The Traces of a Radical Education: Neoliberal Rationality in Sudbury Student Imaginings of Educational Opportunities

Marguerite Anne Fillion Wilson


Sudbury education, a progressive school model that originated in the 1970s United States, provides an example of how pedagogy can be reimagined toward radically empowering children. Sudbury schools project an idealistic vision of individual self-actualization, self-directed learning, and egalitarian democratic participation in an unstructured pedagogical environment. This article draws on ethnographic narratives of students who have experienced Sudbury education to trace a more complex and contradictory reality of Sudbury socialization. Focusing on the case study of Natalie, a lifelong Sudbury student who transitioned to public school at the age of 15, what emerges is a narrative of self and society imbued with neoliberal discourses of self-motivation, entrepreneurship, and individualistic notions of success, punctuated by brief structural critiques of public schooling. The overwhelmingly individualistic consequences of Natalie’s socialization, however, showcase the limits of Sudbury education to promote a collective sense of social responsibility.


Neoliberalism; Radical Education; Subjectivity; Student Aspirations; Privilege

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ISSN 1920-4175 Critical Education