Re: DSM: Is democracy for everyone?

Scott David Gray (
Wed, 04 Aug 1999 15:07:35 -0400

I'll try to respond, Rhonda.

First, I'd suggest that you are probably thinking about my father -- Peter Gray
-- when you mention the studies done.

rhonda goebel wrote:

> What do you think is a fair way to include every person in democratic
> schooling, and have as equal opportunity as reality permits?

Sudbury Valley's policy seems to be as open and fair a policy as any institution
is capable of. We agonized over the wording of our open enrollment policy in
the by-laws, so please realize that this is based on my faulty memory and NOT
being quoted from the by-laws. We say something to the effect that enrollment
is completely open to any person who is able to educate her/himself in the free
community at the school. It places the burden of proof on the SCHOOL if it
wishes to claim that a given student wouldn't be able to live in freedom in the
school; other schools place the burden of proof on the student to prove that
s/he would do well in the school.

Is this hard to understand? A person who is incapable of behaving himself in
the theater, or who might hurt him/herself in the theater, is kicked out of the
theater. A person who has a physical handicap is advised against going to a
meeting on the 5th floor of an apartment with no elevator. If a person is
afraid of the outdoors, then s/he really should not become a boy/girl scout.
It's nice when individuals and institutions are ABLE to accommodate handicaps
(not everyone can accommodate mine -- diabetes), and some of us think it's nice
that the state uses some of its resources to help some people overcome some
handicaps (when not too great a strain on the public purse for the number of
people helped).

But sometimes life is unfair, and NO institution can help everybody. For
example, last week I catered a meal for 40 people, including a couple who were
lactose intolerant, two who were diabetic, one who cannot eat foods with
potassium, and a few who were kosher. I had to tell a couple of them "sorry, no
dessert for you".

> Does this mean that democratic education is not a possibility for all?

Democracy is not possible for every adult. A person in a coma is not able to
register to vote, nor would there be any way to accommodate her/him in the
polling place. This doesn't mean that the governing body under whose authority
s/he falls doesn't have an obligation to govern in her/his name. But it does
mean that, in real life, sh*t happens.

The responsibility of any community is to make the franchise as open to as many
of its members as possible. This means not creating needless hurdles to jump
through (literacy tests for the vote were fairly recently declared a needless
and unconstitutional hurdle). However, it also means not inconveniencing the
rest of the body politic in order to accommodate one member.

That said, it is important to remember that Sudbury Valley can and does
accommodate a very wide range of people. But as an institution with a limited
budget, it would be madness to declare before the fact that we can and will be
able to accommodate every need. An adult who needs nursing care, does not and
can not walk into the local library and expect the library to provide a full
time medical assistant. Likewise, a student who needs nursing care cannot
expect that Sudbury Valley would be able to provide it.

> I know that this is reality, but can you explain further about your
> ethical analysis of it? Do you see 'community' primarily as individuals
> getting what they need through it, or as individuals working together in
> ways that enable everyone get what everyone needs, or some combination?
> How do you see social responsibility in a free, democratic school?
> These are questions that have developed for me as I have researched free
> schools. I don't mean to put Scott on the spot, anyone can answer.

The first thing we demand of any physician is that s/he "do no harm". Given
that people can usually choose their physicians, but not always their
government, it seems to be important advice for governments and governing

If the first responsibility of a governing body is to do no harm, than governing
bodies must tread very carefully before spending too much of the public purse on
any project that serves only a small minority (believe it or not the public
purse is limited -- particularly in a small community like Sudbury Valley).
This standard, I believe, can be applied to schools.

The short answer is, the community should be caring and kind. The community
should do its best to offer as much as it can reasonably do for each member or
would-be member of that community (bearing in mind financial, temporal, and
philosophical restraints). And if, despite the generosity of the community, the
individual will still not be able to reside in the community, it is a tragedy.
But the tragedy is nobody's fault.

-- Scott David Gray
Phone: 508/650-9639
ICQ: 27291292

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