Re: Three Threads in a Fountain

Bruce L. Smith (bsmith@midway.uchicago.edu)
Wed, 29 Jan 1997 14:20:52 -0600

Scott Grey wrote:

>I don't know that many people are advocating that SVS be a model for
>"all" schools. I think the lesson SVS shows the world is that one
>_need_not_have_ school, or truancy laws, etc. to allow a populace to
>educate itself.

Understood. I suppose that's the wonderfully paradoxical nature of the
non-universal universal model. In other words, saying that all people get
to choose means one standard (i.e., choice) applied in a virtually infinite
number of ways.

>What's a unique need or background? No two people come from the same
>"background", and it seems that more freedom is the _only_ answer which
>allows people with a _range_ of different backgrounds / needs to each find
>what they want... I'm not sure I understand your point -- what kind of
>"unique background" implies that a person is less capable of running
>his/her own life? Even if this _were_ the case, that some kids were at a
>predictable disadvantage vis-a-vis self-motivation, wouldn't those
>"disadvantaged" kids need _more_ time in control of their own destinies /
>lives -- not less? Please explain your question (and define these
>"extraordinary challenges".)

Fair enough. Actually, Scott, I already understand and agree with what you
say. I suppose my questions lie in the area of thinking Sudbury's
principles all the way through to an actual, widespread (if not
universal/global) application. Also, I have a strong interest in improving
my ability to explain and defend these principles to friends,
acquaintances, colleagues, etc. More specifically, I was hoping to amass a
better argument against the contention that "mere" choice/freedom will not
suffice for all students. I don't ask _whether_ it can work, whether it
should be applied, but _how_ it can apply to those whom (as Allan Klein put
it) the "traditionally-oriented" wouldn't think responsive; students who
might require considerable support in their own learning to use and enjoy
the capacity for freedom that is naturally (and rightfully) theirs, but
which the system has suppressed.

Just to clarify my earlier statement, I was thinking of, as you expressed
it, the so-called disadvantaged: all those kids who tend to collect labels
and stereotypes, whether intellectual, behavioral, or social. I think of
the young people upon whom the traditional system pours its brutal "helping
hand"; who, because of their treatment in a traditional setting, would
approach a Sudbury situation with more than the usual (?) skepticism, more
than the usual desire to rebel against any learning environment, however
humanely structured. How would the establishment of a Sudbury-model school
proceed, let's say, in an inner-city environment? Would this distinction
I'm drawing even be valid (it certainly would to our traditionally-minded
fellow citizens, all those who want us to go back to the basics, to adopt
national standards, etc.)? How might this model be extended to provide the
support for people who don't bring to it a certain minimal level of
autonomy and responsibility? Sudbury doesn't accept every single one of
its applicants, right? I hope you see that I'm not arguing against the
potential inclusiveness or applicability of the Sudbury model. Far from
it: I wonder how we who are interested and believe in it may go about
pushing those boundaries.

To go off onto a bit of a tangent, how would all of you react to my saying
that I'm intrigued by the extent to which promoting the Sudbury model can
assume the dimensions of a radical, new religious faith. Granted, this
might have _something_ to do with the fact that I'm in Divinity School at
the moment. :-) But seriously, the questions of mine to which Scott was
responding relate, in a way, to the matter of understanding and spreading
my growing faith in the model; my concern with communicating it to the
skeptical, to non-believers.

Yours in fighting the good fight, :-)

Bruce

-------------------------

"If a person is determined to learn, they will overcome every obstacle and
learn in spite of everything...but if you bother the person, if you insist
he stop his own natural learning and do instead what you want him to
do...between 10:00 and 10:50 and so forth, not only won't he learn what he
has a passion to learn, but he will also hate you, hate what you are
forcing him to do, and lose all taste for learning."

-- _'And Now for Something Completely Different':
An Introduction to Sudbury Valley School_