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Why is there no curriculum?

There is a curriculum. In fact there are two levels of curriculum.

There is a common “meta-curriculum” that all of us work on together. This naturally emergent meta-curriculum focuses on the development of meta-skills such as confidence, communication skills, self-management, social justice awareness, the ability to sustain states of flow, problem-solving, what-if thinking, creativity, critical thinking, the capacity for life long learning, and, critically, an awareness of human rights and participatory democracy.

The second level of curriculum is the “content curriculum”. In conventional schools, this is what is called the ‘curriculum’ and it is standardised for all ‘learners’ who have very little choice about what content they focus on.

Instead, we support a completely unique content curriculum for each and every member – and only they know what it is!

We support each person in following their own inner-directed content curriculum. Sometimes a member chooses to use some elements of a content curriculum that somebody else has created. Some may eventually choose to do something like a GED, A levels, or SAT; trade certificate or tertiary ‘distance’ course, or an apprenticeship. As long as it is truly the member’s choice, we will support them in all of those options, too. However, these days there are a multitude of ways to start a career, and with so much else to explore, external  courses and qualifications are unlikely choices for one’s first year with us.

Democratic Self-Directed Education gives members the opportunity to discover for real, what they truly need to learn for a good life. This is why you simply don’t find illiterate DeSDE graduates. Reading, life-level maths and (these days) digital literacy are simply necessary and so they are learned. At the same time, DeSDE gives members the opportunity to spend their time wisely and effectively, often becoming brilliant at what they love. DeSDE graduates report higher life satisfaction and happiness than is normal in our times.

How does age-mixing work in SDE?

There is an excellent article on age-mixing here in Tipping Points

Why is there no evaluation such as grades, not even ‘qualitative’ report cards?

The only person truly equipped to evaluate a member’s progress, is the member. External evaluation can bias the learning process and throw the member off track, sabotaging success. In addition, self-directed learning is not a linear process. Growth can be sudden and cumulative, with periods of apparent inactivity (actually incubation) in between. This means that evaluations would in any case be more misleading than helpful.

What about Sports?

Most sports-type activity (there’s plenty) at RsV is social rather than competitive, as our members are used to the idea of aiming for personal-best rather than just defeating other people. And, each member’s interests are supported according to their requests. There’s nothing stopping a member from developing competitive sports skills, and a member who aims for a professional sports career would be supported – just like members with any other passionate aim – to figure out what’s needed to make it happen.

How can you support a member with specific interests if none of your staff are qualified in that particular field?

Most DeSDE staff have a pretty wide interest range that goes beyond their specific qualifications – you might be surprised how much we know. Primarily, though, we support members in learning how to find the resources they need. We help them find things to read, listen to and watch, and people to ask. When needed, we support them to find mentors and apprenticeships in the wider community.

What happens if a child has to leave Self Directed Education and transfer to a mainstream school?

Generally, Self-Directed members have the self-confidence to tackle any transitions they have to face, and manage especially well if this is a challenge they have chosen for their own strategic reasons. Countless DeSDE graduates in other parts of the world have successfully passed mainstream graduation exams, with no prior exam-writing experience, and we trust that South African DeSDE graduates will manage just as well.

What happens to SDE graduates?

With several generations of international SDE graduates to study, the trend is clear: Self-Directed Education gives an advantage when it comes to tertiary education and career-skills learning, and is associated with higher life satisfaction. Instead of suddenly trying to figure out self-direction, freedom and responsibility at the age of 18, SDE graduates grow into maturity naturally, over time. Since they have not adapted to being obediently ‘spoon fed’ this means that they enter the adult world with a good sense of who they are and how to run their lives.

With no upper age limit and no exit exam, how do graduates graduate?

They decide when to leave. The Sudbury tradition is that they write and defend a thesis that aims to convince the rest of the community that they have successfully prepared themselves for their next phase of life in the world. Those who wish to complete some other kind of school-leaving certificate or trade qualification, will be supported in doing so.


What is the Role of Staff at Riverstone Village?

If your frame of reference is Imposed Schooling where teachers primarily spend their time planning and presenting lessons, keeping order, and evaluating work, it can be hard to imagine what exactly SDE staff do all day given that there are no lessons or evaluations, and that order is kept by the whole community.

What do the staff do?

A brief high-level answer would be that the staff hold the space and embody the Democratic Self Directed Education culture; provide unconditional positive regard, witnessing and compassion; give practical aid when requested; and act as non-judgemental supporters and assistants to the children’s self-education processes. (They also spend a lot of time self-reflecting and refining their way of being, and mutually discussing fine points of ethics and best-practice of SDE facilitation.)

What’s the practical, concrete translation of that? In short, the staff are available to support the members, in response to the members’ requests. This may seem a vague answer, however, every day brings a completely different set of requests, so it really isn’t possible to say how the staff (or the children) will spend their time on any given day.

Just a few of the things some of our staff have done recently, off the top of my head, to try and give you a glimpse – read stories, played cards, helped with spelling, assisted with activities and areas that require certification, pushed swings, helped with the sewing machine, helped identify a spider found in the garden, discussed topics of interest to kids*, facilitated conflict resolution, explained advanced maths and coding concepts, done admin, helped mend broken toys, assisted kids with various activities on the laptops, helped clean up messes and find misplaced lunchboxes, helped kids use the microscope, chaired democratic meetings (kids also chair), and played various games (ranging from formal games which would conventionally be considered ‘educational’ or ‘sport’ through to more organic games of the children’s own devising) both with groups and with children one-on-one.

There is currently a minimum of 2 staff on duty (at least one of whom must have first aid training), and we generally overachieve on that. “Staff” means adults who have participated in our staff training programme, have been voted to be identified as “staff” by the members, and who actively involve themselves in ongoing SDE facilitation skills development.

There are sometimes parents or other adults in the visiting area. They do not generally interact with children other than their own since SDE facilitation requires some re-orientation for adults who are not used to it.

* A couple of recent conversation topics: “How much water would a unicorn drink if it drank 2 bottles a year and lived 90 years?”, “My Granny’s friend has a very big spider as a pet…”, “I’m still scared about a movie I saw where…”, “Is this book series suitable for kids younger than me (a teen) or do we need a red sticker on it if I want to bring some into the library?”, “Will the ANC make it through this next election and what might a coalition government look like?”, “What do we need to plan for if we get bunnies?”, “Why people say ‘never dig straight down in Minecraft’ and why I think they’re wrong.”

What about someone with special needs or requests?

SDE is ideal for members who find other educational models too confining, or who want to be their unique selves and learn in their own way at their own pace, without getting labelled. Everyone who needs help is supported in accessing the help they need – as long as it is genuinely their desire, and not somebody else’s idea for them.

Every serious request is taken seriously at Riverstone Village. Even when budget is an obstacle, our community members are supported in fundraising in order to fulfill their yearning.

Inclusivity is one of our core values. All are welcome in Riverstone Village, so please let us know if you need any particular accommodation, such as moving a meeting you’d like to attend to a time that is not religiously proscribed for you, or to a venue that is wheelchair friendly, or changing a gender pronoun that you find problematic, or… whatever it is that will help you be part of this community.

Is there really no upper age limit?

Really. Someone who has just finished their matric elsewhere might sign up with us for their ‘gap year’ so they can finally explore their real education, and decide what to do with the next phase of their lives. Someone in mid-life crisis could theoretically join us in order to figure out what it is they actually love and want to spend the rest of their life mastering. Someone in their golden years could one day join us to support them in integrating their life learning, or discovering a purpose for their retirement. Staff and community members are distinguished by their roles, not their age. Whether you come to us at the age of 5, or 15, or 25, or 95, we will support you in your own Self-Directed learning process, and help you find and access the resources you need. However, given that our culture sees childhood as the primary time for education, our members so far are all under the age of 18.

What is the difference between staff and mature learning community members?

All of us are learning and growing together, staff included. However, we are mindful about interrupting learning community members who are busy with their own activities. Staff doing their own thing, expect to be interrupted. Staff prioritise member’s needs and are available to help and support, because that’s why we’re staff.

I’m over 18 and I want to be part of this. What are my options?

You can join as a learning community member, and spend your time pursuing your own growth and learning, with our support. Or, you could join as a volunteer staff assistant – you won’t get paid, but we will train you for free in return for your helping out according to what we need you to do. Or, we can point you to a suitable facilitator training course – either so that you can eventually join us as RsV tryout staff, or so that you can go off and start your own campus – whether just for your own family, or for another village. This last option could see you signing up with us as a learning community member, specifically studying SDE facilitation.

How Does Discipline Work?

We make Agreements (like rules, but often based more on principle than concrete details) by democratic process. When someone feels an Agreement has not been upheld, they try to resolve that by communication, and if necessary, call in other people to help with conflict resolution. When this is not sufficient, the issue is escalated to whoever is currently serving on Access Committee.

Access Committee (AC)

The Access Committee has two functions. The first function of the AC is to facilitate safe and appropriate access to items and activities which require special care. The second function is to temporarily restrict access when needed for the well being of the community and its property.

The access committee shall ideally be composed of approximately 25% of the population on a two weeks rotation.

There shall be a minimum of two staff on the access committee every day. Staff will sub for each other if needed to achieve this.

1. Facilitation of safe and appropriate access to items and activities which require special care.

There are two parts to this function: 1. Documenting and colour coding items and activities, and their terms of use, including the requirements for certification, and ensuring items remain visibly marked. 2. Reviewing applications for certification.

1.1 Documentation and sticker maintenance.

The AC will compile an inventory of items and activities and assign them green status (no sticker? Or green sticker?), orange sticker status, or red sticker status.

The AC will ensure all documented items are marked as needed:

Orange stickers mark items that need initial instruction.

Red stickers mark items that need continued supervision, and can only be used by or with a certified person.

The AC will openly display summaries of what is needed for use of orange sticker items and activities, and for certification for red sticker items or activities.

When a member feels that they are ready and able to use a red sticker item or activity unsupervised, they put in a request to the AC. The AC reviews the request, discusses with the applicant, consults with any other people certified to use and/or supervise that item or activity, and together they decide whether to note certification, or what further needs to happen before certification can be noted.

The discussion will include an investigation of what the member plans to do with the item, and what makes them feel ready to use it alone/ supervise others in using it.

Certification must be recorded in writing.

There are two kinds of certification:

  • Certification for the member to responsibly use the red sticker item without supervision.
  • Certification for the member to supervise other not-yet-certified members using the item.

2. Restriction of access when needed for the well being of the community and/or its property.

In the event that any person feels that any person whether member, staff, or visitor, is behaving in a problematic way with any property, activity, animal or person, and this is a very serious infringement, or has not been effectively solved by repeated conflict resolution, this may be escalated to the AC.

The AC will then review the complaint, interview all parties involved, and together discuss and creatively explore possible solutions. Occasionally this may include a decision to suspend that person’s access to relevant items, activities, areas, people, or animals until they feel ready for responsible and appropriate access. When the person feels ready to resume access, they must apply to the AC, and participate in any necessary discussion with the AC and any other interested members.

The AC has the power to recommend suspending or terminating any person’s access to the community as a whole, but this level can only be decided by open meeting which all members can attend.