Possibly the best quick introduction to Sudbury is a three-minute viral video which was produced by the Hudson Valley Sudbury School. Check out the original Facebook copy here, or watch it via Youtube below:
Another video, also from HVSS, explains the concept further:
Wait, so the kids can do whatever they want?
Sudbury is based on Self-Directed Education. That means that kids should learn what they want when they want to learn it, instead of having someone else dictate everything for them. This produces happier kids who actually learn faster than their traditional-school counterparts.
Having said that, there are a few common-sense limits on what kids (and staffers) are allowed to do. The school is governed by a democratic assembly called School Meeting. School Meeting sets the rules for the school, which naturally means that you aren't allowed to hurt people, you can't vandalize the property, you have to clean up whenever you make a mess, etc.. Since School Meeting is democratic, the rules tend to be sensible and fair, and the students get practical experience in the art of democratic compromise and negotiation.
The local, state and federal governments all have their own laws, which ensure that we keep up with fire codes and health codes and such. Speaking of the government, Illinois allows private schools to opt-out of standardized tests, and there's no need to adhere to a standard statewide curriculum. That gives us the freedom to do things the Sudbury way. Further South, Tallgrass Sudbury School has already proven that Sudbury can work in Illinois. It's time to bring Sudbury to the North Shore.
In traditional education, students are sorted by age. Young kids go to elementary school while older kids go to high school, and the two groups never interact. But Sudbury schools allow kids of all ages to mix freely. We've found that older students spontaneously teach younger students, and vice-versa! Those who teach reinforce what they already know, and they practice the art of communication.
Age-mixing also allows kids to get a better perspective on life. For instance, if a ten-year-old is curious about what his teenage years might entail, he has ready access to actual teenagers, and he can see some of the ups and downs they they typically experience. This makes the transition easier when he himself grows to that age.
If we're raising kids to live in a democratic society, why not give them a democratic childhood? In a Sudbury school, everyone gets an equal vote. Student have to learn how to organize an institution, and they can see for themselves which ideas are worth keeping. Not only does this make for better governance in the short term, it makes for better citizens in the long term!
Learning to Get Along
In almost every career path you can imagine, one of the key skills is the art of getting along with other people. Sudbury provides for this by giving everyone lots of practice. Left to their own devices, kids spend a lot of time socializing with each other, and as a result they learn better social skills. Compared to "traditional" kids, Sudbury kids are less likely to have petty disputes, less likely to bully, and less likely to annoy people. (I've seen this myself!)
Sudbury kids are intelligent, creative, independent and compassionate. While it's true that no school system can offer a perfect guarantee, it's also true that Sudbury is far better than the traditional model, at least for the especially free-spirited kids who really need the freedom that Sudbury provides.