Or: Why children are stumped by sudden freedom.
Sudbury schools often report that children who transfer from conventional schools can take a long time to adapt to a free environment, as much as a year to believe it’s not all a trick, and another to learn how to spend their time under their own governance. I have personally seen signs of this at my current (non-Sudbury) school which gives a lot more freedom than most non-Sudbury schools. A lot of the kids there could be described as refugees from the public school system, same as I myself. Avoidance and stalling behaviors picked up during prior schooling linger, as do apathy and a lack of initiative. This failure to instantly run with the freedom one is given, is – of course – something also seen in adults, but the other night I had an inkling of why this might even be more pronounced in children sometimes. The first night after my move, I lay in bed and – for some reason – began remembering the room and house in which I had done most of my growing up. I was able to remember it all with far more detail than the apartment I had just moved from that day and slept in the night before. Astounding! What’s more, my reverie instilled a strong sense of normalcy I have not felt in ages. Then the thought entered my mind: when we are children (and have not yet been through major changes in environment) everything we know seems normal to us. To us, as children, it simply is the way it is and should be. Why should this total acceptance not also apply to schools, teachers, tests, homework, and so on, even when we loathe them and they stifle us? In this light, it doesn’t strike me as surprising that our model, Sudbury Valley School of Massachusetts, felt it necessary to make a complete break from the conventional system: no classes, and staff being called staff, not teachers. The very use of those words resurrects the old habits of conventional school.