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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 carefully structured 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, critical thinking, the capacity for life long learning, and more.

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 learner – and only they know what it is!

We support each person in following their own inner-directed content curriculum. Sometimes a learner 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 learner’s choice, we support them in all of those options, too. However, with so much else to explore, these are unlikely choices for one’s first year with us.

Democratic Self-Directed Education gives learners 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. At the same time, DeSDE gives learners the opportunity to spend their time wisely and effectively, often becoming brilliant at what they are good at. And, why 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 learner’s progress, is the learner. External evaluation can bias the learning process and throw the learner 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 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 children, in response to the children’s requests. This may seem a vague answer, however, ever 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, kept on eye on kids in the park, pushed swings, fetched acrylic paint and kept it supervised (watercolour paint is used without supervision), helped with the sewing machine, helped identify a spider found in the library shed, discussed topics of interest to kids*, facilitated conflict resolution, 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, and played various games (ranging from formal games which would conventionally be considered ‘educational’ 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), with the usual number being 3-5 and sometimes as many as 9 at once. We aim to have a minimum ration of 1:10 and generally overachieve on that. “Staff” means adults who have participated in our staff training programme, are identified as “staff”, and who actively involve themselves in ongoing SDE facilitation skills development.

There are usually also one or two (or sometimes a whole group of) 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 get rid of Zuma in December and do the opposition parties really want them to?”, “Do we need permission from the park and the scouts to have a horse-show here?”, “Why do people say never dig straight down in Minecraft and why I think they’re wrong.”

How can you support a learner 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 learners 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 about someone with special needs or requests?

SDE is ideal for learners 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 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.

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

Generally, Self-Directed learners 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 have successfully passed mainstream graduation exams, with no prior exam-writing experience.

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 may decide when to leave. The Sudbury tradition is that they actively 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 kind of school-leaving certificate or trade qualification, will be supported in doing so.

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 few years of their lives. Someone in mid-life crisis might 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 might 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, the vast majority of our community are under the age of 19.

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

All of us are learning and growing together, staff included. However, we are careful not to interrupt learning community members who are busy with their own activities. Staff doing their own thing, expect to be interrupted. Staff prioritise learner’s needs and are available to help and support, because that’s why we’re staff. The majority of our community members are under 19.

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, you could sign up for our facilitator training course – you pay us to mentor you in SDE facilitation, so that you can go off and start your own campus – whether just for your own family, or for another village. This last option means you are a learning community member, specifically studying SDE facilitation.