Preparing to succeed

by Rocpoc, on Flickr

Sudbury and traditional schooling have something in common: they agree that young people leaving school should enter the world well-prepared for a successful life. For Sudbury schools too, this includes professional life – and that’s a good thing.

When talking about Sudbury schools, one point seems to get people a little worked up, at least in Europe. It’s not unusual for Sudburians to talk about students preparing themselves for a satisfying and successful life, including getting a good job. In progressive circles in Europe, a lot of people frown on this; “getting a good job” shouldn’t be so important to us, right?

I think this is all basically a misunderstanding. People don’t like to hear about school preparing children for the job market because traditional schools say they do that – but we don’t mean the same thing.

Traditional education, with its timetables, classes, hierarchy and discipline, is built upon brilliant methods for preparing young people for work in a 19th-century factory or army. Such schools and their proponents say they prepare students for work in the diverse and creative modern Western economy. But many people who come out of that system can spend 60 hours a week at a job they don’t care for, to make money for consumer products they don’t need, which they expect to enjoy in the little free time they have left – and consider themselves successful.

When Sudburians talk about being successful, we have something else in mind. We don’t mean “serve the system well”; we mean “figure out what’s important to you, and make it happen.”

Sudbury schools are about giving students the time and space to find their place in the world and to learn how to be effective in the world around them.

Without a doubt, making a decent living is part of what most young people today will want to do in order to achieve their goals and live the life they want to live. Some people might find a way through life that they’re satisfied with and in which they don’t need anything resembling a normal job. But most people leaving school this year – any school – will be working for money pretty soon.

Sudbury schools should not, and do not, especially encourage students to prepare for that path, or any other one. It’s up to each individual to decide what path to take, and because we are part of the world we live in, most of us will want to try to make money, amongst other things.

It has to be up to each individual to figure out what’s important, and to find their own way to be effective adults. To me, and to many, this means not selling yourself completely for a salary. It means finding a way of making a living that is satisfying, or at least painless, that leaves an amount of free time you’re happy with, and provides an income you’re happy with.

As a result, a lot of us will find ways to make good money doing stuff we really want to do – or at least to make it in a way that requires us to sacrifice as little as possible in terms of time and personality – while maintaining the standard of living we want. A lot of us will want to have enough free time left over for creativity, a social life, a hobby, activism, or some combination of those, unless our work gives us enough of them already.

Yes, we make these decisions within the paradigm of a deeply flawed economic system. But we’ve only got the one world as it is now, and nobody is qualified to impose their theories, expectations, or ideals on free individuals just because they’re school students. Let them prepare themselves for the world as we know it – and if they want to, for changing it.

6 thoughts on “Preparing to succeed”

  1. Great article!
    Do you happen to know any research done on Sudbury graduates and how they’re living today? Regarding their personal success, financial success, family life, contributing to society and so on?

    1. Yes, Sudbury Valley School did two extensive surveys of graduates; the results of the more recent one are published and discussed in the SVS Press book Legacy of Trust. I’m not aware of any similar studies done in other schools, or with graduates of Sudbury schools in general, but SVS is a couple decades older than the rest, so that’s not surprising. :)

    1. Unfortunately, I don’t have it either, though I read a lot of it a few years ago. The findings relevant to the topic at hand, if I recall correctly, were mainly:

      *People from SVS go on all kinds of different paths (for example, the lists of professions were very long, with many different professions listed for just one or two graduates)
      *Many of them are independent or self-employed
      *Many of them go into creative trades of all different sorts
      *It’s not unusual for them to switch to a different profession at some point in life
      *A very large proportion of them is happy with what they’re doing in life

      I wish I could report in more detail…

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