Unschooling vs. Sudbury schooling
“It’s an ‘unschooling school,’” is what someone told me when I first heard about Clearwater School, and Sudbury schools in general. How appropriate is that characterization?
Both unschooling and Sudbury schooling value the concept of self-directed education. Proponents of both share common insights and make some of the same challenges to traditional schooling:
- People are born learners. Children are trusted to have the desire and ability to engage in—and learn how to operate effectively in—their world.
- Coercion creates resistance. Forcing people to learn something tends to spoil it for them. It becomes something they have to do, not something they might choose to be interested in. Force takes away that possibility of choosing. Done systematically, you can spoil a whole range of subjects. Consequently, force in the form of required curricula is eschewed.
- Conversely, people learn best when they’re interested in what they’re learning. A high value is placed on what children are interested in. Supportive energy is directed to helping them succeed in the goals they choose for themselves.
- People are different. They have different interests, aspirations, and passions. Consequently, children aren’t expected to learn the same things as everyone else.
- People grow at different paces. Consequently, children aren’t expected to, for example, learn to read at a specific, pre-determined age.
Despite all the similarities, I can think of two ways in which Sudbury schooling differs fundamentally from unschooling:
- Kids at a Sudbury school are regularly separated from their parents for a significant period of time each day. They pursue their interests in a context that’s free from any form of (subtle or overt) parental influence.
- The social structure of a school is necessarily different than the social structure of a family. Sudbury schools are run democratically, where School Meeting is the single authority within the school.
The aspects of separation from parents and formalized democratic process make Sudbury schooling look quite different from unschooling, as it turns out.
I think I’ll explore what’s significant about these differences in a future article.