DSM: A Few Questions from a Newish Mom [Heather McDougal <heatherdoodle@yahoo.com>] (fwd)

Scott Gray (sdg@aramis.sudval.org)
Tue, 14 Nov 2000 21:34:31 -0500 (EST)

Hi all,

Heather McDougal <heatherdoodle@yahoo.com> sent this to the list. It was
bounced because, sometimes, our anti-spamming efforts prevent legitimate
posts from getting through.

Please try to keep her Cced in any replies, since she is not a member of
the list.

Thank you
--Scott David Gray
reply to: sdg@sudval.org
The schools are there ... to regulate the flow of young
competitors into the job market.

-- Daniel Quinn

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Date: Tue, 14 Nov 2000 15:45:17 -0800 (PST)
From: Heather McDougal <heatherdoodle@yahoo.com>
Subject: A few questions from a newish mom
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I read about the concept of Democratic Schools in this
month's Mothering. After looking through the various
readings on your Web site, I still have a few

First, a little background. I was raised by
craftspeople out in the country. They had a pottery
school where 35 people would come and stay with us for
6-8 weeks, so I was surrounded by adults. I did not
have such a great time at school, but it was a small
school (50 kids) so it wasn't as bad as it could have
been. Junior high and high school were nightmares,
and I finally got to go to a Quaker boarding school my
last year of school, which was a blessing. They were
very democratic.

I was encouraged to follow my dreams and explore
anything I was interested in. I read all the books I
could get my hands on. I was free, when at home at
least; but in junior high, I started to lose interest
in school (and this after being at the top of my class
in elementary school). Largely, it was because when I
got to the bigger school, I became invisible. I did
not find out about many things that would have helped
me because the research felt just too overwhelming. I
was left to myself at school and at home, to figure
out what I needed to know, and to explore that in my
own way.

There were problems with this. Yes, I had freedom,
but I also had some seriously traumatic experiences.
I felt a certain lack of support, and found myself
often at sea, because though I was interested in
things, I didn't have the tools to know in which
direction I should go to find out about them. I
didn't know enough to know what was out there for me
to learn. As a result, my knowledge even now is
spotty, and I have a problem with invisibility issues.
 It was as if I got lost somewhere.

An example of this inability to cope with too much
freedom is this: I had a group of four pure-bred
chickens that I wanted to groom for showing. I took
them out of the main chicken coop and put them in the
old coop, which didn't have an outside section. It
was my plan to make a run for them connected to the
chicken house where they were living on wire, but when
it came down to it I felt overwhelmed by the project I
had taken on. Meanwhile, the chickens developed a
disease from being inside all the time and slowly
became more and more deformed. Eventually I could not
bear to see them anymore and I stopped going inside
the chicken house, and they died. I carry the guilt
of that around to this day.

My questions are this:

1. I understand that every child has a voice in a
democratic school; however, how do you make sure that
a shy or introverted child gets their voice heard, in
an environment where everyone is saying what they need
to say? I always had trouble finding an "in" in
spoken situations; I waited so long for pauses in the
conversation that I never got to voice my feelings.

2. How do you ensure that the kids have access to the
information that will inspire them to know what they
want to learn? I always felt a certain ability to
learn anything, and as a consequence I never had much
direction or thrust. I have struggled with that to
this day, and wasted a lot of time feeling overwhelmed
with the impossibility of finding out enough about the
world for me to be able to make decisions about what
would suit me to learn and do. (Does that make

3. Is there any of the usual problems with girls not
getting heard in your school? It is a deep and
abiding cultural bias on our parts, and very hard to
escape, especially in "normal" schools.

4. In the vein of impossible tasks, I am deeply
interested in starting a school in my area (I have a
20-month old daughter). I live in Oakland, in the San
Francisco Bay Area. The other democratic schools are
at LEAST an hour, probably more, away from my house.
However, land here is prohibitively expensive. What
I'm wondering is, how have other schools gotten around
the issue of coming up with capital for creating a
campus? I live in a tiny 2-bedroom (850 square feet)
house in a very so-so area of crime-ridden Oakland,
and it's still worth nearly $300,000 dollars. So you
can imagine finding a place with enough space for a
school... Any suggestions?

Thank you for putting up with the lengthiness of my

Heather McDougal

She said, "there's a whole in my pocket.
I peel it like a tangerine
Standing tough in my backyard,
Shaping the clouds."

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