Re: DSM: An alternative teacher at a traditional school

John Axtell (
Tue, 19 Dec 2000 17:07:33 -0800

I totally disagree with Dawn's entire premise.


I firmly believe that it is a very high calling to stay within the
system you are in and to change the minds of those you have the
privilege of working with. Many think that prisons are buildings, they
are not, they are the limitations people put into their heads.

I do not know much about the SV model but reading this list I can tell
you that what you are doing is of as great, or possibly greater, value
than teachers in alternative schools, whatever they may be.

The SV model is as effectively shaping and molding the futures of the
children attending their school as any school in the world, possibly
more so because it is so effective. Every book, song, conversation, and
smile has an impact in forming the thinking of our future leaders, and
yes some of them will lead our countries.

Dawn talks about free will. I wonder how many children would "find" a SV
model school and willingly get themselves there - positively none. Once
there they might want to come back but lots of kids like to go to public
school and really enjoy the social interaction and the learning they
participate in. Every child going to anything, unless it is your next
door neighbor, has an adult making decisions for the child.

I totally reject Dawn's assertion that the main purpose of teachers is
to deprive children of their free will. In fact I think just the
opposite is usually the case. Teachers are in a system, as we all are,
that limits our freedoms at every turn, some governments more than
others, some cities more than others and some families more than others
and some schools more than others.

My experience with most teachers is that they do their best to try to
get their students to expand their thinking which families, newspapers,
tvs, and society tends to teach them to limit. In fact I personally
think that an argument could be made that children actually have more
freedom in our public schools to be themselves than they do at home
under the supervision of their parents. I personally know a lot of kids
that lead "private lives" their parents know nothing about, and these
are home schooled kids.

Dawn takes the position that somehow the work you are doing is
"useless". Dawn and I see the world from two different perspectives and
two different value systems. I firmly believe in, diversity Dawn does
not. I believe the publc school system serves a multiple of purposes and
if, at least in our country, everyone was given money to go to the
school of their choice most would go right to the public school. A SV
model school simply is not going to cut it for everyone. I would never
expect any particular educational paradigm to meet the needs of an
entire population.

I am a product of the public school system and it did not do too badly
with me. I have home schooled for twenty years and now have a child in
an alternative public school program which provides him with total
flexibility and freedom. He gets to do exactly what he wants to do and
does not do what he does not want to do. And this is totally funded with
public tax money. He goes to school when he wants to, well really he
goes to school when I will allow him to, which is less often than when
he wants to. The teachers are the greatest and very responsive to his

Believe me when I tell you that you can make a difference right where
you are and you can really change minds. In your country you are going
through a very difficult time. I pray that your freedoms will be
increased but it looks like the reverse may be happening. You can be an
alternative teacher in a "regular" school and in a "regular society",
just do not get arrested. One person working within a system can make
much more progress than one hundred people in jail that refused to work
with the system.

I have a friend in one of the old Soviet states that has a grandmother
that was an algebra teacher and at times she was not treated very well
by the authorities. I am sure you understand what I mean.

I wish you the very best in your effort to free minds from their prisons
even if it may not be possible to free them from the school, family or
society they find themselves in. I think you are doing a great job

May you have the very best during the upcoming holiday season.

Your Friend,

John Axtell

"Dawn F. Harkness" wrote:

> -----Original Message-----
> From: John Axtell <>
> >Being an "alternative" teacher in a "traditional" school
> is a real blessing to yourself and your >students.
> >Alternative teachers in alternative schools face very few
> real challenges and the value of their >contribution to the
> school is minimal compared to the opportunity you have where
> you work.
> >I can think of no higher calling than to be an alternative
> teacher in a traditional school. It is a >great service to
> your students. The key, it would seem to me, would be to
> integrate as much >alternative teaching as the traditional
> administrators will allow. After all if you get fired you
> will >have accomplished nothing. One of your students may
> well become a leader of your country.
> Anna,
> I think this kind of thinking represents the model where
> teachers (authority figures) mold (allegedly benevolently)
> young impressionable minds. The goal for these benevolent
> teacher/authority figures is to manipulate the minds of all
> their students and maybe if they are lucky, to shape the
> thinking of a future leader of an entire country. What a
> legacy! Clearly, the author believes that this is an
> appropriate educational model. Anyone who thinks this is
> the highest calling clearly reflects a perspective which I
> think is an anathema to the model established at SVS.
> However, being that this is the Discuss Sudbury Model
> listserv, I wondered if this was the perspective you were
> looking for?
> The SVS model absolutely rejects the traditional school
> model. In fact, SVS stands for the exact opposite of what
> traditional schools stand for. As someone who believes the
> model established st SVS ought to be an absolute civil right
> for children everywhere, I reject the traditional school
> model as being evil at its core and harmful to children
> everywhere. I don't believe there is a fundamental
> difference between traditional teachers at traditional
> schools and teachers who label themselves as "alternative
> teachers" at traditional schools. For the most part,
> teachers at traditional schools are agents of the State
> whose main purpose is to deprive children of their liberty
> and freedom of expression and to collect a paycheck for
> their efforts. Teachers at traditional schools cannot
> confer any real freedom or liberty on their students as long
> as children are required to attend schools against their
> free will.
> I would say, not only is this useless work, it is work which
> perpetuates harm against children. If you want to know more
> about my opinion (along with several others) on why there is
> no such thing as an alternative teacher in a traditional
> school, you may find more information in the archives of
> this listserv. But don't read it if you are looking for
> affirmation of your choice to participate in the traditional
> school system even though you know it is oppressive to
> children.
> Dawn Harkness

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