Re: DSM: Sharing the SVS model

Rick Stansberger (
Sat, 11 Nov 2000 08:23:23 -0700


I agree with you. Working inside any institution to change it is usually futile. Real change happens when
an institution is replaced by a model that grew outside that institution. There are mechanisms within any
institution that keep the basic premises from being challenged.

If I had to go back into a factory school -- whether public or private -- to earn my daily bread, I'd focus
on the kids and try to help the ones that I could reach.

When I run across a 275-lb tackle who writes poetry and whose mother is afraid to tell me because she's
afraid of what he might do, I can keep that in mind in his class when we work with poetry, and maybe in a
very indirect way, help him see that poetry is a lens for looking at the world and not a weak-kneed thing
for "fags." After graduation this guy was working in a meat-packing plant and introduced me to one of his
colleagues as "Number One English Teacher."

Had a kid who broke his back rappelling down a cliff in Kentucky. He spent a year in therapy, kept up with
his studies, and came back to school without a brace to sit in those hard, riveted seats all day. When he
started getting overwhelmed by the daily minutiae of school, I was able to remind him that in his short life
he'd done what few people ever could do, and that he was a hero (I believe I said something like "goddamn
HERO!"). Next to that, the daily silliness was certainly nothing to get panicky about. The kid never did
like me, but he stopped freaking out.

An honest teacher can do a lot of good within a school by reminding the inmates that school is artificial,
out of touch with the real world, and hardly "all there is." A good teacher can bring a lot of the real
world back into the classroom, and keep the bureaucrap to a minimum. Of course, you become the enemy of
some other teachers and all administrators, and you have to watch your back. And the kids won't necessarily
appreciate what you're doing.

It's not reform of the system I'm talking about, but kindness for the incarcerated. That's a good thing.
The best thing, of course, is to leave and start a sudschool, but not everybody can do that financially.

Since we're comparing schools to slavery, let's also think of the attitude of Abolitionists toward white
"slavocrats." Drawing battle lines is easy, but if going to war was the answer, then African Americans
would be reporting no prejudice in the South today. War against institutional schools will only harden the
opposition against you and make enemies of potential friends.


Scott Gray wrote:

> It is true that many people who are very close to the Sudbury Model are
> convinced that "working inside the public schools to change them" is
> counter-productive.
> There are several ideas behind this, including:
> 1: The good you do may only prove the point to one generation that is OK
> for them to put their kids in traditional school because "it is _possible_
> to be a good teacher in that environment"
> 2: To keep your job, however much you try to make your class pleasant,
> you still have a class -- and many people from the Sudbury school
> perspective feel that the very philosophy underlying the _concept_ of a
> class is at the heart of the problem in traditional schools. In specific,
> I feel that the act of moving from class to class is "teaching" two very
> particular lessons -- that society as a whole does not trust your
> instincts and that society as a whole is so certain that _academic_
> subjects are so boring (despite their reputed value) that people have to
> be coerced or cajoled to engage in academic pursuits. This teaches _both_
> powerlessness, _and_ a general disrespect of academia.
> 3: Taking a paycheck from the school system is suggesting a moral
> support for that system, and is in fact increasing the "supply" side of
> the teacher equation and thereby allows the system to purchase even _more_
> teachers with the same resources.
> 4: It is hard to sit in an environment where _you_ are constantly judged
> on your ability to "handle" your classroom, without slipping up and
> becoming the sort of person that _tries_ to "handle" a classroom. In
> other words, the old Northern argument against Slavery that slavery
> corupts event the "good" slaveholders.
> In fact, several staff in Sudbury Schools have _been_ teachers in
> traditional schools. It is interesting to note that many (all?) of those
> who have been staff in Sudbury schools long enough to deeply understand
> the philosophy and culture of a Sudbury school, tend to agree that working
> in the public schools had been counter-productive.
> In part, this is because there are very deep practical and philosophical
> ramifications to the ideas in a Sudbury school that can only be partly
> understood by a person who has not immersed him/herself in a community
> which lives the ideas.
> A person who lives in France and has read the newspapers may have some
> opinions about American culture (and perhaps very valuable reflaections on
> it that Americans cannot see), and a person in France who has read several
> scholarly books on American culture may have a deeper sense about the
> American culture, but the person who has absorbed the philosophical
> underpinnings of American culture by living in America will always
> understand things which cannot be understood by a person who has never
> lived in America. Likewise, books and academic discussions about what
> liberty means to children are very valuable -- but those books only tell
> half of a story, and the other half can only be understood by being
> immersed in a culture of free children.
> I _hate_ the argument "you are outside this community and so cannot ever
> hope to understand it." And I am _not_ making that argument. Instead I
> am trying to explain why it is _difficult_ to grasp some of the very
> subtle philosophical underpinnings in a Sudbury school. Please try to
> understand not just the pedagogical philosophy of Sudbury schools, but
> also the philosophy of human nature and human rights, before evaluating
> the claim made by many proponents of Sudbury schools that the Sudbury
> model is wholly incompatible with the traditional school system.
> As a footnote, I'll mention my own opinion as to how to best implement
> the Sudbury model in such a way that it is available for the public.
> Ignore the "public school" model -- that is far too tied up in people's
> minds with the concept of curricula and truancy laws. Rather, I would
> suggest that public libraries are wholly compatible with the Sudbury
> model.
> Imagine how nice it would be if even one fifth of the money eaten by a
> public school system, which caters to people who _don't_ want to be there,
> were spent on public resources available for anyone or everytone in the
> town is s/he chooses to make use of it. The library model can expand
> beyond books -- one could have a library include a football field for
> those citizens of the town that want one, a swimming pool, a full
> gymnasium, guest speakers, an appliance lending library (need a rug
> shampooer? Go down to the library and borrow one).
> A library doesn't require any member of the town to make use of its
> services, and so does not violate freedom of assembly. And a library is
> available to all residents, and so is not "elitist" in a way that a school
> is. (After all, if I pay taxes in my town I'm _still_ not allowed to use
> the football field unless I am a student in the high school.) A library
> lets those who can make _use_ of the library make use of it, and lets
> others walk away from it.
> Talking about changing the public schools, I fear, is useless. The fact
> is, huge industries are built up around curricula and mandatory
> attendance. It is politically easier to demolish them than it would be to
> reform them -- not that it is politically _possible_ to talk about
> demoplishing them at this point. Which leaves one alternative -- run an
> institution _right_ so that the idea can spread to others who can see that
> what you're doing is working, and hope that one day the idea will break
> into the popular culture far enough that one _can_ start dismantling the
> schools.
> On Fri, 10 Nov 2000, Rick Stansberger wrote:
> >
> >
> > Julianne Madrid wrote:
> >
> > > Kathleen,
> > >
> > > I also work in a public school and I agree that there
> > > are many committed people who work there. It is my
> > > struggle currently to figure out how to deal with
> > > making a living in the system we have (at least for
> > > now) while striving to maintain my own integrity in
> > > the matter of respect for young people, etc. The fact
> > > remains that this is the system that the majority of
> > > young people in this country go through. I don't
> > > think attacking the teachers is the way to go about
> > > it.
> >
> > I see an analogy to Viet Nam and the protestors calling returning vets baby killers. But the anti-war
> > vets had incredible power with the public when they showed up at protests and spoke from the knowledge
> > of people who had been there. I think that pro-Sudbury p.s. teachers can have a similar impact. If
> > only Sudbury insiders promote the Sudbury way, John and Jane Public will always be able to question
> > their motives.
> >
> > R
> >
> --Scott David Gray
> reply to:
> ============================================================
> I don't have any solution, but I certainly admire the
> problem.
> -- Oscar Wilde
> ============================================================

"Life is too important to be taken seriously."  Oscar Wilde

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