I remember Mimsy Sadofsky, one of the founders of Sudbury Valley School(SVS) once told vividly how she felt “conversation” as one major characteristic that made SVS different from other schools. From her telling, conversations are everywhere in SVS, and they happen on different levels in various ways. I had the fortune to listen in those conversations during my visit to SVS (SVS has even a special room just for conversations. There is a big table at the center, and people interested in having conversations with others can come to this room. And you can also see that at SVS, conversations are happening all the time at various places. People are constantly having exchange of ideas and feelings.) The topics of these conversations are quite diverse covering a very wide range, and quite spontaneous in nature as well. The students at SVS are pretty good at conversing, such as expressing their personal experiences when talking about things like various kinds of coffee or cheese, or provide analysis from multiple perspectives when discussing political topics such as funding for the presidential election. From my observation, I feel these students’ skills in conversations are at lease equal to average college students in US. Peter Gray, the famed psychology professor and advocate of Sudbury Model and Self-Directed Education, has summarized this very nicely:

“Much of the students’ exploration at the school, especially that of the adolescents, takes place through conversations. Students talk about everything imaginable, with each other and with staff members, and through such talk they are exposed to a huge range of ideas and arguments. Because nobody is an official authority, everything that is said and heard in conversation is understood as something to think about, not as dogma to memorize or feed back on a test. Conversation, unlike memorizing material for a test, stimulates the intellect. The great Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky argued, long ago, that conversation is the foundation for higher thought; and my observations of students at Sudbury Valley convince me that he was right. Thought is internalized conversation; external conversation, with other people, gets it started.”


Grace Llewellyn, the founder of Not Back to School Camp, manifested very well her understanding on equal conversations with children when answering questions during her AMA session on the forum.(

For example, regarding kids’ game playing:

“I love your idea of honest conversation and I would encourage going into that with lots of depth and nuance. Share your concerns and thoughts, identify the ones you think may be more reactive than wise, ask his perspective — really draw him out (he may have his own inner conversation going on, with multiple perspectives), together create some kind of initial agreement that everyone can live with; pay attention; make it an ongoing conversation and adjust the agreement as needed.”

“being around others who are using this process may inspire your son to bring more attention to his own choices. That doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily make different choices than he is now, but simply by interacting consciously with intention itself, he’ll grow in self-awareness. Ultimately, this will help him increasingly shape his actions around what he most values.”

“The way we articulate our hopes for our future selves (“goals”), the choices we make moment to moment, and the evolving relationship between these two parts of our lives — this stuff is just huge. It’s at the core of self-directed learning, and at the core of crafting a satisfying adult life. As long as a person engages it consciously, this relationship does evolve.”

“In some families, there are deeper issues in the way that must be resolved before such conversations can take place. Trust may need to deepen before everyone (especially but not only the kids) knows they can freely and fully share their perspectives without being shut down.”

Just from these quoted above, I think you can have a taste of Grace Llewellyn
‘s deep understanding on equal conversation. I think you can find such understanding in her books, her websites and projects too, and it would be a great learning if you dive into them. No wonder she is able to lead such an invigorating and inspiring unschooling movement.

Just as Grace Llewellyn said, equal conversation is at the heart of Self-Directed Education, and it is the basic learning skill one should possess. From my understanding, one of the magical power of book reading is to cultivate the reader’s skills in equal conversation because reading is to engage conversations with the authors as the authors express their life experiences. Reading many different books is like have conversations with different authors life experiences.

Life comes from diversity. Having equal conversations is to take in nutritions from various lives, which is what we call learning or growth of one’s life.

Many of us studied for many years in conventional schools, and have never learned habit of reading or skills of equal conversation, which is the most basic learning skill. What else can testify more of the failure of this old school system? If you want to know what is real education, we have the Self-Directed Education for you to contemplate with. Take a look at how the SDE children are learning might be an inspiring experience for you.

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