We are so familiar with the current education experience it reminds us of the story about a pair of young fish who, one morning, swim past an old fish. As they cross paths the old fish asks them, “How’s the water?” The young fish confusedly look at each other and swim on without answering. Finally, one of the young fish turns to the other and asks, “What is water?”
Likewise, we do not ask, “What is education?” because it is assumed that question has been answered. And, for the most part, it has been answered. An education is something that we start receiving at school around 4 or 5 and continue receiving until we complete it or drop out. This image of education is built into the fabric of our language as seen on job applications or surveys that ask, “What is the highest level of education completed?”
Embedded in this image of education is an alchemic image of how students learn. Students as empty vessels slowly filled with “Math” and “Science” potions by teachers following specific formulas spelled out for them by educational standards such as Common Core. Tests to make sure that enough potion has made it into the vessel. Students who pass move on and receive the next combination of potions.
Our debates conform to these images. We debate the potions (more STEM!), the formulas (Common Core, PARCC), and the tests (Florida Standards Assessments, FCAT). But we do not debate education itself. We do not discuss the water because, like the fish, it is so close to us we do not see it.
Sudbury asks us to reimagine education. It asks us to go back to the beginning and ponder questions we may think are obvious when it comes to education. It asks us to look into our hearts and into the trusting eyes of our young people and reflect on what it means to give them an education.
And Sudbury asks these things by silently stepping off the stage. Sudbury is humble. It is patient with students. It does not boast or proclaim. It does not demand its own way. It does not test, order and rank. It does not envy one student over another. It does not label failure or success. It protects. It frees. It trusts.