Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Self-governed, Sudbury Valley School begins in Massachusetts

Imagine a school Ö

If we look around us, we will notice that there are not many schools that are inspired by these principles and enact them in their everyday practice. The Sudbury Valley School, which has been operating in Framingham, Massachusetts, since 1968, is one of the exceptions. The Sudbury Valley School was part of the progressive school movement of the 1960s that built on the inroads made at the beginning of the 20th century by pioneering efforts like Ferrerís Modern School in Spain or Neillís Summerhill in England.

Several premises of the progressive education movement guide the work of the Sudbury Valley School. They are mentioned on the school website (

The fundamental premises of the school are simple: that all people are curious by nature; that the most efficient, long-lasting and profound learning takes place when started and pursued by the learner; that all people are creative if they are allowed to develop their unique talents; that age-mixing among students promotes growth in all members of the group; that freedom is essential to the development of personal responsibility; and that school should be a community in which students are exposed to the complexities of life in the framework of a participatory democracy.

Indeed, one of the key principles of the Sudbury Valley School is that the most enduring and profound learning occurs when learners pursue their unique interests and are self-motivated. Therefore, its institutional organization aims at enabling students to freely explore their own interests. This means that in the Sudbury Valley School all learning is self-initiated, and there is no mandated curriculum. The main philosophy behind this is the education of the whole person in a free and creative environment.

A related principle is that children are able to make sound decisions on matters that affect their lives and that, given a choice, they will choose the most appropriate path for their education. Moreover, it is posited that when children make these decisions, they learn to trust themselves and become responsible for their own destinies. So, in the Sudbury Valley School students participate actively in the school governance. For instance, there is a school assembly and a school judicial committee, and all decisions and precedents related to this committee are available in a school publication. One of the main assumptions behind this principle is that the best way to learn democracy is by doing it.

To get a diploma from Sudbury Valley, students must write a thesis describing their struggles and their achievements, and explaining how they have prepared themselves to go out into the adult world.

Since those modest beginnings in Framingham, Massachusetts in 1968, the independent and democratic self-directed Sudbury Valley School model has become a paradigmatic example of progressive education, and it has been adopted by more than 20 schools in different parts of the world.

For more information on the Sudbury Valley School:

The Sudbury Valley School Website: 

Greenberg, Michael (2002). The View from Inside. Framingham, Mass.: The Sudbury Valley School.

Greenberg, Daniel (1995). Free at Last: The Sudbury Valley School 2nd ed.. Framingham, Mass.: The Sudbury Valley School.

Sadofsky, Mimsy and Daniel Greenberg (eds.). (1994). Kingdom of Childhood (from interviews by Hanna Greenberg. Framingham, Mass.: The Sudbury Valley School.

Prepared by DS (OISE/University of Toronto), 2003

Citation: Author (2003). Title. In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available: (date accessed).

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Last updated on February 02, 2003.