Re: DSM: Is democracy for everyone?

Shanti Spencer (
Sun, 08 Aug 1999 13:35:12 PDT

On August 4, wrote:

>Since we've lived deep inside the belly of this beast of a question for the
>last year or so, I want to chime in with my (short but intense) experiences
>as a parent of a "special needs" child who's spent the last year (and
>hopefully will spend many more) at an SVS-model school:
>My child, who is off-the-charts (if we paid attention to charts)
>and was reading "adult" books (Stephen J Gould, Nietzche, you name it) when
>he was 8 or 9, was classified by the supposedly great public school system
>where we lived as waaaaay special needs: Gifted/Learning Disabled, ADD,
>Oppositional Behavior Disorder (he wanted to read in class when it was time
>to "do the lesson"), Seriously Emotionally Disturbed, etc, etc. The
>there decided that he needed level 4 or 5 special ed services. I decided
>that he was mostly just fed up with the toxicity of the schools'
>and was smart and self-assured enough to rebel. After a few disastrous
>experiences with the "accommodations" these schools offered, I decided that
>we would move across the country if necessary to get him into an SVS school
>before we both became Seriously Emotionaly Disturbed. I was just convinced
>that at least some of these "special needs" would diminish or vanish when
>was in an environment where he was truly respected and where he was
>to behave respectfully toward both himself and others.
>Well, some of them did. But it's not a fairy tale. All year long my child
>has had to learn to re-set his behavioral and attitudinal "defaults," and
>hasn't always been particularly successful. Some of his early and
>experiences, as well as his hard-wiring, make this harder for him, perhaps,
>than for other kids. And JC and school meeting, while patient and often
>have had to deal very firmly with him on some of his remaining issues. In
>fact, several times this year he came close to having to leave the school.
>Fortunately, I think (hope) he has learned to modify his behavior --
>motivated in a way he never was before, this time by the fact that he loves
>the school and really wants to be there.
>My point is that the democratic process worked for this very "special
>person in a way that none of the "accommodations" in public school did.
>this is hard to say, but I believe that even if he had been kicked out, it
>would have still worked. In that case, we would both know that some other
>kind of situation was necessary -- but we would have found it out because
>an authentic assessment of his functioning in a real community, not because
>of the bizarre and arbitrary criteria of the public school leviathan. And
>would have both believed it. And though we would both be heartbroken, I
>would still believe that the school had a right to preserve itself and to
>provide safety for the other members of the community.
>One more comment -- our school, which was a start-up that just opened last
>year, does have a wheelchair ramp, wide doorways, and other features that
>would make it a welcoming environment for a mobility challenged person --
>even though none now attend. After that, how that persons would get his or
>her needs met would be up to them. I assume that that would be something
>like how the littler children accomplish some of the more physically
>challenging tasks -- try to do it themselves, and ask for help if they

Shanti responds:

I want to thank you for sharing your first hand experience as a parent of a
"special needs" child. I found what you learned from that experience to be
right on target with how we should all be approaching this difficult
question: EVERYONE (staff, students & parents) needs to be daring enough to
try a new routine, patient & persistent enough to allow the initial mishaps
to work themselves out, and humble enough to acknowledge defeat if that
attempt truly proves to not work (and of course creative enough to think of
the next approach).

>From what I understand of Sudbury Schools, no student is turned down without
an in depth discussion of the student's charactor (including "special needs"
-- a discussion that one person pointed out may cause the parent and/or
potential student to realize of their own accord that the school is not
right for them. If this is not a conclusion that they come to, then I think
it is only fair that the school be daring and open-minded enough to allow
the student a chance to fit in to the system. Likewise, I think the parents
and student need to be open minded enough to respect the school's goals and
limitations, and to acknowledge that the child and school are incompatible
-- IF that is the reality after patient, persistent attempts at finding

As another person pointed out, "special needs" is too broad a term upon
which to base any sort of policy. Sudbury is great because it allows for
the uniqueness of each individual and the opportunity for failure (please
understand that I view failure not as loss but as gain in that it allows us
to learn and move on). In this light, it makes sense that each "special
needs" child be dealt with like everyone else, as an individual, and
likewise be given the chance to succeed or fail.

I thank for modeling an insightful, open-minded parent. You
should be very proud to have raised a son self-assured enough to rebel
against "the system", and I am very happy that so far Sudbury has been a
place where he feels safe and respected enough to cooperate.

Great discussion everyone,

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