What Do Students Learn?

A blog article by Daniel Greenberg, one of the co-founders of the very first Sudbury school which opened in 1968 in Framingham, Massachusetts.

He writes many articles on the school website. Click HERE for more.

"A New Look at Learning"

"At the Sudbury Valley School, we have encountered a new version of the old story of the parent-child dialogue:

“Where did you go?”


“What did you do?”


Our version is:

“Where do you go?”

“Sudbury Valley.”

“What do you learn?”


All too often, that seems to be the refrain associated with the school by parents and by people in the community, and it has come to plague us more as time goes by. When the school opened, there was a whole catalogue of objections to what we were doing; as the years have passed most of them have slowly faded away.

In the beginning, we were told that the problem was that we were new, and people didn’t want to try out a new school before they knew whether it would work or survive, or be accredited. Of course now we’re not new anymore, and we have survived, and we are even accredited.

Earlier, there was always the question of how our students could get into college without courses, grades, or transcripts. We had to try to convince people on the basis of abstractions. Now there isn’t any question anymore, because we have dozens of former students in college, and anyone who has wanted to go to college has been admitted. In fact, just as many have been getting in without a high school diploma as with one.

Then there was the question of how students would be able to transfer to other schools, in case their families moved, or they wanted to leave for other reasons. That too was an objection that people used as a reason for not enrolling their children – because perhaps at some later time they might have to go to a “regular” school, and then they wouldn’t be able to get back to “reality.” Now that argument has gone, because there are lots of former students who have gone back to “regular” schools and have done excellently, without losing time at all.

There were so many objections in the early years!

People said the school would be chaotic; it would be undisciplined; it would be rowdy; it would be a fiscal nightmare because so many people have access to money; and on and on. We used to think that when people finally saw that the objections were groundless, slowly but surely they would come around to our way of looking at things, or at least accept us and think that ours was a pretty reasonable kind of educational system for their children and/or themselves. Alas, how wrong we were! Because there is one fundamental objection that will probably stay with us for the foreseeable future: namely, that this is a place where children don’t learn anything. It is as simple as that. People say, “Whatever they do there – they may be happy, read, work, whatever – one thing is sure: they don’t learn anything.”

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