Students Talk About Parental Concerns

It occurred to me that the people best able to answer the concerns that parents and others have about the SVS mode of education are the students who experience it themselves. So, one day I sat down with seven teenagers and a tape recorder and I asked them the questions that people ask me. The following is a transcript of our session. The names of the students have not been disclosed, for obvious privacy reasons; they are each identified with the same designation, “Student”. The transcript is being published in The Sudbury Valley School Journal with their approval.

Nothing was changed or added to this transcript, but it has been edited by Mimsy Sadofsky for clarity and continuity.

Hanna: What do kids do here to become educated, or to become grown up and to be able to go out to the world?

Student: They think.

Student: They think about whatever they want, because you have time to think about what you really care about instead of having to be pushed along by other things.

Student: A very important part of the school is that you have a large group of people to discuss your thoughts with.

Student: You get to know yourself really well. You spend so much time thinking. I think you learn best when you’re at peace with yourself, when you know yourself the best and when you’re happy and you’re not stressed out. That’s when you absorb the most information. You can talk to whoever you want while you are learning to be at peace; you can have conversations with lots of different kinds of people about lots of different things.

Hanna: Do you see a difference between the kids who have been here a long time and the kids who are new?

Student: When I was a new teen, I didn’t know what to do with myself and how to please myself and just what to do – there is so much time in a day when there is no teacher telling you what to do! You have to figure it out. The kids who have been here for a while just already know: “If I don’t like to do it, why would I do it?” They’re able to talk more easily to different people, a large group of people to discuss your thoughts with. It takes kids who went to a “normal” school a little bit of time to get used to what’s going on. I was sixteen when I enrolled.

One time Danny and I got into a conversation, and he said, “Well, what do you want to do with your life? What do you like to do?” And even that question was like: I don’t know, what do I like to do? And he said, “You like to read, don’t you, so why don’t you just read?” And I said, “Oh”. So now I have about eight books in my bag and I’m in the middle of each and every one of them.

I’m not that sure whether I want to go to college yet. I know that I still have a couple more years of this school so right now I’m not even thinking that far ahead. I just want to find out what I like to do, because I feel if I know what I’d like to do, it won’t be so hard for me to do the work.

Hanna: If I said to you: you can do anything you want to do but you have to learn the math, do you think you could do it?

Student: If what I wanted to do required me to do math, I would. I would try to at least pass.

Hanna: Do you have the confidence that you could?

Student: I know some math. I’m not ignorant of the entire subject. I could do it, but it sucks.

Student: I come from a very mathematical family, and I’m just not very good at it. I’m taking a math class, and I wouldn’t say I’m enjoying it, but I’m enjoying feeling that I’m learning math and it’s not like I can’t do it at all. And I’m learning to accept that I’m not as good at it as my dad or my brother. That worried me a lot more, definitely, when I wasn’t doing math.

Student: I can’t do math if I don’t have a reason for it, but if I figured out what I want to do with my life and I needed to do math for it, then I’d be able to make myself do it because I’d have a reason.

Student: It’s all about the motivation.

Student: I know that I can’t go to college until I know what I want to do at the end, because I’m not going to make it through unless I know why I am doing it.

Hanna: Everybody that you know goes to college just to go to college.

Student: I think that they’re pushed into it.

Student: I think that’s what’s expected and it’s not societally appropriate to do anything else.

Hanna: So here we are in a room with eight people, and we all come from families in which it is socially expected that you go to college, so by not knowing now whether you want to go, or not to go, are you disappointing your parents?

Student: No.

Student: I think my mom would be horribly disappointed if I didn’t go to college.

Student: My mom didn’t go to college immediately so she understands. I think she took a year off and backpacked through Europe – something that she will never let me do.

Student: They wouldn’t be harsh and verbally critical but I think that they would probably be disappointed.

Student: My parents would probably be the same. My mom doesn’t mind if I take time off but she definitely wants me to go for some amount of time. She thinks that I won’t be able to do anything that’s important if I don’t go to college.

Student: I think my parents would be disappointed if I didn’t go to college, but I am interested in going to college because all the things I’m interested in require college.

Student: My mom just really wants me to be happy, so if that means that I don’t go to college then she just doesn’t care. But I know that my grandparents would care if I didn’t go to college.

Student: I think my grandmother’s in denial that I’m here.

Hanna: One of you said that college is important in order to do the things you would want to do. That’s something that is accepted in a middle-class college-educated crowd – your parents and your grandparents and their friends and all your peers in the neighborhood, is that correct? Do you agree with it?

Student: My mother is always telling me that in college everybody gets a basic education – she also says this about high school, that I’m missing out on things. People will refer to certain things and if you don’t know them, then you’re kind of out of the loop. But I kind of want to go to college anyway.

Hanna: So she said that you’re out of the loop because people will be talking about things you don’t know? Everybody here knows plenty of people from the outside world, do you find that it’s so?

Student: Occasionally. But it’s rare.

Student: No.

Student: My friends are always talking about which teacher they had, and which subject, and how that teacher’s terrible, and that teacher’s great, and I’m left out by that just by not going to their school. But when I’ve been at different schools from them in the past it’s been the same. They’ve been as uncaring about what’s going on at my school, even though the three of them are talking about their school. On top of that, they think that what they’re doing is necessary, and therefore I’m being an idiot by not doing it.

Hanna: So do you think in terms of general knowledge and ability to hold an intelligent conversation . . .

Student: I’m way above them.

Student: Yeah, I think we have an advantage and I think we’re definitely more intellectual.

Student: I find that when I’m chilling with neighborhood kids, I’m less inclined to be interested in what they’re talking about.

Student: My friends are really outspoken and a lot of them have been going through the same things that I went through, but just dealt with it differently. I would say that I’m pretty much on the same level as the group I am with now. But if I was to go to my high school now, and just be with the kids that are my age, I know that I would be really annoyed with what they had to say, and how they said it, and how they described things, and how they describe themselves.

Student: The kids that I know are so focused on grades and what they’re doing right now that they have no concept that in the future their interests might be different or their needs might be different. I feel that while we might be less academically prepared for the future, we’re more emotionally prepared for it.

Student: We’ll be able to handle it.

Student: I’m more realistic about learning I guess. It’s not being shoved down my throat.

Student: The biggest thing I got from being here is, if I see somebody doing something that I want to learn, I’ll go up to them and ask them to teach it to me. Like, anywhere. And I would never do that before. I would just think, “Wow, I wish I could do that.” Now I can go and talk to them about it, or ask how they learned to do it, and then I can learn to do it too.

Student: I used to be at a school where I was at the school eleven hours a day and I came home and I had four or five hours of homework, and I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. Since I’ve been here I’ve been able to start horseback riding again, which I love; I’ve been able to start doing things that I like to do, and that’s been helping me figure out what I want to keep doing in my life.

Hanna: Parents want to give their children opportunities, and skills, and a jump-start on life, obviously, right? They want their kids to be happy and successful in whatever they do. But the whole society, everywhere – politicians, educators, professors, professionals, people on the street believes that you need to go to school in order to learn things. And here we say: you need to be left alone to find your way to learn things. Don’t you think that’s outrageous?

Student: Being here gives you self-confidence because it shows you that you don’t need somebody shoving things down your throat to learn; you just need yourself.

Student: I have a friend whose family makes her take the SAT’s every year, starting before she was even in high school, because her parents are so worried about her getting into college. Sometimes when I’m with her, I feel like she’s smarter than me. Then I realize that she maybe can take the SAT’s really well, but she has no idea what she wants to do with her life because she’s so focused on academics in school, she has no time to think about herself and what she really likes. All she thinks about is what her parents want her to learn and she can’t ever think about anything else because she has no time. She doesn’t understand yet that that’s important.

Student: When I was in public school, I knew I was good at the academic part. But when I got here I realized that I was good at learning exactly the way people told me to learn, and exactly what people told me to learn, and here that didn’t matter. When the teachers weren’t there anymore, I noticed that I’d rather be doing something I don’t like than doing nothing. That was a big step for me, noticing that and figuring out what I want to do, and making better use of my time instead of just making use of it.

Student: When I first came here my mom said, “Oh, I’m so much less stressed out – I don’t have to ask you whether you did your homework or not. I don’t have to be worrying about yelling at you about your grades.”

Hanna: How many people think their parents are stressed – at least one of their parents? Five! I know my parents were stressed that I was doing this instead of being a professor somewhere. There are two people here whose parents are not stressed.

Student: The only reason my mom’s not stressed is because she was so stressed out when I was at public school that she just couldn’t handle it!

Student: I didn’t see my parents ever stressing about grades, because I always got good grades, but if I had a bad grade I was really freaked out about telling them. My mom would say, okay, you’ll do better next time. My dad always got terrible grades in middle school and high school. We’d go to his parents’ house and we’d read his report cards over Thanksgiving and it would crack us up. But he cared more about my grades than my mom, and I think that was because he had the direct correlation that when he became motivated in life to do well, his grades went way up and that’s how he got into college. I didn’t have that motivation to keep the grades up and I noticed that I was starting to do less and less and less because I didn’t care.

Hanna: How many of you are diagnosed as ADD? Four of the kids here say they’ve been called ADD! Do you still think you are? Do you think that’s a real thing?

Student: I think it’s ridiculously over-diagnosed.

Student: Most kids are diagnosed with ADD when they are in kindergarten or first, second grade. First-graders want to run around. If you stick them in a classroom for five hours a day or whatever and tell them to sit still and not run around at all, they’re going to squirm, and they’re not going to pay attention, and to then say, “You have a disorder because you want to do the natural thing.” It’s complete bullshit!

Student: My brother is a nine-year-old boy. He was diagnosed with it when he was seven. He’s a happy boy – he likes to play and he likes to be outside. He wants to talk to other students, he wants to play with his friends, and he wants to run around and play games because he’s a little boy. It makes me sick that they’re medicating him. It’s almost like when he’s on medication it takes away part of his personality.

Student: I’ve heard a couple things about ADD. One, is that it was a way of survival when people had to hunt. If you were sitting out there with a bow and arrow, you had to be aware of your surroundings, and aware that if you’re focusing on a deer and a bear crept up behind you that you’d be able to take care of it. Having that all-awareness, that focus on what you really want to be doing but awareness of your surroundings at the same time, was actually an advantage. I don’t have ADD but in school I always had the issue that I’d try and write papers and my brain would work differently; I’d organize my thoughts differently, and they categorized that part as ADD. I did feel that I was different. I could then make the teachers understand that I was not like the sit-down-and-do-it type of person.

Student: The thing I heard the most (my teachers told me this, and all my friends told me that their teacher told them this): “They’re so smart but they’re not using it.” Which is not true. They think that you’re just not doing it on purpose – that you’re so smart but you just don’t care. I was diagnosed with ADD because I couldn’t do things I wasn’t interested in. I just didn’t care about them enough to be able to do them.

Hanna: But in life you have to learn to do things you don’t like.

Student: But there isn’t just one way for everyone to do everything.

Student: There’s a way to approach things you don’t want to do, like long car trips – I don’t particularly like long car trips, but I’ll take a long car trip to get somewhere that I really want to go.

Student: But I don’t think 5 and 6-year-olds can see that.

Student: And I don’t think they should be forced to.

Student: There are extreme cases, and in those case, there are medications to help you, so why not take them? But I don’t think middle school kids and younger should be given medication for ADD.

Student: I think there are many kids that can’t deal with school the way our government sets up school, and they need medication to get through what society sometimes considers necessary.

But if they need to be medicated to get through, I think that we have to re-look at what school’s like.

Student: If half the kids in school can’t deal with school, something’s wrong with school, not wrong with kids.

Student: I completely agree with that. I have a lot of friends who are in their junior year of high school right now and they are all going crazy, because junior year is the year that you’re doing the SAT’s, you’re looking at colleges, you have to do all your extra-curriculars. It’s not enough to just get good grades, you need to do everything. It’s the year that the most kids are trying to get into college and so you have to find something to set yourself apart from millions of other people who are doing exactly the same things as you are.

Student: And then you find out that you can’t afford college anyway.

Student: Schools teach you to work in the way that another person tells you. Today, people making money are the people who think for themselves and start new things and do things on their own. Less and less jobs are about doing what someone else thinks. People don’t work in factories very often anymore.

Student: Public school squashes your creativity and doesn’t give you room to do things for yourself.

Student: But creativity is what’s important these days.

Student: They set you on this track and say you need to follow this track and you need to follow it all the way to college. Then you get to college and colleges seem to not be appreciating the stamped-out high schooler – they want the people with their own thoughts. I’ve talked to somebody who’s a college professor teaching freshman writing. She says some of these kids just don’t know how to think for themselves, and sometimes what they’ve been told in high school is wrong, and they don’t know how to undo that thinking, they can’t accept that what they think and what they were taught could be incorrect.

Hanna: Do you feel that your confidence in yourself has deepened from your experience with this school as time has passed in the school?

Student: I’ve had people tell me they’ve noticed a difference in me and how I held myself and how I talk.

Student: I think I have bad days where I’m like: oh, my god, I’m not going to get into college, I’m not going to be able to do it. But those days don’t come as often.

Student: People in public school have those days too and we just have a different kind of worry. Our worry is that maybe we haven’t done enough academic work, but we still know that we can think for ourselves and we have original ideas, whereas the people in public school, it’s like: oh, no, I’m exactly the same as everybody else. I’d rather have the worries I have here than have the worries I would have there.

Student: I have expanded myself. I used to be so afraid to talk to people and so afraid to approach people. When I was in high school, I kept to myself. I had maybe four friends and that was it. Then I came here. There are so many people to talk to with so many different views on everything that it gets you to think that there are other people outside your little high school or your little town. I work at a coffee shop now and it’s just fun to talk to all the customers and see what they have to say.

Hanna: How did you build your self-confidence in a place where nobody except maybe your peers gives you feedback?

Student: I didn’t have very much self-confidence at all when I walked into this school. I was ten. But it seemed like one of those things I just grew into. There are people around, people to play with, and I just sort of started learning and talking and feeling useful.

Hanna: Let’s assume that you want to go to college. Will you be able to convince somebody that you can handle it?

Student: Yeah, I can convince people – not everybody, but people.

Student: It’s much easier to convince someone that you should be allowed into their college when you actually believe that you should. Because if you don’t have any confidence in yourself, they’ll probably see that and they probably won’t let you in.

Student: Before I came here I noticed that my sister was doing what was exactly right for her and that she was doing really well at it, and I also recognized that I couldn’t do it because it wasn’t right for me. That crashed my confidence because I didn’t think that I could do nearly as well as her. But then I came here, and I realized that I could do just as well as her but in a different way, and in my own way. That was something I needed to realize at some point and I finally did.

Student: I feel bad for my sister because she goes to a university, and she’s always done exactly what she is supposed to do and I don’t think she’s ever going to have any fun. I don’t mind thinking that when I grow up, I’m not going to be wealthy. I don’t mind that thought at all. I don’t mind if I wind up living in a shack somewhere, as long as I get up every day and don’t dread doing what I have to do.

Student: My mom always tells me I’m not going to get anywhere because I never do anything that I don’t want to do –

Student: I think that’s a good way to live.

Student: But, why should I do things that I don’t want to do? If there’s something that I have to do and it has to do with something that I want to do, the thing that I didn’t want to do becomes something that I want to do. I never do things that don’t seem necessary to me.

Student: I’m going to the dentist today and I really don’t want to do that, but I’m going to go because I want nice teeth. But the other day I was supposed to go get my flu shot and I realized that a flu shot wasn’t worth it to me. I hate shots and I’d rather get the flu so I didn’t do it, and that sort of prioritized it; I was not just doing what my doctor told me to do.

Student: I think if you only do what you want to do in life, then there are obviously going to be consequences. I know I don’t have any marvelous talents in the back of my mind; I’m not going to spring forward and all of a sudden be a really good mathematician. I know that I’ll never be a doctor or a lawyer. I don’t mind that. I don’t care. I just want to be happy, that’s really what it comes down to, and I don’t mind if I am poor because I’ll have people around me. I’m always going to have my friends.

Hanna: And how are you going to support your book habit?

Student: My book habit? In the library!

Hanna: One of my concerns as a parent would be self-discipline. As a parent I need a lot of self-discipline to deal with my kids: drive the car, get the food on the table, do the laundry, clean the house, all the kind of things I don’t like to do. Do you think you have self-discipline?

Student: I feel like there’s a difference between being able to do things you don’t like and self-discipline.

Student: What’s the difference?

Student: You said try and put food on the table, drive around being the taxi – I think that there are things that you have to do to survive. When you’re hungry, you should eat something. The kids at this school know what they have to do. They’re not ignorant. They know what’s right and what’s wrong.

Student: I think part of self-discipline is following the rules here. Some of the rules I don’t like. I really like to eat on the couch. I really like to play music in rooms that we’re not allowed to play music in. There’s a lot of things I’d like to do that we’re not allowed to but I think that it’s self-discipline to follow the rules and say: look, I want to sacrifice these things; I want to sacrifice eating on the couch for going to this school.

Student: This school wouldn’t work if the kids didn’t have self-discipline.

Student: I have to do the trash sometimes and the smokers have to clean the smoking area, and I’m sure that’s not the most pleasant task, but they do it because they want to smoke. I do the trash because I want to be here; I follow the rules because I want to be here.

Student: I think everyone here is very, very responsible. If people are irresponsible in this school, it doesn’t work.

Student: People see if someone is not responsible. Action is taking place. Yesterday Baz asked me if I wanted to be on J.C., and I said, “Can I lie and say that I have something to do?” He said, “Not really.” I said, “Okay, well, fine I guess, I can be on J.C.” I don’t want to be on J.C., but I have to be because it’s part of the school.

Student: Somebody mentioned having rules. When people ask me about Sudbury Valley, the only words I have – and I wish I had more – to describe it, is that it has no structure. But that’s not true. It has a very strong structure, and that structure is the School Meeting, and the J.C., and the Lawbook, and the fact that all the kids love this school enough to follow those rules. The kids build themselves a structure that gives them the freedom to do what they want to do and to find themselves.

Student: Most of the rules are common sense.

Student: In high school I used to always get in trouble because I did things that I should have been able to do. I always had gum in my mouth when I went to school. Always. I needed to have gum in my mouth. I used to suck my thumb when I was a child. Maybe it has something to do with that. But I liked chewing gum. I never once put it underneath the desk. They yelled at me about the gum, but I felt they shouldn’t have because I always did my work, I was an A student, and I never once talked back. There were some rules that never made sense to me.

Student: I could follow any rule if it had a logical backing to it. If it didn’t, I just wouldn’t do it. But if you could give me a reasonable explanation for it, I would do it.

Student: I’m the same way at home.

Student: For a while at my school everybody was wearing a Lizzie Maguire backpack. So they banned them because they said it represented a gang thing.

Hanna: One of the things that people ask me is, how is their kid going to get exposure to the culture or to knowledge. In other words, how do you get information?

Student: Internet.

Student: By talking to other people and by finding it yourself on the internet or in books. There are a lot of very, very intelligent people at this school, and there’s lots and lots of different kinds of people. I think that I get way more exposure to everything just because I talk to people of different ages. You get more comfortable with people of different ages. Anyone can be friends with anyone.

Student: I think it’s funny that parents ask you that question because how could we not get different sorts of information? There are just so many people that you can talk to with different views and every room is filled with so many books.

Student: I’ll sit and talk to people for hours and hours about everything.

Student: For me the question is more like how do you get this and that information in public schools. In public school you’re spending all your time learning from a curriculum. Here you have so many more opportunities to learn about life.

Student: When I came here I believed anything anybody told me. Now I’m starting to build this little bit of an idea that, well, maybe someone could be wrong. The other day I was looking something up online, and I found some information alleging that Nalgene is an evil company. I looked for more information and when I couldn’t find more information, it occurred to me that maybe that first website could have been lying. That would have never occurred to me two years ago, because I would have believed everything I was told, because I was a good little girl.

Student: You learn to sort through bullshit here.

Hanna: Educators say that the knowledge should be organized for you, that you are young and not knowledgeable. They say it’s the job, the duty, of the adults to organize the knowledge for you so that you will be educated, so that you’ll be prepared to learn more and more complicated things. They start out with teaching you how to read, and then how to write, and then spelling, and then you write more and more complicated things, and they organize the knowledge for you because they are adults, they are experienced . . . .

Student: I was in the art room yesterday. Nell and Joanie were just coloring together and then all of a sudden Nell was writing her name because she felt like it, and I asked if she wanted to learn some numbers too, and she said yes. She’s only just turned four. I thought that was just terrific that she wanted to and it wasn’t pushed on her.

Hanna: You will laugh but her parents want her here, rather than in the nursery school she was enrolled in, because it was too academic and she resisted. So the minute she comes here she sits there and she is absolutely persistent about learning to count.

Student: I think when the adults set everything out for you in this precise order you just don’t want to do it because they say so. And the other thing is, it’s only going to stick if you have that internal motivation to make it stick, which I don’t think we can control; it just kind of happens.

Student: It’s wasting everybody’s time. Everybody involved. I thought I really wanted to learn biology and you, Hanna, loaned me that great biology textbook. I tried to read it so hard and I never got past the third page the entire summer. I spent days trying to read it. I’d sit and open it up, and I’d start reading, and I’d get three paragraphs in, and I’d think: I want to go ride my bike. It finally became really clear to me that I needed to set it aside for a few months until I actually truly did want to learn biology. Now I’ve decided that I don’t want to learn biology because I’m not interested in biology at all – I’d rather do physics.

Student: In public school they teach you, for instance, about ancient Mesopotamia. I spent hours, and many tears, and so much energy, staying up all night trying to do the projects. I don’t remember anything about Mesopotamia, and even if I did, when would I use that information – only if I wanted to have a job that has to do with history. If I wanted to be an Egyptologist, then it should be an elective course because how many kids turn out to be Egyptologists? Not very many.

Student: People will argue that you should learn from history’s mistakes, but you know what? You’re not really going to learn it, and you’re not going to think deep thoughts about it. I remember in eighth grade, ninth grade, they would try and teach us to make the connections. It just never made sense, because I couldn’t learn that way. But now I’m into a lot of historical fiction, and reading it that way, in a story format, I’m drawing all these parallels from King Henry VIII’s time to now and I’m really interested because I’m doing it my way.

Hanna: So I’m coming back to this: you kids are different. You don’t blindly trust the adults.

Student: Adults are not necessarily right.

Student: I think that what we want as teenagers is to see ourselves not as teenagers but as people.

Student: I am not any less smart than any grownups. I may be less educated. I haven’t lived as long, I may not know as much about life, but I’m not less of a person and less smart just because I’m younger.

Student: There’s no reason that children should be not as respected as adults.

Student: In society kids aren’t respected much, and here they are, so people at a very young age learn to think of themselves as a person, instead of having somebody do everything for them.

Hanna: What about respecting your elders?

Student: I think everybody should respect each other.

Hanna: Don’t you respect somebody who has experience?

Student: They should respect you too.

Student: I respect wisdom, and I also respect youth.

Student: I try to respect people just for the fact that they are people, and then there are other people that I respect more, or in a different way, because I see they have wisdom and they have things that they can teach me.

Hanna: Do you think that people who have skills and education have more interesting jobs, or more fulfilling jobs?

Student: Some people want a life where their job is what makes them happy and what fulfills them, and some people don’t really care what their job is, as long as they can come home to a life where they are really happy.

Student: For some people it’s a career, and for some people it’s a job. I know plenty of people who need to have a job that they love, that’s fulfilling to them; and I know plenty of people who have jobs they don’t really like, but what matters to them is that they’re coming home to their family, and they love their family, and they’re happy, and they just need that money to live.

Hanna: What about you, are you dreaming of a job that will be fulfilling to you?

Student: I care what I’m going to be. There are things that I know I would never want to do, but I want to be happy. I have no idea what’s going to make me happy for the rest of my life.

Student: What I’ve learned from this school is that people live for such a long time now, you can always go back to school to learn something. If I ever change my mind, if I don’t like the situation that I’m in, I can just change it.

Student: You have so many options. My aunt used to be successful in a technical field. She had her mid-life crisis, and now she’s about to graduate from rabbinical school.

Student: It’s not like you can’t change what you’re doing to make yourself happy.

Student: It’s not like you’re stuck with your decision for the rest of your life.

Hanna: Do you feel that this school imparts culture?

Student: It gives us diversity.

Student: We have people from all over the place here – all different towns, all different levels of income, there’s every kind of person.

Student: In my town I knew the same kids since preschool. We’ve all been in the same class over and over and over again. And it gets to the point that you don’t like boys any more because you already liked them. You have the same friends because you already know everybody else and you don’t like them. There’s nothing new to experience.

Student: You just settle for what you can get because there’s nothing else.

Student: In my town there are four elementary schools and you all go into the same middle school and then all into the same high school. So the first year that you’re all together in middle school is like: whoa, look at the new people. But then by the time you’re a senior in high school you’re like: whoa, look at the kids I’ve known since I was five, and the ones I haven’t known since I was five, I’ve known since I was eleven.

Student: I think that we have more opportunities to do the things we are interested in, which leads to becoming cultured.

Hanna: Do you think a shy student has a harder time in this school getting what they need than people who are not shy?

Student: To some extent. You have to be able to ask questions, I think, in order to actually figure stuff out.

Student: It took me a full year to actually get what was going on.

Student: Being shy is a disadvantage here to some extent but it’s a disadvantage a lot of places. I think that people here can really learn whether they want to be shy, and in what situations they want to be shy, and oftentimes I see people choosing not to be shy so often.

Student: I think that I was kind of shy coming in and then it didn’t serve me. I didn’t get what I wanted and now I completely don’t understand shy people here.

Student: Occasionally someone isolates himself from everybody, purposely removes himself. Even when I was shy I stayed in very public areas because I wanted to figure out what was going on around me. I don’t understand how a person could not do that.

Student: I’m proud of myself, because now when somebody new comes into school, I go up to them and say, hi, how are you. It’s definitely something that I feel good about, I’ve gotten over my shyness enough to do it, but I have to work at it each time.

Student: People are more accepting here. You can go sit in the main lounge, or the sewing room, and just talk to everyone around you, and they’ll talk to you. Also, people come up to you and say hello. If you’re a new kid at public school, everyone just ignores you. No one will talk to you.

Student: Or they’ll make fun of you. They’ll be mean to you.

Student: That was one of the most amazing things when I started here. Even though I wouldn’t start conversations, especially in the sewing room they would start conversations with me and they would push me into it and that really helped. I was embarrassed and nervous about it at the time, but it got me over that step.

Student: The sense of humor at SVS is also very interesting. People have a lot of time to cultivate it. It helps to walk in with it, but it’s something that you’re gonna learn here if you spend a lot of time with the people who make extensive use of it.

Hanna: When a parent says to me, “My kid is really shy so they won’t know how to ask for help,” what do I say to them?

Student: Don’t worry about it.

Student: I think it’s an amazing place for shy people. You get bored. It forces you out of your shell because if you’re sitting there, not talking to anybody, it’s boring. And also people come up to you.

Student: I think that people at this school realize when to push, when not to push, and who is shy and who isn’t.

Student: This school doesn’t let you be invisible and I think that helps.

Student: But what about the people who almost succeed in being invisible?

Student: I think that’s scary.

Student: Do you think they’ll make it?

Student: Do you think they’ll make it anywhere? Why would they make it less here than at public school?

Hanna: Is it stressful to be different from the mainstream? Does it cost you anything to have chosen to be at SVS?

Student: Stress?

Student: There’s so much more stress in public school than here!

Student: I think it is a little bit stressful but I think it’s worth it.

Student: You can’t do anything without feeling some form of regret.

Student: I kind of enjoy being different.

Student: I enjoy it a lot.

Student: I enjoy it but it doesn’t mean that it’s not scary.

Student: It’s always scary to do something that is new. No one in my family has ever done this before, so it’s scary because I don’t know what’s going to happen. If you go to public school, and then you go to college, and then you get a steady job, it’s really easy because you can look around at other people, and they’ve already done it, and you can think you see what’s going to happen – probably not the same thing, but it’s not uncharted territory.

Student: I think that being different from most people helped me grow. A different aspect of this school for me was having to defend myself to my friends, and my family, and people I’d meet. It’s an immediate thing: you have to prove to them that you can defend yourself, and you know what you’re talking about, so you explain what you think about this school. Not everybody has heard about it. It’s a little more stressful, because you don’t know where you’re going necessarily, but I’ve had more experience talking about how I think I’m doing the right thing than I think most people have.

Student: Sometimes people react negatively to me when I tell them about this school. I was once at a party with a lot of adults. I was explaining this school to someone, actually my old teacher from public school, and he was very interested. Another man said, “That’s like letting the inmates run the asylum.” That really hurt my feelings even though I know it isn’t true: it hurt my feelings that he wouldn’t try to understand.

Student: I’ll be honest: I hate telling people about this school. I hate it just because I’m here for another two years, so it’s like I’ve been in high school for five years.

Student: Me too.

Student: That sucks because when you tell them what your age is and then what school you go to . . .

Student: What grade are you in? That’s a big question.

Student: What kind of science are you taking, what kind of math?

Student: It’s definitely a difficult question. It shouldn’t be so difficult, so sometimes I just stray away from it. I say that I go to a school in Framingham, it’s small, you don’t know what it is.

Student: There’s definitely a feeling of relief if I say, “Oh, I go to the Sudbury Valley School.” And they say, “Sudbury Valley School, yeah, my friend thought of sending her kid there.” I don’t have to say anything else. It’s over.

Student: I love coming here and I’m glad that I do but I hate comparing myself to what regular people think is normal, because I don’t want to hear what they have to say, and I don’t like explaining myself. I feel that every time somebody asks me what school I go to, there’s going to be questions, and I’m going to have to go into an in-depth conversation, and I don’t like having to do that.

Student: You have to pay a price for doing these things in your life.

Student: At certain points I think what it would be like if I went to public school. I don’t think I would have done badly there. But I like what I’m doing here, I find it really fulfilling and really interesting. I like having power over what happens in my environment, and as for justifying it sometimes I want to avoid the subject, I really don’t want to deal with the argument. But sometimes when my blood gets boiling, it’s something to fight about.

Student: I don’t mind defending the school to somebody who respects me and who is treating me like a person, and who’s treating me like an adult, and saying, “Oh, well, this isn’t traditional, I don’t quite get it, how does this work?” But then there are the people who just treat me like a child.

Student: “Oh, it’s a special school.” That’s what I get.

Student: I love that one.

Student: My few years in public school taught me to always present a perfect goodie-goodie little face to grownups, and one thing that defending Sudbury Valley has taught me is maybe I need to not be such a goodie-goodie, maybe I need to say, “No, you’re wrong, I’m a really smart person, I’m happy here, it’s a good school, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Copyright © The Sudbury Valley School Press, Inc. ®

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.