Column by Lawrence M. Ludlow
Exclusive to STR
In San Diego this October 20-23, visitors to Libertopia 2011 will have the very first glimpse of a new type of school – the Summum Bonum Learning Center. According to Joey Hill, director and co-founder of the school, “In the spirit of Libertopia, instead of waiting for liberty to happen at some time in the future, we decided to start a school that is based completely on voluntaryists principles. From the ground up, it will be a place where kids can learn what they are interested in learning, and they will be assisted (but only if they want it!) by people who really love what they are doing. There will be no teachers’ unions here. Nobody punching a clock. Nobody forcing a square peg in a round hole. Nobody punishing you if you don’t fit or ridiculing your choices. It’s going to be a place where kids can explore, learn, and find out why life can be wonderful.” Joey is a logistics analyst and instructor in the hazardous-material response industry by day, but he’ll be taking on additional duties as director of the center, which will be opening in the Fall of 2013.
For Joey and co-founder Lawrence Ludlow (yes, that would be me), the Summum Bonum Learning Center (SBLC) is a learner-driven solution to public and private schools. According to them, conventional schools have failed to serve the long-term interests of students. They have failed because they sidestep market competition, and they unintentionally undermine children’s internal sources of motivation. For the past few years, Joey and Lawrence have been looking into the problem of schooling and its link to educational failure, statism, workday boredom, and aggression. And they decided to do something about it. Their research showed that intrinsic motivation plays a central role in a child’s willingness and ability to learn. Because SBLC will use techniques that harness the power of intrinsic motivation, they believe it will be more successful in achieving the long-term “highest good” (summum bonum) of children than conventional schools.
As Joey and Lawrence conceive it, SBLC’s solution builds on the documented success of the learner-driven approach practiced at the Montessori, Summerhill, and Sudbury schools, and it improves on all of them by incorporating the following key modifications:
- It retains a clearer focus on intrinsic motivation by eliminating counterproductive rewards and penalties as well as removing the democratically based judicial committee of the Sudbury schools, which is too close to the situation described in the William Golding novel Lord of the Flies.
- It incorporates the proven tactics of (1) empathy-based nonviolent communication (taught by Marshall Rosenberg) to resolve disputes and foster open, honest connections between individuals; (2) motivational interviewing, another empathy-based technique, to ascertain the readiness for and direction of a child’s intrinsic motivations; and (3) non-manipulative feedback between learners and facilitators and between learners and parents. As a result, the child’s viewpoint remains at the center of the learning process. This prevents short-term, outside pressures from undermining the long-term interests of the child.
- It also will take advantage of (1) businesses and other organizations that are co-located at the learning center (or nearby) and (2) technological trends and opportunities when appropriate – including the vast and growing body of online learning.
According to Lawrence, “We ought to put up a sign—“Ritalin-Free Zone”--at this school. With places like SBLC, things like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may finally be seen for what they are in far too many cases – the natural response of healthy children to an unhealthy learning environment.” For Joey, the motivation was his daughter. “I want to give her a chance to experience this learning environment, but I also want it to be a way of life our family can share with others,” he said.
Although Lawrence, a former educator, had conventional schooling at a graduate school with a staff that comprised more than a handful of Basilian monks and a program that was heavy in the Latin language, he long ago recognized that the conventional model of schooling does not work for everyone. “I think it’s important to ask the following question: Why are so many schools still operating exclusively on a schoolroom model that was developed long before the first university was founded in 11th Century Bologna?” Moreover, he says, “No other alternative-school model offers this non-contradictory combination of an underlying philosophy of ethical and effective learning and proven tactics that support (and do not undermine) the philosophy itself.” According to Joey Hill, “We have evolved the Montessori, Summerhill, and Sudbury models to a higher level of effectiveness and consistency. As a result, SBLC will help kids to learn to value themselves, feel comfortable exploring their interests instead of becoming alienated from them, and help them to become happy people instead of spending the rest of their lives wondering ‘What if?’”
While the website for the school may not be ready to go online until October, Joey and Lawrence have put the finishing touches on the business plan, and they have been keeping San Diegans updated on SBLC’s progress for the past several months at Café Libertalia – which lies the heart of San Diego’s community of voluntaryists and students of Austrian economics.