What - the students decide what to learn?

By Murray Bourne, 29 Jul 2006

In the Shenandoah Valley in the US, a new school is being set up: Shenandoah Valley Community School.

Based on the Sudbury model (which I wrote about earlier in Flower children or the real deal?), Shenandoah Valley Community School will be a "free range" school, where students decide what, when and where to learn.

I like the concept (because institutionalized learning has serious problems) but I worry, like everyone else, whether the students will come out with "the basics".

I think if I was setting up such a school, I would structure it a bit more, to avoid the situation where the artistic/musical types don't end up avoiding mathematics altogether, and where the science lovers never hear a symphony. But such a concept can still be very open and learner-centred, I feel.

An news article (no longer available) says of the founder of the school, Sarah Beachy:

Living on a farm, everything became an opportunity to learn. At one point, she and her siblings set up a bird-raising business. To do it, they learned math to run the sales.

"I learned from my family, my friends," Beachy said.

She did well, scoring high enough on the SATs to get a scholarship to EMU.

This experience was also reported at Sudbury. Students could still do well in the traditional assessment instruments - I suspect because they have learned how to learn.

Good luck to you, Sarah - hope it goes well.

See the 1 Comment below.

One Comment on “What - the students decide what to learn?”

  1. Sarah Beachy says:

    I realize this was posted some time ago, but I just found your comment referencing our school. Thank you for your good wishes--we are halfway through our first year and it has been wonderful! As far as "the basics," this is a question that many people ask. If something is truly basic, everyone will learn it because everyone needs to learn it. I see this every day at school--the students are constantly teaching and learning from each other: reading, writing, telling time, working out division, and so on.

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