Mind you, I’ve been around these schools on a near daily basis for fifteen years, so it seems significant that anger would seem so unusual. After all, it’s not that Sudbury students and staff are mild-mannered individuals across the board, laid-back and easy-going (though surely some fit that profile). On the contrary, I’ve been surrounded the past decade and a half by intensely passionate people of all ages, including children and teens whose jaw-dropping energy has the maximum space in which to flourish.
That energy certainly includes good measures of irritation and frustration—indeed, a full range of emotions, positive and negative. What’s missing, however—if the absence of unhealthiness can be considered a “lack”—is the general atmosphere of stress, tension, and subdued (or not so subdued) resentment that I knew in my previous life as a high school teacher. Looking back on those years, it’s a wonder anyone emerges untainted by that kind of dynamic.
I’m normally hesitant to engage in system-bashing, as it seems too easy and largely unproductive. Yet this is a contrast I believe must be brought to light. I’ve been blessed to work in schools where laughter is ubiquitous, where excitement and enthusiasm are the norm. I spend my days in a place more respectful than any other job I’ve ever known. Even when they aren’t happy, Sudbury people are remarkably reasonable and cooperative. Sudbury schools are communities where individuals enjoy a blend of space and support. Here, differences are not only acknowledged; they’re celebrated. And everyone has the opportunity to create a happy, meaningful life for themselves.
I’m also hesitant to paint an overly rosy picture of Sudbury life. Disagreements abound, and it’s not just one big happy family. By allowing students to encounter life directly, in all its rich, messy fullness, they’re bound to hit—and spend significant periods of time in—rough patches of boredom, aimlessness and/or angst; they will bump up against people and situations that are very difficult for them. Indeed, the whole process of figuring out who you are, what you want, and how to accomplish that can be extremely daunting. (I should know: check out my previous entries, especially those in the category My Quest.)
Yet for all life’s challenges, people allowed to meet it freely exhibit, overall, what I can only describe as an abiding joy, as strikingly easy as it is intense. How wonderful to think that this is what results when you immerse people in an environment of freedom, respect, and responsibility. Truly, I struggle to imagine a better way for children to prepare for authentic, empowered lives, and I remain profoundly grateful to all those who make these schools possible.