Peter Gray came to my youngest daughter’s school last night to talk about why I should just relax and let my daughter play her way through her adolescence.
About fifteen months ago, Misgav, now 15, asked to transfer to the Sudbury School in Jerusalem. The school, located a short walk from our home, operates on the model of the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts. That means, in short, that the kids run the school. There are no course requirements, the kids only study if and what they want to. Staff exists to facilitate what the kids want, not determine what they should learn. Play is considered no less, perhaps more valuable, than formal classes. The school enrolls children from the ages of 4 through 18 and any activity or lesson is likely to include children of a wide variety of ages.
Gray became acquainted with Sudbury when, more than 30 years ago, he decided to send his son Scott there. Scott is now a staff member at the original Sudbury school and also spoke to us last night. A psychologist at Boston College, Peter conducted research about the school and became one of its major advocates, as can be seen on his blog.
Misgav, who just did not fit into regular school frameworks, is flourishing at her new school. Ilana and I are pleased to see how she is developing responsibility and interests of her own, rather than ones imposed on her from outside. But it does take a lot of patience on our part. It’s not easy to get used to the fact that Misgav is not studying normal high school subjects in the formal way that her parents and siblings studied them in other schools.
I am, however, skeptical of Gray’s claim—seconded by the school staff here in Jerusalem and in other like schools—that this type of school is the best kind of school for all children. I have three other children and I have seen two of them respond well to the frameworks imposed by traditional schools and to the academic expectations that these schools have made of them. True, they’ve also struggled with and rebelled against these requirements at times, and have suffered under a lot of incompetent teachers. But the specific problems of the Israeli school system does not mean that traditional education as a concept is wrong.
Fortunately, one of South Jerusalem’s great amenities is its diversity—among them, its diversity of schools. Each of our children has attended a different one—indeed, each one seems to have needed something different from a school. And each is succeeding his her or his own way. The right way for Misgav to learn is to play her way through high school—and we’re delighted that there’s a place close by where she can do that.