Conventional education applies sweeping guidelines to millions of individuals. Yoking diverse students together this way creates endless problems. It causes more divisions than it bridges. It must use labels to categorize, measure, and sort everyone. And nobody (especially young people) wants to be labeled. Nobody wants to be categorized, measured, and sorted. It’s dehumanizing and robs students of the strength of their diversity. It replaces individuality with abstraction. On top of that, the pressure of high-stakes testing leaves little time for real communication. Students are too busy getting ready for the standardized tests. There is little time to socialize. There is little time to play. But that’s the only way true understanding can take place – on the individual level, face-to-face, over time. Diversity without real communication leads to division. We identify with differences instead of seeking the tie that binds. This leads to misunderstanding. This leads to fear. And we all know where that leads. There is no substitute for real communication with another. We know in our hearts this is true.
Sudbury starts by acknowledging that every single individual is more unique than the DNA embedded in their cells. (Just ask identical twins). There is no one like you and there never will be again. Every single individual has something unique to add. Every individual grows, learns, and develops in a way that is completely their own. Only freedom can handle such mind boggling diversity. It’s a paradox. You harness the power of diversity by setting it free. Not by imposing the same curriculum and tests on everyone. Freedom creates a vibrant learning community of individuals. Individuals free to learn together and from each other diversify and synthesize in ways no curriculum or computer program could ever predict.
But this freedom is not absolute. It is checked and balanced by democracy and responsibility. This is the genius of Sudbury. Sudbury students must learn to collaborate because every Sudbury school is run as a pure democracy. Students learn, via the democratic process, how to listen and take account of the diverse thoughts, opinions, and interests of diverse individuals. We can think of no better way for young people to learn how to work together than by challenging them in such a fundamentally important way. We can think of no better way of preparing young people than by empowering them with real responsibility where all voices are heard, all voices are equal, and all voices are welcome. How do you build a more just society? You start by building a more just school!
Finally, and most importantly, Sudbury students have unlimited time to get to know each other. They are not segregated by ages. They are not confined to desks. They are free to socialize all day every day. This is what young people do. They want to talk with each other. They want to learn from each other. They want to understand each other. At no time are we more open to different thoughts, ideas, and opinions then when we are young. School is the optimal place for young people to develop an open-mind, full of empathy, and free from harmful biases. But it takes a long time for real understanding to develop. Years. It is a slow process. Sometimes it is painful. It takes courage. We must be vulnerable. This cannot be done through classroom lectures. Or during lunchtime and recess. The ability of students to freely communicate with each other and learn together and work together must be built into the fabric of the school itself as it is at Sudbury.
Sudbury students learn how to handle the tension created when diverse individuals must work together towards a common purpose. They have an equal voice. They learn to listen to each other. They deepen the conversation. They use democracy to create a more equitable system. In, short, they fulfill the promise of diversity.