Re: DSM: Getting it

Scott Gray (
Sun, 26 Nov 2000 17:48:32 -0500 (EST)

Hi John,

     Before I leap head first into a difficult and dangerous kettle,
please allow me a disclaimer:
     Sudbury Valley is, except insofar as is defined by the Mission of the
school as stated in the by laws, politically neutral. The school has
never, to my knowledge, taken any position on the very political issues
alluded to in your question. As such, I will answer about my own
political positions, and _only_ my own political positions -- please do
not construe these as indicitive or representative of the views of other
persons in the school or of the school.

     It seems to me that it is a political and economic reality that
people will find different niches to fill in the world. It seems to me
that any educational system which makes every student into a mathematics
professor has either failed or has intentionally only enrolled people who
are prone to become mathematics professors, just as an educational system
which turns out only people who work in service professions has either
failed or has intentionally only enrolled people who are prone to become
service people.
     By extension, it seems to me that there are many different strategies
for dealing with the world, and philosophies of how one wants to live ones
life. It strikes me that there will always be people who are prone to
follow a low-effort strategy of relying on the discards of wider society
and/or on the kindness of others but living without expectations of
material luxury (and, to be sure, the actions of the society make that
lifestyle more or less rewarding to a greater or lesser number of people).

     When evaluating how our political and economic systems function, I am
happy to consider the number of people that "reject" the
employment-and-consumption model for life in favor of a radically
different lifestyle. When evaluating schools, though, I am interested only
in the question of whether people who leave the school follow their chosen
style of life "well."
     As to the first question. My _personal_ politics incline me to the
belief that the _first_ obligation of the society and the state is to "do
no harm." That said, I am personally aghast at public efforts to prevent
people from choosing to live off of other people's waste -- city programs
that encourage resturaunts to lock up their dumpsters so that the homeless
are forced to make use of soup kitchens that often have a political
agenda, programs that have police move the homeless out of public spaces,
etc. If the state and society want fewer people to choose homelessness,
it strikes me that the state and society should try to make the
alternatives more attractive rather than making the chosen life of the
homeless unbearably harder.
     As to the second question. It is possible to live any life in a more
or less responsible fashion. A business-person may or may not try to give
his/her employees respect, a physician may or may not keep in mind the
_public_ health rather than only his turnaround when deciding whether or
not to prescribe anti-bacterials, a homeless person may or may not choose
to live in such a way that s/he does not take from her/his compatriots on
the street, and even a thief may minimize the amount of damage that s/he
does to property in the course of securing her/his livlihood and may
select targets that will be less frightened or impacted by the theft.

     Sudbury Valley avoids making institutional judgements about any
person's chosen life. However, individuals cannot help but hold some
people in higher or lower esteem because of the person's chosen lifestyle
coupled with the way in which s/he lives it. I too have heroes, such as
Frederick Douglass and John Brown. The trick is to realize that, as they
say, "it takes all kinds to make a world," and not to begrudge those who
are building a part of it that you are less interested in or impressed by.

     Looking over what I've written, I realize that I haven't directly
answered your question. Do I value the right of a person to incur costs
on a state or society that chooses to carry those costs?
     My answer is, I do not begrudge a person for taking what is offered
to her or him. A very different question, and one on which reasonable
people can differ, is whether or not society and the state should make
more available to people at the cost of that subset of people who are
paying for it (and, if so, what and under what terms). I think that you
can answer that question in all sorts of ways without losing your respect
for individual choices -- you can allow a person to choose to reject
society and then accommodate him/her by being sure that society does not
intrude with anything like a handout, or you can decide to offer goods
(money, food, shelter, clothing) to any person unconditionally without any
questions, etc.

On Sun, 26 Nov 2000, John Axtell wrote:

> Scott,
> Thank you for correcting incorrect information about the functions of the brain. I
> knew the previous statements to be false but lacked the background to prove it wrong.
> I do have another question for you. It would seem that you value the aspirations of
> an individual to all professions equally. Do you also value the right of the child to
> grow up to be dependent on the state utilizing our excellent welfare system for life
> as one of my children has done?? Does not a school such as SV have some obligation to
> the other children in the school and society at large to at least make some attempt
> to ensure that students have the fundamentals needed to not be a burden on the rest
> of the students, and as they grow up the larger society?
> It is somehow your premise that the individual has the right to grow up and starve to
> death and be homeless except for the generosity of an overtaxed society?? Or is the
> SV model basically a model based on socialistic principles?
> Sorry if I sound a bit confused but as a new listener I am confused as to just what
> is the underlying political philosophy behind the school.
> John Axtell
> Scott Gray wrote:
> > Robert,
> >
> > Putting on my hat as an amateur in the social sciences... Your
> > underlying premise is mistaken -- the claim that only 10% of the human
> > brain is actually used is an old wives tale. Every single neuron and
> > glial cell seems to have some direct use in making us who we are in _all_
> > people (barring a handful of persons with neurological dysfunction).
> > Believe me, if I were to surgically remove the 90% of your neurons which
> > fire least, I guarantee that someone will notice the difference -- those
> > cells are _not_ unused. By the same token, if I force those cells which
> > fire less frequently to fire often, once again someone will notice the
> > difference as you spasm and recall things and produce words without any
> > outside cause and effect!
> >
> > Putting on my hat as a person who has a long standing involvement with
> > Sudbury Valley... One of the fundamental assumptions of the school is
> > that no life is inherently better or more fulfilling than any other -- we
> > do not assume (as most schools do) that it is "better" to be an academic
> > or a political leader or a succesful businessman or a well respected
> > artist, than it is to run a small shop be a gardener be an auto mechanic
> > or be a film critic for a tiny paper.
> > What _if_ there is "more"? Who is to decide what is "more?" We leave
> > that to the free market of ideas. If some people at SVS immerse
> > themselves more deeply in academia, and somehow exploit their own mind and
> > energy than others, we don't object to them doing it _or_ to others seeing
> > it and following their example. But we don't encourage it either.
> > And finally, this is why other schools are innately anti-intellectual
> > while Sudbury schools are not. Putting academia on a pedastal, and
> > assuming that it is somehow _innately_ more noble, has a very serious
> > disadvantage in other schools. Those schools are sending a message --
> > that academia _must_ be dull or why the heck would these other people feel
> > obliged to cajole us to be more involved in academic pursuits? It
> > teaches, first and foremost, that the "most important thing in life" is so
> > dull that authorities in your life feel you wouldn't pursue it without
> > being cajoled -- and thereby it teaches that everyone expects a
> > _succesful_ life to be uninteresting.
> >
> > As a footnote on the question of the origin of the "10% of the brain"
> > wives tale... This is based upon some half-baked assumptions, some of
> > which are outrageous (e.g. "we can calculate how many 'things' a person
> > can remember about any given scene we show her/him, and how much room that
> > would optimally take in the human brain") and some of which are ridiculous
> > (e.g. "its obvious that the only use of the human brain is to remember
> > things"). This formulation was very common in the popular press during
> > the height of the "behaviorist" model of the brain (since pretty straight
> > out debunked) which assumes that mind is only a "black box" and not worthy
> > of study and then goes on to assume that the "black box" doesn't even
> > exist. Bear in mind that we only recently began to hesitantly catalog
> > some functions of the glial cells in the brain (formerly thought to be
> > only 'support structures') -- who is such an expert neurologist that s/he
> > can succesfully say what role any given (let alone every given) neuron or
> > glial cell is playing? And why hasn't s/he been awarded the Nobel prize
> > yet? Forget it -- the brain is not just a memory bank, it is a personality
> > machine and, as near as we can tell, it works to its _full_ potential to
> > do that well!
> >
> > On Sat, 25 Nov 2000, Robert Swanson wrote:
> >
> > > on 11/22/00 6:23 AM, Rick Stansberger at wrote:
> > > > ...And that's my answer to your question about what I think goes on in
> > > > sudschools: people doing what they were designed to do. Lungs breathe,
> > > > brains
> > > > learn. And by "learn" I don't mean absorb information or record conditioning.
> > > > I mean interact with the world on the basis of perceived truth, which is
> > > > constantly being tested, revised, refined. What do you think people do in
> > > > sudschools?
> > > > Rick
> > > >
> > >
> > > >From what I've read it seems the student's at SVS play a lot and talk a lot.
> > > Surely this goes a long way to supporting development mentally and socially,
> > > at least as compared to public schooling. I get the idea there is a
> > > tremendous inner sense of self so different from what I know. This sense
> > > seems to enable a passage through life with an ease and creativity much the
> > > opposite from my sense of hesitancy and fear.
> > >
> > > The question that remains for me asks is there more? If sudstudents knew
> > > people develop 1% of their higher brain potential maybe they too would ask
> > > is there more. If it is true that potential only develops if it is modeled
> > > then perhaps we are doing a disservice not actively exposing students to
> > > people expressing higher function.
> > >
> > > If this is true, what is holding SVS back from moving in this direction? Is
> > > the intent still there that started the school in the first place?
> > >
> > > robert
> >
> > --Scott David Gray
> > reply to:
> >
> > ============================================================
> > A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change
> > the subject.
> >
> > -- Winston Churchill
> > ============================================================

--Scott David Gray
reply to:
The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that
heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but
"That's funny..."

-- Isaac Asimov

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