I subbed my second day on Friday. I helped another teacher in the Alternative Learning group in the Hackettstown middle school. It’s a small class where some kids that do well getting a little more attention are. The class completely rocked. The kids were great… and way smart. The format happily made me think about the Sudbury Valley School, a “Free School” where students are strongly encouraged to do their own thing. Check out their web page to find out more about it.
Our class wasn’t nearly as free as SVS, but the feel was there. 1/2 the class time was reading Willa Cather’s My Antonia out loud. After each paragraph, and sometimes each sentence, we’d pause and ask what a word means, or what is going on with the characters. While staying focused on the subject material, our discussion touched on an extremely wide variety of subjects.
I believe that the idea of a “free school” is wonderful. I’m not convinced that it’s the best way to go about a teaching program, but it’s important to see a free school as one end (though not the extreme end) of a continuum of teaching styles. Actually, I haven’t ever seen a free school environment first-hand so I can’t make a judgment on whether it’s not a good style.
I have had the good fortune to become friends with several graduates of The Sudbury Valley School. They introduced me to these ideas but certainly didn’t push them on me, in the same way that you might relate your own high school experience to another person. I’ve found that these free-schoolers come out of this non-standard environment just fine! The SVSers that I know the best moved seamlessly out of SVS and into college, showing that their academic skill-set was fine. All the SVSers I know are creative, intelligent people. I have many good things to say about “organic learning”, the concept of the free school, and the place of this type of learning in the world.
Hmm…. You know, I’m looking around on the internet now and… I didn’t quite realize this but it seems that SVS isn’t the product of an educational movement… it started the movement. Cool.