Re: Gender Equality
Thu, 16 Oct 1997 09:05:15 -0400 (EDT)

Dear Sheri,

You write:

<< Sorry it took me so long to get to this. Ny concerns have to do with
differential treatment of boys and girls. There are many studies that
show that in schools boys get more attention, more positive
reinforcement, and more opportunities. I also wondered if the children
tended to group along stereotyped roles adn if the staff were
knowledgeable about these things and might be able to do anything about
it if needed. I'm not completely comfortable with the idea of
interferring though, so I don't know what I would be looking for.>>

At LVS there are 3 boys and 9 girls, so the girls really run the show. All
the offices and clerkships are held by girls, with the exception of the ones
held by one of our male staff members. As for the staff members' behavior,
we work hard at treating each person with respect, regardless of gender, age,
or how much we like or dislike them. This is not easy to do (!), but that is
our goal. As far as I'm concerned, that's the bottom line.

If you would like to read more female perspectives about SVS, perhaps you
should read _Kingdom of Childhood_. That book is full of personal accounts
by both men and women who attended SVS. It is a wonderful book, and would
perhaps address your concern.

<<Also traditionally boys end up "taking over" and unconsciously girls end
up in the background and/or deferring to boys. I was wondering how this
might be handled if it did occur. After reading Free At Last and seeing
that most of the examples were of boys my fear was reinforced.
Unfortunately many very good educators are unaware that they do this,
but when someone objectively looks it is nearly always evident.

I am really impressed with the Sudbury model, but am also a strong
feminist and would prefer to find a place that actively works against
these forces.


I agree with Mimsy that at our schools it is not the staff member's job to
actively correct these problems, but rather the student's job. The nice
thing about Sudbury schools is that the setup and the climate are very
conducive to students reflecting on their behaviors, gender-based or
otherwise, and figuring out what causes those behaviors and whether or not
those behaviors are effective. Again, I think _Kingdom of Childhood_ would
be a good book for you to read.

I mentioned Lisa Lyons' article before. I dug it up. There's lots of good
stuff in it. She studied four of the smaller Sudbury schools. Here is one
particular excerpt from her article:

"Several schools report young girls talking in itty bitty voices when they
first come. They soon quit. No Sudbury school respondent sees any sign of
the silencing of girls and young women reported in mainstream schools. No
sign of the perfectionism that makes taking the risk of being wrong in front
of others so threatening. As one 12 year old put it, 'Silenced? Throughout
the day I hardly ever shut up!' A new teenage girl said she had been put
down recently by several teen boys, but they had meant it as a joke, and when
they realized her feelings were hurt they apologized. New boys may make
sexist remarks, but quickly learn that here, as a 13 year old girl said,
'Boys genuinely don't think they are better than girls.' Girls at one
school, when asked if they felt silenced by boys, yelled, 'No!'"

>From "Staying Strong: Self-esteem in Girls and Yound Women at Sudbury
Lisa Lyons, Cofounder and staff member of Evergreen School, Gardiner, Maine

There is no guarantee that a Sudbury school will correct all wrongs in
society, but the wonderful thing is that every student has the opportunity.
Mimsy said it so nicely when she said, "We empower them by treating them
all like what they are, intelligent human beings -- they have to do the

Isn't that what life is like in the "adult world" as well? When women leave
school, are they suddenly faced with bosses and coworkers that are sensitive
to stereotyped roles and makes sure that women are treated fairly? No.
Women are guaranteed the opportunity, and they have to do the rest.

I chose to start a Sudbury school in the hope that my daughter would have the
self-esteem and assertiveness I didn't have growing up. If the past month is
any indication, let me tell you, she will! She is only four, and already she
was willing to say "No!" when the entire school, including the staff, were
asking her to do something she didn't want to do. And we respected her
decision. That is the key.

-Melissa B, LVS