DSM: encouragement and the Sudbury model

Sun, 17 Dec 2000 17:39:20 EST

  I think part of the problem talking about the concept of encouragement in
the Sudbury School model involves the dual meaning of the word "encourage".
The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word as follows: "1. To
inspire to continue on a chosen course; impart courage or confidence to;
embolden; hearten. 2. To give support to; foster." Looking at this melange
reveals two quite separate threads: One, the concept of "inspiring to
continue" and "fostering"; the other, the concept of "giving support to" and
"imparting confidence to".
  The first of these involves a pro-active role on the part of the outside
observer. Person A notices that Person B is setting out (often quite
tentatively) along a particular path, and Person A takes it upon him/herself
to "inspire" Person B to continue along that path, to foster a continuation
of the activity. This action on the part of Person A of necessity works to
undermine the independence of Person B in his/her quest, by mixing in Person
A's desires and motivations along with Person B's desires and motivations, so
that it is no longer completely clear whether Person B is pursuing the path
because of his/her own internal drive to do so, or also in order to please
Person B.
  This applies to people setting up schools, as well as to the relationship
between adults and students at established schools. If I hear about someone
thinking about starting a school, the last thing I want to do is intervene in
their internal dialogue and try to "inspire" them to proceed. They must feel
that this is their struggle, their ambition, their determination, and not in
any way the product of someone else's "fostering" or "inspiration."
Similarly, if I see a child in school beginning to show an interest in some
activity, I will never look for ways to "inspire" that child to look further
into the activity or subject.
  On the other hand, the alternative meaning of "encourage" - "to give
support" - is an altogether different story. There, the role of the outside
observer is passive relative to the activity itself, but active relative to
the emotional and intellectual needs, explicitly expressed, of the person
commencing his/her activity. This posture avoids any internal conflict on
the part of that person surrounding the key question of whose needs and
desires are being met and pursued.
  Again, reverting to the examples you brought up, if I see a person thinking
about starting a school, I am happy to say to that person, "If you proceed,
I'll do everything reasonably in my power to help you when you want help."
The same goes for a student. The initiative is left entirely to the person
launching the activity, and the role of the compassionate and caring outside
observer is to be willingly available to give support, to "impart courage",
to "embolden".
   Because both meanings are mixed together in the word "encourage", it can
be said that I personally am both in favor of, and opposed to, encouragement
relative to the Sudbury model. I am afraid that this confusion can only be
eliminated by choosing a better word than "encourage" to describe my stance.
   I hope that this will encourage you one way or another!
      Dan Greenberg, Sudbury Valley School

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