Can Children “Learn” Anything at Sudbury Valley?

Audio CD
A talk by Daniel Greenberg

“The simple answer is: of course they can! If they’re given the freedom to do what they would do naturally – to do all the things that learning is about – of course they can learn. They do it as infants, they will do it as adults, and they do it throughout the ages in between.

“They’re also learning things all the time in traditional schools. They learn to do things that other people will praise them for. That’s one of the hardest things to get over for kids who come to Sudbury Valley from another school. They are conditioned to getting praise when they’re doing a good thing and getting rebuked when they’re doing the wrong thing. Then they come to an environment like ours and nobody’s patting them on the head for doing the right thing; and that’s a big adjustment.

“In traditional schools, children learn to accept as normal a hierarchical social structure. They learn that the democratic ideals of our society don’t apply to them. If I was creating a school system in France for Louis XIV, I would probably design the traditional system we have in place today. Louis XIV would want schools in which the principal is the law, so kids will get used to this structure. Then, when they become adults, they’ll realize that it’s just fine for the king to be “the law” for the nation as a whole! But we’re not operating a school system for Louis XIV; we’re in the United States of America, where we want people to value democracy, to express their voice as stakeholders in society. We don’t want them to be passive; we want them to be proactive citizens.

“So what do we do? We put them in schools where they have no voice. We train them to accept authority, and then at the age of majority we throw them out into the world and say, ‘Be good citizens in a democratic society and understand the uses of freedom!’

“Perhaps worst of all, traditional schools neither guarantee students due process, nor recognize their individual rights. How can they defend those rights as adults if they’re trained for years as children to accept the fact that they don’t have them?

“At Sudbury Valley children learn how to live as free citizens in a democratic society.”