First let me say that this post is not an effort to say how my philosophy of education is better than anyone else’s. I am a firm believer in school choice and feel that because God made children as unique as snowflakes, that each child deserves the right to learn in a school environment that best fits with how God made them to learn. Here is the story of how I came to choose Classical education and the Sudbury model for my children.
When my son was born, I was working in a Classical school. I had dreams of him being raised under the Classical (and African/African American) tradition and being this true scholar, a citizen of the world. My son had other plans. Before he could barely talk or walk he made it clear that whatever plans I had for him, I might as well throw them out the window. Let me be clear. He is not your typical rebellious child, but he is NOT compliant. He has the sweetest, most compassionate, most loyal heart I have ever seen in a young child. Now at 10 seeing those qualities play out in conjunction with his strength and confidence is a beautiful thing to see. 10 years ago, however I had no idea what type of education he would thrive in.
Dillon is unique in that he desires to learn, but he doesn’t want anyone to teach him. He taught himself how to ride his tricycle, how to tie his shoe, how to swim! He has such a serious mind that by 1 he had stopped watching most children’s shows, except Caillou. He seemed to like the story line of the show and not the random cute kid-type antics in most children’s shows. By age 2 he was watching hours of adult documentaries on prehistoric animals. When I asked if he wanted to watch Dinosaur Train, he simply said, “I don’t like fake animals.” By 3 he knew most of the names of some of the most difficult to pronounce prehistoric animals and could say them with such precision. With all of this intelligence and him teaching himself to write his name, I thought I would jump in and assist and he had his first melt down, when I interrupted his independent learning. I yelled back at him and am confident that I did not handle it in a healthy way. This was the turning point for me. I picked him up off the floor, apologized and promised I’d never ever yell at him or anything for not learning the way I wanted him to. I promised to let him learn as he wanted to. At the time I knew nothing about the Sudbury model.
By the time it was time for Kindergarten the stress I had was immense. He’d been in preschool, but spent a great deal of time in time out. Where would we go from here? As a Black male child, what school (that I can afford!) would let him be his free yet brilliant self? And what school would gently provide him with tools for learning as Dorothy Sayers explains? Because we lived in a world, where Black people, especially Black men struggle to find and feel freedom, I worried that his free way of learning may miss those things he needs to excel and reach his goals. If we were white, I wouldn’t worry so much, because it has been my experience that the world is gracious to white children, even if they may fall short academically. I could not take that gamble with my children. Yet, I needed them to be free.
I first exposed Dillon to Classic literature through listening to the Bible on CD. My husband started doing it and then we noticed that Dillon would sit still and listen. This was not the children’s version, but the straight Bible and he would listen so intently, no matter what scripture was being read. So then I began to listen to Classics as we drove along in the car and he became so obsessed with listening, that after a while I couldn’t even listen to my favorite music when I was in the car!
I searched and searched during his whole K4 year trying to find the next educational home for him and found NOTHING. One school I visited seemed so beautiful and then I saw the principal fuss at a child for touching the wall as he walked and at another for not walking in line just right. Instantly, I shook her hand and let her know that we have decided to go in another direction. Dillon would probably be LIVING in the principal’s office. I needed his body to be free!
In a world where Black bodies are just not free, I wanted him to at least feel that freedom in a safe space and at the same time make sure he got the tools for learning so if called to it he could go as far as he wanted to go. Total freedom for my Black child in a world that is so picky when it comes to which Black people succeed and which are held back, I needed him to have at least the tools. If he wanted to go to college or get a certain job and they looked where he graduated from, and then may be short in some areas, as a Black child there would be no grace for him. He would be rejected. He is NOT free from proving himself in this country and so I needed to make sure he was actually FREE from that pressure.
I needed a school that may not be rigorous, but he would have the tools to do whatever he wanted and no one could have an excuse to block him from that. Classical education’s focus on developing logic/rhetorical skills, building the grammar for learning in their phonics and Latin focus and their focus on building strong literacy skills through reading thick texts like Aristotle’s Ethics or Homer’s Odyssey were what I needed him to gain. Yet, no school within distance or budget met my child’s needs.
So I started one. Some see the website for the school or visit or see my posts and they get confused. “Is she Classical?” or “Is she Sudbury?” I am both. My son is both. The 2 philosophies technically do not mix well because Classical education is the epitome of rigor and discipline, but it has these tools that I need my Black children to have to progress here in this oppressive society. Sudbury’s freedom is almost antithetical to Classical education and many of the leaders in Classical ed would be appalled that I brought the two together. So instead of mixing them, I split the school day. Half the day is Classical study and the other half of the day is total freedom. To do this, we do not have a lot of the non traditional courses that most Classical schools have, but they have the main classes that give students training in utilizing the tools for learning. The other half of the day, however I see them using those tools as they explore and pursue their passions and interests. When I think of the way Jesus and Socrates taught, freely discussing with their followers in non-traditional spaces (out in the field, on a boat, sitting around and relaxing while letting their minds do the work) and allowing them to go through a process of self-discovery, I realized that this type of learning can work. I allow Jesus and Socrates to inspire me in this journey.
Currently both of my sons (I have 3 children now) are teaching themselves to code. They found a book on Amazon, asked their dad to order it and they go to bed reading it. Then they walk around giving these impromptu lectures on it. They’ve already started implementing what they are learning on their computers. My other son has become fascinated with meteorology and spends his days watching documentaries about weather, his favorite being tornadoes and hurricanes. He is convinced that God has called him to be a weatherman. My daughter has found art channels on YouTube and has become quite the artist, even creating her own picture books that she reads to guests on Zoom. I am confident that my children’s comprehension ability to do this has come from the training in how to be free to pursue what they want, and Classical education has given them such strong literacy and comprehension skills that they can pick up any book or watch any video and learn for themselves. They are still young, 6, 8, and 10 and yet I see things happening in them that I know will blossom into high level skill and accomplishment when they get older.
I do not write this to brag or to come off as prideful. The journey has been so hard. Running a school this odd has not been easy, because it takes people a while to trust it. I am presenting freedom to Black children in a world that oppresses them and knowledge in the Classics, which historically was used to oppress us. If I had not practiced it in my own home first and seen the blessing of this path in my own children, then I could not share with others. I can look at my children and feel confident that as they go forward in life, no one will question their education because giving them the most key parts of Classical education, gave them every tool they need to freely pursue their passions in life with excellence and in a way where no one will ever doubt their intelligence and ability.