DSM: Periodic Update, take II

Scott Gray (sdg@aramis.sudval.org)
Tue, 13 Feb 2001 09:52:15 -0500 (EST)

Hi all,

After the last periodic posting of the FAQ for this list, it became clear
that there were some serious errors in it. Mea culpa, please accept these

Thank you!

[Last updated on: Tue Feb 13 09:50:44 2001]

INFORMATION ON THE SUDBURY VALLEY SCHOOL (detailed rules, and information
on the mail-server follows).

     The Sudbury Valley School has been in operation for more than 30
years now, and several other schools around and outside our country (the
United States) see our school's success and are modeling their schools on
     The school accepts students from ages four and up, and awards a high
school diploma. It is a private school, which relies upon tuition and
does not engage in fundraising. Studies of our alumni show them to be
"successful" by any criteria; most have gone on to their first choice
career or college, most have a comfortable income, and (the best
definition of success, in my mind) most are happy people.

     The physical plant is a beautiful Victorian mansion on a ten-acre
campus. It is furnished like a home, with couches, easy chairs, books
everywhere (rather than hidden in a library), etc. The grounds are
excellent for sport and games, and the school has several facilities;
music rooms, an art room, a high speed Internet connection, a darkroom, a
piano, a stereo, a pond great for fishing, several computers, etc.
     Students (from age four on up) are free to do as they wish during the
day, as long as they follow the school rules (more on school rules later).
The campus is "open" and most students come and go as they please, without
having to check with an office or other such nonsense. No one is required
to attend classes and, indeed, classes are rare and bear little
resemblance to the usual notion of a "class". There are no tests or
grades of any kind. Students and staff (teachers) are equal in every
regard. The students and staff refer to each other by first name, and the
relationships between students and staff can't easily be distinguished
from the relations between students.

     The school is governed democratically, by the School Meeting. The
School Meeting meets weekly, and is made up of students and staff (one
vote to a person, following Robert's Rules of Order). It decides all
matters of consequence; electing administrative officers from among its
own members (yes, no distinction is made between students and staff as far
as eligibility for an office), deciding school rules (enforced by the
Judicial committee, see later), making expenditures, submitting the annual
budget to the Assembly (see later) for approval, hiring, firing and
re-hiring staff (there is no tenure, all staff are up for re-election each
year), etc.
     The school Assembly meets annually, and is made up of students,
staff, and parents of students (as most parents pay tuition, it is
considered only reasonable to give them some voice in the use of their
money). It must approve the budget (submitted by the School Meeting)
which includes tuition rates, staff salaries, etc. It also votes on
whether or not to award a diploma to any students that have requested one.
The Assembly is the broad policy-making body of the school.

     Within the school, the rules are enforced by a judicial system which
has been re-defined by the School Meeting several times over the last 30
years. Its most current incarnation revolves around a Judicial Committee
(JC) made up of two officers elected every two months (always students,
ever since the positions first opened), five students selected randomly
every month, and a staff member chosen daily. The JC investigates
complaints of school rules being broken, and sometimes presses charges. If
the JC presses charges against someone, and (s)he pleads innocent, there
will be a trial. If a person pleads guilty or is found guilty by the
trial, that person will be sentenced by the Judicial Committee. Verdicts
and sentences deemed unfair by the accused (or others, for that matter)
may be brought before the School Meeting.
     All School Meeting members are equal before the law. In fact, the
first guilty verdict ever was against staff members. Typical sentences
are things like "can't go outside for two days", "can't enter the upstairs
for a week", etc.

     Democracy alone is not enough to create a stable happy community. The
revolution-torn democratic city-states of ancient Greece are testimony to
this. It is also important that personal freedoms and rights be
respected. As such, the school grants the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill
of Rights to its students; normally in American society students are not
given freedom of thought or religion (a parent may force his/her child
into Sunday school), free assembly (they're not even allowed to leave
their seats to go to the bathroom in traditional school, without
permission from a teacher), etc.

     It is understood that the "purpose" of schools is to educate. So let
me put forward the reasons why persons in Sudbury Model Schools believe
that freedom and democracy is the best environment for children to learn.
     People are born with an amazing capacity for knowledge -- the brain.
It makes little sense to assume that such a thing could have evolved (or
been created, or whatever) without the means of USING it also being
natural to human beings. Let me list some of the more obvious "natural"
mechanisms by which children (and adults) encode information about their
world. Curiosity (crushed in a classroom where you must study what others
wish, rather than that subject which you are burning to know),
role-modeling (not easy when the only person older than you is a teacher
whom you probably dislike and is almost certainly NOT practicing the
profession you would choose) and spontaneous play (that's right out the
window, for children are so restrained by school that even "recess"
becomes a time for working off violent energy rather than exploring one's
     People sometimes ask how Sudbury Valley students are "exposed" to
different things. I find this a very odd question, for in reality how can
a person KEEP from being exposed to things? We are in an age of endless
information, and it takes a cell (like a traditional school) to KEEP a
curious person from finding out anything and everything (s)he wants to
     People naturally learn to deal with the environment in which they are
placed. In a place with grades, where knowledge is spoon-fed to them and
they never have any reason to make use of it apart from passing a test,
students will learn to GET GOOD GRADES (whether that means learning to
cheat, or learning how to "cram" for a test). In a place where people do
what they want, they find the INTRINSIC value of knowledge. In a place
where people are treated as adult human beings they learn that they must
live up to certain community standards, but when they are treated as
prisoners (read: traditional schools) they learn only that they are
untrusted, and they learn to wait for the instructions and orders of
others. It is testimony to the strength of the human spirit that there
are so FEW apathetic and helpless people that come out of the public
school system. (Sudbury Valley alumni, by the way, often become quite
politically active in later life, and often go into helping professions.)

     If you have any questions or comments about SVS which you would like
to direct to a large number of people who are familiar with the SVS
community (including students, alumni, staff, parents, friends and
critics) please feel free to write to the mailing list address:
discuss-sudbury-model@sudval.org To join the mailing list, a one-line
message "subscribe discuss-sudbury-model" to message "subscribe discuss-sudbury-model" to majordomo@sudval.org.

     Please note that this mailing list is a private mailing list,
maintained by Scott Gray. It is an accident that Scott's Internet access
is on the sudval.org server, and this mailing list is neither maintained
nor endorsed by the Sudbury Valley School.

  --Scott Gray, The Sudbury Valley School, 2 Winch Street,
Framingham, MA 01701 (508)877-3030

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URL for the school: http://www.sudval.org


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--Scott David Gray
reply to: sdg@sudval.org
Everything you've learned in school as "obvious" becomes
less and less obvious as you begin to study the universe.
For example, there are no solids in the universe. There's
not even a suggestion of a solid. There are no absolute
continuums. There are no surfaces. There are no straight

-- R. Buckminster Fuller

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.0b3 on Thu Mar 29 2001 - 11:16:37 EST