a person who can focus their whole being on what they are doing with their life. Is there anything more perfect?

With all that I’ve just talked about, do you think asking your kids to take math and reading will better prepare them for college?

Around the age of fifteen, I began to question the value of SVS and tried to compare myself to others of my age. If I had known of a better school, I would have gone, but a 15 year old can find fault with any institution. The problem is that you can’t measure the real skills of life. Businesses have tried, but there is really no way to tell if someone has their act together or not. The older I get, however, the more I see what went on within the school. The school is not perfect, but after attending three higher learning centers and teaching a variety of things from scholastics to back flips, I have found that the SVS method is the best thing going. If you are in the school now, look around and see for yourself.

Being in charge of your own life is the hardest thing one can ever do, at any age. Students take that skill for granted at SVS because they don’t know any other way to be. Let me tell you, it is a powerful way to be.

Life is education. Now, you can get in the way, or you can let it happen. In my case they let it happen, and now no one can stand in my way.

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.