The Sudbury Valley School system, started in Massachusetts in 1968, is one of the more pre-eminent and well-known forms of alternative school systems in the world. In the core of the Sudbury Valley system is democracy in education: students and staff are all given the right to vote on issues in the school that affect them – from school lunches to changes in rules. There are also no compulsory sessions, classes, or subjects; instead, the students take their own initiative in deciding what they want to learn, when and how they want to learn it (much like unschooling, just with a structural base). Age groups are mixed and often the students also act as teachers to their peers.
The Sudbury Valley system is in place in North America, some parts of Europe, Israel, and Australia, though it hasn’t really taken off elsewhere. This could be due to different cultural and societal expectations on the purpose of schooling and education. Imagine if Malaysian students were allowed to decide what they wanted to learn, and didn’t have to do exams if they didn’t want to! I would personally love it, but the rest of the country may degenerate into confused chaos as it’s completely the opposite of what we’re used to.
Part of overcoming such barriers is to experience the Sudbury Valley system for ourselves. If we’re not lucky enough to get to visit a school, though, there is another way: watching the film Schooled.
Schooled showcases the journey of Fred, a school teacher facing plenty of problems both in his personal and professional life. To resolve his crisis, he goes out to discover alternatives, and stumbles upon a Sudbury Valley school. The sheer difference of systems shocks him into reevaluating his perspectives and goals.
The film has received positive feedback from the Alternative Education Resource Organisation, the key worldwide organisation for alternative and democratic schooling, as well as other educators and past Sudbury Valley students. Screenings have been held around the US, Australia, Sweden, and Canada.
To celebrate its launch, the people at Schooled are offering special discounts and free offers for every DVD sold on Wednesday, October 15 (Launch Day). The DVD normally costs $25, but for Launch Day there will be a 20% discount as well as a choice of goodies related to alternative education or to Hollywood.
I haven’t had the chance to see the movie yet, but if I do I’ll post a review. This should be interesting – there have been a lot of films about teachers and schools, but not many (if any) dealing with a real-world alternative system. Will this increase awareness and acceptance for alternative systems? Let’s see.