If we look at the Sudbury Model as a kind of educational design, Sudbury Model is a design that has nicely put together essential life centers of education. For example, conversation room, quiet rooms, bookshelves, equipment user lists, judiciary committee, school meeting, and so on are all good life centers of education. This kind of design based on Life Centers, is the same as software design or organization design, in which you feel of the important Life Centers involved, and then combine these Life Centers in a certain way, exactly the same process as how children play with LEGO or build up their 3d worlds in Paracraft. These essential life centers combined together make a model of education, which represents Sudbury Valley School (SVS) founders’ understanding of education. Education is a complex life system. To work in any complex life system often requires a design process, so we educators need to do this kind of design very often, to create a good learning environment or soil, so that life can grow healthily. The Sudbury Model is a very good design. The Paracraft Learning Center is designed based on the Sudbury Model.
Although like many other people, I went to full-time schools in my life. But maybe it is because the school at my time wasn’t like today’s, or where I grew up was quite a special environment, my learning environment in my kindergarten and primary school was pretty much like the Sudbury Valley School (SVS). In short, we have quite plenty of time to play, and we play with a lot of other kids. I might be the type of person who likes to reflect on things, so I can sense the very rich and important learning in those playing activities. Thus from the very first day of school, I was quite surprised that learning was like that at school, and started questioning the way of learning at school. At the very least, I never thought that school learning is all the learning one needs. And as I kept my observation at school, I started to think that even for theoretical learning, school way of learning is not very efficient and indeed quite a waste of time and a waste of life.
So when I heard of SVS for the first time, I felt the immediate closeness. I was doing graduate school research on elearning at the time, and have read a lot of scientific papers on learning, and know all kinds of education theories. I am familiar with all kinds of R&D efforts in academics and industry. But I was shaking my head at all these. I hadn’t heard of anyone talking about the kind of education I wanted until John Taylor Gatto came to town and talked about SVS. He made a 3-hour long speech, and during his whole speech, I kept shouting hysterically inside, like listening to a great Rock & Roll performance.
Different from SVS and other Self-Directed Education (SDE) schools or learning communities, Paracraft Learning Center is part-time. Children come to the center at least 2 hours per week. We don’t think that we have to offer children the ideal perfect environment. It is healthy to be exposed to all kinds of environments. Children know how to compare and reflect. But we need to let them have enough exposure to Self-Directed Education, and this exposure needs to be powerful, deep, and rich. This is what Paracraft Learning Center aims to do. With this kind of exposure, they will have a healthy and strong core so they can handle any environment that they face and know how to gain knowledge in any kind of environment. Even in those artificial boring environments like conventional schools, they also know how to enrich themselves, to make things meaningful, to spend the time actively instead of passively.
Paracraft Learning Center is able to do this because Paracraft as a platform is very rich. It is like the rich nature, children can learn very richly in nature. So although it is not full-time and children only come 2 hours per week (in addition to time spent at PLC, our students all work on their own projects when they go home, projects that are totally from their own ideas) and parents don’t have to make a big decision regarding whether to send them to a full-time Self-Directed Education school or learning community and their children can still go to their regular school after their learning at Paracraft Learning Center, these children nevertheless have grasped the way of exploring and methods of self-directed learning, and they won’t get lost again when they head back to the classroom environment of the school, since they have gained a rational understanding of what learning actually is in PLC. In general, it is my personal belief that to allow children growing up in a healthy way, we don’t have to isolate them away from bad things, we only need to expose them to good things in life, they are then able to handle the imperfections of the real world. Life is full of good things and not that good things. But still, life is beautiful!
When I was in 3rd grade in primary school, in the summer, I re-read the textbooks that I had just finished the previous semester. What I discovered is that I had forgotten almost all of them, even though I had just taken the tests and had very high scores on them. But reading those books again, I realized some content is actually quite useful and I was supposed to remember. So, from then on before every semester, I would rush through the textbooks of that semester very quickly, just to see what content I aught to learn from them. So during the classes, I only focused on those content, ignoring all the other details. This saved me a tremendous amount of time. But I know that I need to prepare a little extra just before the tests since the tests have their weird formats. You just need to memorize a bit more for the tests. For those things that you have to memorize for the tests, I don’t regret forgetting them at all after the tests. So in this way, learning is not stressful, and I still keep good grades.
When I see today’s kids in China, after they come back from school, they have to attend many other courses by those “educational” companies, and even their weekends are fully occupied by such courses. They don’t have any time and space for playing, the kind of playing I had as a kid, with many other kids and running around freely. They never had the time to read the textbooks by themselves, always following the teacher closely step by step. They have gone to many after-school courses but still can only achieve very low grades on school tests. What they need, is exactly the self-directed learning capability that you gain from playing naturally, which is what Paracraft Learning Center gives to them, even if it is just 2 hours a week. It is a free space for these children, where they can breathe.
So I feel the SDE Model of Paracraft Learning Center, designed based on the Sudbury Model, is an SDE model that can spread widely and expose a lot more families and children to SDE. It has been my work for the past 20 years making efforts to spread the Sudbury Model to all people, and making Sudbury Model an educational choice available to all families and children. In recent years, I found that youth software education might be the way to make the breakthrough and expedite the process. And Paracraft, the rich 3D programming software, is the best way to carry out this task. So we incorporated Paracraft and Sudbury Model together and started this Paracraft Learning Center model. It has been quite successful so far, drawing families of all backgrounds. And most of them never heard of SDE or Sudbury before. However, children love to do all kinds of things in Paracraft, so we have rich opportunities to do education with it.
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