RSS feed

 

Online Library

 

Past essays:

 

November 2014
Do Children Need
Guidance?

by Daniel Greenberg

 

October 2014
Moving On
by Mike Sadofsky

 

September 2014
Living in a World
Transforming

by Daniel Greenberg

 

August 2014
Sherlock Holmes
Was Wrong

by Scott Gray

 

July 2014
Education and the
Issue of Control

by Alan White

 

June 2014
Media Exposure --
Students, Parents, and
Trust

 

May 2014
21st Century Children
and the Cyberworld: The
Mind Transformed

by Daniel Greenberg

 

April 2014
An Education Worth
Struggling For

by Ben Sargent

 

March 2014
On Being
Interested

by Daniel Greenberg

 

February 2014
What it Takes to
Create a Democratic
School

by Mimsy Sadofsky

 

January 2014
Supporting Your
Child in a Sudbury
School

by Scott Gray






Do Children Need Guidance?1

Daniel Greenberg



Do Children Need Guidance?" Most people who see that title would answer, "of course they do". It's a subject I've been thinking about for a long time and I'm hoping that you'll see that this question is a lot more complicated than it seems.

Let's start by just asking a very simple question: what does "guidance" mean? What does that word mean? To guide somebody means to lead someone towards a particular endpoint. The guide has to begin with the endpoint clearly defined and known well to him. Otherwise, he's not going to be a guide. I'm going to give some simple examples. Suppose you're visiting New York City with a friend. Suppose the two of you feel like just wandering around, exploring the place, getting a feel for it. That's the kind of thing I like to do when I go to a city that's strange to me--walk around different places and explore it. And that's a pretty common thing that a lot of people do. If the endpoint of your visit to New York City is exploration then of course you don't need a guide. That's pretty clear.

But suppose one of the two of you knows New York pretty well and you decide what you really want to do on this visit is see the best-known sites in New York, and your friend happens to know them. Your friend knows the endpoint and can serve as a guide. Simple. The guide has to do something more though: because he leads someone towards an endpoint, he also has to know a path to that endpoint. That's the other part of guiding, because knowing the endpoint isn't enough; you have to know how to get there.

A lot of people lose sight of the fact that there doesn't have to be a unique path, and for virtually every goal that exists there are multiple paths to reach it. So your guide has to not only know where he's going but some way to get there. And you can add all kinds of qualifiers. You may want the most picturesque path, the shortest path in distance, or the quickest path, or the easiest path to walk, or the most challenging path. You can put all kinds of qualifiers in, and the person can be a guide for you if he can take you along a path that you want, along with the qualifiers.

But in what kind of situation is a guide needed, which is after all what we're talking about--do children need guidance? Let's go back to our visit to New York. Obviously, if you're just exploring that whole question is irrelevant. But if you want to see the best-known sites and you didn't happen to have brought along a friend who knows New York like the back of his hand, what then? It really all depends on you. You can get a guide book. You can go online, which is what most people do now, and study about New York. You can call up friends who have been in New York and ask for some pointers. You can make your own decision about what you want to see, and then of course you can get a map, or a GPS, that'll take you to those places. In other words, you can set out on your own. That's probably what most people do, but you can also decide that you don't want to take the time or the trouble to do that, and at that point you decide that you need a guide.

You might want to see the exotic animals in the Kalahari Desert and have a wonderful safari there. You can arrange one of those yourself. Many people who have felt that they needed a guide for that didn't have the time, didn't have the energy, didn't have the guts to do it on their own. So they locate a guide and they tell them all the qualifiers about the route, and then they go. The point here is very simple, that you need a guide when you decide you need one. This is a decision, under these circumstances that I'm talking about, that clearly you make. The initiative clearly comes from you. And if you actually choose a guide and you don't like him, you can dump him. You can abandon him, you can pick another one, you can decide to go out on your own. You're not stuck, because it's your choice. On the other hand if somebody said to you, "You want to go to New York? You need a guide. We won't let you go to New York without a guide," you'd be pretty put out. That is really one of the most irritating things that happens: you land in a country and say, "I'd like to look around here, I'd like to visit the sights"--and you're told you're not free to go around wherever you want, you need a guide. You sort of say to yourself, this is not making me comfortable--maybe they have something to hide, maybe they have something that they want to restrict me to.

And that brings me to a caveat which is that it's really important to distinguish between guiding and restricting. These are two ideas that are polar opposites of each other. The point of guiding is to take you someplace that you want to go. Restrictions place obstacles in your path. A person who places obstacles in your path is not serving the purposes that you want when you ask for a guide. And in fact if you're forced to accept a guide, you're still being guided but you're being restricted. So the kind of guidance you're getting is not something that you chose or that you're pleased with, but in order to get to the particular endpoint you've got to either go with it or leave.

Now let's say you see a whole group of people in the distance, and they're all heading for the same endpoint along the same path. They're all marching in unison, in the same direction obviously toward the same place. There are two possibilities--either they chose to do that of their own free will or someone forced them to do so. I can't conclude which that is from a distance, but when I get closer I can find out. They might be a bunch of young people who have decided that they want to do some kind of military training and they're clearly traversing this path of their own free will. But if, when I get closer, I see they're connected by chains and that there are people behind them holding guns, I can conclude that yes, they're being guided to a common goal, along a common path, but they're being forced.

That is true of large groups in societies as well. And we have plenty of examples of these things. For example, a kibbutz in Israel. The first ones were established in the late 19th century. A group of very enthusiastic young pioneers came to a plot of barren land and all worked together to form a successful farm commune. And they did it in a coordinated way--meeting and discussing and constantly examining their paths and goals, but they were all going on the same path. They were pretty much in lockstep, and they all had a common goal. That is a real life example of a society in which nobody outside was forcing them. They agreed to go on that path of their own free will. They may or may not have had help, but they chose it themselves.

On the other hand if you happened to visit the Soviet Union in the '30's, you would also find a lot of people marching lockstep towards a single goal of creating some ruling group's version of an ideal society. In that country coercion was the tool to bring everybody around to that goal. They forced people to attend meetings, they forced people to attend indoctrination. They brutally eliminated anybody who didn't conform and go along the path that was chosen towards the end that was envisioned. They would enslave them. They'd isolate them. One of the more interesting things that they did back then, which may ring some bells here, was that they would consign people who were really recalcitrant about accepting their forced guidance to mental institutions. They would declare them to be mentally unfit, to have mental disabilities. Does that ring a bell? Anyway, there are two extremes here. One, people all going together to the same goal because they've basically decided on their own to go there. And another being forced by coercive guides towards a common endpoint and forced along a common path.

There is also a middle path. And we have a lot of experience with that--all of us. And that is that you have a situation where people are free to choose but they're pressured by their peers, they're pressured by the society to conform. And they're afraid that if they don't conform they'll be labeled pariahs. So in principle people like that are free to choose, but in practice they're feeling constrained.

I want to look at the situation as it applies to our country because our country is a special case, pretty much a unique case. It was the first and only country in history to be founded on a framework of ideals that starts with a notion that every person is entitled to conditions that ensure his survival and that ensure his freedom to pursue a meaningful life. Every individual human being. I'm sure most of you have thought about this at one time or another. The uniqueness of that in history is staggering. The works of the historian, Bernard Bailyn, give some really extraordinary insights into the way that the Founding Fathers took a culture that they were steeped in, basically a British culture, and from it molded and created a completely different form of human society--a form that began with individual freedom. That was unheard of before; a form where the primacy of the individual was the starting point. If you have a society like that, you've got to make sure that the individuals are protected from other people preventing them from being free. That's a conundrum.

So you have a situation where you're endowed with the unalienable rights to life and the freedom to pursue a meaningful life. That's in the Declaration of Independence, which is the founding document of the country. Those rights have to be protected for every individual, and that same document goes on to say that governments, deriving their power from the consent of the governed, are instituted to protect and guarantee those rights. So we have a society in this country that at its root says that you have freedom to choose your goals and to choose your paths towards those goals unless they interfere with somebody else's. Inherent in that kind of a society--there's no way to get around it--is a tension between the individual and the society, which is unavoidable because the individual's free choice is constantly being tested against that choice impinging on someone else's. The community is constantly trying to ensure that separation and noninterference is taking place. We're all experiencing it right now--every generation experiences it.

But let's take a simple example. Suppose you want to be a physician. If you wanted to be a doctor a hundred years ago, no problem. You decided you want to be a doctor, you studied on your own, you didn't have to choose any kind of guidance. You could find out everything you wanted to know about medicine and then you could apprentice yourself to a physician. When a certain point was reached where you felt capable enough to carry out the duties of a physician, then you could hang out a shingle and say, "I'm a physician". If people went to you, you went ahead and tried to cure people. Today, there's a tension here. Society requires you to find a guide. It doesn't let you use that path. It makes you go along a path: follow and succeed in the curriculum of an accredited medical school in order to get to the point where you can be a physician. And even if you know every single thing that a physician who graduates medical school knows, perfectly, you can't be a doctor unless you've got that certification. You need a guide.

But here's the catch. You don't need to be a doctor here. Nobody forces you to accept the goal. You're still free to choose where you want to head. Society feels it has reached the point where if any old person can hang out a shingle and be a doctor, a lot of people are going to die. But the goal is something you're free to change. In the last thirty or forty years, a tremendous industry of alternative medicine has developed. There is a huge variety of people who call themselves healers, who tell you that they'll do things that will help you get better from illnesses or disorders. They're not allowed to call themselves MD's, but they're not stopped from helping people who want to be helped. The freedom to choose endpoints is somewhat curtailed but basically you can choose alternatives to those endpoints and not need guidance. So occasionally if you make certain choices, society will make you need a guide, but for the most part you're pretty free to take your own path.

That's even more marked when it comes to learning. If you want to learn something in our country, if you want to undergo any kind of learning experience--learn any field--auto mechanics, mathematics, physics, astronomy, art, whatever--there's absolutely no restriction on that fundamental freedom. There's no restriction on your ability to go out and do it. Your goal can be chosen at will, you can choose anything that you want to learn. And you're free to choose any path you want. Say I want to be a mathematician. I've actually had this experience myself. If you want to be a mathematician, nobody's forcing you to take classes in math, nobody's forcing you to read any particular books, nobody's forcing you to follow any set order of studying math. You can do it on your own, you don't need a guide. And if you want to choose to have guides in certain directions and see if they work, you want a tutor or you want certain classes, you want to go online and take tutorials, that's up to you. But you don't need a guide, it's you who choose whether you want to have one.

So what about the most important goal of all, the most important endpoint of all for all of us: the endpoint of choosing a goal in your life? That is after all the most important thing for any human being from the minute they're born. What am I going to become? What kind of a person am I going to be? What is my fulfillment going to consist of? And in our society in this country there is no restriction on choosing your goal in life. And there's nobody who restricts the path that you take towards that goal. I'm talking about life goals, I'm not talking about specific goals. There might be some restrictions if you want to be Mister Goodwrench in a General Motors plant. But there are no restrictions if you say I want to have a meaningful life by being a mechanic. You can do whatever you want to become a mechanic and go ahead and do it. And that's really key in our lives. That's what gives us a remarkable freedom of self-realization.

So I want to recap very briefly. We start out with the idea that to guide somebody is to direct them along a path to a specific endpoint. Whatever the endpoint, we understand that there's a lot of paths towards it. And in a free society like ours, no one really needs guidance. Everyone is free to choose whether or not to seek it. This has really paid off for us historically. We've produced over our short history a society which has liberated a tremendous amount of creative energy in a huge proportion of the population. The only measures in which our country falls short--which shouldn't surprise you--are our scores on standardized tests. What a surprise! But it's remarkable how the creativity that has flowed from this freedom of choice of goal and path has made our country so prosperous economically and so creative in every aspect of our culture.

By having a society in which nobody needs guidance to reach their life goals or nobody needs guidance to learn anything or to create anything, we also have shaken off the fetters of the past, the weight and the burden of tradition. If you take tradition, the past, as a must for guiding the future, it is terribly constricting. When we talk about people who have made really interesting new advances in society, it's always people who have rejected to the utmost degree the guidance that's offered by people who are knowledgeable in their fields. It's really striking. You can take any field. The people who do something new are the ones who think out of the box. What does thinking out of the box mean? It means thinking out of the constraint that experts and tradition have told you is the right way to proceed towards that particular goal. Think of the impressionists, for example. They couldn't even get a showing. They had to exhibit their works in garrets. When they had a public showing, they were mocked. If they had simply followed the realistic art forms that were prevailing, they never would have happened. People really got mad at Beethoven for all that loud cacophony of music that he produced.

But you can go to the more traditional fields. Max Planck is the man who invented the concept of a quantum in physics--a totally off-the-wall concept. It made absolutely no sense. People thought it was ridiculous and he was miserable. He was excoriated by the experts, the "guides" of his time. And finally the force of events led his view to be pretty much part of the standard guidance. It became part of the box. He says in his autobiography that if you have a really creative new idea, it's never going to even looked at seriously until all the people in the old generation have died. When the quantum theorists who emerged in the 1920's, who had a completely new view of physics, came and talked to him and showed him their new theory--and he rejected them out of hand and said it was complete nonsense! Thinking out of the box is a product of a society in which you're completely free to choose your goals and to choose your paths.

All this freedom has been pretty explicit from the beginning of our country. The ideas were original, even shocking, and they were so unusual to anybody who encountered the Declaration of Independence and what it said, that the Founding Fathers decided to put them out in a way that could sort of sneak it by you. It says, "We hold these truths to be self-evident". You never say that in a document unless you know they aren't. They were the farthest things from self-evident to people. There wasn't a person in the world who held those truths to be true, let alone self-evident. When you use that phrase in an argument, you hope it will somehow sneak your argument through and get people to nod their heads in agreement.

But here's the thing: we all know that this wonderful view of freedom, and of freedom of choice, and the lack of a need for coercive guidance for people, was really directed at white male property owners. That's the reality. The ideal was there - all men are created equal. And by men they really meant human beings. But the people they actually meant at that particular moment were white male property owners. That's pretty much like the democracy of ancient Athens. It's a perfect copy of it, because all the incredible creativity that came out of ancient Athens, all the great philosophers, the theater, the science, the technology, came from a community in which only a few thousand people were granted the freedom and the democracy that the Athenians were so proud of. But the society was based on a tremendous substratum of slaves and women and other servants. So here you have a situation that was true in ancient Athens, and it was true with the Founding Fathers. If you really have these ideals and you exclude a lot of the population, you have to have justification for the exclusion. You have to say why are all the other people not given the freedom. Why did the others all need our guidance, need our control, need to be told by us the endpoints and the paths?

There has to be a justification for it, and it was that non-property owners are just transients. You know you can't count on them. A person who doesn't own property is not tied to the land, not serious about anything--here today, gone tomorrow. You shouldn't have to take their views into account. It turned out that exclusion wasn't really necessary when it was examined more carefully. We know the horrendous racial theories that led people to exclude slaves. And those racial theories still hold sway in much of the world and certainly were prevalent in this country and in the entire Western world well into the late 19th century. We all know why women were excluded: it was because they were alleged to have no judgment, so there's no way that they should be allowed to be free to make their own decisions. But in each one of those cases, the ideal was just too strong. It just sat there, it just pressed on us. Generation after generation. "All men are created equal." "They're endowed with these rights." It's bothersome that we're excluding people. Are the justifications really justifiable? The force of experience simply wore down the justifications. It turned out that there was simply no shred of evidence that any of these exclusions were based in reality.

And the only people who are not yet granted that freedom are children.

Children have been treated all along as chattels, as objects that adults basically own and are free to do whatever they want with. There are very few restrictions. The restrictions on how you treat children in our society are pretty much the same as those that applied to slaves in slave society. You can't kill them, you can't beat them till they're unconscious. That's not okay. But other than that, adults are free to impose their goals, to impose their choices on children, to impose paths on children. Completely free to do that. And they're free to use a tremendous array of coercive measures. You can even take children away from families and incarcerate them. You can apply any rewards and punishments that you want to children to make them heel, tow the line.

So here we are in the 21st century. In the 20th century we started really wondering about this question of whether children need guidance. How can we justify this? Is there a justification? How you can justify forcing children to submit to guidance, not allowing them the free choice that by now everyone else in society has? Adults have convinced themselves that there are specific goals that all children must pursue in order to survive. There are goals they must pursue in order to survive and lead meaningful lives as adults. They have convinced themselves that there's one true path through childhood towards those goals. That's what adults believe. The society as a whole has set up schools as the primary instruments for coercing children to those endpoints and along the paths to those goals. They've even taken a lot of pains to enlist parents to help the schools keep things in line.

How did this come about? Where did this idea that there's a common goal that every child has to pursue in order to be a successful adult come from? In my lifetime I've watched this goal evolve very strongly and very markedly. People have convinced themselves by adopting the conclusions of authority figures whom they accept as purveyors of truth. That's the simple reality. People who the society has held up as authority figures on child development and maturation into adulthood are the ones who have told us that these things have to happen. The accepted goal that has been hammered away over and over and over again for all children is that they have to grow to an adult life in which they can get and keep a decent job that pays a good wage. That's what you hear everywhere.

The accepted wisdom is that you have to get a standard education in order to get a successful job that will enable you to survive. There is one path that you have to follow. The accepted path is the successful completion of at least twelve years, often fourteen, of formal schooling in a curriculum that's drawn up according to national standards which determine every step of the way. The National Standards Books are enormous in size, and cover every field that's taught in schools, K through 12. They cover them year by year, and subject by subject, in complete detail. Those are the national standards, and then every state has its own guidelines which are modeled on the national standards. If you're really a good state that really is sincere about education, you improve on the national standards by adding to them. That's the path. And, by the way, the way that preschool has come into this is really striking.

When I went to school the goal was a little different. You were told that you had to go through some basic curriculum to get a decent job. But an awful lot of kids in my day didn't go to high school. And very few people went to college. The GI bill changed that. But now it's starting in preschool. In New York a woman is suing a preschool for some huge amount of money because the preschool wasn't adequately preparing her kid to pass the exams at the end of the preschool year that will get the kid into a prestigious kindergarten that will lead the kid to get a successful life and a good job.

How did the goal that every child needs guidance to have a successful well-paying job in the 21st century get to be accepted? Because we don't even believe that really. Who are our heroes? Who are the people we revere? We revere the people who have lofty goals, no matter how much money they make--the poor saint who runs around and helps everybody and doesn't take care of their own welfare, the entrepreneur who for sure isn't going to make a penny of money and is going to starve for the first many years--Bill Gates started in a garage. It's incredible. We revere people who follow their passion and who actually turn their backs on this universally accepted goal--the starving artist. In fact, the more adults are true to ideals regardless of whether they have a decent job in 21st century economy, the more we idealize them. What's even stranger is that we accept that anybody could know what the socioeconomic environment into which kids grow up will be. Where on earth did that come from? Where did the idea that we can even have a clue as to what a well-paying job will be five years from now, let alone fifteen? We don't have a clue. Just think back to the world thirty years ago. I talk about this to the kids because for most of them thirty years ago and a hundred years ago are pretty much the same. We all may as well have walked around in loin-cloths and hunted dinosaurs. Just thirty years ago there were no cell phones, no internet, no desktops, no laptops, no iChat, no search engines. There was a Cold War between two ideologies that were struggling for world domination. Nobody had any idea what would happen. Thirty years ago religion played no significant role in world affairs at all. None. Asia thirty years ago was completely peripheral in the world. It's clear that we don't know whether the goal kids are being steered toward is really good, and even if we did care about the goal, we don't know how to go about getting there!

So where did the experts get so much authority that almost everybody listens to them? Where did the experts get the authority to convince the vast majority of the population that children need guidance? I've seen it get worse and worse over the past decades, and I think it correlates to what the real origin to that acceptance of authority is. I think it's getting worse because this is such an uncertain world that most adults crave guidance--we are terribly, terribly insecure. I'm not talking about the economic confidence index, and that kind of measure, because that's almost peripheral. Most adults want guidance, they're terribly insecure about themselves and they're terribly insecure about their children. The future has simply descended on us at a pace that's absolutely staggering. When fear and uncertainty like that prevail the most comforting thing is leaders who say they know the way. "Be at peace, do not fret, I know the way, I found it." If you say it with confidence and if you say it with a clear vision of what the way is, people begin to listen and wonder. But what's even more interesting is how insecure the experts are. It's sort of a double-tiered thing here. The experts are themselves engulfed by uncertainty, but they can't really show it. The way you know that they're engulfed by uncertainty is that they huddle together and they agree with each other. People are really not secure in their own judgment. If I'm insecure, the thing I'll do is I'll go find somebody else who's equally insecure but who agrees with me, and we all find other people who agree with us, and we shore each other up. So we have people who are self-proclaimed experts, all of them sort of wondering, all of them huddling together. To me the most remarkable thing about the situation now is that everybody agrees on the basic premise that there are goals and that there's a path.

We at Sudbury Valley have had so many remarkable experiences in that connection. Some of the most outspoken writers and speakers about education who supposedly trash the educational system--this is wrong, that's wrong--names that many of you are probably acquainted with--write wonderful books about how this system is no good. They all know what's wrong. And then they come and visit us, if they bother at all, and they say "Ohmigod, we don't mean that. Children definitely need some form of guidance. We just meant to tweak things a little."

So here we are in a situation where in reality there isn't a shred of evidence that in a free society where adults don't need guidance, children shouldn't be allowed to be just as self-directed as adults. There's no evidence for that whatsoever. There are plenty of societies that treat children as adults. There are societies where children go out when they're six years old and tend the sheep. There is no evidence that children are not competent and in our heart of hearts, we know that all experts in every field have feet of clay. There's not a single field in which the truths announced by one generation haven't been discarded by a later generation. Not one field. The economics, the social and political theory, the psychology, the physics, the chemistry, the medicine, of former years are all in the dustbin of history.

Let's look at just a few simple examples--"disabilities" that were associated with people in the 1930's. One of them was a hereditary disability, known as "retardation". It was thought to have a companion hereditary disability, criminality. You may not consider this to be hereditary but they were sure they knew it back then. There were laws passed right in this country that mandated sterilization of people who were judged criminal or retarded. When Hitler in Nazi Germany started his eugenics program, people screamed about what a terrible thing it was. His answer, a very honest one in this particular case, was, "I'm just doing what America's doing." We even had a Supreme Court Justice write an opinion that this is reasonable, it's constitutional, it's scientific. We don't see that in the list of disabilities today. In fact, the list of disabilities when I was growing up doesn't correspond to the list of disabilities today, and the list of disabilities twenty years ago doesn't correspond to the list of disabilities today. Actually, that list is growing so fast that probably the majority of American children will have some form of learning disability--and I'm not joking--within another ten or twenty years.

There's no more validity in the economic theories of today than there were in those of the past. Roosevelt came into power during the Depression, and instituted a "New Deal". We needed a big change, but he had no idea what to do. So he collected a bunch of experts. They were called The Brain Trust--all great men. They came up with a whole bunch of ideas and then they put them into effect and sadly all of their wonderful theories led to almost no improvement between 1932 and 1939. What bailed the country out economically was not economic theory, but war.

How about the technological theories of the past, and the technological expertise of the past? There is a wonderful PBS series called The Triumph of the Nerds. It's the history of the development of the PC. The person who actually put it together and narrated it was a person who was part of that development, so he knew what he was talking about. One of the best scenes is when he interviews the founder and creator of Intel and says to him, "Wait a minute, you guys had the chip, so in fact you had the personal computer right there. Didn't you realize it?" And the answer was, "Oh, yeah, we realized it, but a bunch of us got together and brainstormed and we tried to figure out what use anybody could possibly make of a personal computer. The only thing we could come up with was collecting recipes. I could not conceive of my wife using this to collect her recipes. So we discarded it, we didn't pursue it any further." Experts with feet of clay. But here we are allowing this last category of people--children--to be relics of a medieval social order where they're completely guided, against their will, to do things that they haven't chosen, for no justifiable reason.

I want to just say one final thing as I close. Everybody knows that children in early infancy have three very, very specific goals that they pursue relentlessly--mobility, social relations and communication. Those goals are quite clear in their minds.

They will do anything to become mobile. They'll fail, they'll fall, they'll hurt themselves. It doesn't make any difference because they sense and they know and they see from the world around them the advantages of mobility.

They see people around them and they know that in order to survive and flourish, they have to be able to somehow enlist the aid of those people in their survival and find ways to relate to them.

They want to talk with a ferocity of determination that is unparalleled.

Talking is by far the hardest thing to learn because language is an incredible mystery. A word is something almost unbelievable. It's a shorthand--a shorthand for a whole raft of human experiences that are epitomized by that one word. That enables us to create complex worlds because instead of calling on each one of these experiences individually we call on the symbol. And we put the symbols together into whole ideas and sentences to create a world view that we could never, never create if we had to cobble it together from each piece of the totalilty of information that the words symbolize. And there they are struggling--they get the words wrong, they pronounce them wrong, they can't figure out what they mean, so they get the meaning wrong. And yet they persevere and they succeed in doing it, and they are self-guided.

Children set their own goals and they set their own paths. And their paths are all different. This kid crawls backward first, then forward, then flips over on the side. Each kid does it differently. This kid walks one way, that kid walks another way. This kid doesn't talk until they're three, like our oldest son, and then never stops talking the rest of his life. That kid starts talking at nine months old. And they do it without anyone imposing the goal or the path. The hardest tasks come starting out in life.

The weirdest thing of all is that our society, after putting our children through twelve or fourteen years and sometimes sixteen and twenty, where they are forced to accept guidance, all of a sudden says, okay, now you're out in the world and you're supposed to be able to do it yourselves, to be free. A sudden metamorphosis--like voilà, you've been caged, now you're free. You can see how jarring it is in societies. Every society in the last century that has suddenly been liberated from an onerous, coercive government has made the transition to responsible freedom with extreme difficulty. It's hard. And yet we expect every child to do it because we want them as adults to be members of our free and creative society.

I want to end by just saying that Sudbury Valley really is on the cutting edge of an era that recognizes that children do not need guidance anymore than adults do in the 21st century. The success of our school, and of our sister schools, and of our graduates for forty-three years are pretty much living proof of that. I've felt for a long time that the courageous parents and students and staff members who for over four decades have been committed to including children at long last among those who are freed from needless coercion, those people deserve our gratitude and admiration.









1. This article was adapted from a talk presented at Sudbury Valley School to the school community and others on April 6, 2011.







Copyright © The Sudbury Valley School Press, Inc.®

Books by the Sudbury Valley Press ® are available from www.sudval.org, by calling (508) 877-3030, or by sending a fax to (508) 788-0674. You may write to the Sudbury Valley School Press ® at The Sudbury Valley School Press, 2 Winch Street, Framingham, MA 01701. You can contact the school here


Home PageSudbury Valley School • 2 Winch Street • Framingham, MA 01701 • 508-877-3030