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Sowmya Rajendran

By Daniel Greenberg
Banyan Tree, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 173, Rs. 300.00


Is this a fantasy novel? Or a dream come true from one’s childhood? You know, the one in which we wished school would have no exams and annoying things like report cards would simply disappear? The Sudbury Valley School, set up by American physicist Daniel Greenberg and other like-minded parents in 1968, is one such school—there is no curriculum, no exams, no grades, no classes, no uniforms, no competition, no bell! The school works on democratic principles and every student, the oldest to the youngest, has a vote. Some children go to school and fish in the pond all day; some curl up and read a book; some climb a tree; some bring up goats; some work out problems; some take photographs…nobody asks them why they are doing what they are doing. There is no time limit to their activity. No adult interferes and offers help unless asked. Sounds like fun?   Yeah, sure. But the sceptic in your brain won’t shut up: what’s the point of this ‘experiment’? Do these kids ever learn anything? What happens when they go out in society and have to earn a living? Will they be able to adjust to the real world? Is this just another progressive school that makes a big hoo-ha over ‘edutainment’? These are valid questions. After all, the education system that we have all gone through is so very profoundly different from the Sudbury Valley experience! One cannot help but suspect that this very hippie-sounding school is bound to mess up its students. Far from it. No student of Sudbury has ever been refused a college seat and they usually get into a college of their first preference. There have been mathematicians, chemists, computer experts, chiropractors, photographers, and even a mortician to come out of Sudbury! What’s more, Sudbury has never seen a single child with dyslexia in its history. Greenberg believes that this is because they don’t teach kids to read at Sudbury. Just as children learn to speak when they are ready, they teach themselves to read when they are ready. Some do it at six, some at twelve. Some even later. But there’s nobody who has stayed illiterate by the time they were eighteen. And if one were to look at the students as adults, one wouldn’t be able to guess at what age they first started reading. The ...

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