Re: DSM: RE: RE: RE: Subtle Coercion?


Scott Gray (sdg@aramis.sudval.org)
Sun, 7 Jan 2001 02:33:59 -0500 (EST)


On Sat, 6 Jan 2001, Connie Shaw wrote:

> It seems to me that we're talking about a matter of degrees. Your language
> is full of words of high degree: "daily persuasion", "sustained gentle
> persuasional barrages." And what I hear when Sudbury apologists talk about
> this subject is a sort of bending over backwards NEVER to do anything to
> influence a child, as though one suggestion, one mention of something else
> that relates to something a child is doing amounts to "a barrage." This
> stance seems artificial to me. Children's wills are not so fragile that they
> can't interact with adults in much the same way they interact with
> children--interactions in which it is common for one child to suggest an
> activity to another. I agree, however, that may not be the case when the
> child has been in a situation in which he or she is expected to please the
> adults.

Hi Connie, Scott here, from Sudbury Valley.

     The key phrase in this paragraph is "bending over backwards never to
do anything TO influence a child" (emphasis added), and in this context
you are half right. Adults in sudbury schools never want to do anything
_to_ influence a child, though they do not (because of the nature of the
relationship between staff and student in the school) don't really have to
do much bending backwards or contorting.
     People close to Sudbury schools do very often leap on anything which
sounds like an action calculated _to_ influence a child, because every one
of us has experienced a vast number of adults (teachers in other schools,
parents of some of the kids in our schools, and even an occasional person
who runs for staff member) who misunderstands this very subtle and
difficult aspect of the Sudbury model. We find over and over again that
if a parent can come to understand this very subtle part of the school
(sometimes only after her/his kid has been enrolled for years), that it
makes the parent much more understanding of her/his child's school
experience (and thereby helps her/him to have a better relationship with
her/his kid). And of course, understanding this is crucial for a staff
member.

     It is certainly not the case at my school that staff never do
anything which influences a child. In fact, staff at Sudbury Valley
influence the kids constantly -- I know, from the point of view of a
student and a staff member. However, the staff do not undertake things in
order _to_ influence a child.
     The distinction is pretty subtle, but the impact of these different
approaches is quite dramatic. If I am in conversation with a person at my
school, I feel perfectly comfortable positing my own opinion. But I do
not feel comfortable trying to encourage or discourage any particular
course of action in other people at school. This is not because I am
"watching" my behavior to be "sure" that I am not doing it, but because in
the context of the culture of my school it is simply not polite and a
staff member who is part of that community just doesn't feel any
inclination to do that sort of thing.

     For staff at my school, and other staff in other Sudbury model
schools, this is not at all stilted or unnatural. This is precisely why
it is so hard to find good staff for Sudbury model schools -- because one
is looking for adults who do not "naturally" go into teacher or "guiding
hand" mode when interacting with children.
     While it is true that the bulk of adults in our culture cannot
interact with children without attempting to influence them, it is
certainly possible to find people who simply enjoy interacting with
children _without_ having to try to change them.

     The staff I know from various Sudbury model schools have a very wide
variety of personalities, interests, styles, and motivation. But one
feature that most of them seem to share is a natural and abiding respect
for the walth of _differences_ between people, and a love for the very
_existance_ of the very widest range of different ways of viewing the
world. This doesn't mean that staff aren't sometimes very committed to
one or other particular personal understanding of the world (I know that I
am), but it does mean that you take pleasure in the wealth of different
ways in which others understand the world around them even (or especially)
if you often disagree with them.
     Certainly, this attitude makes it easier to disagree with people, to
be honest and natural about one's disagreements, and yet to avoid taking
actions calculated _to_ influence those others.
 
--Scott David Gray
reply to: sdg@sudval.org
http://www.sudval.org/~sdg
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