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Ralph Waldo Emerson often quotes (in an essay on children):
Looking back at my own upbringing in the 1950s, I think much of it came from my interactions with other children, most of it away from adults. Throughout history and up to the last few decades, most children everywhere spent more time with other children than with adults. The most important life lessons are learned by watching, playing, talking, discussing, and working with other children.
Starting at the age of 4 or 5, children are very attracted to other children for good biological reasons. They want and I think they need to be separated from adults for long periods of time to interact with other children in their own way. With other children, they learn to make and maintain friendships, negotiate, take care of themselves while helping others get to know them, deal with bullying and (as they get older) teasing. This is one of the most important skills in life. Additionally, younger children in mixed-age groups gain more advanced skills and knowledge through observation and interaction with older children, and older children learn to be caretakers, nurturers, and educators through interaction with younger children. .
I have written extensively about this in scholarly articles (eg, Gray, 2011, 2012, 2016) and in previous posts on this blog, including posts on the value of mixed-age play , hunter-gatherer parenting, and the culture . . childhood So I'm not surprised that a recent survey of graduates of democratic schools found that what they liked most, almost unanimously, was the opportunity school gave them to spend a lot of time with children of different ages. . Adaptation without adult intervention. This is a rare opportunity in today's world. They learn from the formal democratic processes of the school and from mature teachers, but they say they learn more from other students.
Our survey of alumni of the Democratic School
A recent poll by Gina Riley, Kevin Curry-Knight, and I are alumni of Hudson Valley Sudbury School (HVSS), a Democratic school in upstate New York. Like other Democratic schools modeled after the Sudbury Valley School , HVSS is a self-education school. Schools are run democratically by students and teachers together, and students, from ages 4 or 5 through their late teens, are free to pursue their own interests and socialize with whomever they choose during the school day. Our goal was to find out afterwards what graduates think about their experiences in school. Thirty-nine alumni (71% of those who could be found) participated in the survey. The full academic report on the study, published in the trade journal Other Education , can be downloaded and read here for free.
In my last post , I outlined our understanding of graduate perspectives on the democratic legislative and judicial processes in which students and staff govern schools. So, in this post, I'll describe his assessment of his interactions with other students there. The survey questions relevant to this analysis are:
(1) What role, if any, do other HVSS students have in your experience/education at the school? How do they contribute and/or mitigate it? »
(2) “ At HVSS, students of a broad age group interact freely with each other. In what ways, if any, does such a liberal age mix add to and/or detract from your experience/education? »
What alumni say about the value of freely socializing with other students
Of the 39 alumni, 36 clearly stated that they valued their interactions with other students, and 31 clearly stated that free age matching contributed to their learning. Among the themes that emerged were that they value the friendships they form with other students; that they acquire social skills and learn to deal with people of all ages and acquire a broad vision of the diversity of students at school; and that they learn by working with other students on various projects. The only complaint some alumni have is that the number of students in their teen age group is very small compared to the younger ones, and the latter can sometimes be a nuisance.
For me, the best way to get a sense of their views is to look at excerpts from the responses to the questionnaire. Here is an example.
• “ The other students are all great. You made my experience more positive. I wasn't bullied and I learned important social skills that I didn't learn in public school. As an autistic person, looking back, the Sudbury area was ideal for learning."
• “I learn a lot from my classmates. Just interacting with people, working together to discover something, whether it's learning how to play games like Magic the Gathering or Yu-gi-oh, or creating new games like Ham'bush. The collaborative learning environment means a lot to me and it's wonderful. … It's great to have partners to learn and teach with. Sharing interests with someone and learning about them together is one of the most effective ways I learn."
• “I learned to deal with all kinds of people, with myself and with others, and I think that surpasses everything. It's very important to be able to communicate."
• “I spend time reading to young children. I have great relationships with younger students that I wouldn't have in a traditional setting. Some of my close friends are still in elementary school. It offers a very nice mix of experiences throughout the day. I learned a lot about how to deal with people of all ages. I spend a lot of time observing people's behavior and relationships. I also enjoy spending the day with other students my age. It is very nice to be able to live with other people. It was probably my most important learning point and area of growth/focus while I was there, building relationships and developing social skills.”
• “I made a lot of friends while at HVSS, and many of the HVSS friends I still keep in touch with are people I never considered friends before I came to HVSS. HVSS really opened up the opportunity for me to live outside of a strict religious community and it definitely influenced my worldview as an adult.”
• “I think the primary role of other students is in many ways similar to the role of staff. I think the biggest benefit is having peer role models and giving younger students the opportunity to interact with older students. I think another big benefit of being a mixed-age student is discovering hobbies and ideas that may not yet be a part of student life, especially if the activity is something that requires a higher level of complexity to understand, but is still possible. understood well enough by younger students to participate. I think students are also more likely to respect and accept criticism from people they see as their peers than from adults who are seen as authority figures."
• “ My age group was very limited when I applied, but I was able to interact a lot with the younger students. Most of the time it's good. They came to chat with me as they went about their daily routines, which made me feel much less isolated than the limitations of my age group sometimes do. Sometimes it's frustrating to see so many glasses looking over your shoulder. I'll give that little head credit for teaching me how to tell people I need space, though.
And here are five more quotes from students who are pretty sure that the community of other students is the main source of their education at school.
• “Students are everything at [HVSS]. Our training there is mainly what we learn through the interaction with each other."
• “Students are my life at BSU. I look forward to school and spending time with my friends every day. … They were all important to me, and they all helped build the person I am today."
• "The students I was friends with were the most important people in the world to me at that time. They are my new family, whom I chose and cared for more than anything."
• “The other students are my family, 12-15 years old. They helped me create my social standards and identity."
• I believe there are other students where I received my education. We spend a lot of time communicating and learning from each other. Everything from genius hacks to how to handle difficult social situations is something we get directly from each other."
Today we live in a society where many people, especially children and young people, suffer from loneliness. This is the subject of a recent book by US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy (2020), who argues that the lack of meaningful human connections is a major public health problem in the United States today. In my opinion, most of the problems stem from our policy of not allowing children to freely interact with other children. When children are more or less constantly under the supervision and control of adults in school and in adult-supervised activities outside of school, and segregated by age, they lose the natural tools that children of the past have always learned. build and maintain human relationships;
In today's world, democratic schools like HVSS are one of the few places where children can truly be children and learn because they are biologically designed to learn. We need more places like this, and we need them for all children. Many of those who attended the schools we attended indicated that they did so, at least in part, because of anxiety and other psychological issues that stemmed from their prior school experiences. At HVSS, they bounced back not because they had a therapist helping them or because the school offered some kind of self-help or social skills course, but because they spent a lot of time with other kids for the first time, away from adults. . By learning to be comfortable with them, they learn to be comfortable with themselves.
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