To Robin, In Iowa (forwarded)

Scott David Gray (
Tue, 7 Oct 1997 18:54:27 -0400 (EDT)


I'm a Founder/Director and staff member at Liberty Valley School in Joliet,
Illinois, about an hour outside of Chicago. Of all the states you listed
in your message, I _think_ we're the only place that has a Sudbury-model
school actually up-and-running. We just opened with twelve students in
September, after many, many months of preparation (*many* -- I just started
working with this particular group in February). I'd be happy to talk to
you about our school in particular, the model in general, or anything else
that might aid you in your quest (you can respond to me privately, or
through this list -- or not at all, of course :). I've been studying the
Sudbury model about as long as you have, though I've been thinking about
these things for years. I just happened (magically? karmically?) to have
moved last summer to a place where some people were in the midst of
organizing these sorts of schools.

I come from a public school background, having taught in a large high
school in Missouri (a lifelong Midwesterner, I) for five years before my
disillusionment and disgust grew sufficiently for me to actually do
something. I was reminded of my own story when you talked about possibly
dropping out of school. I did exactly that! Really, I consider leaving my
teaching job my first drop-out experience, because I was going from earning
$28,000 a year to *paying* $30,000 for grad school at the University of
Chicago. It was so difficult, also, to leave behind kids whom I thought I
could help, no matter how rotten the system. Anyway, right now I'm living
off of savings, the kindness of parents, part-time work and the promise
that I _may_ get paid for the work I'm doing at LVS, at such time as the
school becomes financially solvent (have you read how SVS arranged this
when they opened?). Seriously, I feel as though portions of what you wrote
could have come directly from my mouth; it was quite eerie.

So do something about it, Robin! Perhaps the best advice I could give you
would be to say that it _will_ take every ounce of energy, commitment,
persistence and resourcefulness you can muster -- but that it will most
likely be worth everything you put into it. And you sound as though you're
ready to pay this price. Speaking from my own experience, I am most happy
to have put my long-term security on the line for this model. I AM,
finally, doing what I want, and something that really matters, something
new and worthwhile.

And you probably know what it took me too long to find out, that you will
never encounter the real world so long as you're in college. Even last
year, I tried to be in LVS' Founders' Group and attend grad school, and it
was simply too much of a drain on my time and other resources for me to do
justice to both. After I realized that, choosing one was relatively simple
(though temporarily anguishing; I've never been good at quitting anything).

In terms of general resources, I'm sure others have offered plenty of good
suggestions by now, but I would add my voice in suggesting that you look
into buying Sudbury's starter kit (I believe it's around $300). Also, you
might check with Sudbury to see if you can get copies of their March and
May 1997 newsletters, which featured an extensive two-part article on the
process, the trials and tribulations, and the hard-earned wisdom of people
who have started Sudbury-model schools.

Demstartup is the name of the other email list, for official founders'
groups and active schools. I think you qualify for that as part of buying
the Starter Kit.

Do find other people to help you in your organizational efforts. That's
another lesson too many people have learned the hard way, that it's
next-to-impossible (very, very close) to do all the work by yourself.

And keep asking questions; keep up the enthusiasm.

Finally, a couple of responses to things you wrote in messages to others:

>a Sudbury-type seems most appealing to me, but I can see the value of
>others as >well, as I admire building ideas/activities around specific
>>social/environmental issues.

To me, one of the chief values of the Sudbury model over others is that it
doesn't have any prior agenda for valuing students' activities. Students
do what *they* choose to do, always, and no one stands over their shoulder
to say "wouldn't you like to do this nice, socially-responsible activity!"
Community awareness, responsibility, etc., follow from this freedom, as
students learn to deal with the consequences of _their_ choices. Sudbury
schools don't try to nudge their students in any particular direction; only
to allow them to develop naturally into the capable, responsible,
self-directed learners they were born to be.

>Are the people on your staff certified teachers? That's one thing that
>>concerns me; though I've worked with kids in diffferent environments and
>I'm >quite sure that a teaching certificate would NOT teach me anything
>about >founding an alternative school, am still concerned as I begin
>talking to people >in my community that I have never been a teacher, nor
>do I even have >certification

Certification, schmertification! I'm sure you recognize that a piece of
paper doesn't mean jack when it comes to the ability to teach, or organize
a school, or do *anything*. "What right do you have to judge the
prevailing system?" You're a human being, a member of society, right? You
have eyes, you see what's going on, you care, right? <shrug> Anyone can
teach, if it's something they know and care about, just as anyone can learn
if it's something they want to learn.

And just as an ironic aside, I should tell you that I have found my own
teaching past a sort of liability once or twice: before they got to know
me, some people have questioned my motives, because I'm young, have no
kids, and come from That System. <G>

I hope this little bit helps, and like I said, if you have any more
questions, don't hesitate to ask. It _is_ a compelling model of education,
one that has grabbed me as few things ever have, and which is every bit as
marvelous (and demanding) in practice as it seemed when I first heard of
it. It sounds as though you're off to a good start, that you have plenty
of good ideas and commitment. My best wishes to you as you prepare to
follow your heart.

Bruce Smith
Liberty Valley School


"I live in tranquility and trembling. Sometimes I dream...
sometimes I ride a bucking faith while one hand grips and the other flails
the air, and like any daredevil I gouge with my heels for blood, for a
wilder ride, for more."

-- Annie Dillard, _Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek_