More on unbounded education
I went to publicly funded schools like this from grade four to graduation, and they were the most important factor in the way I conduct my own adult life. Attending schools like this teaches many kids to run their own lives, blazing their own trail, inventing their own careers, and trying anything. Useful skills in a world where any job that can be described is likely to be outsourced.I have long admired Doctorow for being so self-made -- he's a successful author, blogger, and activist, despite undoubtedly not having majored in Authoring, Blogging, or Activating -- so it doesn't surprise me that he would find the Sudbury model appealing. (I keep track of people who seem to invent their own jobs, Jonathan Coulton and John Hodgman being probably my favorites.) But I am somewhat surprised, and much pleased, that nonregimented schooling is being presented as a viable prospect (and not only by the schools themselves).
As I said in my previous post on the subject, I do in the end think that the Sudbury model is too hands-off. Such radical educational libertarianism seems like it would tend to attract teachers more devoted to the model than to their subjects, and this would encourage a system that means well but teaches poorly. With reliably excellent teachers, the situation would be different, but so would public school (at least when people don't have to teach to the tests, which is rare and getting rarer). But I feel like there's a problem, a very deep-seated problem in our understanding of what education means, when a school like Fairhaven is sneered at as the utmost in child-spoiling indulgence (which is an attitude I've seen more than once since the Post article came out). What really ruins children is not encouraging them to be self-motivated, but shielding them from the saving forces of logic and inquiry. I'm not scared of Fairhaven; I'm scared of a school that allows a project "proving" intelligent design (through liberal application of question-begging) to go to the state-level science fair. (Incidentally, the comments on Pharyngula's post about that science fair project should be required reading for everyone.) I'm scared of the parents who raised this child to believe so unquestioningly in their dogma -- to regard it, in fact, as unquestionable -- and I'm scared of the teachers who didn't take pity on the kid and show her how to challenge such doctrinaire assertions of truth.
So yes, I mistrust any school that won't take a stand on miscarriages of science, and I mistrust any school that doesn't insist on students knowing where knowledge comes from, where it is right now, and how it might be changed in the future. If Sudbury schools are truly so relativist that they don't believe in enforcing a difference between science and dogma (which is by no means the impression I got from the video), then by all means, let's discourage them. But if not, well, I'd still prefer a hands-off system -- even a too hands-off system -- to a system that allows kids to be left high and dry without the basic survival skills of curiosity and logic. With luck, we need not actually choose between radical freedom and radical oppression, but I won't accept the argument that both ends of the spectrum are equally condemnable. With radical freedom, if the kids get screwed over, at least they can think their way out.