Democratic education: the Sudbury Valley School


Richard Moore

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Individuality and Democracy: A Way of Life

At Sudbury Valley School, students from preschool through high school 
age explore the world freely, at their own pace and in their own 
unique ways. They learn to think for themselves, and learn to use 
Information Age tools to unearth the knowledge they need from 
multiple sources. They develop the ability to make clear logical 
arguments, and deal with complex ethical issues. Through 
self-initiated activities, they pick up the basics; as they direct 
their lives, they take responsibility for outcomes, set priorities, 
allocate resources, and work with others in a vibrant community.
rust and respect are the keys to the school's success. Students enjoy 
total intellectual freedom, and unfettered interaction with other 
students and adults. Through being responsible for themselves and for 
the school's operation, they gain the internal resources needed to 
lead effective lives.
udbury Valley School was founded in 1968. Located in an old stone 
mansion and a converted barn on the mid-nineteenth century Bowditch 
estate, the ten acre campus adjoins extensive conservation lands.



Creating leaders

Sudbury Valley School is a place where people decide for themselves 
how to spend their days. Here, students of all ages determine what 
they will do, as well as when, how, and where they will do it. This 
freedom is at the heart of the school; it belongs to the students as 
their right, not to be violated.

The fundamental premises of the school are simple: that all people 
are curious by nature; that the most efficient, long-lasting, and 
profound learning takes place when started and pursued by the 
learner; that all people are creative if they are allowed to develop 
their unique talents; that age-mixing among students promotes growth 
in all members of the group; and that freedom is essential to the 
development of personal responsibility.

In practice this means that students initiate all their own 
activities and create their own environments. The physical plant, the 
staff, and the equipment are there for the students to use as the 
need arises.

The school provides a setting in which students are independent, are 
trusted, and are treated as responsible people; and a community in 
which students are exposed to the complexities of life in the 
framework of a participatory democracy.



A democratic community

The school is governed on the model of a traditional New England Town 
Meeting. The daily affairs of the school are managed by the weekly 
School Meeting, at which each student and staff member has one vote. 
Rules of behavior, use of facilities, expenditures, staff hiring, and 
all the routines of running an institution are determined by debate 
and vote at the School Meeting. At Sudbury Valley, students share 
fully the responsibility for effective operation of the school and 
for the quality of life at school.

Infractions of the rules are dealt with through the School Meeting's 
judicial system, in which all members of the school community 
participate. The fair administration of justice is a key feature of 
Sudbury Valley and contributes much to the students' confidence in 
the school.
Parents participate in setting school policies. Legally, the school 
is a non-profit corporation, and every parent becomes a voting member 
of the Assembly, as the corporate membership is called. The Assembly 
also includes students, staff, and other elected members. It meets at 
least once a year to decide all questions of broad operational and 
fiscal policy.

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