Student Led Schools – Sudbury Schools and Other Student Driven Learning Environments

Posted in Homeschooling on August 17, 2017 - by

Students in traditional school

It may be hard to consider giving your child 100% control of their own education, especially to the extreme that Sudbury school provides. The thought of having a child in a classroom where they have the freedom to chose what they will learn, and what they will not learn can be scary.

The reason you feel this way is because society has told you that education should be provided in a group setting, by an adult, and every child in a classroom should learn the same information. We have been taught that all students are equal, and no child should be left behind. Let's look at this concept from a different angle.

Not All Children are Equal

Ian Milkardo High School - The Last Stop

By forcing every child in a classroom to learn the same material, we are leaving at least half of every classroom behind. Children have clear cut dreams and ambitions. They have individual interests, and they excel at different aspects of learning and life. Even children with learning disabilities have their own individual strengths, and if they are given the ability to focus on their strong points.

If you want to explore the more about how the school system is set up to keep all children on the same level instead of helping them excel at their individual strengths, check out this amazing book Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto.


My Son as an Example

Take my son, Bradley, for example, he has an ADHD and Aspergers. He could not focus on reading long chapters in class. He loves science, but due to the amount of reading involved, he learns better on a computer, or when he watches a video that shows him how something works.

He cannot bring himself to become interested in history. There is too much reading involved, and he wants to look to the future because he does not live in the past. Even though he has ADHD and autism, math intrigues him and he can easily calculate problems that his classroom teacher could not even begin to solve.

Bradley has no dream or ambition of being a historian, he wants to be a building engineer. Unfortunately, if he were left to attend public school, even though he is a genius in math, he would be left behind.

Student's like my son are viewed based on overall school performance, not what they are good at, and not what they want to do for a career when they graduate school.

The grades he would receive in history would affect his ability to get into college, and he honestly would not be accepted into a community college because of these grades. All of this simply because of public schools expect all children to be molded exactly the same. My son is taught in a student led environment because if he was left in the hands of the public school system, the world may lose one of the best building engineers it could ever know. His dreams would be stolen from him because he is not a cookie cutter student.

Brilliant Minds are Being Stifled

Every year, this same situation happens to thousands of students around the world. Even though they have the ability to perform complicated tasks, an outdated system fails them and they are forced to live in poverty, working a minimum wage job instead of changing the world with their brilliant minds. Does this sound like no child is left behind to you?

As parents, we sit by and watch our children robbed by the same system we did not like as students. We keep the system simply because changing it would involve a drastic amount of work and decades worth of fighting with the federal government to change the requirements, followed by decades of fighting with individual states. But what if the solution was so much simpler than taking on the world all at once? Why not take on the world one person at a time?

To learn more about the current state of the public school system, and learn what you can do to improve the pitfalls, check out Wasting Minds: Why Our Education System Is Failing and What We Can Do About It by Ronald A. Wolk.


Sudbury Schools

One of the newer solutions parents are taking advantage of is the concept of Sudbury Schools. Since they are not available everywhere, some parents are using the Sudbury approach in the homeschool environment. So what makes them different than public schools?

There are very few Sudbury schools in the United States. However, there are a large number of countries, including England, that are adopting the principle and finding it to be an efficient way to teach children responsibility. A Sudbury school hands full responsibility for a child's future over to them.

Whether you know it or not, your child is able to make the decisions that are best for their future they just need to be shown how.

Once a child enters Sudbury school, they are 100% responsible for obtaining their own education, choosing their own methods of learning, and evaluating the progress they are making against their overall goals and objectives. The Willed Curriculum, Unschooling, and Self-Direction: What Do Love, Trust, Respect, Care, and Compassion Have To Do With Learning by Carlo Ricci.

What Do Love, Trust, Respect, Care, and Compassion Have To Do With Learning

Buy this book now on Amazon

In public school, a child is forced to follow the same curriculum as every other student. The child is force fed standard information and they do not have to search for it. They are expected to accept what is being told to them without ever questioning whether it is true, or whether there is another method of reaching the same conclusion. Essentially, children are being taught to repeat the same things that we were taught to repeat (and that we forgot a week later).

In Sudbury schools, a child learns to appreciate their education because they have to work for it, but they can work toward the goals they have for their life. They are graded on specific criteria and all of the lessons they are taught in class function solely to pass the standardized tests mandated by the government. The lessons do not serve to bring out the best in every child and allow them to focus on the subjects and the skills they will need for their future career.

An Extreme Example Showing the Power of Responsibility

London has become well known for creating the Ian Mikardo High School, which is pretty much the last stop for teenage boys that public school has given up on. The school is for boys between the ages of 11 and 16 years old and all of the students have been deemed by school districts as unteachable and some have been deemed unfit to live in society.

Many of the boys who attend school there have severe emotional problems, behavioral problems, and even social problems. They have lived troubled lives, been in gangs, lived in homes filled with domestic violence, and some have even witnessed murders. Their behavior and criminal record prevent them from attending public schools. They are considered “excluded.”

These boys have had their stories shared in documentaries. Their stories are sad and filled with poverty, suffering, and somehow managed to survive unstable home lives. Because their home life is so rocky, the staff must deal with children who are going through difficult times and were never taught how to properly manage their emotions.

The mind of a child can do amazing things when it is driven by passion. Check out Passion-Driven Classroom, The: A Framework for Teaching and Learning by Amy Sandvold.

A Framework for Teaching and Learning

Buy this book now on Amazon.

Developing Responsibility the Hard Way

Ian Mikardo High School does not require students to wear school uniforms and teachers are allowed to wear tee-shirts and jeans to work. There are no school rules either. Even though most of these boys are extremely violent and have criminal records, there are no bars in the school. They do not use physical restraints of any kind. Unlike most schools, this one has no detention, no isolation room, and there are no punishments. Students and teachers call each other by first names only, they do not require formality. These children are parented like they should have been from the start.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of curse words flying through the school. When a staff member overhears, the boy is challenged with a request to watch his language. No one forces students back into class when they walk out, and fights are broken up only if it looks like someone is going to get hurt. Even when fights result in injuries, a suspension is not considered. Instead, the community police officer speaks to the parties involved as a parent would, and coaches them through how they could have handled the situation better.

In class, some kids are disruptive, others are humming, and kids are fidgeting in their seats. However, as long as the disruption remains at a low-level, nothing is said. These children have learned they can cause low-level disruption and interrupt lessons. By ignoring the disruptions, they eventually get bored with the concept and focus on their work.

While some people object to the relaxed atmosphere, it seems to be working. Most of these children grew up with minimal parenting, they have served time in jail, and many of them are under psychiatric care. So in a way, the relaxed dress code makes reparenting these children a lot more relaxed.

After reading about this relaxed situation, do you think that the Ian Mikardo High School is beneficial to these boys?

Ian Mikardo High School Success Rate

At any given time, the school can have 40 students and as you can imagine, people are not lining up around the block to become a teacher here. The staff is extremely limited, and many times there are six students for every adult. While this may sound dangerous, the staff shows minimal concern because they have earned the respect of the students, and they give the students respect in return.

While these skills taught may be part of everyday life for most people, many of these boys were never taught these skills so the staff must have a very strong dedication to helping these boys change their lives for the better.

Surprisingly, the approach taken at Ian Mikardo High School is a success. Before these children came to this high school, they spent time in jail and the courts expected them to become lifetime re-offenders. In the last 3 years, 97% of the students who have attended this high school has graduated, enrolled in higher education programs, found gainful employment, and sought job training.

In the last seven years, none of the boys who have attended this high school have been taken into police custody. The reparenting program teaches them the skills they never learned as children. They are provided with the counseling they need to process their past and everything they have been through.

They go through behavioral therapy to learn how to change old habits and turn them into positive habits. After settling in and learning to trust the people around them, many of the students graduate from high school with honors.

The Guiding Principles of Ian Mikardo High School

Instead of rules, the school functions on a set of guiding principles. These principles are:

  • Show empathy
  • Show respect
  • Focus on being non-judgmental
  • Listen to other's thoughts and opinions

While these skills may be part of everyday life for most people, many of these boys were never taught these skills so the staff must have a very strong dedication to helping these boys change their lives for the better.

So How Does Ian Mikardo High School Have Such a High Success Rate?

The human mind, even from a very young age, is programmed for survival. These children have proven that if given the choice between spending the rest of their life going in and out of jail or trusting the people at Ian Mikardo, they subconsciously know that their survival depends on the few staff members that are there. This is the last stop for these boys, and the staff here are the last group of people who care about what happens to them, and whether they make a positive life for themselves.

These children are given complete control over their own lives, which is something they have never had before. Somewhere deep inside, their instincts to become successful are triggered. Students are more successful because they have reached a point where they want to learn, and their education is driven by their own desire to be successful. They focus on classes that will lead them into the career path they want to follow, and they learn basics about the other subjects.

The amount of information they gain is completely dependent on their own drive, but since they focus on subjects that interest them, they learn a lot more than their public school counterparts.

The best part of the experience is that they truly earned the knowledge they gain. No one told them what to learn, no one fed them information, they had the hunger and the drive to search for the information themselves.

They wanted to learn it and no one forced them. This helps them develop a sense of personal responsibility that most children grow up not understanding and watching a child develop true confidence and a sense of personal responsibility is one of the most beautiful things a person could witness in life.

Homeschool Mom

About Charlene Little

Charlene is a writer, a self-made momtrepreneur, and a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom. She has four wonderful, very active young boys. With all there is to do everyday, things are always chaotic and she loves every minute of it. Things we do in everyday life are a learning experience, and her… Full author bio

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