Sudbury and the Pressure for Perfection

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How do you define perfection at school?  Straight A’s?  Valedictorian?  Top Rank?  Perfect scores?  These measures are commonly acknowledged as what students should strive for at school because “Good Grades” = “Good College” = “Good Job” = “Good Money” = “Good Life.”  But ancient wisdom reminds us that the only constant is change.  So why do young people commit their very lives to such an ephemeral equation?

This Emory University student recounts how she broke down in tears that “felt like forever” when she got her first B.  She claims that A’s are no longer the goal but the standard.  Whose standard?  Apparently not her standard but she conforms anyway. She suggests changes that must be made before high-achieving students like herself can stop yielding to the pressure:

So where do we start? With doing justice to these kids. We start with getting rid of practices such as class rank that pit high-achieving students against each other. With relieving an emphasis on grading and every single assignment. With instilling our students with a passion for learning and discovery. With empowering these younger generations with the tools they need to become innovative and successful people rather than workers of a broken system.

The only way to effectively implement these suggestions is to change the fundamental dynamics of education.  We have to change it at its core.  And the only way to do that is by reorienting how pressure is exerted on each student.  The pressure must come from within.  It cannot be forced from the outside.  When pressure comes from within, as it does at Sudbury, it drives each student towards their own perfection instead of a perfection defined by others.

So how do we change the fundamental dynamics of education so that student pressure comes from within?  By releasing harmful control over the students themselves.  By setting them free to develop along paths that are as unique as the individual.  By admitting how little we know about human development.  By ending the philosophy that we know what is best on a massive scale with extreme granularity.  By admitting that their passions and interests are important even if we don’t know why.  By realizing that our young people will one day inherit and be responsible for this world (and themselves) so that we give them the freedom and responsibility to prepare for this monumental task while they are in school.  Not once they graduate!

Only a fundamental shift in our education philosophy can bring about the change we claim to say we want.  Sudbury embraces this philosophy down to its very roots.  It is timeless.  It is humble.  It is freedom.  And freedom is responsibility.  Only freedom can teach us what it means to be responsible.  Freedom sets an individual down the path to realizing their full potential.    A Sudbury student thrives because it gives them the chance to struggle with the dizziness of freedom while learning how to cooperate in a community where everyone has an equal voice.  It’s a bootcamp for the real world because Sudbury is the real world.

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