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sudbury valley/social ecology school, any comments? (longish)

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
I thought I'd start talking about the school my partner and I plan to open, as he and I are still in the process of figuring out where we want to open it (still looking for "home"). Since this is a great community of interested people, I thought it might be just the place to start a dialogue - I would be so grateful for feedback and thoughts. We want to open a roughly K-12 mixed ages democratically run school, based on the Sudbury model, but incorporating the ideas/philosophies/practices of social ecology (the one sentence "definition" is roughly, that ecological problems have social roots, and we will not be able to change ecologically speaking, until we make changes in our society) - sort of Sudbury with a more deliberately political and social and ecological awareness and activeness. We're planning on organic gardens and permaculture, alternative/sustainable technologies, composting toilets and living machines if we can get away with it, etc., for some of the physical side of it. Academics would be determined by the kids, what they were interested in, and so on, with all activities being initiated by them. Ideally, we adults would like to play a more deliberate role in helping change education, but the purpose and focus is the kids - giving kids the chance to become their own unique and amazing selves, at their own pace, in an environment that allows them to learn and grow and think for themselves and as a community. My partner and I would both consider ourselves politically radical, interested in significant social transformation, direct democracy and human-scaled living, living a lifestyle that endeavors to understand the connections between ecology and society, and making a difference in the world. He might call himself a social ecologist with particularly anarchistic tendencies, I would say I am a social ecologist with a particular interest in ecofeminism in its original form (that is, highly political, radical, and anarchistic in its roots, not the goddess/spiritual "nature" of its more current expression) and a special interest in the horse-human relationship. We're both creative, hard working, decent people, committed to changing the way kids are "educated" as opposed to allowing them to learn. Parts of the country we are looking at are southern OR, the Bozeman, MT area, where else? I guess at this point, I would just really dig thoughts, comments, questions, ideas, whatever you might want to share. We're also trying to figure out where to go and make our home, which we hope to do sometime in early 2003. So comments and questions and such are most welcome, plus any suggestions of places to consider, and so on. Details, we're 26 and almost 29, no kids of our own yet, our educational backgrounds are in alternative education, social ecology, art, literature, green medicine, agriculture, woodworking/timber framing, animals (esp. horses), history, philosophy, feminist studies, and so on (we both got our BAs from Goddard, if that means anything to anyone). OK, this is getting too long, thanks for reading through this whole thing!
post #2 of 9
Hey, thanks for putting all this out there!

My husband and I have started talking along similar lines, about starting a small alternative school or trying to do an expanded kind of home schooling (ours and others' kids).

We live near Asheville, NC and are starting to hook up with other parents in that area. I'm from California and got my PhD in geography and have fifteen or so years' experience doing environmental and workers' rights organizing. My husband ran a workers' rights organization here for over 20 years and is now taking a break to think about what's next. He's 45, I'm 36 and we've got a seven year-old daughter and hope for another one along the way before too long.

I'd love to be in touch with other folks thinking along these lines in different parts of the country. Maybe we can all learn from each other as we start down this road.

I've been doing reading about Waldorf schools as well as generally about alternative and home schooling. Have you read Alfie Kohn's stuff (Punished by Rewards, the Case Against Competition, etc)?

I don't know anything about the Sudbury school stuff though am definitely familiar with social ecology. Any readings you'd recommend?

Having spent a lot of my life doing overtly "political" work, I think at this point I'm more interested in a way to educate kids that is not so much overtly political in content or aims as it is geared towards giving kids the tools to be compasionate, spirtual, curious, creative people. Certainly kids need to have real-world (ie, political in many ways) content to test these skills out on, so in that sense I'm not looking at all to shield kids from the world's politics (or to stop doing my own explicitly political work). But a lot of my life has been driven by the external demands of political involvement (a sense of what I "should" be doing) and it's ended up being sort of backwards in the sense that I needed to know first who I wanted to be for myself before I took on all the external expectations of who I thought I "should" be to make the world a better place. I'm having to go back now and "unlearn" a lot of the bad habits of a mind trained to analyze the world to pieces and to seek certainty in structured progressive politics.

Anyway, I'm definitely interested in schooling being a more democratic process and as you say so well, "giving kids the chance to become their own unique and amazing selves."

I look forward to hearing more about what you all cook up!
post #3 of 9
For those of you interested in the Sudbury Valley Model, a similar school is currently forming in the Woodstock , NY area. While it sounds very interesting, I am not sold on the traditional "look" of the school...i.e. school year calendar, the "bricks & mortar" aspect of it, etc. The materials available from Sudbury Valley are easily accesible on-line and I would also recommend reading about Summerhill and a recent book by Leon Botstein (pres. of Bard College) on education in America.

My background is in Special Education and my husband is an RN & Optician, but is truly a versatile dad, organic gardener and gourmet cook. While I'm confident in homeschooling, he's a little more anxious about taking on this responsibility with our soon to be 5 y.o. daughter. We both share the childrearing working part-time schedules and I believe that the early years need to focus on experiential activities. Since I plan to 'unschool' rather than follow a curiculum, I'm searching for a happy medium.

I would be very interested in finding out about anyone's experiences with homeschooling cooperatives, those types of groups a little larger and more organized thatn the typical support group. I would also be interested in hearing about other democratically organized schools that have had success.

Thanks, looking forward to your experiences.
post #4 of 9
Thread Starter 


Thanks for the replies, catesfolly and Becca's momma, I appreciate it! Things are a little hectic, and I'd like to make a more intelligent reply than I can at the moment... Thanks for the suggestion becca's momma, there are great resources and links on the Sudbury Valley site www.sudval.com, also the Sudbury Education Resource network, general info and info about startup groups, etc., also suggesting Summerhill, great book! My favorite Sudbury book is "Free at Last," a nice memoir sort of book which gives a good glimpse of what it's like to live and learn in that framework, more than a bland description of the model. If memory serves, there is a thread or forum on homeschooling, that might be some help to you becca's momma, in finding out about some organized homeschoolers and such, as well? I think one of the elements I like most about a variation of the Sudbury model is that it takes aspects of homeschooling, unschooling, experiential learning, etc., and allows that to happen in a social context - kids get to be learning what they want, as and how they want, and they get to do what they want, but they also are able to be, and learn how to be, a part of a community that cares about them, and I think that is such an important gift. It is always so exciting to me to see folks who homeschool forming cooperatives and such - we are social creatures, for sure! Catesfolly, I'm curious to hear about your experience with social ecology - I think my partner and I spend most of our time talking about it, explaining what it is! thanks again to you both, I really appreciate your input, questions, thoughts and experiences.
edited to correct sudbury website, it's a com not an org
post #5 of 9

New Film on MD Sudbury Model


Great to hear about all the interest in the Sudbury model.

Please consider visiting www.newamericanschoolhouse.com to find out about the new independendent documentary on the Fairhaven School, a Sudbury school in Maryland.

post #6 of 9
I went to an open house at a new (2nd year) Sudbury school. It was really nice and I was very impressed with it. It was in a church and the kids had the run of it. It was so nice to talk with the kids. They were mature and taking charge of their own education!

Great idea to have an organic garden. I think all schools should have an organic garden.

Good luck with your school!!
post #7 of 9

A Sudbury School with and 'Agenda'?

Hi Elna,

I'm an independent documentary filmmaker who just released a film on the Fairhaven School in MD (Sudbury.) www.newamericanschoolhouse.com

If you have visited a Sudbury school you probably understand that the agenda is entirely in the hands of the students. That's pretty much an absolute principle. All things flow from there.

If a staff member has an area of interest, that interest may be taken up by students or not. My guess, having watched carefully through the viewfinder of my camera for two years, is that you will be disappointed or frustrated.

Please feel free to ask about the film and maybe you could either see it or visit a school in action.

post #8 of 9

Disappointed or frustrated?

Hi Danny,

I was wondering if you could clarify your comment to Elna that she would be "disappointed or frustrated"?

Did you mean frustrated at the inherent difficulties of starting up a Sudbury model school, or did you mean something else?

BTW, I will look into ordering your DVD for viewing by the members of our sudbury model school community.


Parent of sudbury-model school graduate
post #9 of 9

I need to change what I wrote

I reread more carefully the ecology school proposal and my response.

Sounds like the idea was to set up the 'physical plant' according to careful ecological practice, not to impose it in the form of a curriculum agenda. I misunderstood (my fault.)

I would do the same if I had the opportunity. I hope they can go through with it.

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