Sudbury as community

Bruce L. Smith (bsmith@midway.uchicago.edu)
Mon, 7 Apr 1997 11:39:46 -0500

I'd like to toss in my two cents in response to both Anne's and Dale's
recent messages on communities, Sudbury, and un/homeschooling.

I wonder exactly how both of you would define "community," and how
restrictive you think the community of a Sudbury school really is. For
starters, I don't think any Sudbury school would mandate or even aspire to
be its students' _only_ community. Anne mentions the example of a girl
with a passion for astronomy seeking like-minded adults. Is there any way
in which such an individual's attendance at a Sudbury school has to
interfere with this interest (as opposed to furthering it, by giving her
additional opportunities to develop her knowledge and experience)? Hell, I
was able to do such a thing myself in junior high, becoming part of a group
of amateur radio operators several times my age -- and I was in _public_
school. Indeed, although my assumption may be well off, I would guess that
this group meets at such a time that it would not interfere with her
putting in whatever minimal attendance requirements any school would have.
As for the ballet afficianado, again, why would this interest necessarily
conflict with attendance at a Sudbury school? And even if it did, do you
think any Sudbury staffer or student would begrudge the student in question
her or his right to pursue this interest? What are we after if not
individual discovery and growth?

Furthermore, while the astronomy group certainly comprises a community, a
collective of interacting individuals, there is also a lot to be said for
communities of not-so-like-minded people. Certainly there have been plenty
of communities in my life (for example, jobs) where the ability to interact
with people who decidedly did NOT share my interests has proved vital. On
this same note, Dale speaks warily of students' "having to compromise" with
staff and other students. Well, isn't compromise a part of life? Isn't it
essential to the democratic system? Do we or do we not want our children
to develop such skills? In Sudbury schools, students have the invaluable
opportunity to learn -- by and for themselves, in realistic contexts -- how
to function in a stable, ongoing and diverse community based on mutual
respect. Isn't that worth something?

Also, Dale, I would point out in the financial sphere that not only does a
Sudbury student derive benefits from their tuition money, but the
possibility always exists of a student's gaining additional, special
support for an interest or project contingent upon their convincing the
School Meeting of its validity. Economic barriers may be galling, but
let's also remember that tuition at Sudbury schools ranges widely, and they
still manage to operate quite well at a _fraction_ of the public schools'
per-pupil expenditure.

Please don't think that I am being overly critical of homeschooling, or
unschooling, or any genuine (i.e., thoughtful and sincerely pursued)
educational alternative. Indeed, I am posting this message in large part
because I think we're in danger of mixing the apples and the oranges. I
perceive a consensus in all that's been said on this topic, that diversity
in communities is a good thing. It's simply my view that Sudbury school
communities combine diversity and accessibility, autonomy and support, in
an organic way that shouldn't be overlooked or downplayed.

Bruce Smith
Liberty Valley School

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"No method nor discipline can supersede the necessity of being forever on
the alert. What is a course of history, of philosophy, or poetry, no
matter how well selected, or the best society, or the most admirable
routine of life, compared with the discipline of looking always at what is
to be seen? Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer?"
-- Thoreau