DSM: Getting it

Rick Stansberger (rickstan@zianet.com)
Tue, 21 Nov 2000 11:41:30 -0700

Dawn, and Joe and all,

Maybe you can help me here. I've "gotten it," I'm with the program, I'm
a total believer in the sudbury model. My own history, though, isn't
simple, and I want to share it with you in order to see how you respond.

I was the only child of two bright, under-educated parents who raised me
more as a companion than a kid. I can remember my mother saying,
"Think, Richard, think!" when we'd talk, and my outdoorsman father
saying, "Look, boy, look!" as he'd show me things in nature.

So I was a kid who went to school already knowing how to look and
think. Somewhere about second grade I got the idea that things were
pretty wrong when our teacher (who was in some kind of altered state)
taught us to mis-pronounce the word t-o-w-a-r-d-s. Forty little voices
saying "Too-WAR-ja" woke me up.

I never lost the sense that school was wrong, and I grew up living a
double life. I was a model student basically to keep out of trouble,
and at home I was an autodidact using my encyclopedias, chemistry set,
telescope, microscope, and the public library to feed my curiosity. So
I guess you could say that I was a sudburian by age 6, if not before.

When I became a teacher, first in college and then in high school, I
sought to reform the system and immediately plunged into conflict which
I hadn't expected. Weren't we all on the same side, engaged in the
pursuit of truth? I was shocked by the venality and stupidity I
encountered all over the map -- even by otherwise bright people -- and I
sought to study the problem. I read up on organizational psychology, I
learned personal survival tactics, I read about human brain physiology
and anything else I thought would help. And I conducted my own personal
war, pushing where I could, retreating where I had to, planting
suggestions and questions like land mines, trying experiments in my own
classroom, arguing heatedly with other teachers over drinks after work.

Something like 8 years ago, while I was still teaching in high school (a
private, inner-city school with most of the structure and problems of
public schools in similar locations), I came across an article about SVS
in _Educational Leadership_ magazine. I was impressed. I discussed the
model with friends, students, and colleagues to get their reactions. I
thought and thought and thought.

The little kid in me took to it right away, but I'd learned over the
years how much a system could corrupt even the best ideas, and so I
remained skeptical.

When I left the Midwest for the Southwest, I started teaching first in
an alternative private school with only 18 kids and a wilderness
agenda. That folded, and in the process I learned more about human
psychology and the corruptive nature of power. I went back to college,
teaching as an adjunct assistant prof, and was saddened to find that
college faculty life was the same vicious, bitter, pointlessly
competitive world I'd left.

Somewhere in there I got back in touch with the SVM, checked out the SVS
web site and contacted Larry Welshon, through whom I bought some books
from SVPress. I read, thought, talked, started my own web mentoring
business for homeschoolers, did some freelance writing, and tried to get
others interested in starting a sudschool.

Eventually I just gave up and decided that if I didn't do it myself, it
wouldn't happen, so last July I just declared that there was going to be
one, and I've been gathering people together ever since , losing some,
and getting into some surprising arguments.

So here's my problem. I can agree with Joe who seems to be saying that
either you get it or you don't. I got it all on my own, having been
prepared to do so by my parents.

But I was also one of the ones who needed to be persuaded. It took my 8
years from the time I first learned about SVS to the time I was ready to
launch a sudschool here in Silver City. As an adult, I had learned to
be skeptical of institutions, and the behavior of people in
institutions. Just because an institution says it is doing a certain
thing doesn't mean it actually is doing that thing, and in fact, it
could very well be doing the opposite.

If I had been verbally jumped by Sudbury partisans while I was still in
the transition stages, I would have doubted the reality of SVS's
claims. I would have seen in those attacks just another form of the
same stuff I got from teachers, administrators, parents and students in
tradschool as they defended their turf from interlopers.

And I might have given up altogether, since SVS looked like the last
turning point in the maze, the last thing I hadn't really tried in one
way or another.

So here I am wondering if it isn't both ways at the same time:

   * you either get it or you don't
   * you get it but you're not convinced it will really work, and you
     need to see what kind of people are actually the ones who are
     living and functioning inside that model

At least that's the way it happened for me. If I had gone with first
impressions, I would have walked away from the model. Words like
"rigid," and "elitist" have come to mind. BUT I stayed with the
arguments, remained as honest as I know how to be, and I've discovered
honesty in return -- a thing you won't find with people who are fighting
to preserve an illusion or a lie. When you get down to their very core,
you find the illusion or the lie wrapped in fear and anger.

So I hope that you all will be patient with folks like me, people who
have worked in the trenches and are honestly searching. If you had met
me 8 years ago, some of you might have called me evil and weak, just in
it for the money. (I would have laughed, by the way, knowing how little
money there is in teaching.) And I probably would have given up on the
sudbury model in sadness -- and probably given up on education
altogether, thinking there was no good alternative.

Maybe I'm the only one with this kind of history. But what if there are
millions like me? I don't know, but if there are, the appearance of
irrational anger will drive people like us away. What if we're the
second stage in the spread of the Sudbury model?

I don't know. Like many people, I tend to treat others as being like
myself. Maybe my approach is misguided. I would be really interested
in having others on the list share how they came to the Sudbury model.
I hope it's appropriate for this list, but if not, please feel free to
e-mail me personally. I'm seeking to learn about this, because it's
crucial to the survival of our new enterprise here in Silver City.


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