A speech given at the EUDEC conference in Paris, August 20, 2017
Who am I?
My name is Frances Alvo, and five years ago I graduated from the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, ma. My journey with the Sudbury philosophy, however, started in Canada, long before I began attending SVS, and it continues to this day, influencingthe way I live, the way I interact with people, and the way I understand the world. Today I’d like to speak to you about my personal journey with the sudbury model, and why it is so important to me.
While I was a child growing up in Canada, I didn’t go to school. My parents allowed me and my siblings a lot of freedom in how we lived our lives, and I always knew that theywould support me in whatever I chose to do when I grew up. My problem was that I hadno clue what I wanted to do. We hear so many stories these days about peoplefollowing their passion in life. Taking something they love and turning it into a fulfilling career. I loved this idea as a child, and looked forward to the day when I would find my
Suddenly going to school
When I was 10 years old, my life changed drastically. My parents announced that they thought we should start going to school. I was not impressed with this idea. Turns out, a sudbury school was opening nearby, and although I was still suspicious about the word school, I agreed to give it a try.
I attended this small startup for 5 years, until it closed down. During this time, I fell in love with the philosophy. It fit so logically with the way I was already living my life, and the way I understood learning to happen. For me, it was the ideal way to grow up: in a community of people all living their lives together, with the time to discover and explore their interests, and the opportunity to have a real voice in how their society functioned.
But now there were no Sudbury schools in canada. I found myself a teenager, still with no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and adulthood feeling a lot closer than it had 5 years ago. I dreamed incessantly of Sudbury Valley, with it’s beautiful campus filled with 150 odd students, imagining that if I could experience it, even for just a year, I would find my passion in life, and that, magically, I would be happy.
Finally at Sudbury Valley School
Well, at the age of 16, I arrived in Framingham, MA, officially enrolled as a student of
the Sudbury Valley School. The first few weeks were unbelievable. I remember the weather being beautiful, and that I spent a most of my time outdoors. I couldn’t get over the fact that I was really there! But reality soon set in, and I had to accept that Sudbury Valley is not a paradise.
Because it is life. And life is hard.
One of the hard things at first was realizing that although I was familiar with the philosophy, it didn’t mean I knew how things worked at school. For example, at my old school I could use the stove to cook my own lunch, but at Sudbury valley, to use the stove the entire kitchen had to be closed off, and the cooking project pre-approved.
During this adjustment period, I had a couple run-ins with the judicial committee, and I learned quickly that the rules were treated very seriously. The atmosphere was not as forgiving as I had expected. And as the year went on, I did not magically discover my life’s calling. Yet, although things were not exactly as I had anticipated they would be, I felt that I was in the right place, and I ended up staying for two more years.
Life at Sudbury Valley School
I was determined to experience everything I could during my time there. I played sports and scrabble, attended history seminars and yoga classes, I organized a hiking trip and a bread making workshop. I finally got certified for the kitchen, and helped make endless pizzas to raise money for various events. I made friends of all ages, from 4 to 80 years old. I got involved in governance, holding various clerkships, including a term as Judicial Clerk. During the Judicial Committee meetings – and the weekly School
Meetings – we worked hard to maintain a sense of fairness and justice within the school.
We constantly had to balance the rights and needs of an individual with those of the community. We learned to listen to all sides of the story and look at the big picture before making a decision. We learned to listen to each other with respect, and so became comfortable speaking our minds. We cared about our school, and we cared about each other, even those who got on our nerves.
But despite being in such a busy and active environment, I went through frequent periods of boredom and listlessness. In the back of my mind there was always the question of where it would all lead, the terrifying “what next”. When you’re bored at SVS, nobody jumps forward with a solution. You’re stuck thinking really hard about what’s important to you, about who you are, and how to build a life for yourself that feels meaningful. And that I think is one of the keys to Sudbury Valley: the time to struggle
with these questions.
What is passion?
I began to question this concept of passion. Do we really all have a passion in life? Do we need one? I had always had so many different interests. Could I ever be happy picking just one to pursue for 40+ years? Maybe not. And maybe that was ok. So when I started thinking seriously about the next step in my life, I decided I’d rather try something and decide I didn’t like it than sit around waiting for the perfect answer.
I decided to go to university. Not for the degree, but for the experience. I was finally ready to try “school”.