The Difference Between Learning And Education – Inspired By Sudbury Valley School.

Education? There’s no such thing.

It’s a pleasant synonym for the indoctrination of children towards our own ends. Education is what happens when we raise kids because we want things from them. Learning is what happens when we raise kids because we want to give them something – the world.

How do we do that? What does it look like? What is our job if we want to give children the world, rather than use them for it? It’s very simple.

To give children the world, you love them, and protect them, no matter what, and you let them find their own way. Love them. Protect them. Listen to them. Empower them.

As I said, education is what happens when we want something from children – in the instance of standardized education, obedience and productivity at monotonous tasks. We give them an education so they can give us what we want. Education has not been a consistent mainstay of human progress; it has flitted in and out of cultures in different forms, as required. For nearly a hundred years the current form of education has been in place, and in a lot of ways, for much of that time; it has served us well. But it is no longer needed.

Standardized education no longer serves us as anything more than a free babysitting service, and an indoctrination into an obedient consumer culture that is no longer useful for anything other than propagating itself.

Learning on the other hand, has always existed and been pivotal to the survival and progress of the human race. Learning is not optional or institutional, and it will take place in any environment, from the bleakest to the brightest, no matter what. For example, in many of our schools now, in spite of the oppressive atmosphere, students manage to learn that their opinions and interests are not valued, that they are subordinate to their teachers, that they must sit down, shut up and do as their told, or suffer ridicule and punishment. These are just a few of the lessons that are compulsory in our backward curriculums. In a moment you will have the option of watching a video demonstrating a school that fosters learning, with no ‘education’ necessary to the process.

Sudbury Valley School inspired this post by showing me very plainly what learning is, and how to guarantee it will happen. Learning is guaranteed to happen when we love our children so that they learn to love, listen to them so that they learn to express, protect them so that they can safely explore until they’re old enough to protect themselves, and empower them with the things they need to pursue that exploration.

It can be difficult to do all this because many of us charged with cultivating such an environment have not yet learned to love, have not yet learned to listen, we have never felt safe enough, or empowered enough, to explore, and so we think it unsafe to do so. In these things, many of us must learn alongside these children we are entrusted with. And we’ll be better for it.

To summarize: Education is what we do to our children when we want the world from them. Learning is what our children do when we give them the world.

I hope you enjoy this video. That it inspires you like it inspired me.

If you like this post, please share it on and spread the word – It’s pointless if it’s not passed on. And of course, if you have anything to add, please leave a comment.


  1. As a staff member of The Booroobin Sudbury School in Queensland Australia for approximately 10 years before it was closed by the Queensland State Government (because they did not recognise the Sudbury model of learning as having any comparison with the State model of Education – and therefore Booroobin could not be classified or be acceptable to the State as a “school”) this video was a reminder of what the lucky students and staff who attend a Sudbury School for a reasonable length of time gain from the experience.

    It often takes about two or so years for the average student to “let go of the past” messages given to them through the operation of traditional schools. For instance, that others (especially adults) know the why, when, where, how and what is the best knowledge to take each individual student successfully into the future; that authoritative adults are in charge and control of your life and making real choices and self-direction is not an option; that learning cannot be done without imposed teaching; that a student cannot be trusted to think for themselves or learn by themselves; that the authoritative adult knows all the answers and and your answer must make sense to them; that you are best able to solve a problem by taking it to an authoritative adult; that “getting something wrong” or “failing” is not acceptable and lots – lots more..

    And by experiencing the processes of the School Meeting; the Justice Committee and the day to day interaction, communication and relationships amongst people of all ages the students gradually take on the messages that they are in charge of their own lives – really! that they are trusted to make decisions and choices and act on those decisions and choices as long as they are not bothering others – really! that they have individual rights that are respected and responsibilities to maintain the harmony of the school community – really!

    There is a lot to let go (especially if you have old messages blocking the new) and a lot to take on board in order for a student to operate successfully in a Sudbury environment – and this is only one side of the picture – I haven’t even begun to talk about the learning the adult staff have to work through in order to be effective in such an amazing environment. The best 10 years of my life By Far!

    1. That’s a great point. A lot of people look at how teenagers who’ve had their zest for learning sapped by education spend their time and say ‘Oh, kids are lazy, they’ll just sit around and do nothing all day if we don’t send them to school.’ That’s not true, when it is true its because these people (Yes, teenagers and children all count as a one, whole person each) have been processed by an education system whose fundamental message is ‘do everything you are told and absolutely nothing more’. Thanks for commenting and showing how beneficial the Sudbury schools can be. Are Sudbury schools still unrecognized in Australia?

    2. Hi Lois,
      Nice to see you are still following posts on the Sudbury model. Sudbury Valley School continues apace. Four of the founding staff are still there along with “new blood” that we hope will sustain the school through the next couple of generations. Hope all is well with you.
      Mike Sadofsky

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