State education is no longer about making sure students acquire key skills – it’s only about giving the adults the good feeling of having really given it a go.
Traditional schooling and Sudbury schooling have one central idea in common: the result of schooling should be that young people are prepared for life as adults.
The similarities, of course, more or less end there.
One difference I find very curious.
While anyone involved in education of any sort will admit that there are certain skills which every young adult should probably have – setting aside the question of who gets to identify what those are, and how, on which Sudbury schools differ radically from traditional eudcation.
It is also generally accepted that not every student will acquire all of these important skills perfectly. The curious thing is this: traditional schooling seems to be based on the belief that “at least we have to try”.1
So on the one hand, the argument is that it’s critical that young people know things like English and math, and hence the state and its schools have to make every effort to ensure that young people learn them. On the other hand, the system and its supporters can’t escape the simple fact that they’re not going to succeed completely – but the system is still justified, because what matters is the attempt.
In some situations, that’s a fair argument. But let us be clear here: this is not some trivial pass-time being justified. It’s an enormous state mechanism that requires huge numbers of public servants, bucketloads of public money, and severe limitations on individual rights for every single human currently between the ages of (more or less) 6 and 18.
But it’s okay – at least they’re trying to help them out!
What matters is not what happens to the learner, not even what happens to society, but only that the state has “done its best” to equip the next generation with skills and knowledge. How much more could you possibly ignore young people? What are they, iPods?
- This is a perspective I heard in a lively panel discussion I was part of last night; the event was basis’12, a very cool conference of school students, and the speaker in question – whom I hope I didn’t misunderstand – is a high school principal and an active functionary in state and non-government organizations representing teachers. [↩]