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

Bruce Smith (
Thu, 9 Nov 2000 19:07:25 -0700

I would like to respond to a number of messages at once.

First, I acknowledge Ben Day's point about much of private education being
more oppressive even than public schools. I agree, which is why I favor the
term "traditional" education to encompass _all_ variations, public _and_
private, of the public-education model.

To respond to Robert Swanson, yes, the Sudbury model evolves. That's one of
its most laudable attributes, that it _can_ evolve. Even now, there are
many variations among Sudbury schools. But this is because decision-making
power is invested in ALL participants. That's why evolution does not occur
at more than a glacial pace (and is only superficial) in traditional
schools. If you lack substantial, everyday decision-making power, your
influence on an institution's evolution is greatly diminished.

Of course, there's more to it than that. The reason why Sudbury encounters
such resistance even after thirty years, the reason why mere reform will
never amount to anything, is that the Sudbury model requires people to
think for themselves, and to give up all the comforts -- the security
blanket -- that traditional education promises ('do everything we say, and
you'll turn out allright'). Many people cannot seem to handle the former,
and the latter is a *tremendously* seductive promise which many people find
irresistable (because it carries with it the not-so-implicit threat that,
if you _don't_ do what they say, horrible things will befall you).

The Sudbury model fundamentally depends on people making a radical shift in
their thinking. It requires people to be independent-minded, willing to
stand apart from a majority. For Sudbury schools to become anything
approaching mainstream would require a similarly radical shift in the
general culture, *not* experiments within the traditional system.

Now, Kathleen's question:
<<Should we all go out on strike or quit on the bases that we're commiting

The decision is obviously up to each individual teacher. I know some
teachers, including a very good friend of mine, who see the ills of the
system yet remain behind for one reason or another. I may disagree with
their decision, it may seem very wrong to me, but who am I to make a
decision for someone else? Indeed, this is exactly _why_ I left the
public-education cesspool: because my opportunities to do good there were
totally overwhelmed and undermined by the destruction of people too eager
to make decisions for children.

Back to Ben:
<<It seems to me to be frequently forgotten that most students at SVM
schools have at least some form of financial cushions, whihc allows them
much more "freedom" both in their choice of education and their subsequent
choice of career and lifestyle>>

I sure don't know from what data Ben is characterizing "most" Sudbury
students. At the three Sudbury schools where I've staffed, my experience of
"most" is that most families have to work their *butts* off, sacrifice and
scrape and scrounge, to make it possible for their children to attend. Why
assume that we have some sort of "cushion"? I *have*no*cushion*. In fact, I
would rather do without a cushion and live a life of integrity than
compromise my ideals and support a system which I can't believe in.

<<For us to tell public school teachers that they are complicit in
undemocratic and unfree education, and that they should bail ship if they
truly believe in democracy and freedom, is to tell them to abandon all of
the children who don't have the privilege of alternative, private

See above. I'm not _telling_ anyone to abandon anything. Individuals have
to make up their own minds, based on their own values; which is, again, why
I couldn't conceive of remaining in traditional schools unless that meant
the difference between my family eating or starving. It took me years of
the most profound and bitter anguish to get to the point where I could
abandon the many whose only current option is public schooling. So I do
have some respect for some of those who are still there.

But the _Atlas Shrugged_ argument is that, yes, it is better to abandon a
corrupt system and its constitutents, and allow the system to collapse. The
damage that its collapse would inflict on people is the responsibility of
those who created and support the corrupt system, not those who move on to
create something better.

<<I think it's extremely unfair to devalue the work done by consciencious
teachers in traditional schools, doing the best that they can within the
constraints given to them by their employers.>>

I am not devaluing the efforts of these teachers. I am simply trying to
point out the implications of their decision to remain, which is that they
help perpetuate a sick and perverted system.

And finally, Kathleen again:

<<If they ask my permission to go to the restroom it really ticks me
off. They don't aske me anymore. I take the flak for it and try to imagine
how much I don't care.>>

The very fact that students' exercising their bodily functions is even an
issue makes my case. Can you imagine a more ridiculous, surreal
environment? How utterly demeaning, to students and teachers alike.

In closing, I have a question for Kathleen (and any others who choose to
field it): If you truly despise the system, why do you stay? Are the
numbers of students you help really worth the damage done to every one of


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