(no subject)

Fri, 20 Dec 1996 13:47:34 -0500

To: Dale Reed
From: Dan Greenberg, Sudbury Valley

The reason you do not read in Sudbury Valley's literature about
the kinds of activities you talked about at length in your posting of
12/18/96 is that they do not occur at Sudbury Valley, at least not
in the way you talk about them. (I am not in a position to write
about daily life at other Sudbury-model schools.)
Item: Students (and staff) who use dangerous tools while at
school do so only after being carefully certified by someone expert
in using the tools. The certification assures that the person using
the tool knows how to use it safely, and is aware of precaution
s/he must take to prevent injury to self or to others. No one is
allowed to jump in on the spur of the moment and join in the fun
of "lifting the heavy splitting mauls and wedges and sledge
hammers and swinging them as best they could".
Item: Adults do not initiate "contests" with supposed educational
value ("First I -- i.e. Dale Reed -- would start doing simple
arithmetic out loud. ... Then the problems would get harder.") We
do not initiate anything for alleged educational purposes. We trust
the students to find out for themselves what is of value to them,
through their own means of exploration.
Item: We do not encourage or sponsor contests, spelling or
otherwise. (If the children wanted to organize them, of course
they'd be free to; but there hasn't been much of a demand for
contests in the past 29 years.) For our kids, in a non-competitive
atmosphere where the only person they compete against is
themselves, "to show off how bright they were" has never been
what they "liked to do best".
Item: Nor do our children have "contests seeing who could
climb the ropes [or the tree] the farthest and fastest." Such
contests encourage recklessness and stress comparing worthiness of
one individual versus another based on some arbitrary criterion.
Our kids challenge themselves to improve, day by day, on where
they were yesterday, in whatever activity they engage, whether it
be dramatically reckless or mundane (such as sewing . . .).
Item: Our kids are not constantly on the lookout for thrills.
They don't need "wild mountain streams and high mountain lakes"
to be happy. Some may enjoy these, but many others are more
than satisfied "with fishing out a pond for very long" -- indeed, for
very very long. Why not? One of the most notable things I
learned from the books of Tom Brown, as enthusiastic a
wilderness person as ever lived, was that there is as much to enjoy
and learn in a small patch of grass as there is in a wild stretch of
mountains. Our kids seem to enjoy their environment thoroughly,
wherever or whatever it may be, and never tire of exploring it
Item: No one at Sudbury Valley "encourages" students "to write
a trip report" or any other kind of report, or any other such
activity, or any other activity. Period. Not a draft report, not a
rough report, not a finished report "complete with numbers and
correct spellings including illustrations when applicable." We do
not set ourselves up in any way as the arbiters of what is, or what
is not, a useful expenditure of time, effort, intellect, or spirit.
Item: We do not subscribe to your (Dale Reed's) or anyone
else's notion that "all of these activities [or any other set] are
necessary for the complete development of free human spirits."
You have not been authorized by anyone to make such
determinations. You are entitled to your opinions, as is anyone in
a free country; but the members of the Sudbury Valley
Community are involved in building a school where the views of
each individual as to what is necessary for his/her own
development is fully respected, and no one view is dominant. This
is absolutely central to our philosophy and operation.
Item: Nor are we "sad for all those little children that are NOT
encouraged to grow into competent, adventurous adults." We do
not feel that children need to be ENCOURAGED to become
competent adults. It is our view that they have an innate, natural
drive to become competent adults (otherwise the human race could
barely have survived its first few generations); and that the sad
part is that so many institutions place barriers in their way that
prevent, or deflect, their natural inclinations, interests, and
The paternalistic view represented by your posting would be
highly objectionable to most members of the Sudbury Valley
community, most particularly to the students.
Since you say you have read extensively in the literature about
the Sudbury model, I am somewhat surprised. But then again, it
just might be that you are "teasing a little", as you say in your
opening paragraph.