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Friday, January 14, 2000

More Sudbury Ponderrings

Here's part of an email I just wrote:
I'd followed your links and read about the Sudbury Valley School. Is it really educational nirvana for kids? What kind of work are you and Garrett* doing there?

Yeah, it's really an educational nirvana in the sense that essentially all of what little is taught through force-feeding in most curriculum-based schools can be learned in the blink of an eye by someone who actually cares to know the stuff at the moment they are learning it, so kids can basically fuck off for twelve years, have a lot of fun, and walk away with essentially the same factual education and a million points higher on responsibility, motivation, and confidence. I.e., it's not that there's all that great a depth of resources available at Sudval, but rather that given the freedom, most kids could get more blood from a rock than they'll accept by IV. Garrett* and I are staff and on various committees. E.g., I'm on the P.R. committee, and have designed and written up a few flyers and whatnot for them, etc.. Being on staff is kind of like running a day care center for four to eighteen year olds, if you can try to imagine that. Today, it was just me and Beth (the woman who started the place), and a dozen or so kids doing stuff like soaping up the trampoline and having a mass bounce-and-slide. We also had a "pono council" today -- an impromptu judiciary committee -- to address a complaint by one of the girls that one of the boys was harassing her (as in hitting her and generally otherwise annoying her when she'd asked him to buzz off and let her be). The committee found the boy guilty, and I proposed that he be restricted from the third and fourth floors for the next week, since this would give the girl (and others who want to avoid this particular boys harassment -- he's a very destructive kid, who does stuff with regularity like pushing things off of tables as he passes by, even when he thinks no one is watching) a place to get out of his reach. Simon the trial judge... who would have ever thought.

And here's the current (final?) draft of my staff blurb:

Simon Funk

"Pursue your interests and the rest will follow.

We are evolved to be successful--the things we truly enjoy today will also bring us a better tomorrow. These are human traits, to enjoy learning, to seek a challenge, to create, to master, and to move forward to the next thing with an ever growing reservoir of skills and knowledge. Mastery of an art comes quick and with pleasure when it is driven from the heart, and such mastery is a valuable and unparalleled commodity--both to one's own enjoyment of life, and as a marketable skill for sustaining one's life. And in this way, one's "life's work" can also be one's "life's play", with the two as one leaving nothing to regret and much to enjoy.

Children embody this ideal implicitly. They are primed for success, and if allowed to follow their own path they will find it--not just in the end, but all along the way. The Sudbury philosophy grants this freedom, and for that I am heartened to see it prosper and to lend my hand in propelling it forward."

- UCSD: Bachelors in Computer Science, minors in Psychology and Mathematics
- 14 years gainfully self-employed, small business owner, scientific researcher.
- Pilot, artist, sportsman, musician, engineer, gardener, inventor, ...
- Expert in computer programming, artificial intelligence, and epistemology.

And lastly, a little "article" I wrote today for a local rag:

Haiku's new School

Situated between a mango forest and a giant front lawn is the appropriately eclectic schoolhouse of the new Sudbury Maui School. At first blush, as a casual observer you might think you'd arrived during recess--seeing the kids running about, playing on the trampoline, swimming in the pool, building Lego space ships, reading books in the nooks, hacking on the computers, stringing wires from one place to another for some experiment du jour--all with nary an adult around it seems. But then you look again, and realize wow, there's a lot of stuff going on... So you ask one "say, how did you learn to do that with computers?" "Dunno," he says, "just figured it out." And you ask another "wow, that's pretty good guitar playing. Where'd you learn that?" "Oh, just picked it up from some of the other kids" she says. "So, wait," you ask, "how did you learn to *read*?" Same answer: osmosis, it seems! And then you start to get a glimmer of something deeper going on here.... This isn't recess at all. This is a continuously operating classroom, free of any imposed curriculum, following exactly the interests of each student at each moment. Never and idle mind, these kids are challenging themselves constantly, learning from each other, from the staff, and most often just figuring things out or looking it up on their own without a second thought because it's what they want or need to know at the moment. Quite a departure from most standard notions of schooling. So what's the long term outcome of all this? Cast your eyes to the east coast for an answer: The first school founded on these principles has been operating in Sudbury Valley, Massachusetts for over thirty years and boasts quite an impressive record of happy and successful graduates... which leaves one to wonder: if a free and happy childhood has such good results, why do anything else?

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com