Do Children need Schools?

Ever since my early teens I have asked myself if schools need to have walls, if they need teachers. What is a school for, anyway? What is it exactly that a child has to learn to become a responsible adult? Who is to define what “responsible” is (today,for example, those who decide to dedicate their lives to poetry are considered somehow “irresponsible” unless, of course, they make money at it).

At this point in my life the idea of “school” has become intolerable. Young vibrant children, full of life and curiosity, are locked up inside of “slightly decorative” prisons – called schools - where they are denied basic human rights: free speech, interaction with other children (except at recess), freedom of movement (who says we only learn sitting down?), freedom of choice over their own lives. In my eyes, the only difference between children and prisoners is that children sleep at home at night. That is an unacceptable situation.

We are damaging our children so profoundly that, after two or three years of schooling, the shine is gone, and they have become apathetic - or revolted (which is in fact the healthier of the two reactions, at least the soul stays alive!) They hate school, and mourn Sunday evening, trying to survive until next Friday. We are being unspeakably cruel to our kids by continuing with this system.

If, as John Dewey so aptly stated, we learn by doing, what are our children really learning?

  • To sit for hours on end;
  • To blindly obey an authority figure, whether this figure merits it or not;
  • To give the answers that the authority figure expects - no creativity is permitted in this system;
  • To endure being inside four walls most of the day;
  • To labor under rigid routine;
  • To write good reports, which satisfy that authority figure;
  • To compete, according to narrow rules of the game (the winner often being the one with the best memory);
  • To avoid risk at all costs (mistakes are not valued as part of the learning process);
  • To conform - in dress, manners, beliefs, tastes, etc.

These are all qualities desirable in factory and office workers! But where are the factories? Where are the offices? The world - which is going down the tubes because of these antiquated systems - belongs today to the entrepreneur, the creative, the idealists, the self-motivated. It is no accident that some of the wealthiest men, and some of the most incredible inventors, have had relatively little schooling, or came to school late in life.

So we take these kids, regimented to be office and factory workers, and throw them into a world which demands iniciative and creativity- and wonder why they fail, and worse still, why there are so many teen suicides and violence today.

We can´t just fix up the system, when the system is wrong down to its foundation. We have to restart at stake one. Fortunately there are several good examples to go by, the best, in my opinion, being the Sudbury schools. These schools (the mother school is already forty years old) assume - and this is so obvious that it is radical!- that kids are naturally curious, and know what they want to study. They are offered a rich environment (with libraries, workshops, kitchen, natural play areas) and permitted to explore this environment to their heart´s content.

In any one day there will be kids (ranging from age four to twenty) cooking, playing video games, sewing, practicing and instrument in the music room, studying a physics book, writing books, studying mathematics, playing in the forest, or just lounging in a corner, talking to each other about incredibly varied subjects. No bell rings to break up the day- the kids are permitted to stay on top of a project as long as it interests them - and that may be a whole year....

To graduate, they simply write a monograph proving that they are ready to take their place in the world as responsible adults...

How do they fare? Seventy percent go on to university (and ninety-two percent of those get into the university of first choice). The rest are artists, cooks, mechanics, entrepreneurs. Forty percent go on to own their own businesses. A few fall by the wayside, but that happens in the other schools as well, probably much more than at Sudbury.

What most pleases me about this system is that kids are not forced to waste their time. There is an online story by a teacher (actually in this school there are no “teachers” as everyone is teaching and learning all the time, there are only “staff”) who was approached by a group of kids who wanted to learn mathematatics. He found a book for them, and they proceeded to do a six year program in twenty classes.... In fact, what kids are learning in Sudbury schools are essential life skills - how to organize their time, setting a goal for their life and fulfilling it, getting along in a very mixed and dynamic community, discovering their real talents and interests by experimenting a variety of activities and seeing others do as well. Vandalism in this school is close to zero, as is bullying - because the kids are not angry!

But what about the basic “necessary” subjects? Most of the kids become avid readers and are well-versed in a great variety of subjects, which they discuss among themselves. I would argue back : how many students from conventional schools actually “learn” history, geography etc, beyond the exam date?

From another source, Anastasyia, the young Siberian shaman who has so influenced me in these last years, also insists that we should not try to interpret the world to the kids (“teaching” them). This will block their capacity to access information directly from the universe. Rather, we should sleep out under the stars with them, and garden together, so that they can deepen their own intuitive channels. Significantly, communitites are being formed in Russia based on her principles of child-rearing.

With the vibratory acceleration of the planet, incredibly evolved souls are coming in, far wiser at birth than we adults ever will be. How will we receive them? How could we possibly think we could “teach” something to such highly evolved beings? When we look at a child, we have no inkling who that being is, nor what its role is to be in our rapidly transforming planet. We can only offer as many opportunities as possible for that person to find its way as quickly as possible, with least possible wasted time and energy. The best service we could do, I believe, is simply to listen to them, and to help open doors that need to be opened so that they can take their next step into life, whatever that may be... That needs a lot of courage on our part, and unshakeable confidence in our children, that they know what is right for them- even if we don´t....

Most new Sudbury schools (and there are dozens today...) are formed by groups of parents who do not have the heart to send children to “prison” (conventional schools). Fortunately these groups can base their efforts on forty years of success, adapting an already functional model for this radical new form of education.

*(Marsha´s daughters are adults today, but one of them actually did go to a school similar to Sudbury: Brockwood, in England, founded by Krishnamurti. Today this daughter studies mechanical engineering at Calpoly, California, designs and rides bikes professionally, and looks to her three years at Brockwood as having been essential to her defining her life direction.)


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Marizá Epicentro

Tucano - Bahia - Brasil

Marsha Hanzi

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