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What One School is Doing to Counter "One Size Fits All" Answer to Education

What One School is Doing to Counter "One Size Fits All" Answer to Education

As more and more educators and reformers alike begin seeking alternatives to a one-size-fits-all answer to education and the country sees the largest opposition to standardized tests yet, unconventional schools are being put in the spotlight as potential solutions to a growing problem.

One of those schools is Tallgrass Sudbury, a school in Riverside, Ill., where education is treated as an experiment as organization and structure are tossed to the wayside. Here, children have the same amount of say on the classroom agenda and rules as the staff.

"The 20 students here have a startling degree of autonomy. They choose what they do all day, including what and even if they study. The school doesn’t have teachers: it has 'staff members' tasked with helping children develop their own interests, but not to pressure them," according to a recent Desert News article.

According to the article, there are 102 schools in the country that currently do the same thing and are called "democratic schools."

The parents and staff that participate in the Sudbury school system admit that they are taking a chance and participating in an experiment that could potentially provide mixed or even negative results, but are willing to take the risk, the article said.

One researcher, Peter Gray, has conducted studies on Sudbury grads to try and determine if the model of education was producing successful individuals. While he did not look at career earnings or college acceptance rates as traditional determinants of success, he did study the career paths of graduates.

He found a normal distribution across careers and that "students who spent seven or more years at Sudbury Valley School were, in their jobs, more likely to focus on fun, enjoy 'hands on work' and enjoy relating to other people," the article said.

Some parents say their choice to send their children to the alternative system came as a response to fighting against over-diagnosis and over-medication of children for attention and anxiety disorders.

"Kids at Tallgrass don’t have to 'focus,' because there is no homework and their school day is up to them. Throughout the day, kids of all ages mingle, with older ones serving as informal mentors," meaning that kids at Sudbury school are not alienated for what is often seen as symptoms of disorders like ADHD.

Sudbury schools have been operating with autonomy for children since 1968, but the model is likely to grow in popularity in the present as reformers look to find better ways to get kids to learn besides teaching them to a test. 

After studying Sudbury, [applied psychology professor Josh] Aronson said, he began to look more closely at 'self-determination theory,' a therapeutic motivational framework that holds that a persistence and creativity emerge when a person enjoys competence, autonomy and connectedness to other people," the article said.

Read the full story here and comment below.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor

06/15/2015

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