Sudbury and the Dizziness of Freedom

radial-blur-1566851Sudbury students are free to spend their time at school as they see fit.  This freedom is absolutely unique in the education system.  Even the most student-centered schools exert some control over the learning process.  Sudbury embraces a pure philosophy.  A school cannot call itself Sudbury if it attempts any control over student learning without consent from the students first.

Many who contemplate Sudbury ask:  How will my child learn to read?  How will my child get a well-rounded education?  What if my child plays video games all day?  These are valid concerns and Sudbury offers thoughtful answers.  But first, take a step back and consider this question:  What does freedom itself teach the student?  Answer this question and one begins to see how Sudbury is fundamentally different from all the rest.

Every life is filled with possibilities.  Most of these possibilities show up in the seemingly mundane choices one makes on a day-to-day basis.  However, these choices slowly accumulate over time to create a whole life.  This reality provokes anxiety that Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard calls the “dizziness of freedom.”  And learning how to handle it is one of the most important skills a person can develop.

The best way to learn how to deal with the dizziness of freedom is to experience it during one’s formative years.  As Kierkegaard explains: “In observing children, one will discover this anxiety intimated more particularly as a seeking for the adventurous, the monstrous, and the enigmatic.”  Sudbury incorporates freedom into the cornerstone of its academic philosophy.  Each day presents new possibilities as determined by the student instead of the next lesson plan as determined by someone else.  This challenges students to face their lives head-on instead of relying on others to tell them what they should be learning.

The freedom enjoyed by Sudbury students teaches them how to handle the anxiety it provokes.  And because this anxiety is a universal characteristic of the human experience it is necessary one learns how to deal with it.  Or, in the words of Kierkegaard, “Whoever has learned to be anxious in the right way has learned the ultimate.”  Freedom teaches a Sudbury student how the anxiety it provokes can be used as an ally to guide their lives rather than an enemy that must be defeated.

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