By Jared Bean

To those unfamiliar with Sudbury schools or Self-Directed Education, hearing that we do not formally teach subjects like math or reading might come as a shock. One might think that because we don’t offer crafted curriculums or employ seasoned educators who are expert in the latest and greatest pedagogical techniques that, as a school, we are less valuable than a more traditional school. We know, however, that our students learn effectively and live happily; succeeding to a greater extent than would be possible in traditional public school. Part of the secret to that success is, in fact, our lack of required, formal instruction. It turns out that what we don’t teach is, in some ways, just as important as what we do teach. This is the specific lesson we refuse to teach that I would like to discuss today: 

It is normal to have the majority of your time controlled by an outside authority. 

It’s no secret that public schools control large swaths of their student’s time. They pile on classroom time, homework, projects, test prep, and other requirements in an effort to ensure their students will be able to perform academically at an adequate level. Why don’t we implement this strategy at AVA? The reason is because when every day is spent in a classroom and every night is spent doing homework, this is the lesson being taught: that it is normal to have your time and activities chosen for you. Public students may get ample practice in arithmetic, but they get almost no chance to develop skills such as self-motivation, time-management, or self-reflection. How can students be prepared to be successful adults if the first time they are permitted practice these essential skills is when they graduate? 

Contrast that scenario with Alpine Valley Academy. Every single day our students direct themselves, learning how to set goals, how to work with others, and how to plan for the future. Our students also learn how to be effective adults and citizens by living in an environment where they have real rights and responsibilities. When our students pursue academic topics, they are truly motivated and consequently are able to learn much more happily and efficiently. This is why I have been able to work with an 11-year-old student on mathematics topics common for juniors or seniors in high school, and a 14-year-old student on music theory at a level typical of a first semester college class.  

To summarize, because we purposefully do not control our students’ time, our students have the time to develop the essential skills of self-direction. These skills will serve as a solid foundation for our students’ educational journeys; much more so than the foundation of force and coercion that is solidified by public schools. 

Published March 3, 2021


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