by Cassi Clausen, Open School staff and co-founder
April 29, 2018
I talk to a lot of parents who are looking for a different kind of school for their kids. These people are used to having a school where teachers are creating content, planning projects, and pushing kids to do things. They may think that this is the whole point of sending their child to a school: to have teachers mold their child into some desirable outcome.
So then when they look at our school and see that we do none of that, they ask, “Why would I pay tuition to have my child do what they can do at home?”
Let me assure you: there is no way your child could do at home what they do at a Sudbury school. Here are the things we offer which you cannot create in your home:
Students at our school have authentic agency and voice to affect their school. No matter how democratic you try to make your family, it can never be (and should never be) a true democracy. The fact is, they cannot vote you out of your role as Mom or Dad. But they can vote me out of my position, and they must learn to use this power responsibly. They can’t decide how your family will spend every dime, but they can vote at School Meeting and decide how our money is spent.
The opportunity for real agency with real consequences means that our students learn how they can affect their world. They graduate with an understanding that their voice is valuable and they can create change.Sudbury schools are unique places where children are given the same freedoms and rights as adults, and are given a place to practice being an adult. Click To Tweet
The other part of our democracy, which is impossible to enact in your home, is peer-to-peer justice. The Civics Board is the way our school handles rule infractions. It is made up of a rotating group of students with one staff member, each of whom gets one vote. There will never be more adults than students on Civics Board. Anyone can write up anyone (yes, students can write up staff) and that complaint goes before the Civics Board which investigates and decides what has happened and how the offender should make up for their offense.
Students sit on either side of the table at different times (sometimes both sides in one day). They have the opportunity to think through how their actions affect the school because they represent the school in enforcing the rules. They grow enormously in taking ownership of their decisions and accepting the consequences of their actions. They learn that there’s no need to be defensive or hide their actions, because this is a community maintaining its own order, not a top-down authority trying to keep everyone in line.
Attending a full-time school where students have all day to spend with peers gives them a unique ability to forge strong friendships. These are deeper relationships than are normally made in schools because kids have the luxury of spending every moment in social interaction if they choose. There are no teachers telling them to stop talking or bells that signal they must separate from their friend to go to class. This depth of time with one another means they have opportunity for conflict and for moving through conflict. We have the time to spend working things out. This is where relational and emotional growth happens.
Being in a community is not just about forging deep relationships, but learning to get along in a shared space with others whom you may or may not like. It’s about having consistency and stability in who you are with, where you can’t just abandon them the moment things get tough and they can’t abandon you after one mistake. In addition to being a great learning experience, this creates a sense of security and safety in kids’ lives.
By virtue of being their parent, you cannot give your child authentic independence at home. For them to grow to be their own person, truly, they must have space from you. Our school provides a space for kids to try different things, fail, do “nothing”, and otherwise have autonomy without the oversight (no matter how benign) of a parent.
To understand the way this works, consider how you feel and behave when your parents come to visit you. No matter how comfortable your relationship with your parents, their presence changes what activities you do and how you talk to your spouse or kids. Their presence isn’t bad, but it impacts your choices.
It’s the same with kids. They make different choices or feel differently about their choices when a parent is there. Because of this, you will never see your child fully independent. You will never know how they handle problems or advocate for themselves when you’re not around.
Sudbury schools are unique places where children are given the same freedoms and rights as adults, and are given a place to practice being an adult. This is something that they can never experience at home.
So, maybe you want to put your child in a school where you aren’t present, thereby giving them space from you. But you would be hard pressed to find a school where they were authentically able to take ownership of their life. Our staff do not manipulate or coerce kids to do what we want, or what we think the parents would like. We fully support and respect who kids are, and we are around to help when they have questions that need answering or skills that need teaching.
The biggest gift you give your child when enrolling them in a Sudbury school is, “I trust you and believe in you.” Whether or not kids consciously understand this at first, they feel it through the structure of the school and in the way the adults in their lives aren’t rushing to take over when something isn’t going the way they hoped it would go. They learn that the people they love most in the world, their parents, trust them to make their own decisions, believe that they will learn from their mistakes, and have faith that they will grow into the person they were meant to be.
So, if you enroll in our school, what are you paying for? You’re paying for a completely unique school where your child has real power to change their surroundings, where they can forge life-long and deep relationships, where they can experience true independence, and where they can write their own story.
Why does this take money? We need a cool place to do it (rent), skilled people to make it happen (salary), and stuff to play with (materials). There are also business expenses such as insurance, accounting, marketing, and maintenance.
Paying money to send your child to a school when you have a free option down the street (or perhaps in your home) is a big ask. It’s not a decision that families take lightly, nor should they. Your choice in schooling is one of the biggest parenting decisions you will make, and it’s imperative that you find a place for your child where your family values are reflected at school.
Other than your home, your child will spend the most amount of their childhood at school. So, why wouldn’t you invest in a place where they are valued for who they are, encouraged to follow their own path and take control of their lives, and develop deep relationships with a diverse group of people?