The articles below give an introduction to the Sudbury Model of Education. Some of the articles are from other schools, such as the Sudbury Valley School and the Fairhaven School, that follow the same educational philosophy as the Hudson Valley Sudbury School.

By: Matthew Gioia
Hudson Valley Sudbury School

When I tell people about how Hudson Valley Sudbury School (HVSS) works, they sometimes ask if it’s like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. They imagine a vicious world of savage children struggling for supremacy, gnawing on limbs, and skewering random stuff with sharpened sticks.  They even bring up anecdotes from their own experience to suggest that we should expect brutality to rein under the conditions we maintain at our school; they’ll say something like, “in my high school, if the teacher ever stepped out of the classroom, even for a second, a fight would break out.”  I understand - I’ve even worked in a school where that was indeed the case. If not a fight, something transgressive would happen - a champion would emerge from the rows of desks to make some raucous gesture of contempt for authority, to the hoots and applause of classmates.  And when we attempted to have unstructured time, like a recess, there was almost always an actual fistfight. At that school, the adults micromanaged the students as much as possible. The more control a teacher was able to exert over students, the more highly that teacher was regarded; power, and the control it afforded, was the highest good.  The most effective teachers were known for directing students with military precision, drilling them in posture and guidelines which sharply restricted how they could move their bodies, even while seated, and where they could direct their gaze at any particular moment. In such an excruciating and oppressive environment, tense but utterly boring, people find ways to rebel - not because they can’t handle freedom maturely when they find or steal a moment of it, but because they are deprived of it.  Their “transgressions” are hardly evidence of immaturity; they are, rather, evidence of an unhealthy ecology of relationships. The boys in Lord of the Flies were cultivated within a culture of mistrust and assimilated into a brutal hierarchy at their mid-20th century English boarding school.  Left to their own devices, they recreated the ecology of their native psychological habitat. Lord of the Flies is not a cautionary tale about freedom; it’s a cautionary tale about oppression.

By: Jeffery A. Collins
Hudson Valley Sudbury School

The fundamental difference between a Sudbury school and any other type of school is the student's level of responsibility. In a Sudbury school the students are solely responsible for their education, their learning methods, their evaluation and their environment.

In a public school, the state takes responsibility for most aspects of a student's education including curriculum and evaluation. The student is left with little responsibility except to learn what is taught, how it is taught, in the environment in which it is taught and then to reiterate it back at evaluation time.

In a non-Sudbury private school, the school administrators take a larger role in determining a student's curriculum than in a public school. In some private schools, the school takes responsibility for evaluation, while in others the school administers the state tests. In most private schools, as with public schools, a student has personal responsibility only for learning what someone else determines is important to learn, at a time they think it is important to learn it, in a way someone else has determined it should be taught, in an environment designed by someone else, and they must do this well enough to pass the evaluations written and graded by someone else.

Sudbury Valley School

From interivews by Hanna Greenberg; Edited by Mimsy Sadofsky and Daniel Greenberg

I came to Sudbury Valley the first summer we were open. I was seven. I was really surprised when I saw the school. The picture I had before I came was nothing like what it turned out to be! I had imagined it to be a place with rooms that had labels according to what you did inside the rooms a room that said "Science," and a room that said "Reading," and I don't know what else. My picture didn't look like the public school I went to, but it also didn't look like a house; it looked institutional.

The school is such a great looking building to a little kid, big and old and kind of mysterious. It was exciting to go there and find out that it looked like some old mansion, where you can get lost or hide from people if you want to and not be found, and things like that. I remember just feeling joy at being at this place where I could do what I wanted where I wanted. The school was physically beautiful, and to be around this beautiful place and not be constrained was wonderful. The grounds were also incredible, and walking around on the rocks were really frightening! They were big. They were several times higher than I was, and people were jumping around on them. It amazed me that people were just going up there to this far away, scary place and nobody was attempting to make them not do that.

By: Jeffery A. Collins, Vanessa Van Burek
Hudson Valley Sudbury School

As we sit in our school's main lounge, trying to write about the underlying lessons of a Sudbury education, we often find ourselves "off task." We are watching the bustling activity around us…Jeff, a staff member, and Sonya, a 14-year-old student, are working on math problems in order to move her closer to her goal of becoming a vet. (She's contacted Cornell University to find the best method of getting into their program.) Cody, age 11, and Madison, 15, are reading medicine cards for all who walk by. Eli, 5, and Kiran, 6, are comparing new Magic Cards and talking about the mysterious gum switcher—the spearmint and cinnamon gum from the School Store have seemingly switched bottles.  The Judicial Committee members file into the JC room to start the daily session but Natasha, 15, one of our JC clerks, has to find a replacement for the 5- to 9-year old representative to the JC who is out sick. Success—Sophie, age 8, is filling in. Lisa, a staff member, and David, age 16, are discussing whether or not putting "spring water" on a bottled water label ensures you aren't getting someone's random tap water. A man drives up attempting to deliver food to the Zena Elementary School, a public school down the road. While only a few miles away, the Zena Elementary School couldn't be more different then The Hudson Valley Sudbury School on Zena Road.

By: Daniel Greenberg
Sudbury Valley School

Why go to school?

For people who like to think through the important questions in life for themselves, Sudbury Valley stands as a challenge to the accepted answers.

The first phrase that pops into everyone's mind is: "We go to school to learn." That's the intellectual goal. It comes before all the others. So much so, that "getting an education" has come to mean "learning" -- a bit narrow, to be sure, but it gets the priorities clear.

Then why don't people learn more in schools today? Why all the complaints? Why the seemingly limitless expenditures just to tread water, let alone to progress?

The answer is embarrassingly simple. Schools today are institutions in which "learning" is taken to mean "being taught." You want people to learn? Teach them! You want them to learn more? Teach them more! And more! Work them harder. Drill them longer.

But learning is a process you do, not a process that is done to you! That is true of everyone. It's basic.

What makes people learn? Funny anyone should ask. Over two thousand years ago, Aristotle started his most important book with the universally accepted answer: "Human beings are naturally curious." Descartes put it slightly differently, also at the beginning of his major work: "I think, therefore I am." Learning, thinking, actively using your mind: it's the essence of being human. It's natural.

By: Scott David Gray
Sudbury Valley School

The Sudbury Valley School has been in operation for more than 30 years now, and several other schools around and outside our country (the United States) see our school's success and are modeling their schools on ours.

The school accepts students from ages four and up, and awards a high school diploma. It is a private school, which relies upon tuition and does not engage in fundraising. Studies of our alumni show them to be "successful" by any criteria; most have gone on to their first choice career or college, most have a comfortable income, and (the best definition of success, in my mind) most are happy people.

The physical plant is a beautiful Victorian mansion on a ten-acre campus. It is furnished like a home, with couches, easy chairs, books everywhere (rather than hidden in a library), etc. The grounds are excellent for sport and games, and the school has several facilities; music rooms, an art room, a high speed Internet connection, a darkroom, a piano, a stereo, a pond great for fishing, several computers, etc.

Students (from age four on up) are free to do as they wish during the day, as long as they follow the school rules (more on school rules later). The campus is "open" and most students come and go as they please, without having to check with an office or other such nonsense. No one is required to attend classes and, indeed, classes are rare and bear little resemblance to the usual notion of a "class." There are no tests or grades of any kind. Students and staff (teachers) are equal in every regard. The students and staff refer to each other by first name, and the relationships between students and staff can't easily be distinguished from the relations between students.

By: Romey Pitman
Fairhaven School

After hearing a short explanation of our school's philosophy, many people understandably try to link it with something already familiar to them. The most frequently mentioned "so-you're-sort-of-likes" are listed below. We have tried to be fair, but clear, in distinguishing ourselves from other philosophies. However, all the subtleties of these educational models are not laid out and comparisons are not made from every angle. We hope that the explanations below serve to clarify what the Sudbury model is really about, and what it is not.