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The Sudbury Valley School

I know a school for kids ages three to eighteen that doesn’t teach anybody to read, yet everyone who goes there learns to do it, most very well. It’s the beautiful Sudbury Valley School, twenty miles west of Boston in the old Nathaniel Bowditch "cottage" (which looks suspiciously like a mansion), a place ringed by handsome outbuildings, a private lake, woods, and acres of magnificent grounds. Sudbury is a private school, but with a tuition under $4,000 a year it’s considerably cheaper than a seat in a New York City public school. At Sudbury kids teach themselves to read; they learn at many different ages, even into the teen years (though that’s rare). When each kid is ready he or she self-instructs, if such a formal label isn’t inappropriate for such a natural undertaking. During this time they are free to request as much adult assistance as needed. That usually isn’t much.

In thirty years of operation, Sudbury has never had a single kid who didn’t learn to read. All this is aided by a magnificent school library on open shelves where books are borrowed and returned on the honor system. About 65 percent of Sudbury kids go on to good colleges. The place has never seen a case of dyslexia. (That’s not to say some kids don’t reverse letters and such from time to time, but such conditions are temporary and self-correcting unless institutionalized into a disease.) So Sudbury doesn’t even teach reading yet all its kids learn to read and even like reading. What could be going on there that we don’t understand?

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