I am rarely impressed with kids who learn to read before 7 because most of the time they do not understand the process of reading comprehension. I am more impressed with a young child of 2 to 6 years old who can sit and HEAR a story and have a meaningful discussion about the text. Also young kids rarely understand the process of sounding out words. Teaching a child to read simply by memorization or calling out sounds they memorized really handicaps them from high level reading and understanding when they get older. It’s hard to teach a young child the different sounds of ow and ow, like in cow and low. They need higher level thinking ability to really know the art of reading. I know there are exceptions to this, but most kids I have encountered who learned to read young, grow up to be poor readers.
I finally finished a very long journey that looks at freeing up students to think in their educational journey. I feel this research for my PhD connects well with why this type of education is important for our children. My final chapter talks about why I opened an “evolving” Sudbury school and how my research drew me to this place of wanting to free up students within school. I brought some of my high school students with me to my dissertation defense, because you know that’s how we roll. My committee thought it so amazing that here were some 14 to 17 year olds engaging in an intellectual discussion at the graduate level. Because we talk so much and let them talk so much and we are all equal it was nothing new for them! When I was done, one of my students asked if they had to call me Dr. and I said “NO! We are all family here, I will be Anika to you thank you!” Just so you know that we DO take your child’s education very seriously, and our staff is very qualified to do what we do…even though we sometimes decide to have a dance party instead of an actual class.
Ok, here’s a very vivid example of how we roll. So a couple days ago a student sat in my office and asked me how he can start volunteering at local museums, because he wants to work in a museum when he is old enough. He is very interested in “anything to do with history” he says. ANYWAY, the staff does some searching and contacts the History Museum down town. They email us this morning welcoming our students to join their Ambassador program…training begins in September 2017. So, tell me…what’s more important, that he fill in all the blanks of a math worksheet OR figuring out how to volunteer at a museum? I’m open to your thoughts (and mind you he will still do the math because he wants to go to college, so he is motivated to learn his high school math so he can get into college…on his own).
I know it’s a weird question to ask a parent who is seeking to place their child in a new school: “Do you mind if he doesn’t finish the math book this year? Are you ok with us focusing on his heart first?” When I was the principal of other schools, and I would receive a wounded student, in my mind i would think, “Oh how I wish I had time to heal his/her heart.” In the traditional system there is no time to work on the inside of a child. There is the curriculum. There is testing. There is the deadline to finish the scope and sequence. There is everything…but the child. At our school, our view is a bit different. We are first focused on the child, their heart, their mind, their soul, their being. Oh yeah there is teaching and learning going on, but even more important there is personal development going on. I have told parents, “As long as your child is wounded, no matter how many schools you place them in, they will keep struggling until the wound is healed.” These wounds could come from years of being bullied, a loss of some kind, abuse, mistreatment by a teacher, low self-esteem (because no one has taken the time to identify why God made them special), feeling like their giftedness is being stifled so they are not free to walk in their gifts/talents…any number of things can wound a child. When school is so focused on getting kids to finish “the work” and less focused on healing the heart, then we continue to fill kids’ minds with information while their hearts remain empty…scarred. Our belief is that once a child is made whole, then in no time at all they can learn all they need to learn to make in the next phase of life. Once the child is whole, with no distracting-haunting memories, no unresolved hurts, no feelings of being held back from their calling, etc. they are free to embrace all the knowledge that is available to them. They are free to fly as far as the winds of their passion will take them.
I want to attempt to show what the Sudbury model within a Christian environment may look like. I chose this model of education because as one being a Christian since a little girl and growing up in a church, I saw a pattern of kids growing up in the church and then as soon as they begin college, they leave the faith. I began to ask myself and God, “Why is this happening?” I thought they believed? They grew up in the church. Their parents are strong Christians!” After many years of doing this questioning and also wondering what would happen with my own kids, I believe God led me to the Sudbury Model. It was a total accident. Something I stumbled upon. Something that at first my friends and family thought I had gone insane. This week, however, I experienced something that made me realize what drew me to this model. A student and I sat down to chat this week. In his times of chatting with his schoolmates he had expressed that he was not a Christian. His friends tried to convince him to believe, but he wasn’t moving (I love that kids have the freedom to discuss their religion as opposed to a Bible teacher lecturing them every day). I overheard these discussions. Other staff members discussed it too, but not in a way to condemn him. In his time with staff he has been allowed to share his lack of Christian belief and it was allowed. Some may say, “Oh NO! Don’t do that!” Well, didn’t we all have the freedom to one day CHOOSE God? Didn’t we all go through the process of discovring Christianity for ourselves and defining it for ourselves, as opposed to just believing whatever mommy and daddy said? As adults we forget our journey. Why can’t kids have the same right and freedom? Kids have questions! We need to let them ask those questions and explore them! Anyway, the student and I sat to talk this week and it was an awesome conversation. Come to find out, he NEVER believed, he said. He just went to church because he was forced to. I asked him how he felt about being at the school with all these Christians around. I asked him what caused him NOT to believe and how old he was when he realized that he didn’t (he was 6). I only asked questions and let him answer. I did not try to indoctrinate or convert. I only asked questions to help me understand where he was and how he arrived there. I look forward to furthering this dialogue and I literally have NO idea where it will lead, but I am perfectly within my rights to listen to him, ask him questions and even share my beliefs. I will say, that I do feel glad that he is in a place where he can openly talk about this and maybe through discussion, questioning, wondering, and adults not forcing their beliefs on him, he will choose Christianity for himself. Either way, at least he will feel loved unconditionally in the process.