Re: DSM: public school prisons (sharing the SVS model, etc.)

Robert Swanson (
Thu, 09 Nov 2000 01:44:28 -0800

Absolutely (see Bruce's statement below), Sudbury is such a different
paradigm that this round peg won't fit into the square hole of public or
institutional education. I empathize with your sentiments and agree in the
context in which you have spoken.

But... there's another context. Even SVS evolved. It evolved as discussions.
It became a building and funding. It became an initial group of
administration. Then the administration changed. Teachers changed. Finally,
there has been the intent that SVS population evolve into something much
larger. So, we see that SVS had its own square hole as an administration
that had to change. Also the culture -- the culture began with small
intimacy. This intimacy developed the expansive legal (litigious) culture.
Just imagine if SVS had jumped into an arena of six hundred students or

The same for a public school. Behavior must be shaped. Begin with a small
room for a small group working out details of democratic freedom for select
compliant students. Establish an advantage as a clear result of democracy
and make this particular value public. At a later date find more rooms and
make them look formal. Allow several groups to "compete" (there are no
loosers, just democratic choices) for advantages. Democratically choose
among exemplified methods and advantages, and appoint (or elect) the
pertinent people to carry out the wishes of the voters. Push a bill of
rights through the general school political system in support of your
student's efforts. Speak to the press that families and other schools
acquire a positive ideation about the changes you are initiating. Allow
progressive students to stand in front, fully supported by the rest of the
school. What has been done for the evolution of competitive sports can be
used in support of democracy and personal non-competitive development.


on 11/8/00 7:33 PM, Bruce Smith at wrote:

> Although many people have already spoken eloquently on this subject, I
> cannot hold back.
> First, a quick biographical note. I've been a staff member at Sudbury
> schools for three and a half years. Before that, I taught in public schools
> for five years. Like the authors of previous posts, I too tried to be --
> and, at the time, I thought of myself as -- a particularly humane teacher.
> I was on what I considered extremely good terms with many of my students.
> My last year in that system, one of my classes gave me a card which they
> all had signed. The most frequent comment was "thank you for treating us
> like people." This flattered and depressed me; the depression came when I
> realized that what set me apart from their other teachers was that I
> actually cared about and respected them.
> BUT...
> I want to respond to the initial question, 'If you were given a free hand
> in your public middle school what outcomes might result if the SVM was
> implemented?' First, may I point out that that's a mighty big IF? The sine
> qua non of public schooling is that *no one* gets a free hand! So what
> would happen if one attempted to implement Sudbury in a public school? Not
> nothing; no, worse than nothing. First, students would be (rightfully)
> suspicious: you're not really giving us freedom, don't feed us that line,
> etc. Then, if the teacher was sincere and persistent, eventually some
> students might start to believe you. Just as soon as that happened, BOOM --
> curriculum and behavioral requirements would slam the door. Try and tell me
> that wouldn't happen.
> Mostly, what a Sudbury-traditional hybrid would create is mass confusion
> and frustration; slightly raised hopes, followed by harsh disappointment
> and disillusionment. Don't overlook the fact that years and years of
> brainwashing leave many students totally unable to _handle_ freedom for
> quite some time. Why do you think so many college undergraduates go berserk
> when they're on their own, making their own decisions for the first time in
> their lives? If you, out of the blue, told your captive audience that you
> were giving them a teeny taste of freedom, what the hell do you *think*
> would happen?
> What bothers me most is the suggestion that one can implement "parts" of
> the Sudbury model in a public-school setting. Hogwash! Look, either you're
> free or you're not. Having a "partial" Sudbury environment is like being a
> little bit pregnant or dead. You can't mix coercion and freedom ("pay no
> attention to the authoritarian behind the curtain"). When the adults hold
> all the power, you cannot pretend that the students are free in the least.
> A minimum-security prison is still a prison. The other thing that
> especially bothers me is the sugar-coating of coercion in guises of choice
> and freedom ("you have the *choice* of which of my projects you *have* to
> do). Bullshit. In the good old days of public education, at least the
> strict, authoritarian oppression of kids wasn't passed off as something
> else. Nowadays, students are treated like asylum inmates ("we're just doing
> what's best for you"), and made to feel that any problem they have with
> this arrangement is theirs, and not the system's.
> Look, I don't doubt that those of you on this list who are still in
> traditional schools mean well, and are doing your damnedest to treat your
> students as human beings. But you have to realize that, even if you are not
> the enemy, you _are_ giving aid and comfort to that enemy. How many of you
> have read _Atlas Shrugged_? Trying to do good within a corrupt system
> really only perpetuates the corruption (come on, don't tell me educational
> reform is really getting anywhere!). Of course, to abandon those trapped in
> the system _is_ a terrible price to pay. But I, and others, saw no other
> choice.
> I agree that we gain nothing by attacking traditional educators personally.
> But those who are taken aback by the intensity of this discussion must
> understand that, for many of us, the suggestion that one can be truly
> humane in that cesspool of oppression pushes the hottest of hot buttons.
> Bruce Smith
> p.s. I HIGHLY recommend the document "Open letter to the Superintendent of
> Schools" by Robert Alter. It should be available somewhere on the Web (if
> not, I can scrounge up a copy). Also, John Holt's _Freedom and Beyond_
> speaks marvelously to impossibility of freedom within traditional
> education.

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