Tag Archives: The Apostasy & the Ecstasy

Advanced Placement

A few years ago—when I was first getting this blog going—a student from my first teaching job asked me…

…to write a post (or several) that explain why Sudbury is better than Hickman at its best. I’m not trying to challenge Sudbury, but I’ve been wondering for ages…I’ve always thought of your European History class as (by far) the best class I ever took. And I can picture how the average Sudbury class (or module? phase? session?) would be far better than the average Hickman class (honors, AP, whatever), but what I still don’t understand is how Sudbury allows you to deliver something better than your AP Euro 1995…I think my overall question is that I picture AP Euro as a complete success and example of how traditional education should be done, and so it’s hard for me to picture that an unstructured (differently structured? maybe that’s my question) program can be so much better.

It’s a good thing this assignment didn’t come with a deadline! But seriously, her question has been stuck in my head all this time, as I too have long been fascinated by the contrast between my own schooling and first career, on the one hand, and my subsequent immersion in Sudbury schooling. Now, finally, I’ve found the time and summoned the nerve to dig into another comparison of these disparate strands of my professional life.

My first thought is that there’s actually nothing in Sudbury schooling that would prevent me from teaching an AP European History class like that one from the mid-90s—nothing, that is, except for the Sudbury requirement that classes be completely student-initiated. Yet in 19 years with Sudbury, I’ve almost never taught a  history class. I’ve taught a little history, sure, some Spanish and piano, and a lot of English (mostly creative writing) and math—but never anything resembling AP Euro. Why might that be? Continue reading

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Zen and the Art of Sudbury Schooling

Watermelons and Zen students
grow pretty much the same way.
Long periods of sitting till they ripen and grow
all juicy inside, but
when you knock them on the head
to see if they’re ready—
sounds like nothing’s going on.

~ Peter Levitt, One Hundred Butterflies

If you know anything about Zen Buddhism and Sudbury schooling, you might be perplexed by my assertion that there’s considerable overlap or parallels between the two.  After all, Zen is known for the utter stillness of meditation, while Sudbury schools are typically bursting with exuberant activity (though contemplation does have a central place as well). Yet I remain convinced, after years of experience in each of these environments, that they are connected in substantive, significant ways; it’s no coincidence I find myself drawn to both.

Before going further, let me be clear that I don’t intend to exaggerate these connections. I am not attempting to spiritualize Sudbury, nor can I claim to be an authoritative voice on Zen. Rather, I offer a practitioner’s observation that both Sudbury schooling and Zen Buddhism represent paradoxical, yet intuitive, perspectives on how to access a deeper, more authentic way of being. For convenience sake, I’ve grouped my reflections into four categories:

  1. Doing Nothing
  2. Beginner’s Mind
  3. Not Therapy, but Therapeutic
  4. Individuals in Community

Continue reading

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