The school we all endure for 12+ years is supposedly not there to torture and bore us.  It’s there to educate us.  It’s goal is to fill our minds with the things we need to meaningfully contribute to each other as adults.  It’s meant to skill us in trades other than farming so that society can be creative and thrive.  I’ve gone, I’ve done it, and I have serious concerns about my actual level of preparedness to contribute anything meaningful to my fellow humans.  (And incidentally, I don’t even know how to farm.)

History, math, science, and English have all taught me how to carry on intelligent conversation.  That’s fantastic, sure, but no one seems interested in paying me for my conversation. I don’t know how to repair a vehicle, because I was not scheduled to take those classes.  I don’t know how to fix machinery either.  Nor do I know how to cut hair, do carpentry, fix computers, or navigate the world of finance.  Trade schools were offered at the end of high school, but those who attended were considered unintelligent to the academic crowd.  Some of you might say career training is what college is for, but of all the things I was fed academically, I didn’t have a clue what I would like to major in.  As for fine arts, my school system (Gwinnett County Public Schools) allows each student to pick ONE.  Mine was marching band, because I already had a flute and didn’t want to be wasteful.  Incidentally, I’m not enough of a talent to contribute beautiful music to society either.

Luck of the draw.  This happens.  Schools have to assign their students subjects to learn, and it’s simply unfortunate if none of them sparks a career interest.  On that note, I introduce to you the concept of Sudbury Valley Schools.

Very roughly, Sudbury Valley Schools are democratically run, K-12 schools in which the students do what they wish with their days and the “teachers” are there to provide expertise only when asked.  (The above link provides a much more thorough explanation than that.)  The premise behind this method is that all creatures seek to learn when left to their own devices.  Learning how to live successfully is an instinct, and what is needed to learn becomes evident as the young ones watch and participate in life.

I believe this is true.  Have you ever seen a child that wasn’t curious about something?  And because the students are responsible for their own education, they can’t help but become tremendously independent and assertive.  Even the shy ones must speak up and get creative if they want to satisfy their curiosity to learn. If a student neglects to learn an important subject by the time s/he is 18, s/he already has a robust enough intellect and sense of autonomy to find a way to learn it…quickly.  (Check the FAQ section of the above link to see an example where this has actually happened.)

I happen to think this school system is fascinating.  Imagine the passion these graduates must have! I bet every single one of them knows what really interests them, unlike me who only knows what doesn’t.  I hadn’t thought of myself as spoon fed until I learned about Sudbury Valley.  In comparison to the students these schools must put out, I’m actually quite a whimp!  “Oh, I was never taught graphic design in school.  I couldn’t possibly have the skills to work in that profession.”  Did it really never occur to me that it’s possible to learn it for myself?  Were I in the habit of being academically resourceful my whole life, I wouldn’t have thought twice about an obstacle like that.

What’s interesting is that companies require us to be self starters to be successful.  We are often tossed into the deep end at new jobs and expected to figure the ropes out.  Most of us are educated traditionally, but we require each other to think like Sudbury Valley students. Ironic.

It’s too late for me to have gone to a democratic school, so I’ll go ahead and stop whining about it.  What I will do, is take a cue from those resourceful grade schoolers and take charge of my own curiosities.

Heck, maybe I’ll even see if they’ll elect me as a “teacher.”