Re: DSM:teachers

Scott David Gray (
Thu, 22 Oct 1998 00:14:55 -0400

You've asked some pretty big questions, all of which are answered much better
and more thoroughly in some of the online literature (visit and click on "free texts"). I'd strongly advise that you
look there. After you've read more about the school in that forum, you'll want
to read more... Several of our books are available in libraries around the
country, or can be purchased from various places (including the school's web

However, I've prepared a few short, simple answers... Hardly sufficient to the
questions you've asked, though.

Roxanne Grandis wrote:

> 1. Do teachers at a Sudbury school have specialties? Does one teacher
> concentrate on English, while another teacher focuses on math or science?

Staff at SVS differ from one another as much as any two individuals do. As
such, they do tend to concentrate on certain areas. While Mark spends a chunk
of his time in the kitchen, and Joan spends a chunk of her time in the art room,
I spend a chunk of mine in the Internet room. However, I've been known to
discuss cooking and art (and science, and mathematics, and history, and
probability, and politics, and philsosophy, and just about anything) with peple
around the school, while Mark and Joan have both been known to talk about the
Internet (and sociology, and music, and literature, and theology, and
linguistics, and just about anything). Likewise students certainly don't divide
their time equally or in a predicatble way between the different ideas,
thoughts, or resources in the school. The range of needs in and happenings in
the school is too broad, and too open, to imagine that staff members could focus
very narrowly on any one thing.

> 2. I've been following the posts about student choice. What happens if a
> student simply hates a subject? Can a student choose to study no math at
> all? Does something like this ever happen?

Studying is secondary to learning. It's very rare that people ever "choose" to
study anything at Sudbury Valley; rather, their interests cause them to talk
about, read, think, do, eat, drink, and sleep the subject that has caught their
fancy. As such, it _certainly_ happens often that a person does not ever choose
to study math. What happens in such an instance is nothing; the school does not
pursue the person in any way, or try to coerce her/him to study math (or
anything) by any means.

This is central to the school. The lack of any curriculum is what makes Subury
Valley (and life itself) what it is... A set of choices lies before people, and
nobody ever second-guesses another's ideas about what is important for her/him.

> 3. Who can attend a school like this? Are there certain requirements, or
> can any student attend? What happens to students who are learning disabled?
> Do they also thrive in this sort of environment?

Learning are terribly tragic when they occur and, that providence, are equally
rare. The school has had to bar enrollment to a handful of people over the
years, who truly could not make use of what Sudbury Valley had to offer because
of serious physiological problems.

However, 99% of what the schools label as "learning disabilities" are simply
instances of people who don't want to be pushed around... The kids diagnosed as
"ADD" simply are bored with what goes on in a classroom, and in fact concentrate
_very_ thoroughly on those things that interest them. Almost all kids who are
diagnosed as "dyslexic" simply aren't interested in reading what the teacher put
before them. These kids thrive at SVS, and their natural curiosity leads them
into exciting areas.

> 4. Are there any requirements for graduation?

Sadly (in my opinion) SVS does offer a diploma. I (personally) feel that one
day, the school will give up on offering degrees. Certainly, every few years
the school looks at the issue, and each time it seems that a greater and greater
number of people in our community agree that the school should reject the idea
of offering a diploma -- basically the ultimate "grade". I will not go into the
lengthy debates in favor of or against diplomas in this forum (though I will
admit to having snuck in a not-so-subtle jab against diplomas in this message).

However, at this writing, we do offer a diploma. It is contingent upon a
candidate being in residence at least three years, and then writing a thesis,
maintaining that s/he is prepared for life in the community at large, and
explaining how s/he used his/her freedom to prepare for life outside of the
school. After the written thesis has been reviewed by a volunteers from the
School Meeting (staff and students), and revised into a final form, it is sent
to the entire assembly (staff, stduents and parents). Then, there is a thesis
defense, at which assembly members comment, criticise and challenge the
candidate, and take a straw vote (by secret ballot) to indicate whether they
feel that the candidate has adequately defended the thesis. Finally, the
Assembly meets to discuss all the candidates, with all of the material in front
of them (all drafts of the theses, the vote totals from the ballots at the
defenses, a possible final revised thesis presented after the defense, etc), and
votes by secret ballot, a 3/4 positive vote being required by each candidate in
order to receive a diploma.

The school takes the self-imposed responsibility of judging candidates for
diplomas very critically, and very thoroughly. After all, if we are going t
offer a diploma, we do not want to take they hypocritical step of offering it
without consistent or high standards. The school's diploma has to be judged by
how easily it hands the scraps of paper out, so naturally we do not hand them
out easily.

> Thanks for answering my questions. I don't have any children as of yet, but
> when I do, I want my child to attend a Sudbury School!


> Roxanne Grandis
> >Sharon,
> >
> > The word "class" is often misleading when used at Sudbury Valley.
> Within the Sudbury Valley School culture, the
> >word "class" is used entirely differently than it is in other settings.
> >
> > What we call a "class" at Sudbury Valley might be better described as
> an "academic club" in another setting. Let
> >me run down some of the most obvious differences between SVS "classes", and
> tradtional classes. Other Sudbury Model
> >schools no doubt have different traditions around classes; this represents
> only what I see at Sudbury Valley.
> >
> >* Classes are rare and never take up more than a tiny fraction of any
> student's time (many of the more academically
> >oriented students wouldn't touch a class with a ten foot pole).
> >* Classes are not recognized in any official way by the school; they do
> not get any kind of precedence or priority
> >for room use, and the Judicial Committee can (and does) call people
> (including staff) out of classes when their
> >investigations require it.
> >* Classes are organized when (and only when) students take the
> initiative to organize them rather than being
> >organized "for" the students.
> >* There are no tests or grades used as either a prerequisite for
> attending the class or as a guage of "progress" as
> >the class continues.
> >* Classes often meet for only a few sessions.
> >* Classes usually center around discussion rather than around lecture.
> >* A person who chooses to stop attending the class may do so. This
> includes staff members (there is a related issue
> >of "primary tasks" on staff contracts, however).
> >
> >Sharon Stanfill wrote:
> >
> >> Joe,
> >> Could you comment further? I'm sure that the classroom dynamic
> >> is greatly different in most Sudbury schools than in many traditional
> >> schools, but how is it better?
> >>
> >> Sharon
> >>
> >> ----- Begin Included Message -----
> >>
> >> >From Tue Oct 20 18:53:02 1998
> >> X-Authentication-Warning: majordomo set sender to
> using -f
> >> From: Joe Jackson <>
> >> To: "''"
> >> <>
> >> Subject: RE: DSM: Sudbury Valley/Summerhill
> >> Date: Tue, 20 Oct 1998 18:09:45 -0400
> >> X-Mailer: Microsoft Internet E-mail/MAPI -
> >> Sender:
> >> Reply-To:
> >> Content-Length: 1638
> >>
> >> On Tuesday, October 20, 1998 3:06 PM, Sharon Stanfill
> >> [] wrote:
> >> >
> >> > Albert's mention of Shady Hill points to one of the potential problem
> >> > areas I see with Summerhill/SVS and similiar schools. It is certainly
> >> > true that people (not just children) will often work hard at learning
> >> > something that they are interested in or feel a need to learn, however,
> >> > it's simply not true that everyone can learn everything they might
> >> > be interested in well without excellent and often structured
> instruction.
> >> > Summerhill/SVS/etc. (what's the best phrase to refer to this set?) seem
> >> > likely to be less good at providing classes than other private
> schools -
> >> > there seems to be a tendancy to regard teaching as a relatively
> unskilled
> >> > activity.
> >>
> >> For good cause, as folks in our traditional schools who are considered
> >> "highly skilled teachers" are doing such an inferior job of "teaching" in
> >> this day and age. I've seen "highly skilled teachers" in action at a
> >> Sudbury School -- they have to use all of their conscious restraint to
> keep
> >> out of the student's faces, and rightly so, as that very tendency which
> >> most "skilled teachers" seemingly cannot resist (the urge to own,
> initiate,
> >> and control the learning process) is precisely what harms students the
> very
> >> most.
> >>
> >> However, I don't agree that Sudbury Schools don't do as good a job of
> >> "providing classes", in fact, I think the deemphasis, and in fact the
> >> un-dietification of the adult in the classroom revolutionizes the
> classroom
> >> dynamic to a degree that if I had not personally witnessed it I would
> call
> >> me a liar.
> >>
> >> -Joe
> >> Fairhaven School in MD
> >>
> >> ----- End Included Message -----
> >

-- Scott Gray

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