A couple of weeks ago I let the cat out of the bag via Facebook that we are planning to enroll Otis in a Sudbury School that is starting in Nashville. This “announcement” means that I have lots of friends that are like
I’ll be honest. I don’t want to talk about it. It is such a non-mainstream thing to do and we’re already weird enough already that I kinda just want to hide when this topic comes up. I have so many fears during these conversations. Mostly, I’m afraid my bumbling verbal explanation will make no sense. Seriously, I’ve been thinking about this unschool concept for nearly a decade. Five years before I had Otis. Three years before I got married. Trust me, I’ve thought about your question about algebra. Being able to succinctly share what we’re doing and why we’re doing it is not something I’m able to do quite yet.
But since I’m a billion times better at writing than talking, here’s me taking a stab at it.
When I was in third grade the only thing my teacher brought up to my dad was that I didn’t seem to ask a lot of questions. She was concerned. My dad’s pride, on the other hand, was palpable. His daughter didn’t need to ask no stinkin’ questions because she was independent and smart and strong. Only weak people ask questions!
I remember joining my dad in his pride. Ha! Stupid people ask questions. Smart people just know. And so the rest of my school career was way more about knowing and getting answers correct and never showing the weakness of a question.
(I could unpack so much more on this topic but succinct. I’m trying to be succinct.)
(Also, I realize it was a public school teacher concerned about my curiosity, but she was a pretty special lady so I’m not sure that she counts as the norm.)
I married the most curious man on the face of the planet. I remember walking around Target with him one time while we were dating and him stopping at the weirdest things and wondering how they made it. What material did they use? How can you get this thing hot enough to melt that thing without ruining this other thing? What type of weaving is this? How much could it hold? What else could you use it on? If I open it what would be inside?
ALL. THE. QUESTIONS.
I never realized how much I didn’t question until that day. How absolutely un-curious I am. How maybe that whole “questions are for dumb people” mantra was, well, dumb.
Real learning happens when we’re curious. Real learning is insatiable. Real learning happens when we’re exploring the world.
I am open to being 100% wrong, but I’m not convinced the education system wants us to be curious. They want us to know things and the want us to come up with great answers, but I’m not convinced they’re interested in great questions.
I also believe that what we’re curious about is a gift from God. Mark is curious about music and gadgets and problem solving. I’m curious about power dynamics in relationships. I have no clue what Otis is curious about, but I want to give him as much freedom to find that out as possible.
In a Sudbury School students and staff have regular meetings to discuss the rules and management of the community. They get together, students and staff, to discuss rules, how the facilities will be used, who to hire and fire (yes, students can fire staff). Each student and staff member has 1 vote. A judicial committee is also set up to mediate complaints and broken rules.
My primary reason for wanting to unschool was to foster curiosity. After learning about Sudbury, the ownership and engagement in a community are now the qualities that I’m most excited about.
What is the hardest part of getting young people to vote? Convincing them that their vote matters. Have you ever wondered why that concept is so hard to grasp for a young person? Is it possible that for the last 13 years they’ve lived in a system that said, “Nope. Your voice? Don’t care. Do what I say, when I say, how I say.”
It’s really, really, really hard to convince a slave that he’s free.
I am hoping that this type of school instills in Otis the belief that his vote and his voice really do matter. I hope he learns this not by going with me once a year to a voting booth, but by participating in the democratic process in a regular basis within his school community.
I have tons more to say about this. But succinct, Marie. Succinct.
I do have a bit of a sales pitch/ask:
The Nashville Sudbury School is just getting started. Like, had our first founder’s meeting a couple weeks ago started. If this school sounds interesting to you in any way please join the Interest Group on Facebook so you can keep up to date on interest meetings and whatnot.
Also, if you or someone you know has older kids (11-18), including those that are not thriving in a typical school, please invite them to check out the interest page as well. The original Sudbury school, surprisingly, is not made up of a bunch of self-starting geniuses. Many of the kids that found their way to the original Sudbury school did so after failing miserably in the school system. If your kid has struggled with bullying, learning differences, discipline problems then this is something I would highly suggest you consider. Join the Interest Group here.
Live long and stay curious.