SVS: Empowering Kids to Meet the Real World

It’s amazing that anybody considers that what's called “a school” in the traditional meaning of the term has anything to do with preparing children for adulthood. To the contrary: it doesn't let them talk; doesn't let them move; it squelches their creativity; it doesn't let them control what they do with their time; and it forces them to do things that are repugnant to them. Even when dealing with the things that aren't repugnant to them, it forces them to do those in a way that the official curriculum controls.

Sudbury Valley School on the other hand, endows everybody with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. All of the constitutional rights granted to adults in the outside community are granted to children here. They are treated as fully competent people. The fact that the school is structured as a democracy embeds children in the intellectual and emotional and social environment of the country in which this school exists.

Nevertheless, it turns out that the single most difficult thing about the school for parents to accept is that their children are not going to be expected to do any particular things, ever. Most adults are sure that there are certain important things that their children are not able or willing to learn on their own, and they might leave the school deficient in some crucial areas. It's very hard to explain what happens to a kid who leaves school and feels worried that they do not know enough about some subject and that turns out to be an area they need for their next stage in life.

Actually, what happens is a reflection of their life at school. There are a lot of ways in our society to find the knowledge you are seeking. Once SVS kids or graduates become aware of needing something, they find out how to get it; that's a key feature of kids who grow up and learn in this school and of course it continues for them as adults. It’s much easier for them in life if they learn things when they discover that they need them.

I know there are people who say, for instance, “There is a time in life when you have to begin to learn a foreign language – or else!” Yet kids and adults manage to learn foreign languages all their lives – some with more ease than others, but that's probably a matter of native talent. But there is not a moment in life when, if you haven't started to work on a foreign language, you're never going to be able to learn one. If you learn things when you want to learn them, they’re going to be much more meaningful to you.

It's also going to be a much more powerful experience if you learn because you are motivated. We see it in students who leave here. They are totally empowered. They can get what they want, they can go where they want, they can look for what they want. They're not saying, “Nobody taught me that, so I can't ever do it.” They're saying, “I can find what I need in life, because I'm a powerful person. I know how to work, I know what I need to make myself feel content, and I'm pursuing the things that are important to me and fill my life with meaning.” And that’s the reality of the real world of adults.

There it is: Sudbury Valley School, and Sudbury-model schools in general, are places that really prepare kids for life as adults in the real world. There's no other school environment like it!

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.