It is not uncommon for people who come to an interview inquiring about enrollment to ask, “What activities do you have at Sudbury Valley?” After all, it is a school, and schools usually have, in addition to regular classes teaching the required curriculum, all sorts of activities for students to choose from. Things like athletic programs, chorus, orchestra, theater, science club, and so on. The people who ask about activities know that we do not have scheduled classes (they have come to us looking for an “alternative” or “free” school, and have found out in advance that we don’t “do” the curriculum), but they expect that we at least have “activities”. Otherwise, what would students do all day?
I have never quite understood that question, especially not coming from someone who has walked down to the school from the parking lot, past our beautiful outdoor campus, and through several rooms before they have gotten to the interview. If there is any single word that sums up life at SVS, it is activity. Students of all ages are visibly active all day, all the time. The place is like a beehive. Walk into any room, or past any area outdoors, and you will always find the occupants engaged. They are talking, or playing basketball, or working at a computer game, or on the four-square court, or running across the campus, or throwing a pot, or drawing, or studying something on their smartphones or notepads, or cooking, or selling, or at a meeting. As are the staff. All day, a flurry of activity is going on – and it is all in full view.
But there is no smorgasbord of activities prepared for them by the staff, offerings that are there to choose from. No list on the bulletin board of stuff to do. Yes, there are occasionally planned functions, but the initiative for them comes from the community, and they live or perish according to the degree of interest of people in the school. There is no way to reply to the question, “What activities do you have at Sudbury Valley?”, because those few planned ones that happen to exist on the day the question is posed may well have vanished before the child being interviewed even begins his or her visiting week! Today’s answer would look to be a purposeful misleading if it is no longer true tomorrow!
The key difference, of course, is what lies at the heart of the school: all the activity that goes on here comes from within each student, and represents the interests and passions that drive the students to act. The result is to imbue the students with the feeling that what they strive for counts, and that the effort to achieve their internally-driven goals is a worthy one. One could hardly ask for an “educational outcome” more relevant to, and worthy of, the twenty-first century world.