DSM: RE: Re: Prompting discussion

Joe Jackson (shoeless@jazztbone.com)
Mon, 27 Nov 2000 00:22:22 -0500

> Is the DemStartup list-serv publicly available? If so, how does
> one join it?

I was afraid to mention it because it is limited to folks who have started
or are trying to start a SM school. Sorry 'bout that.

> > Many have tried and failed to get grants for our schools.
> I would like to hear more about this. What was attempted and why
> did the attempts fail?

We have applied for several grants, and currently we are applying for more.
I have heard that several of our schools have gotten donations of books and
software, but to my knowledge none of the schools have received foundation

>From time to time we get new folks that come in and say, "well why?" and
then they try and it doesn't work, etc.

> > ... the interests of the school in operating democratically
> extend only to
> > the fundamental mission of the school, which is to provide the said
> > environment to our students. While a student's awareness of
> the dynamics
> > of personal freedom and democratic principles might be desirable to some
> > adults, the school should not have any institutional bias
> towards whether a
> > particular student should learn such principles, as the resulting
> > _institutional_ agenda would inevitably preempt the incredible
> gifts of the
> > self-initiated learning paradigm.
> (also, in another post today, Joe wrote)
> > The institution should have no political philosophy. Aside from the
> > legality of a 501(c)3 org. engaging in pertisan political activities, an
> > institutionalized political orientation would fly squarely in
> the face of
> > what is to me the prime directive of the model - self-directed
> curriculum!
> These statement are well-said, and I generally agree with them,
> especially the underlying concept that _most_ adult viewpoints,
> however valid, should not be forced onto children.

For the record, I believe that _all_ adult viewpoints shouldn't be forced on

> But I want to
> raise a few issues:
> (a) I am not very familiar with the political limitations on a
> 501(c)3 organization, but doesn't it extend mostly to overt
> political activities such as supporting candidates? If a 501(c)3
> organization has processes that come from a certain political or
> social viewpoint, I am not aware of legal limitations on that.

You are correct, the regs don't apply there. Sorry (again).

> (b) You wrote about the fundamental mission of a Sudbury-model
> school .... Are the by-laws, mission statement, or other similar
> documents available for SVS and/or other schools? I believe some
> of my questions would be answered by reviewing this type of information.

All of our docs are available for public inspection. We have two
corporations, Fairhaven School Inc., which owns the premises, undertakes
expansion projects, and provides PR, fundraising and certain other services
to Fairhaven School. FHS itself operates under the umbrella of Fairhaven
Fellowship, a Maryland Church Corporation.

As far as our fundamental mission, it is touched on in several of our
documents. An excerpt from the Fairhaven Fellowship creed:

"We believe in providing for our children... a democratically self-governed
educational environment within which they are free to explore life in all
its complexity."

The membership, powers, and duties of School Assembly and School Meeting are
explicitly outlined in the Fairhaven School Governing Procedures (equivalent
to SVS's By-Laws).

I believe Article II of the FHS Governing Procedures states (I do not have a
copy of this particular document here) that the school is founded upon the
principle that learning happens best in an environment of self-motivation,
and that the curriculum shall be self-initiated, equal status will be given
to all pursuits, and that equal opportunity to govern the school shall be
enjoyed by all (remember I'm doing this by memory).

> (c) In any situation where opinion differs (i.e. almost all
> interactions between humans), people assign varying weight to the
> input of different people. It appears that the Sudbury model
> involves a much broader respect for the input of people with
> different ages, different levels or types of experience, etc. --
> in contrast to the "real" world, where age, money, and power
> usually rule. However, a particular situation may lead an older
> student, a staff member, or another adult to express a certain
> viewpoint eloquently and/or vehemently, due to their experiences.
> If enough people (especially adults) express similar viewpoints,
> the result may be a de facto institutional bias.

While I do not disagree with this, I question it's usefulness. Every
decision made by a group within an organization is a "defacto" institutional
opinion, but it is not an official institutional position. I see a really
big difference.

For instance, if the FHS computer corporation decides to buy a Mac, it does
not mean that Mac is the official computer of Fairhaven School (no matter
how much Apple would like for it to be).

Regarding your scenario about strong opinions ruling, my reaction is that
the actions of a democratic organization ALWAYS represent the will of the
electorate, and that as long as the procedures are keeping with democratic
principles, the outcome is the "defacto" organizational opinion of the
moment. I do not agree that opinions carry just because they are strong or
eloquent; people have to agree and vote with them. I have seen
strong-willed people not get their way over and over again at School
Assembly Meeting (including me!!).

> In addition, an
> institutional agenda exists in terms of the mission of the
> school. Biases are a reality, and not automatically bad.

OK. But what I was specifically answering was regarding any underlying
political philosophy of the school. The "mission of the school" IS the
school, it's a bit misplaced to call it a bias. For the purposes of this
conversation I think we're talking about specific biases external to the
purpose and mechanism of the model itself.

There is a distinction to be drawn; it is an important one.

For instance, making a "green" building was a bias of our founders group
when we were in startup, however that bias was rooted in the interests of
the operation of the school - we wanted to limit environmental impact, get
state "Million Solar Roofs" money, get on the solar homes tour, lower
utility bills, etc. We built an art room, but that was pursuant to
initially setting up an environment in a way we had seen it set up in other
schools, which needed to be done in order to open. School Meeting could
change the room designation the day we opened.

> However, where is the line drawn between biases (de facto or
> institutional) and the importance of self direction?

If I follow you right, my response is that the importance of self-initiated
learning is absolute, as is the importance of democratic governance.

> Is a
> different line drawn when dealing with personal curricula, interactions
between people, and
> school operations? Feel free to respond with examples, as that may be the
> enlightening for me or for others who have similar questions.

Well, personal curricula and personal interactions are one and the same in
the school, and biases and agenda should never, ever preempt self-initiated
learning in any situation where the rights of others are not being violated.
However, school operations are the responsibility of staff. Many students
voluntarily take a role in that, but the staff is where the buck stops.

So I would say that, with the possible exception of J.C., "the line" is
drawn when the student arrives on campus: the right to self-initiated
learning is an absolute that, as long as it does not infringe on the rights
of others, must not be preempted by biases or agenda.

Thank you Todd - very thoughtful questions, and good job busting me on
section 501. Keep your eyes open - I'm always trying to slide one past :>)

Let me know if you need me to fax you any of our docs.

-Joe Jackson
please note my new email address:
Kids rule at Fairhaven School

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