Re: DSM: JC etc.

Scott Gray (
Sun, 11 Mar 2001 17:24:23 -0500 (EST)

  Hi Marko,

  The reality is that adults have an awful lot of persuasive and personal
power in social relationships with kids. I remember when I was 8 years
old people argued with their peers in a relatively equal way, but if an
adult said something (even a _reasonable_ adult) it always felt like a
pronouncement -- and it was a much weightier matter to actually disagree
with the adult.
  What attracted me (when I was 10 years old) to the Sudbury model, and
what still attracts me, is that everything possible is done to minimize
the amount of power that adults weild just _because_ they are adults.

  "Guidelines" work well in a group of people who know each other well, in
which there is little disagreement, and in which there is little danger
that some will be easily coerced by others. And that was what, when I was
10 years old, I _most_ feared I would find at Sudbury Valley -- gentle
coercion which is virtually impossible to fight against, to accept the
adults' vision of the guidelines.
  I was _so_ relieved to learn that Sudbury Valley was a community
governed by laws and not by men. The existance of a set of written rules
(as opposed to "guidelines" or "common sense") were, for me, a
pre-existing condition for feeling personal power and responsibility as a
student at Sudbury Valley.

  Being a young person at a Sudbury school is a truly empowering
experience. That is, rather, the point. Each student is given
sovereignty over his/her own life. And that requires a couple things on
the part of the school community:
  1: Any school policy should be part of a public record, which any member
can review, and under which all members of the community are equal before
the law. If those in the neighborhood with personal power were only
answerable to _guidelines_ rather than the laws as written, you can bet
that the neighborhood would come to believe that the right interpretation
of those guidelines is the one presented by the most influential
  2: Those with personal power in the school feel a sense of obligation to
exercise it as little as feasible, particularly in areas which are closer
to the core of another person. This is one reason why you wont find many
people involved with Sudbury schools who like the idea of the Staff
performing a thereputic function.

  I think that what you are looking for is highlighted by your suggestions
that the School Meeting would work better if it followed the consensus
model. You like the idea of a school community which is all on the same
page, all looking for the same thing.
  If everyone in the community agrees, and has similar motivations, sure
guidelines are enough. If it is a good thing for everyone to agree, then
of course there isn't a problem for staff to be left with more persuasive
and personal power.
  But, to be honest, this is not what I was looking for in a school when I
was ten years old. I wanted a school in which it was recognized that I
had my own set of wants and needs, disctinct from everyone else's; in
which I was welcome to disagree in the School Meeting (or any other forum)
and as long as I abided by the laws I didn't have to _agree_ with them in
order to be part of the community. I was _sick_ of rooms full of teachers
and administrators and guidance counselors trying to convince me that
their way was the right way -- I was happy to let them have their way so
long as they would leave me to mine. I wanted a _pluralistic_ society.

  It is a very empowering thing to be twelve years old, and to argue an
issue with other members of the school from age 6 to 60, and to _lose_ the
vote. It reminds you that your opinions are yours and yours alone and
that though you have a voice in the community and care deeply about that
community, you are an individual and not _synonymous_ with that community.

  All of this is not to say that your ideas for a school wouldn't be
interesting and/or valuable. But the ideas you propose are incompatible
with what Sudbury schools do. The act of "incorporating" those ideas into
a Sudbury school would be a strike at the very heart of what it means to
be a Sudbury school; it wouldn't be a Sudbury school any more.

On Sat, 10 Mar 2001, Marko Koskinen wrote:

> This discussion has really helped me to think about this issue. Here are
> some of my thoughts so far.
> First, I want to say that I really admire the work SVS has done. I
> wouldn't be here wihtout them, so they have all my gratitude. I also
> agree on most things about it. And I may agree with all aspects of it,
> and that's what I'm trying to find out with this discussion.
> There are some things people have been misunderstanding, at least I
> think so. One thing is that I would want to create some kind of mental
> health institution of the school. Well, that is not true. I am just
> thinkin wheter there could be some ways to include students who cannot
> behave nicely enough. And I'm thinking that the way could be to include
> some kind of more visible and active therapeutic process. With this I
> really don't mean any kind of procedure of which the student wouldn't
> agree on. If the student really wants to be at the school, s/he might
> agree on some "messing with his/her mind". In no occasion would I want
> to "mess with someone's mind" without consent.
> SVS bases it's philosophy on some presumptions about human nature.
> According these presumptions are that some things are good for the
> students and that some are not. And I'm just interested why cannot we
> add one more presumption to the model? SVS doesn't currently make any
> presumptions about feelings (If I've understood correctly) and this,
> while understandable, is not a thing that couldn't be changed. Or is it?
> Why aren't feelings included in SM? Why is there so much opposition
> against "psychologizing"? Or have I misinterpreted?
> One reason for this might be that mental health systems have
> traditionally been regarded as coersive institutions, as they still
> mostly are, but I think there are methods that are not coersive, but
> rather liberating. Another reason might be that feelings easily come
> between home and the school. With this I mean that if there's something
> wrong at home and the students get help for this from the school, the
> parents might think their privacy is threatened. Third issue might be
> just simply that nobody feels competent to handle such things. If there
> are other reasons, I would really like to hear them, because this is a
> cruisal issue for me and I really want to figure out what's the best
> alternative for us in Finland.
> What comes to the rules, there wouldn't be any. Sure there would be
> written "guidelines" and "suggestions" for procedures and unhoped
> behavior decided by school meeting. These "guidelines" wouldn't be
> enforced though. They would exist for people to know what kind of
> behavior pisses people off and what kind of procedures are found out to
> work well. If this kind of governance is anarchic, then so be it, but it
> sounds rational and also functional in practice to me and I would
> consider it less coersive. But to function, feelings would probably be
> needed to think about and guidelines probably should be written. If
> someone thinks this kind of system wouldn't work, I'm interested to hear
> some examples of situations that it couldn't handle or that the
> "rule-enforcing" system could handle better from the viewpoint of
> personal freedom and social responsibility.
> Also, the way the school meeting makes decisions, could possibly be
> improved. Sorry, if I sound like I would like to put the whole model
> totally anew, I'm not, I'm just trying to figure out ways to possibly
> improve it. I was wondering about an alternative way of meeting. It
> could go e.g. followingly:
> 1) introduction for the issue being discussed about
> 2) round of discussion so that everybody willing to speak would
> announce themselves and everybody would get to say what they wanted to
> say
> 3) round of suggestions for the problem so that everybody having one
> would announce themselves and everybody would get to say their
> suggestion
> 4) discussion in pairs for (e.g.) 2 minutes about the suggestions
> 5) vote for the suggestions
> 6) if there wasn't an agreement, would go back to 2)
> 7) repeat until unanimous decision reached
> I think I've explained enough of the mediation process, but if there's
> something to be added, please ask, or if there are some things that you
> think wouldn't work, please tell me. And first of all, if there's
> something about the philosophical framework that you don't understand or
> agree to, I would like to hear that also.
> Marko

--Scott David Gray
reply to:
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

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