DSM: RE: Subtle Coercion?

Joe Jackson (shoeless@jazztbone.com)
Sat, 6 Jan 2001 12:00:51 -0500

This is a key subject that has come up before...

When we were faced with the issue of the intrinsic nature of persuasiveness
in the fundamental physical environment prior to opening Fairhaven, we
realized that the "agenda of the environment" issue just continues ad
absuditum and we would probably never open. In other words, in order to
create an environment free of passive agenda, we would have had to start a
school free of books, furniture, trees, buildings, air, and sunlight because
all of these things seemingly suggest an associated action.

What we did was fill it with the most neutral, non-suggestive things we
could think of. Books, but such a large amount and wide variety of books
that no overriding agenda would likely be gleaned. Art supplies, computer
and office equipment, blocks, furniture, dishes and flatware. The best we
could do at the time was add a neutral set of elements that we felt omitting
would be ridiculous - we had to draw a line. However we did go into
operation without a judicial system or lawbook. Our inital School Meeting
on September 23, 1998 (which was attended by virtually _all_ students and
staff) voted to adopt a Judicial Committee modeled closely to SVS's, and
voted in laws one by one.

(By the way, someone mentioned that a founder at Blue Mountain says JC is
harsh. I think that's one way of looking at it. However, realize that
students at any of our schools could change judicial systems any time they
want, and yet at many of our schools they prefer JC over any other method
out there. Much as it is difficult for us as conventionally-schooled adults
to understand how Sudbury students see school, I think it is equally
difficult for those of us who were conventional-school-disciplined to
understand how they can see so much value in JC that they would prefer it
over other, supposedly "gentler" methods.)

As it turns out our fears were misplaced. I think if there is any one
operational aspect of the SM schools that doesn't get enough press, it's the
fierceness with which the students demand reforming the environment. Within
weeks things were either heavily used or totally ignored, and I'd say by the
middle of the second year the school it's safe to say the school's physical
environment was owned and created by SM.

So I think the "purists" on this matter are never at the absurd end of the
spectrum, it's just that it's a scale, and founding groups tend to figure
out where they're going to fall on that scale quite late in the startup
process, when practical and concrete issues rule many of the decisions made
about the hundreds and hundreds of teensy-weensie details that have to be

-Joe Jackson

"In America in the last 20 years, for every seven people executed, one
person sentenced to death was later proved to be innocent."

-- U. S. Senator Patrick Leahy, D-VT

> Bruce Smith wrote:
> > Sudbury purists maintain is that even to suggest, or to make available,
> > items of possible study without first waiting for students to express an
> > interest -- in other words, to entice or preemptively direct students --
> > is, in a way, even worse than naked coercion, since at least with that
> > there's no chance of mistaking the adults' role.
> This is a point that has come up in the past and I'm not quite sure I
> understand it. I haven't read all the material on SVS yet so please bear
> with me.
> I find it hard to imagine myself not ever influencing another
> person with my
> interests. How can I not have items of possible study around?
> Just filling
> the school with resources will do that. There will be books in all the
> rooms - books on a number of interesting subjects, perhaps a photo lab, a
> sewing room or a woodworking area, even blocks in a corner. Will, not the
> presence of these resource materials influence some students? Am
> I sneakily
> coercing them to pick up a book by just having it in the room? How can I
> have a school with white walls and bare bookshelves? I think I understand
> your purist point but in reality I think that it's inevitable
> that they are
> going to be influenced by the people around them. We are all
> influenced by
> those around us.
> I think we can have the material available but the students need
> to initiate
> the interest. Some will pick up one book, others will pick up another.
> Just as, if I see a friend doing something interesting I will ask
> her about
> it. If I'm not interested, I won't ask. But I certainly wouldn't expect
> people around me to never show me anything. I don't think that they are
> being coercive by showing me either unless they try to push it but that's
> another story.
> Do you really think that the purist view could work? Maybe I'm missing
> something?
> ~CindyK

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