Re: Sudbury as community

Coby Smolens (
Wed, 9 Apr 97 00:10:25 UT

SwiftRain wrote:

Message-ID: <>
Date: Sat, 05 Apr 1997 12:51:13 -0500
From: SwiftRain <>
To: Coby Smolens <>
Subject: Re: Comparing the Sudbury Model

Coby Smolens wrote:
> It is the experience of being an equal partner in one's own community
> which is, to the best of my knowledge, missing in the Unschool, where,
> as you imply, parents have the final word... Under these conditions
> the growing experience is that of learning to survive in an autocracy,
> no matter how benevolent.

This may describe some or most unschooling, but I would just like to point out
that there are some parenting styles which could not be described as an
In particular, I read a list called TCS (Taking Children Seriously) the
participants of which endorse a style of parenting in which: mutually
acceptable solutions are ALWAYS looked for, and when one cannot be found, it
is the parent who must oblige the child.
The TCS list members are familiar with the Sudbury Valley School, and
criticize it because it is MORE coercive than their unschooling. In SVS the
individual is responsible to the will of the group, mob rule as it were: no
eating popcorn, etc.
Dear SwiftRain:

Your point is well taken -- I did say I was going to write in generalities,
always A dangerous task at bent. I would have done better to qualify a bit. I
accept that there a few folks around who feel no need to lord it over their
progeny, who share true mutual respect and trust with their families. They are
as rare as hen's teeth, but I acknowledge that they exist.

In answer to the statement that the SV modeled school is more coercive than
that which you describe, I'd like to examine what is meant by coercion. The
word in its original form had only the negative sense of checking or
restraining. It's primary usage now carries the positive sense of driving w
compelling a person to the performance of some act not of their choosing (this
according to Webster). So for our purposes in this discussion, with your
permission I will differentiate between the two main usages of the word by
referring to the negative as restricting or restraining, and to the positive
as coercion'.

By these definitions, I think what you are referring to in the SV modeled
school is restriction rather than coercion. At any true SV type school,
coercion is not tolerated, period. Coercion in any form is at complete
variance with the fundamental principles on which the school is built.
Restriction or restraint is another matter, as I hope I can clarify.

The School is a community of equals. Besides having to carve out and protect a
space in which its members are completely free at all times to pursue their
own interests, it has at the same time to construct a framework which protects
the equal rights of its members, even from each other. The act of honing this
structure is a participatory process in which all Community members are
welcome -- and equal.

It is not the intent of the School to create an environment in which everybody
gets to do whatever they feel like at all times. This is not the way the world
works outside, nor is it the way the world works within the family structure
of any Unschooling household that I ever heard of. Wherever people live
together in social groups, regardless of form or size, somebody has to give a
little. Compromises are reached, agreements are arrived at.

Again' one of the core elements of the SV Schools is the deeply held
conviction that a clearly defined, formal structure delineating those
agreements and compromises is the best assurance that the maximum individual
liberty will be preserved. And, furthermore that this structure is best
arrived at according to some form of democratic process guaranteeing equal
weight to every voice that wishes to be heard. With such a structure in place,
the people who formed it can get on with the business of their individual
lives, with the maximum amount of trust that their fates won't be dictated by
the whim of someone else's bad hair day. They know that the agreements arrived
at yesterday and set down in black and white for all to see will be upheld
until such time as a superceding agreement, also arrived at by due process,
takes its place.

A bonus accrues to people who grow up in such an environment, and who choose
to participate in the decision making process: They get very good at learning
to deal with the structures encountered in the larger community: College
boards, government agencies, corporations, business on every level... (See
Legacy of Trust, (l992, Sudbury Valley School Press, Greenberg & Sadofsky-- a
rigorous study of the lives of 237 former students.)

You said that the Taking Children Seriously (TCS) subscribers say "Mutually
acceptable solutions are ALWAYS looked for and when one can't be found' it is
the parent who must oblige the child.) I don't understand the benefit to the
child or to the parent engaged in this practice. At SV modeled schools,
mutually acceptable solutions are also always looked for, but there is no
penalty which befalls a certain class of people when one can't be found, as in
the situation you just described. (Vis.: the parent loses by default in any
disagreement with the child if the child is more stubborn than the parent? By
what virtue) At a SV school, if a mutually acceptable solution can't be found,
somebody, or group, has to accept defeat for the moment. So what? Learning to
live with defeat, to accept gracefully and bounce back from "failure", to
return to the fray another day -- these are extremely valuable lessons in and
of themselves. Why wait 'til one is an adult and "ready for the real world" to
begin learning it?

Man, somebody stop me! I'm sorry, I didn't set out to bludgeon anyone with
verbosity-- it's just that this subject is like ice cream to me -- it just
leads me on and on and I'm never satisfied 'til I've licked the bowl clean!

Warm regards,