It's been a difficult month for the American democratic experiment. In a divisive election cycle, I believe it is more important than ever to think about the future of our democracy. I'd argue there is no better way to build a just democratic society than to begin with education focused on practicing justice and democracy every day, as participants in a Sudbury school do.
Sudbury Valley School started as an attempt to answer the question, "What is the best way to educate people to participate in a democratic society?" Sudbury founders argue in The Crisis in American Education that real democracy needs to be practiced from the very beginning.
"Our educational system is the only major institution in the country which officially recognizes Autocratic Hierarchy as its principle of government...Our schools must guarantee everyone in them an equitable voice in determining, through democratic means, the way in which they will be governed."
It's a simple idea, really- to propose that people raised in an authoritarian regime are comfortable with authoritarian leadership, and conversely, to raise fully engaged citizens, our schools should mimic our broader democratic society. Sudbury Valley School is an explicitly American school that extends the rights of American citizens to democratic governance as well as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to children.
48 years on, Sudbury Valley is continuing to teach democracy from the ground up. Civic engagement in a Sudbury school takes knowledge and practice. As summed up by a teenager who had been attending since she was four years old:
In order to feel that you have a real voice in the school, you have to pay your dues, you have to go through a long training apprenticeship in the political processes of democracy in general, and of the School Meeting in particular... There are no shortcuts. It is a long and arduous learning process, and the reward is the ability to hold your own and contribute to the school’s governance with a high level of competence. You learn to lose, to regroup, to win, to be gracious to others, to accept and fashion compromise. You learn, in short, the art of living in a society of equals.
I want to bring freedom in education to the community where I live. Pathfinder is building momentum.We're been holding community meetings, social gatherings, and discussion groups. We're meeting face to face and finding common ground around children's rights- the right to freedom, the right to learn at one's own pace, the right to participate in governance on a daily basis. We are part of a global movement empowering children. Together we're building a community that will grow into a school...that might just change the world!
For more reading, see Dan Greenberg's essay on A New Paradigm in Education.