The 2010 documentary Waiting for “Superman” takes viewers on a long trip through the American school system. The title of the documentary sends the message that we are waiting for superhuman powers to save us. Whether that someone is a charter school or a politician or an education expert is left unanswered. But the frame is set: This is an enormous problem that needs powers beyond our individual reach to fix.
This mindset strips everyone of their power from the beginning by suggesting we need to rely on others with superhuman powers to solve our problems for us. It stops us from thinking about other options before we even start. It suggests that educating our young people is now such a difficult and complex problem that it will take the full measure of an empire to solve them. Hogwash.
Education has always taken place, first and foremost, on the level of the individual. The education experience is completely and wholly unique for every single one of us. Waiting for “Superman” never asks us to consider this reality. Instead it focuses on what should have been the foreseeable failures of a vast and ponderous system attempting to impose uniformity on a decidedly variable process.
Education begins with each individual the moment they are born and continues on for the remainder of their lives in an infinitely complex process of interactions with other individuals and experiences. Therefore the answers to our education questions must also lie in the same place. And that place starts with you.
You are Superman. You are what you have been waiting for. It sounds simple because it is true. You will not fix the American education system but you can offer an alternative and start being the change you want to see.
The founding families of Sudbury Beach School are not waiting for Superman to fix education. They are not waiting for someone to tell them what is the best way for their young people to receive an education. They believe their children should answer that question for themselves. They recognize that their children are energetic, creative, playful, learning machines. They aren’t angels. They aren’t demons. They are children doing what children have always done. Play, explore, bicker, fail, disobey, laugh, get up, and then do something so amazing and unexpected it leaves you pondering the mysteries of the universe with joy across your face.
Sudbury believes that young people freed to follow their passions in a democratic school will receive the best education they can get to help them become resilient and competent adults in a dynamic and competitive society.
Nobody can start a school, however humble, without a lot of devotion and hard work. But it does not take superhuman powers. It takes commitment. It takes perseverance. And yes, of course, it takes some money (but not as much as we’re lead to believe). Most importantly it takes a lot of trust. Parents have to trust their children. Children have to trust the school. And ultimately, that means, we all have to trust ourselves.