The following essay is by one of the founders of the original Sudbury school. This essay is for those of you interested in how Sudbury graduates do in the “real world.” Ms. Sadofsky excerpts from the 2005 book length study The Pursuit of Happiness which details in great depth nearly 40 years of former Sudbury Valley School students throughout life. As one digs into the material, one sees that their success is not just a specific outcome. It’s competence. It’s resilience. It’s knowing themselves. It’s a healthy attitude towards life built during those critical years at Sudbury when they had the time and the freedom to do it.
by Mimsy Sadofsky
Over the years, many studies have been done of the graduates of Sudbury Valley School to see whether an environment that is beautiful for childhood can also be a beautiful beginning for adult life. Any doubts should have been put to rest by a recent study, the result of in-depth interviews about the quality of their lives with former students who had spent many years in the school. The study was published by Sudbury Valley School Press in 2005 in the book The Pursuit of Happiness.
We wanted to know answers to all sorts of questions about our graduates. How did they fare in the job market? What types of jobs do they want? Did their education make it easier or harder for them to continue their educational pursuits in a more formal setting? Did they find that having no externally imposed structure to their days or their years made it uncomfortable for them to accept externally imposed structures later? Was their unusual background a detriment or an asset in forming new relationships in life? How did they react to the big bumps that everyone encounters on the road of life? What sort of community members did they become? Most important of all, how did they feel about themselves: what are their values, how competent are they to manage their lives and how confident are they in their futures? In the following pages, I will try to summarize some of the findings of this comprehensive study.
Sudbury Valley graduates are able to manage their searches for satisfying work assertively in all the ways people do in modern societies: they network, they write self-assured resumes, and they are articulate in interviews. They engage in an enormous variety of careers. Also, it turns out that there are a large number of entrepreneurs among this group. In our study we looked at how their jobs compared to those held in the society at large. What we discovered is that, relative to the population at large, our alumni are engaged in management careers to greater extent; a higher percentage are in computer and mathematical careers, and in educational fields; and the proportion of alumni in the helping professions – social service, community activities, health care – is many times higher than that of the society at large.
Perhaps the most striking result of all was the relatively high number of our graduates pursuing careers in the arts. This did not come as a complete surprise. We have watched through the years as hundreds of students pursued music or art or dance or acting or writing and became very accomplished. We began to understand that creative expression seems to be almost a basic drive. It is also often the way people use their leisure time. So it makes sense that people who feel they control their own lives become extremely accomplished in these fields. We saw it play out in their childhoods; we were excited to find that it continued into adulthood. For example, here is how one young woman talked about the challenges she met as a young college graduate waiting for her big chance to become an opera star:
I taught music for a year and a half at a public high school in Manhattan, one of the inner city schools. It was a really amazing experience. The diversity of my students was just astounding. I had kids from India, Dominican Republic, Africa, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Bangladesh, Iraq, Iran.
I built the program at that high school. My first year there they threw me into a room with a package of dry erase markers and no books, no piano, no music, no equipment, no television, no nothing. They just put me in a room and handed me 300 kids and said, “Teach music!” I built everything that program had and over the year and a half, I had over 500 kids. This was a business school, so obviously music wasn’t necessarily everyone’s favorite topic, but I had wonderful kids. I had no discipline problems after a while, which was sort of unusual because I was new, I was young, and I had a lot of special needs kids that were being mainstreamed and they were wild. I’m good with teenagers, so I guess it worked out somehow.
The attitudes people bring to their career choices and career changes bear a little examination. The following quote is representative. It is from a college professor:
When I was in college I had summer jobs programming computers and those were essentially to make money, although they were also really interesting. I was working at Kodak in an internal computer programming department. Somebody would come and say, “We need some programs to run the computers in our warehouses to go and fetch merchandise when we order it”; or, “We need computer programs to keep track of inventory”; or, “We need programs to keep track of how long operators are spending at their terminal and what they’re doing.” So they would come ask my little department to write the software for them.
It was kind of an interesting look into the big business world. I’d always done a little bit of computer programming, and it’s something that I’m reasonably good at because the skills required are sort of things that come naturally to me. But one of the things I learned is that the hard part of doing this kind of thing for a living is not writing a computer program but actually figuring out what the client wants. It’s the same thing in software design, where you’re not doing it for a specific client. The difficult part isn’t actually writing the software; the difficult part is figuring out how to make the application easy to use and make it do what people are going to want it to do. The difficult part is the design process, as opposed to the code-writing process.
So although this was a job primarily to make money, when I was finishing college I was thinking, “Okay, what should I do now?” One thing I could do was work as a computer programmer. It would pay well, and it was clear to me that if I went someplace like Kodak I could also get promoted pretty quickly because I was good at the sort of human interaction required to determine what’s needed in software design. On the other hand, I thought it was not going to be interesting for very many years.
So then I ended up going to graduate school.
Many felt that an important factor in their choice of pursuits was that it fit their native talents. This was a constant theme from our graduates, as in the following passage:
I have pretty good empathetic skills so I can kind of key into people and better enable them to be who they are or express who they are. As a nonfiction film-maker, I’m very interested in this. I have no interest in doing fiction work; I have no interest in writing things and putting words in people’s mouths. I’m fascinated with real people, how they live their lives and what they do. It’s the greatest sort of privilege to be able to hang out with people and have them open up and reveal who they are and how they live their lives – to share that and be able to capture it and make stories out of it.
Well over half of our respondents talked about having a passion for their work. And an impressive 35% chose their work for the pleasure of serving others. Typical is this quote, from a woman who works for a Non-Governmental-Organization (NGO) devoted to aiding people in underdeveloped regions:
When I was in East Timor, I was put in charge of the shelter program. It was a matter of going into communities, identifying beneficiaries, working with staff, training staff, and then doing distribution of shelter materials so that people could build homes. About 70% of the houses in Timor had been destroyed when the Indonesians left, so people were basically living under nothing or under blue tarps.
[When I was] in Sierra Leone the work was more administrative in nature, because I was overseeing one of our field offices that had a number of programs. Some of the programs involved reunification of children with their families who were separated because of the war – for instance, some of them were abducted and forced to be soldiers.
Now I work on the Africa team and I’m the main contact between our office and our heads of staff in the field. Right now we have offices in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and we’re opening an office in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I’m sort of the main person. If a policy issue comes up, if a procurement issue comes up, if somebody needs a truck, I’ll do that. If they need to discuss how to liaise with the Ministry of Health I might support them on that. I’m basically a sounding board and a support person. My role is to make sure that they can do what they’re there to do. I must say, I think I enjoy the field work more.
The alumni talked a lot about seeking work that has meaning for them. Here is what a social worker had to say about her grueling and often thankless work:
I worked for the Public Child Welfare Agency . . . for nine years, and that was really meaningful. The bulk of the time I was a protective service case worker. I worked with children at risk of abuse and neglect and I provided the families with services. I removed the children from the home when they weren’t safe and tried to reunite families that were apart. It was super meaningful work and very hard. Then I became a home finder. I trained foster and adoptive parents and made the placements. I coordinated which children went to which home, and re-evaluated the homes and lent them support. I really, really liked that job.
One of the biggest worries most parents and most educators have about allowing children to be in charge of their own lives – and education – is that those children will not be able to go on to higher education, or will not be able to take competitive exams and be admitted to what are considered to be excellent universities. Nothing could be farther from the truth. From the earliest years of the school, every student who has wished to has been able to attend college; those that have wanted to have also gone to graduate schools to receive advanced degrees. Close to 90% of our graduates decide to continue to pursue their education in a formal setting. Often in the beginning of their first year they are worried that the other students, who spent so many years in traditional schools, might somehow have gotten some vital skills and information that the Sudbury Valley School kids didn’t want or didn’t know that they needed. These worries are quickly discovered to be unfounded.
Most of our former students felt that they had big advantages once they entered universities. They had already developed the attributes that most entering students have the most trouble learning: they are competent; they are self-motivated; they are used to working independently; they are able to assert themselves in order to reach their goals; they are not waiting for constant feedback or help; and, last but far from least, they are going on to college because they want to, not just because it is what many people feel is the next step for an eighteen year old. They are going on to higher education, in general, because they have something they want to pursue that is easier to pursue in that setting.
These following statements sum up the general attitude of those who went on to higher education:
I think it was a lot easier for me than it was for a lot of my peers at college. It seemed like they had always been told what to do in school, so they were used to following directions. Suddenly they had the freedom to pick their classes, and to have less time in class relative to the time it takes to do the homework, and things like that. I think that also there was not a good understanding of cause and effect: if you do your work you’ll get a good grade, and if you drink yourself into a stupor and don’t get your work done you’ll not get a good grade, you know?
Some knew what they wanted before they started; other discovered their dreams while moving along the road of life:
I took a couple classes at community college – I took a Spanish class and I took art classes and this and that – and at some point I just kind of realized I didn’t want to keep working low-paid menial jobs forever, and I needed to figure out what I wanted to do. Actually my original plan when I went back to college seriously was to be a midwife. Being a doctor followed out of that.
Most people enjoyed their college experience. They felt it expanded their horizons, exposed them to interesting teachers and discussions, allowed them to meet a wide variety of people with similar interests, and was just plain fun. Here is a typical quote which illustrates why our school never worries about it:
When I went to college, I felt prepared beyond the needs of college in some ways. I had been at a school where you get things done yourself, where people don’t spoon feed you. At Sudbury Valley, you get a track record. You do things by yourself or with others – with other children or with adults. And you establish self-confidence because you can get something done; you can see how it works and you go after it.
Of course, we feel certain that all of our students are life-long learners and whether they continue in an institution of higher education or not, they are continuing their education. This person explains:
I had to work on my rock star lifestyle and persona from the first time I started picking up on it, and I couldn’t do that in the constraints of public school. College really would have put me off on the sidelines for another four years.
When I left the public school system, I really never wanted to go back into a classroom situation again. Usually that’s not the way I prefer to learn. I like to follow my own instincts. I know how to reference things that I need. I feel that I’m a unique character who really doesn’t need much of what’s being taught in a sterile atmosphere.
We were interested in discovering what sorts of things make our former students enjoy their lives. Relationships were at the top of the list; realizing personal goals were second; activities that they were passionate about were third; being in a personal environment that they chose was also important; and to a very lucky few, everything in their lives made them happy!
Here is one person’s summation:
I like my books, I like the internet, I like my friends, I like the fact that I went to Sudbury Valley. I think I’m able, as a result of going to Sudbury Valley, to ask questions all the time and I think that’s very important.
Few talked about economic issues, except occasionally to remark that they were fundamentally not worried about money. Some would have liked more economic security; most felt it was irrelevant. None felt that they were in financial distress. About 70% felt that they were living in their ideal location. For those who were not, it turned out that they tended to be the youngest group; by the time our graduates reach their mid-30’s they are usually pretty happy about their circumstances.
Alumni remarked, one after another, on the beauty of their level of freedom, of the availability of options in their lives, on how comfortable they were with their own maturing and learning processes, and how satisfied they were with their own character development. Here is a typical comment:
This is kind of a general broad sweeping statement – but I guess what I like about my life is my capacity to enjoy life, to be able to meet any challenges that I face without a great deal of difficulty. Probably the greatest skill that I learned attending Sudbury Valley was being able to teach myself and being able to problem-solve. By being on my own I learned how to be competent and independent and when I needed to consult someone, one of the staff members were always more than happy to help. I just learned how to learn, and I relearned how to enjoy learning. So life is just an endless source of fascination and of pleasure for the most part.
Realizing their goals far outweighed making money. As one person said, “It’s really hard to make a lot of money doing any of the things that I really want to focus on” – but that hasn’t stopped him from going right ahead and focusing on what he wants, which in his case happens to be art and music. As a brilliant inventor, who lives in a non-electrified house in the woods, without running water, in northern New England, and runs a cutting edge high-tech business, said, “My style of living is what most people would consider poverty. And I love it!”
This person has a remarkable life now and relates it fully to his years at Sudbury Valley. Here is one of his stories, a reminiscence. He was part of a group of kids, ages 7 – 16, who spent most of their time building tiny little societies out of plasticene, and having economies, wars, everything you can imagine acted out. I have chosen this quote because the contents really illustrate several important themes – the freedom to choose activities that are all play and are so much more; the self-discipline; the dogged determination to do as much as you can of what you want; and last but not least how all of this “play” relates to outcomes:
Plasticene was probably one of the most intense things I’ve ever done. There were days when we’d show up, go right to the art room, work steadily at it until lunch time, eat lunch at the table, and keep on going until we had to leave that night; and we’d never, never leave the room once. The villages would evolve. Sometimes you’d be building a gold mining community. Sometimes it would be a bunch of towns with hotels and saloons. It usually involved a lot of buildings, a lot of vehicles, a lot of people, and you’d make all this stuff. Then you would enact various scenes with it. You would drive your cars around and have certain battles and blow them up on occasion. But for the most part, you were building. You’d be building tanks and airplanes, just one thing after another. I did it at home too; you could bring them in already built.
We only had so much clay and the fun was in the creating. Afterwards, the only thing you could do with it was to smash it and start over again. It was a constant build and smash. Sometimes we would decide to change modes. For a while everything would be Western. From there, it might go to a battlefield. From there it might go to factories. Western was probably the biggest thing.
It lasted two or three years, on and off. Probably more. We were not being influenced by any outside source. We were a small group of people bouncing ideas off each other and leading ourselves wherever we took ourselves. We learned from what we could get out of books and from our own interests. We took all kids in, and let all kids be part of this.
And here are the outcomes:
I think about it every now and then, and I did exactly what I’m doing now, except I’m doing it now in real life. I’m building a factory and making machines and talking to people all day long. Same exact thing. And very intensely. Day in and day out, the same exact thing I was doing in plasticene. Except that when you’re a kid you don’t really have as many of the same complications you have when you’re an adult. If you’re working on a plasticene village, the worst that can happen is you can lose your razor blade or something like that. And maybe you can find another one pretty quickly. There aren’t setbacks like you would have in real life, later on. You won’t run out of bricks for your building, because you’re making the bricks yourself.
With the plasticene, I was making businesses. I made a lot of factories. I had a cannery at one time. I had a still. I had a bottling plant attached to the still. I could picture it – I had seen films and gone through books that would show you pictures of bottling plants and such things. It had to be realistic.
It was the fascination of creating. You were creating things that you couldn’t have yourself, maybe, but you could still make them, and by making them, you could have them. And if you were going to do it and have it, you might as well have it as realistic as you could make it.
Beyond their lifestyle choices and satisfactions, we talked to these people about the values they held dearest. The interviews revealed that this is a group of people who give a great deal of thought and attention to their value systems. These are people who live an examined life and are constantly in touch with their own ideals.
The following person’s values encompass a great deal of what we generally found:
I value materialistic things less and people-oriented sorts of things more. It’s important to me to be able to take care of myself – to be happy on my own without being dependent on somebody else. It’s important to me to get along with people and to take care of my family. And it’s important to me to be able to provide a good life for my family – not just my kids, but parents and siblings and aunts and uncles – and friends.
Visual things are very important to me. It’s amazing how what I see affects how I feel. I think that’s because I am an artist and I take in everything I see. There’s something about creating something from nothing that gives me a sense of satisfaction like nothing else.
Many people spoke about the centrality of spiritual values to their lives. Others felt that the values they learned in school at Sudbury Valley, such as egalitarianism, freedom, respect for others, and responsibility informed their daily lives. These are the central tenets of the school as an institution, and it is not surprising that the same people who came to the school resonated with those values. Here is a typical description:
I’m committed to democracy. One of the things I am passionate about is politics. I’ve always been interested in politics. I guess the way I’d explain it is that I developed a view of society while I was at Sudbury Valley and of how a society could work. Sudbury Valley was a small society – around 100 people most of the time I was there. But there was fairness and there was democracy and there was self-rule and that gave me kind of a blueprint. Where I see that blueprint failing or not being mirrored in the society at large has troubled me, troubled me greatly. Those types of issues are very important to me.
In their own lives, dozens commented on the importance to them of excellence, and many talked about wanting to make a mark in the world. Usually that mark was one of service. Here are some comments:
If you decide to do something, do it in a real way with your best energy and your best will, as well as you can do it. That feels like kind of a core thing to me, not that I always succeed in doing that, but it’s a yardstick.
I realize what I said is kind of abstract, but somehow that feels like the most important thing and everything else that I can say feels unduly concrete. Music is important to me and I value music, and careful thinking is important to me and I value that, and good writing is important to me and I value that. The parts of my research that seem really sort of critical and interesting I feel passionate about. And teaching, when I get very involved with a graduate student, is something that I often feel passionate about. And my family I feel passionate about in various ways. These are all specific examples of my general desire I talked about above.
I like to be around the energy of Sudbury Valley School and I think I bring a lot of energy to the school as well. I feel so fortunate to be anxious to get to work every day and to feel that I’m really making a difference and that there’s great meaning to every day.
Some talked about how they were able to manifest their goal of helping others – a goal mentioned explicitly by a third of the interviewees – in their professional lives. Some also referred to their education.
I was the house manager for a residential facility. I happened to go into one of the most difficult, dysfunctional locations that the organization had. It contained girls from 12 to 17, that crucial adolescent age where they try to decide whether to go the wrong way or the right way. I think one of my biggest achievements there was to bring them around and really create a culture there that was empowering to the kids who lived there while setting appropriate limits without it being so strict. I just applied Sudbury Valley principles and said, “This is how we’re going to do things. It’s going to be a democratic system, and everybody’s going to have a say.”
At first they were just, “Oh, this is great, we’re going to run right up and down the backside of this woman.” But it was fabulous. What we created there was terrific. For example, kids were participating in creating dinner for everybody. It was a time that they sat down to eat their meals and everybody knew what their roles were, because they chose their roles. It wasn’t enforced. As long as I was there, that was the smoothest running facility out of all of them. I was pretty proud of that.
For more than half the people, happiness itself was a goal:
I really want to do something that I’m happy doing. It took me a while to figure that out. I worked for a while feeling, “Well, this is alright,” and then I realized, “No, I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life.” So working in a field that I’m really interested in has become very important to me. I’m very excited to be going into Egyptology, and being able to focus on that.
I’m quite happy. My philosophy is that if you’re not happy, you’re not doing it right. So if I’m ever not happy with something, I change it. It’s kind of bending your path to make sure that what you’re doing gives you options that you’re going to enjoy doing. So as you’re going down that path, you always head toward the directions that will end up giving you those options rather than the ones you don’t like. The ones that get you in trouble from past experience, you don’t do again. So it’s really a not a conscious thing so much as something you learn as you go, and you avoid situations and things that you have found, in the past, you really didn’t enjoy that much.
We were extremely gratified to find that virtually all of the people interviewed felt that they were in fact living their values.
We all tend to admire people who can find satisfaction in their relationships with others and who feel well-equipped to form good connections. A childhood in school in an environment where people of all ages mix freely must, we felt, foster such skills. The results of our survey on this point were unequivocal. Fully 90% of the people surveyed felt that they were quite good at relating to others, often in spite of a fundamental shyness. Communication was quite important to them, important enough to overcome basic reticence in order to enhance their lives. Often they spoke about having learned to negotiate and to speak their minds in order to enhance their comfort with co-workers, with friends and with family members. Here are some of their thoughts:
I’ve worked for so many different kinds of people that I’ve learned how to make things easier, how to not rub everyone the wrong way all the time. Not that you have to keep the peace at all costs; if you feel strongly about something, you should speak your mind. But in matters that are just day-to-day life, you learn to cope with people being different individuals.
I think the idea of a community, being as important to me as it is, definitely has to do with the fact that I grew up in a community. I grew up with this huge group of people that I felt were my friends. Some personal friends, others just friends in that we were all at this same place that was important to all of us. That’s a community. It doesn’t necessarily mean you know everyone’s name even, it just means that you all agree that this thing is important and worth working towards. I think my level of comfort starts at the school with this notion of being comfortable in non-hierarchical situations. Everyone puts in their own contribution and makes it a community.
Most of the things I’ve been involved with have been non-hierarchical structures. My own businesses I’ve run not as a boss, but as part co-op, even when they’re kind of my idea. I’ve always only really been comfortable working with people when they’re as excited about, and invested in, what we’re doing as I am. I’ve been in bands, and when it’s not a successful money-making band, you’re all doing it because you like the music that you create together, and they tend to be very cooperative too. There are certain people who write the songs and kind of decide the direction the band is going, and I’m usually one of those people, but other than that, everyone’s there because they want to be there. Everyone’s doing something together that they make together in that spot.
I try to listen to what they have to say and then I tell them what I feel we should do. We usually try to take a little of what they know and a little of what I know and try to figure out the best and safest way to do what we have to do, whether it be forming some colossally huge, dangerous, one-sided concrete pour that could break and spill out eleven yards of concrete on us, or simply just the way we should build something. That’s the only way that you can do something – to listen to both sides and then pick a little bit from each one and try to come up with the best situation out of whatever you’re doing.
I’m good at verbalizing what’s actually going on and getting people to see that they’re actually kind of saying the same thing but just in two different ways – that there’s a conflict because communication has broken down. They normally accept this. I think that’s one of the things that has given me a lot of respect. It usually starts out when one person comes to you to tell you the horrible thing that the other person did to them, or how mean they are, or how they can’t work with this person, and then when you get the two of them together and you sort it out with them, there’s a great reward for everybody.
Many talked about using the skills they had developed in order to form good relationships with significant others, and with their children. Quite a few said that their general open-mindedness towards others enhanced their ability to parent.
One important area which we were curious about was the resilience of our graduates. Everyone’s life includes changes and setbacks and everyone has to figure out how to deal with them. Our former students were proud of the resources that they used to cope with change. They felt that they had a great deal of perseverance and a lot of trust in themselves to deal well with minor and major catastrophe. A generally high level of self-confidence defines the group. Plus grit and determination!
What I’ve always done is try to pinpoint why I’m not satisfied or what it is I’m unhappy about and then try to figure out what I can do, if anything, to change that. How I can look at something differently or change what I’m doing in my life. Change the job if it was a job. There have been moments when I’ve been unfulfilled personally because I’ve dropped something that is very important to me, like photography, or like horseback riding. At these times, I realize I have to bring my focus back again and do the things that I love to do, to get that center back.
Many former students talked about the influence that attending Sudbury Valley had on their lives.
Had I gone through a traditional educational system, I think I would have turned out very differently. I think that my confidence in myself, and my ability to tackle whatever it is I want to tackle, in large part came from having been given the trust to shape my own education, and the trust that I would know what was best for myself from a young age. I never find myself in a situation where I feel like I don’t have the tools to tackle it. Sometimes it takes a while, if it’s something new, but I never feel like I don’t have the inner strength and direction and ability to do whatever it is. That’s a huge part of how I see myself.
Sudbury Valley School gave me a chance to really look inside myself and see what I was about. It also gave me a chance to learn about other people and how they act in situations when they’re in control of their day, and they’re in control of their life. I learned how to talk to people and how to communicate and in turn learned a lot from communicating with them.
These people related their self-knowledge and self-confidence to having been treated as an equal in very basic ways during their formative years. Several people felt that the freedom that the school gave them literally saved them:
When I was going through 6th grade, I was headed in the wrong direction. If you gave me a rule or an assignment, I would say, “Why?” and if it made sense, “Well, that’s a cool rule. I like that. . . I’ll do it.” But public school didn’t have a lot of that. It was teaching me a lot of things that bored me greatly, and I’ve always been very poor at memorizing dates and numbers and things like that. I like learning concepts and ways to look things up. So whatever they wanted me to do, I wasn’t going to do it. Sudbury Valley School came along and gave me absolutely nothing to rebel against, because every single rule was explained, made perfect sense, and I could understand that. There was a reason for it. It was logical. There was no point in rebelling against something that made sense. The laws of the school made sense. I stopped making that effort of rebelling. That probably saved me more than anything else, because I was able to channel into learning all that energy that I had been spending creatively rebelling against the system.
The alumni in the study were asked if they felt in control of their own lives. The feeling of control over your own destiny is powerful, and intensely exciting, and the vast majority of our alumni do feel that they have that control. Of course, no one can escape random things that may happen, and the alumni knew that, but they had amazing clarity about the issue of empowerment:
I have every influence on where I go, what I do, and I’ve planned out every step of my career. I’ve set goals and reached those goals, and now I have to go through setting a whole bunch more goals because I reached my goals so fast. Everything that’s happened in my life is the way it is because I made it that way. Obviously my wife has some part of it, because we’re a team; but everything that I’ve done to this point has been my doing. It was even my choice to go to Sudbury Valley. It wasn’t like my parents said, “You have to go here.” It was an option that was given to me.
The final area that I would like to return to is happiness. The overwhelming impression we got from the interviewees is that they were seeking happiness, a deep happiness that has to do with all of the aspects of life talked about above – a feeling of being in control of your own life, of living your own personal values, of having the activities in your life that you enjoy, of being able to learn and pursue the things that interest you, of having found – or being on the path towards – work that is fulfilling, of being able to form stable and deep relationships; and, first and foremost, a deep sense of freedom.
One young man with a strong intellectual bent, summed it up this way:
I am very attached to the realm of activities which are usually classified as “academia”. I always tell people that the main reason I went back to Sudbury Valley as a staff member is that I have never been in a more intellectual community in my life. I have never seen another place where people would talk about everything starting from first principles, and mean it – and not for grades. People are in the conversations because they want to be there. They’re not trying to impress anyone with their knowledge, they’re not trying to win praise, they’re just talking about these things because they’re so interested. I wanted an intellectual community, I wanted to be part of that kind of give-and-take, and I really have seen very little of it outside of Sudbury Valley, although I’ve been to a lot of universities.
I have presented some glimpses of the lives of Sudbury alumni. The questions we posed revealed them to be, overall, a remarkable group of adults – adults who lead full, rich lives, deeply enhanced by their experiences at the school during their developing years.
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