After reading Dr. Peter Gray’s “Free to Learn” two years ago, writer and educator Jeffrey Howard became a convert to unschooling (or “Natural Learning”, as we like to call it).  As a former mental health professional, he likes to explore how we humans create meaningful lives for ourselves.

Recently, Jeffrey visited a Sudbury-style private school, The Clearwater School in the Seattle area and was “electrified” by the experience.  He reports on his visit and his motivation for it in a recent blog post entitled, “First Impressions of an Unschooling School“.

Jeffrey contacted us on our Alpine Valley Academy Facebook group, to invite our members to enjoy his article. Which we did and shared it there for discussion.  In reading his article, I was reminded how we all get different things out of articles, books, and movies than others do, depending on our life experience.  So it was no surprise to me that the sentences Jeffrey highlighted in his blog post weren’t the ones I would have chosen to emphasize.

In the first section, titled, “Traditional Schools Reject Freedom and Personal Responsibility” he highlighted this statement:

“This gargantuan institution [ie. the American education system] is the closest thing to prison many people will encounter in their lives without having to actually do time.”

I, on the other hand, felt his quote of Dr. Gray was more impactful for me personally:

“…children don’t like school because to them school is–dare I say it–prison. Children don’t like school because, like all human beings, they crave freedom, and in school they are not free.”

In the next section, which he entitled, “The Unschooling Philosophy“, Jeffrey highlighted two statements:

“Alternatively, the primary aim of a Sudbury model is to develop emotionally intelligent children who can live meaningful lives; everything else grows from there.”


“We can’t fabricate student interest levels, but we can give them the freedom and resources to become learned when their curiosity reaches the necessary interest threshold.”

Both statements are valid and I agree with them wholeheartedly.  But, here’s what jumped out for me (it’s actually the sentence following the first quote above):

“This goal organically aligns with the way most people navigate life, wanting to understand themselves, discovering how to best relate to others, and how to tackle the purposeful challenges of existence.”

Which is kind of a wordy way to say, “The Sudbury model matches how humans naturally learn.”  And it does.  So, our culture’s dogged devotion to a model of education that is contradictory to how humans learn brings to mind the definition of insanity….

Here is a point in this section I think encapsulates some of the magic of Natural Learning:

Children of different ages and skill levels group together voluntarily and collaborate in their learning. Sometimes a child is a mentor, and sometimes they are the student.”

This is so huge!  Normally we don’t learn how to collaborate with people of different ages and backgrounds until we are forced to do so later in the workplace.  Kids in a natural learning environment learn it very early on.

In his section titled, “To The Critics, Those Who Demand Certainty“, Jeffrey chose to highlight this statement:

“The US education system derives from the Prussian education model which aimed toward creating obedient soldiers and worshipful citizens….”

To me, this was old news. Years ago I did a whole presentation on the Prussian-American education model and how it corrupts students morally.

Personally, I was struck by this statement, which speaks directly to my personal motivation for wanting to build a whole network of Sudbury-style schools:

“I’m concerned that most of us traditionally-schooled people will not give Unschooling a fair consideration, because by acknowledging that educational environments exist which are superior to the ones that raised us, and by accepting that claim, we also have to sit with the anguish-inducing fact that our lives could be so much more had we been part of an Unschooling community.” (emphasis added)

With personal regrets for what I imagine my life could have been like had I been blessed to enjoy a Sudbury-style education, I nearly teared up reading the last section of Jeffrey’s article:

…when I asked [a 10-year-old student there] how it compared to her previous school, a traditional public school, her face lit up and she exclaimed, ‘I love it here! I just do!’ And when I asked her what the biggest difference was, she gleefully replied, ‘Freedom!’ as if she were Braveheart. She meant it with everything she had, with no better way to articulate it, and she didn’t need to, for she took us to the heart of the matter, to the core of human potential, where morality resides, to the center for so many wonderful aspects of the human experience.” (emphases added)

How about you?

After reading Jeffrey Howard article yourself, join us over on our AVA Facebook group and share what thoughts jumped out at you.



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