How do we measure the success of an education? Professional educators often spend a great deal of time, energy, and thought developing the methods of education, from curriculums to class outlines, to test scores and performance evaluations. However, the ultimate goal of an education, of having an education, is to better prepare an individual to deal with challenges faced in life. The goal of education is to allow a person to become more capable. The point I wish to illustrate is that the best educations is more that prepares a person for life’s challenges, and the most effective way to measure an education is by the success of those touched by it.
My name is Colton Kirshner-Lira, and I am a Sudbury student. My parents both faced ridicule, harassment, and discrimination during their childhoods in public school. As such neither of them wished to put my sister and me through traditional education. I was home-schooled until I was nine years old, but living in a rural area (Anyone ever been to Yoncalla?), my parents realized that I needed more resources and opportunities for friends than they could give me alone. In 1999 they discovered Blue Mountain School, a newly opening Sudbury modeled education just outside of Cottage Grove Oregon. I still remember my first day, I was terrified. I had never experienced a community of peers before. I didn’t know anyone there except my sister, and she was off having her own first Sudbury experiences and adventures. I might have had a terrible day if it wasn’t for a curly haired young boy named Adam. He asked me if I wanted to play Battleship, and that was the start of a lifelong friendship and am amazing nine at Blue Mountain School (as I write this essay on July 8th, 2014 I am currently making plans to attend Adam’s upcoming wedding).
If you’ve come to be reading this essay, you have likely read a description of a Sudbury school. You may have heard of the founding school, and titular carrier, in Sudbury Massachusetts, and you have probably heard characterizations such as freedom, democracy, and self-direction. The model and philosophy are vital to understanding the over picture of what a Sudbury school represents, however will not delve deeply into those topics. Instead, I wish to relate my prominent experiences of nearly a decade at Blue Mountain. First and foremost, my time was filled with social interactions. This ranged from spending time with friends and playing games, to participating on committees that regulated the day to day activities of the school. It also included such things as interacting with younger children as a mentor and role model, and participating in formal classes that I had organized with staff members. The most vital element of my education was my peers. Not only did my friends and I learn together, we learned from each other. We taught our strengths and discovered our weaknesses. While I did organize, or participate in organized, classes such as algebra, Spanish, and Creative Writing much of what I learned at Blue Mountain isn’t communicable through a test or grade. What I learned was patience. I learned how to mediate problems through dialogue and compromise, I learned how to navigate a democratic system to accomplish my personal goals while improving my community. I learned that my individual strengths were amplified by collaboration with peers and that I could amplify the strengths of others. I learned to manage responsibility and personal pleasure, and I learned that those two things could be one in the same. I learned that my ability to succeed was only limited by my creativity and drive. In short, I learned how to be an adult. These are qualities that I will carry forever, they are part of my character and built a foundation for my accomplishments. I owe what I have achieved to my education.
I graduated from Blue Mountain School in July of 2007 and I began attending Lane Community College in September. I fully intended to study history. I love of stories so history seemed a natural path for me. However I am a Sudbury to the core, and as such I have a passion for learning and new experiences, so I took a chemistry class. I fell in love. I had no thought of difficulty, I cared not for an easy A. I was driven to learn by my curiosity and wonder. In 2010 I transferred to the University of Oregon and I received the Ford Family Scholarship. I was one of 120 scholarship recipients selected out of over 4000 applicants. I was chosen for my dedication to community and for my academic success. I graduated from the University of Oregon in June of 2013 with a bachelor’s of science, and in September I began working as an educator at Eugene Sudbury School.
So, how do we measure the success of an education? We measure it by how well it prepares those it touches for the future. I know Sudbury works, I have experienced it firsthand. I use my education every day to interact with the world around me. Life is not filled with class rooms, or multiple choice questions; life is filled with people, it’s filled with challenges that often require creative solutions. So, I am immensely thankful that I had an education that fostered social skills and creative problem-solving because it prepared me for the future that I am now living, and I am confident that I have the ability to face whatever future yet to come holds for me. I am Sudbury student, now and forever.