Re: DSM: Re: Is democracy for everyone?

rhonda goebel (
Fri, 06 Aug 1999 08:50:31 +0000 wrote:

Mimsy, It's good to meet you too. I have been a silent fan of yours for
a while. Thanks for your reflective thoughts. Listed below are some of
my responses.

> SVS has never had a wheelchair-ed applicant. The kind of kid we cannot serve
> is the kind who cannot be totally responsible for his or her own education or
> his or her own actions.

R - Does this mean then that democratic communities are not for
everyone? Like Juliette, I hold ideals that are characteristic of the
60's revolution. I guess what I would like to see is a democratic
community that has a strong sense of social responsibility. This would
mean striving to include everybody, whatever it takes to do so, even if
it means taking on some responsibility for individuals who need support,
kind of like the wheel chair example you gave of people hauling the
person and the chair up and down the stairs. Hopefully, the schools
would get support from others to include people who need intensive
support, like your Windsor House example.

> So, don't be too sure that there is no room for people with different needs
> in different schools.

R - My perception is that in reality, free schools do more to genuinely
include people with a variety of needs than any other system I've seen
or know of.

> However, sometimes I wonder what is going on here. The idea of SVS is, first
> and foremost, to be a school, to offer its students a place to live and learn
> in freedom. Democracy happens to be the government that makes most sense in
> such a place, especially when the school happens to be in a democratic
> country, but let us realize that the aims of Sudbury Valley are more limited
> than extending democracy to every child in the world.

R - This could be where the root of the issue is: Is SVS simply another
choice of alternative schools for a select few, or something more? I
guess I want it to be more. My understanding is that the Sudbury model
strives to be an example of a democratic community in action. I have
great respect for the school; in my opinion it is the most humane and
effective example of genuine democracy in schooling. Indeed, my own son
is in the process of deciding on attending a Sudbury model free school.
The only thing that bothers me is how I have heard some advocates of the
model justify certain exclusionary practices. I would not have a
problem if these people were striving toward fair inclusion (which, as
Scott's response demonstrated, is open to a range of interpretations).
Given that reality requires limitations of membership (you can't for
example take on 10,000 new students in a year, should they all apply), I
think it is essential to examine the ethics of the terms of exclusion
and inclusion. If the tenants of this community model justify exclusion
based on special needs that involve not being able to be fully
self-directed, I question the humanity of the tenants.

I hope no offense is taken by my critical analysis. In reality, I am a
huge supporter and advocate of the Sudbury model. I teach in an elite,
conservative public schools, and go head to head against school
establishment employees much more often than I'm comfortable with. I
basically go to my room, shut the door, do my own thing, and hope nobody
of power walks in at the wrong moment. The motto that's helped to keep
me sane: "It's easier to be forgiven than ask permission." I plan on
moving on after my contract is up this academic year.

If my confrontation is not welcome, I'm happy to put the issue aside and
discuss one of the numerous positive aspects of the model.


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