RE: DSM: 60 Minutes Piece

From: Mitch Berg (
Date: Wed May 02 2001 - 09:05:54 EDT

> That's what I loved about the story. I liked the fact that "the piece
> emphasized the elements of Sudbury that people in traditional schools
> would find the most 'freakish'" and that the piece faced head-on the major
> difference between Sudbury Schools and traditional schools -- the fact
> that we see nothing at all wrong with playing video games.

I don't feel they "dealt with it head-on" at all. I thought they pointed
their fingers and went "what a waste of time". I felt that they tied that
together with the remarks of some of the parents, and the list of jobs that
graduates hold, and the footage of kids playing video games (more below), to
show that Sudbury is a school for "lazy underachievers".

Yeah, I know, some of you have no problem with that, either.

I'm still trying to put my finger on exactly what bothered me the most.
Here's part of it - I live in the inner city. I deal with lots of parents -
heavily working class, immigrant and minority - who are actively looking for
a viable alternative to city public schools. They want something that will
help their children in life - and by "they", I mean "me too". Is a Sudbury
model school a viable option for them? Well, I think it's possible - but
you'd never know from the 60 Minutes piece, which made the school seem (this
is my most lasting impression) like a baby-sitting center for the children
of the over-indulgent.

Which in some cases is true - of any school. But it was the dominant
impression from the 60 Minutes piece, IMO.

> If the episode had concentrated on people at study, with noses buried in
> books, or engaged in high-sounding academic debate, the piece would have
> been -- if not dishonest -- at least easily misinterpreted.

But if they HAD shown SOME of that - and the nods in that direction were at
best cursory - it would have shown a better sample of what the school is
about, no?

> People out
> there would have gotten the impression that at Sudbury Schools kids do
> what they _want_ but that clearly the adults coerce or cajole them to
> "want" the right things.

Why would they have gotten that impression? At no other point in the piece
were adults shown cajoling or much of anything else.

> Yes, video games were perhaps a touch exaggerated. But so, frankly,
> were one-on-one tutorials. Cooking and camping trips weren't in the
> piece, I don't remember the rough trash-talking culture of four-square at
> all. They had a limited amount of time to get footage, and that footage
> was used well -- in that they stuck to the message of what the SVS
> challenge to education actually _is_.

I thought they failed badly at that, actually. They showed part of the
message - lack of coercion - quite capably. They failed miserably to show
what children do with their freedom - positive as well as negatie.

> In fifteen minutes, we couldn't hope to both _describe_ and convince
> people _of_ our radical view. I'm glad that the piece concentrated on
> putting forward our views in stark terms. The only way to sell something
> as radical as SVS in 15 minutes is to lie about it -- and I'm glad that
> they didn't do that because then we'd have to spend LOTS of time, energy,
> money convincing people that we are _not_ what they think we are. This
> way we can spend our energy actually showing people the proof that this is
> the best sort of education that they could hope for.

In those terms, then, I'd say this - the piece probably preached to the
choir quite effectively.

> I find it interesting that people who work _inside_ Sudbury Model
> schools almost all agree that the piece was very positive, while
> sympathetic people outside of the schools felt that the story was
> manipulative.

Why do you suppose that is? I'm sympathetic, I'm outside, and I walked away
from the piece groaning. My girlfriend - a Catholic school grad with almost
no exposure to Sudbury - had a VERY negative impression.

> I think that perhaps this difference is because the schools themselves
> are used to being totally misrepresented in the press. We're used to
> spending much of our time patiently explaining to parents "no, we are not
> the sort of school that you think we are." People outside of the schools
> may think that our real task is _proving_ ourselves to people, but in fact
> the majority of our time is spent _explaining_ ourselves to people.

And the failure (as I see it) of the interview was not of the school, but of
60 Minutes. Or perhaps it WAS of the school; I've seen plenty of people on
this mailing list basically assume that the benefits of non-coercive,
democratic education are self-evident.

> And yes, for many kids, playing video games (in the social framework of
> the video-games stalls) is by far the most important part of their day.

Understood. The piece would have been better-balanced had it explained why
this isn't a "Bad Thing". Which was the impression the piece left.


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