Re: DSM: A Few Questions from a Newish Mom [Heather McDougal <>]

Robert Swanson (
Mon, 27 Nov 2000 15:32:04 -0800

Heather, sounds like you had plenty of adults around as a kid to mentor you,
but few made any meaningful contact. Silence is a terrifying mentor.
Instinctively we know the information to excel at life is out there, but
when no one connects it to our hearts all is lost. Nor is one's voice heard.
Self seems to disappear into a crack. Joy flies the coop.

The intellects get their job, and their pay, and buy their things, and say
they're in control and happy. No child believes this, really. They accept it
because what else do we offer? Few are those adults who remember how to
laugh and to cry from their hearts, from sincerity. They still know
something of the connections that would make life magical, fearless.

So, isn't it magical, fearless mentors children yearn for, someone to touch
their hearts and show them the way to swim in a universe of possibility?
Would not SVS be raptured by such people sharing an open heart, playfully,
creatively, fearlessly? Is this what you were implying, Heather?


> The schools are there ... to regulate the flow of young
> competitors into the job market.
> -- Daniel Quinn
> ============================================================
> Non-member submission
> from [Heather McDougal <>]
> Date: Tue, 14 Nov 2000 15:45:17 -0800 (PST)
> From: Heather McDougal <>
> Subject: A few questions from a newish mom
> To:
> Hi,
> 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
> questions.
> 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
> sense?)
> 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
> letter!
> 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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