Re: A meeting on diversity in svs-model schools

Charlie Wilkinson (
Tue, 3 Sep 1996 21:31:46 -0400 (EDT)

I believe it was who once said:
> This is Larry Welshon with Alpine Valley School in Colorado
> I was not present at the breakout session from which this discussion thread
> comes, but I would like to comment on the current thread.

As would I, while we're at it. :-)

Charlie Wilkinson here. I'm not currently associated with an SVS-type
school, but have an interest in them for the sake of my two year old
daughter. I think the democratic model is a great idea and only wish it
had been an option for me when the public schools were clueless as to
what to do with me. I was bounced from special-ed one year, into "logic
class" the next year, and back to special-ed following that.

> As a founder of a SVS type school, my paramount concern is to create an
> environment in which young people are free to pursue their lives unmolested
> by mine or another's political, social-theoretical, or religious leanings.
> If I've understood Jeff Bradford's thoughts correctly, he is concerned about
> the possibility of a school's mission, that of the protection of children's
> freedom, being put on the back burner by overt attention being paid to the
> issue of bringing in people of other races, etc.

I think it was suggested that there is a possibility that staff/students
at SVS-type schools are or would unconsciously exclude minority groups
of whatever flavor. I guess it's conceivable that such a thing would
happen, but I'm not sure that one could propose a solution that would
not be worse than the problem. A thin line exists between becoming
racially, ethnically, or _______ (fill in the blank) conscious, or going
off the deep end and becoming self-conscious about it, or worse,
imparting that awkwardness to those very groups in an overt effort to
attract them. I think it is a mistake to actively seek out diversity,
because in order to do that, you first have to define it, and we are
talking 55 gallon drum o' worms there.

> There is a real tendency for people with strongly held beliefs to foist them
> on to kids in schools. Our schools are no exception. Now, I admit openly
> that I'm one for slippery slope arguments. That being said, the attention
> that is paid by the staff at X Democratic School for religous diversity
> could, once the proper mixing has occured, be turned to some other type of
> inclusion. Shouldn't we also make sure that there is representation from
> Americans of Austrian extraction? How about more Mayans, Hindus, Mormons or
> people from the South, say Georgia? Instead of focusing on freedom for kids,
> this staff focuses on social engineering.

Agreed. Democratic schools, by their very nature are not going to
appeal to everyone, nor should they. In a effort to create broader
appeal and attract a more diverse student base, where does one draw the
line? As an extreme example, a few cultural or religious groups may
find the democratic model to be downright evil. Do you make drastic and
freedom-curtailing changes so as not to "exclude" them? I trust your
answer is a resounding "no!"

Also consider that democracy, by _its_ very nature is always going to
leave some minority wanting, feeling left out, unrepresented. If you
_really_ want to push this idea of all-inclusiveness to its ultimate
conclusion, then you must first re-examine the very foundations of the
democratic model of schooling. Are you prepared to upend the whole
works and rebuild from the pieces to ensure _everyone_ has a voice
and a say?

> If we artificially set up our communities to reflect what we see to be the
> proper mixing of races, religions, regions, extractions, etc. we may be
> violating our prime directive to set up schools where young people can pursue
> their lives without the coercion of social tinkerers and agenda pushers.

Amen to that. As the old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix
it." This certainly seems to me to be a case where "fixing" it is more
likely to break it than anything else. Some things cannot be safely

I believe Mimsy made the notable point that only two such schools have
the unenviable task of having to choose some applicants over others.
For the other democratic model schools, they simply do not have to
grapple with this issue yet except as an academic exercise. If there is
truly a concern over a possible unconscious bias, why not accept
applicants on a simple first-come, first-served basis -- unless someone
thinks that would unfairly discriminate against procrastinators. ;-)

Seriously, the simple solution seems to me to be one of creating a
simple and straightforward admissions policy that leaves little
opportunity for bias to creep into the mix (if you don't already have
one), and then just go on about your business as you do now.

Thanks for reading.


   Charlie Wilkinson      Maintainer - Radio For Peace International Web Site
The best defense against logic is ignorance.