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Ten How's

 

FAQ
Ten How's
What Can You Do?

 

 

TEN HOW'S & WHAT IF'S

1. Will the children be exposed to enough of the world?

Yes. Children are naturally inquisitive. They have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and mastery over their world. Anyone who has tried to hide the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Power Rangers from their three year old will remember how hard it is to limit exposure. By placing children in an environment which contains elements of world culture, history, science, mathematics, literature, jurisprudence, and other elements of the human experience, children are "set up" to let their natural curiosity and ambition to master new things take over their education. The challenge is not to expose children to more; it is to resist the urge to squelch natural curiosity by controlling its subject and methods.

What if the children choose not to take advantage of the possibilities presented at the New School? It is important to remember that learning is continuous and lifelong. If a particular topic is not studied while in school, it may be studied when one is older, when one's interest is piqued and understanding the topic is truly the focus of one's efforts, rather than satisfying the teacher or merely achieving a high grade. As it is, children are inundated with information of a scope and depth unheard of even a few years ago. What they need to learn more than ever is how to sift through this profusion and discover what is useful. These habits of thought are developed by practicing judgment for oneself rather than letting another determine what is useful or appropriate. There is no way of telling whether one subject or another will be gratifying and fulfilling unless one has the freedom to follow one's interests. To deny students the pursuit of a study they deem important because
in our minds, for whatever nostalgic reason, another topic is more appropriate, may be to deny them the very study in which they may be most brilliant.

2. Will the children become "well-rounded"?

At The New School we believe it is better to be open to conversation, to learn to question honestly and unselfconsciously when confronted with an unfamiliar topic or idea, to practice analyzing new information and making rational judgments, and to become articulate, rather than to attempt to remember vast quantities of unexamined, unrelated, inert information. This is not to deny that becoming well-rounded, in the sense of having a broad, general knowledge base, may be a goal for some children. Many people have wide-ranging interests. Any child who has this as a goal can reach it at The New School. The diversity of the world will be available through books and discussion, visitors, guest instructors, interactive computer access, correspondence, projects, and travel. However, parents must realize that some children do not aim for the generality which well-roundedness implies. Some students at The New School will focus on one area and become masters, artists, and geniuses in that area. Excellence often implies a single-minded focus. Greatness comes from excellence. This too is a possibility at The New School.

3. Will the children learn anything?

Yes. Learning is as natural to children as breathing and smiling. Many things which "need" to be learned are so inherently important and interesting that children will naturally choose to learn them, if not compelled to do so. This means that children at The New School may learn things at different times in their lives than children in more restrictive environments. But, it also means that when they learn, it is because they are fired by interest in the subject. I cannot over emphasis the difference this makes.

Subjects which in a more constrictive environment would take years to learn can be mastered in weeks when children are driven by their desire to know. Each subject is attacked with the single-minded intensity of an excited child. If you have ever noticed the difference in retention and speed of mastery, and depth of understanding, between something which you do for pleasure and something which you "have to do", you will know what I mean. When you choose the subject you remember more, understand more deeply, and learn faster. Every child can and will learn. However, every child feels the importance of liberty, and rebels against being told what, when, and how to learn. When this reaction does not impede learning, children soar.

It is important to remember that the mere accumulation of information is not the goal of schooling. School is no longer the repository of information that it once was. Information today is available at the touch of a remote control or the stroke of a keyboard. School is a place to practice the skills associated with the handling and using of information, a place to converse, to question, to reason, to articulate, and to create. Whether these skills are practiced through more formal group activities organized by the students and assisted by the staff, through an intensive independent research project, or in the day to day activities of the School Meeting and Judicial and other Committees is determined by the student.

4. If there are no grades or report cards how will the children and parents know how well the children have done?

When we pursue activities we are truly interested in, we are the best judges of our accomplishments, because we set the goals, we know what we hope to achieve, and what results we consider acceptable. When we are becoming proficient in some area, we turn to the examples of those already accomplished in our chosen pursuit to determine what is an acceptable level of performance. To compare ourselves to these experts and learn from their example requires honest reflection and self-evaluation, two qualities which The New School will foster. For the children to learn honest self-evaluation without self-reproach, the staff of The New School is always available to help them reflect on and improve their work in the pursuit of excellence. No grade needs to be attached to a child's work when an honest conversation between a child and mentor results in a deeper understanding for the child. These qualities grow naturally out of participation as an empowered and responsible member of a democratic community. It is these skills as judged by each student and by peers, teachers, and parents which are the central requirements for graduation. The student's graduation thesis is a testament to the student's successful attainment of these abilities.

Parents are members of the School Assembly and welcome to come and listen to the debate, argue their views, and (after the first year as a member of the community) vote their wishes. In these ways, parents can be more in touch with their child's experience and progress than in a conventional setting. However, the real answer to how parents will know how well their children are doing is the same at The New School as everywhere. The only way to know how your child is doing is to talk together and spend time knowing one another. These are things which the freedom and empowerment of The New School will make more interesting and more rewarding.

5. What about extracurricular activities like sports?

I love them! There is no rigorous distinction between curricular and extracurricular activities at The New School. When left to their own devises children will play. If a group becomes interested enough, and can carry the vote of the School Meeting, the interested children will make the arrangements for and will engage in inter-scholastic sports competition, music, dance, and other activities. Within the School, however, sports, music, drama, and dance will doubtless be a part of most children's days, as their interests dictate.

6. How will the children be able to get into college?

The unique background and scope of experience afforded by The New School can place any child who applies time and effort in that direction in a strong position for college admission. The freedom of designing a curriculum to follow personal interests and passions will make some students stand out like stars in the darkness of college applicants. Further the tools of self-reliance and independence which the responsibilities of The New School place on students, enable them to analyze and devise a campaign to reach any goal. These skills will make the project of admission to college just another challenge to be met head on, with confidence and enthusiasm.

However, it must also be recognized that not all children will want to go to college. Some not right away. Some not at all. This choice too is respected at The New School. To graduate, each student must demonstrate and defend the proposition that he or she is ready to take a place as a responsible adult in the community. For some, that place will be as a laborer, craftsman, musician, artist, artisan or other non-academic place. So long as they are maturely and responsibly done, these are worthy goals.

If a student does chose to attend college, it will be up to them* to prove to the college admissions committee that they are a worthy candidate for admission. The staff of The New School will be more than happy to write personal recommendations for the students, and a description of The New School's educational approach will be sent to the college at the request of the student. Whether the child decides to take the SAT or prepare for college with a more formal course of study is up to the student. SAT preparation classes and college admission strategy classes can be arranged as any other class, by the students. The New School staff will aid them in any way they can when the student approaches them with such a request for assistance. Because so much of this process depends on the students' interest and perseverance, their college preparations, like all their studies at The New School, will be more focused and productive than they might be under more constrained conditions.

Many children who attend democratic free schools attend college. The students of Sudbury Valley School, a democratic free school in operation for 43 years, have attended the colleges of their choice, ranging from local community colleges to Yale, MIT, and other major universities across the country. The careers they pursue are varied: physician, organic farmer, computer consultant and software designer, art restorer, etc. Many of them return to college to further their careers or to study in entirely new fields. The graduates of democratic free schooling are competent, productive, and responsible adults who feel comfortable with themselves and in control of their lives.

7. How will the children know what to do with their time?

Most adults dealing with children spend their efforts making the children STOP doing things. The New School will be a place to see what all that truncated activity would lead to if unchecked. The children will undoubtedly play, and play a lot! Play is often the most important activity children can engage in because it is their way of making models of the world, of coming to terms with their surroundings and experiences and making a whole of them and their conceptions and beliefs. Academic pursuits or the quest for more structured knowledge occurs naturally out of this examination of the world and their place in it.

There is, however, a period of adjustment for children coming to democratic free schooling from more traditional settings. These children have often become so accustomed to being told what to do with their time that they have difficulty remembering just what it is they really want to do. This can be an uncomfortable time, a time when reflection and self-discovery are the primary activity of the day. This time is to be prized. "Know thyself" is a fundamental tenet of Western philosophy expounded and exemplified by Socrates. By coming to know ourselves, we become self-directed and cognizant of our responsibility for our own actions. Through self-direction we become responsible adults. Although the transition period varies from child to child, taking days, weeks, or months, those who persist become accustomed to being responsible for themselves. After that, there is never any question of what to do with their* time.

8. How will the children learn discipline?

The children will learn discipline because it will be a matter of utmost importance to the continued existence and smooth operation of a school they love and absolutely vital to their happiness in a participatory democracy. The children are given every opportunity to act responsibly and discipline themselves with the help of caring adults. There is a school law book which determines which behaviors are unacceptable. There is a judicial committee, composed of students and one staff member, which mediates disagreements and sanctions those who persist in unacceptable behavior. The School Meeting, which is responsible for the day to day running of The New School, is composed of the students and staff. The students after careful research and honest debate, determine what their school will be like and how it will be maintained. Because of these organizational arrangements, the students are acutely aware that it is in their best interests to be responsible and self-disciplined. If they are not self-disciplined, they will have to live with the consequences of their actions.

9. Won't it be hard on the children to be so different from their peers?

It is true that children who experience democratic free schooling are different from many of their peers. But by being part of a strong and supportive community, they are empowered to face the world; as self-discipline and responsibility grow, so does self-confidence. These children often see their education as either a gift or as a natural right, and would rather learn in such an environment than in any other, regardless of what their peers may say or believe. They are confident in their decisions and can find other grounds for developing friendships and feeling part of their peer culture. From a parent's perspective, being different may actually be preferable, if the evidence of the common bond of a similar school experience shows itself in a professed disrespect for others (namely adults and outcasts) and disdain for learning.

10. How does my child enroll in The New School?

The first step in the enrollment process is the interview. The parents and the child attend the interview which lasts about one hour. It is an opportunity to discuss The New School in greater detail and is an important aid in determining the appropriateness of enrollment. Once the decision has been made to enroll in The New School, the parents and child sign the Enrollment Request Form which is a declaration of intent to enroll. The other documents which need to be completed include the enrollment contract, the medical consent form, and the immunization record. The annual tuition must accompany the completed documents which are due by August 1st, unless other arrangements have been made. Upon receipt of these documents, The New School will inform the student when he or she may begin school and a packet of introductory materials including The Law Book will be forwarded to the student. Then the adventure begins.

 

*The third-person plural form is here used as a the third-person singular generic pronoun, since the word "student" in the School's usage denotes a group of persons as well as the condition of an individual;  see, The American Heritage Book of English Usage (1996) Sec. 18 "they with singular antecedent.".


1996 - November, 2016 The New School.
Last revised 29 November 2016

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1996 - November, 2016 The New School.
Last revised 29 November 2016.