Re: DSM: 60 Minutes Piece

From: The Booroobin Sudbury School (
Date: Wed May 02 2001 - 06:18:44 EDT

One of the things I have learnt after being involved with journalists in
print, radio and TV media is that the best you can do is inform them with
much and varied pieces of information, including direct conversation -
continuing that during any interviews of filming. 60 Minutes and any other
forms of media are not controlled by the people or organisation being
reported on. You can only do what you can to ensure journalists and
producers know their subject, and get the idea about the messages you're
trying to get across. They will still edit, and put out what they think
will get the attention of their audience. You can never do enough in this
area. Unless of course you can get a freelance person to do the work, for a
price, and then have it accepted by someone. And the product will never be
perfect, just in the same way it is hard to describe fully and deeply what
the Sudbury model is. The main point is that 60 Minutes was broadcast
nationally in the US. The real information is available directly from the
Schools. That's where interested people can get information. Far more
people now know about SVS. In far off Australia, over 110 hits on our web
site over 3 days (when the average is usually 7 hits / day), tend to suggest
some people are looking. Further, we're now preparing for 4 hours of
interviews with our still publicly owned Radio National, for a lead segment
in a 1 hour program to go to air Australia wide in a prime time. Once again
the test will be to get our messages out, and ensure the journalist knows a
lot about us, before she comes. We'll see. But it is all publicity.
Regards, Derek (elected Staff)
The Booroobin Sudbury School
----- Original Message -----
From: <>
To: <>
Sent: Thursday, May 03, 2001 4:35 AM
Subject: RE: DSM: 60 Minutes Piece

> Mitch,
> This is Alan Mitter-Burke. I was one of the parents in the "60 Minutes"
> piece and I'd like to offer my two cents.
> First, you asked what was "left on the cutting room floor". There was
> a total of an hour filming and as far as I can recall, I think they got
> best we had to offer... One of the other Dads did make a sharp point
> the illusory rewards of his ivy league education, but that didn't make it
> in.
> Safer talked a lot more than they put in. He seemed especially concerned
> about college entrance, which we tried to illuminate for him by talking
> about the range of options and how different all kids are. I thought one
> the other Dads, the lawyer with the tie, made a great response about the
> futility of the ivy league pursuit. Safer seemed real caught on that.
> producer, a very nice guy named Alden Bourne, chatted with us about the
> competition in his peer group to get toddlers into exclusive daycares and
> kindergartens in NY where he lives...
> Safer was also very caught on the idea -- which I have seen frequently on
> this list -- that no "learning" takes place, and that there is a set of
> basics which Sudbury kids don't get. This sets up "play" as the opposite
> "learning", which is a common wisdom that the piece did indeed bandy
> about... But that's their job, that's who they are.
> I suppose you're right if you complain that they didn't "deal with it head
> on", but Scott's point, which I agree with, is that they *presented* it
> on which is better than obfuscation or euphemism. I guess that you wanted
> them to get into the "play vs. learning" discussion more deeply, but you
> have to remember that it's 12 minutes, not 60 minutes.
> My expectations were much lower than what I saw. The policy discussion
> want for your inner city dwellers will be years in the making, and this is
> great step forward in terms of visibility for our ideas. You will be
> continually disappointed if you expect mass media, talk tv, or talk radio
> present unconventional ideas persuasively.
> > 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
> > together with the remarks of some of the parents, and the list of jobs
> > 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 curious what your complaint was with the remarks of the parents. I
> received 90% praise for my piece, and I thought what the others said was
> good. The one criticism I have heard was that we appeared "defensive",
> which is accurate about part of how I felt. Facing this esteemed
> who is challenging the foundations of how I'm raising my kids did make me
> bit defensive, although not overly so IMO. Is that what your problem was,
> that we should have been more self-assured? Or did you wish we had said
> things which were deeper, or what?
> >
> > 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
> > a viable alternative to city public schools. They want something that
> > help their children in life - and by "they", I mean "me too". Is a
> > 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
> > is my most lasting impression) like a baby-sitting center for the
> > 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 you frame the question in terms of conventional wisdom, I suppose your
> impression is accurate. Is that what you yourself think, or are you
> that's the impression most viewers got?
> As the parent of three such kids, I've always wondered what people mean by
> over-indulgent. What do you mean by it? My kids play video games at
> occasionally. My daughter plays a lot of cards, and a lot of other games.
> And they do a lot of other things as well. They listed the classes that
> she's taking, but that represents a fraction of her total time at school,
> and I think they over-emphasized them. I "indulge" her to do whatever she
> wants with her time. What's the problem?
> >> If the episode had concentrated on people at study, with noses buried
> >> books, or engaged in high-sounding academic debate, the piece would
> >> been -- if not dishonest -- at least easily misinterpreted.
> >
> > But if they HAD shown SOME of that - and the nods in that direction were
> > best cursory - it would have shown a better sample of what the school is
> > about, no?
> >
> It sounds to me like you think there is a lot more class time than there
> really is. Given that this was 12 minutes long, it was bound to be
> but if you added up the minutes devoted to class time and "teaching", who
> knows, I think it would approximate total-school-teaching-time divided by
> total-student-school-hours.
> >> 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
> > 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
> >> 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
> > what children do with their freedom - positive as well as negatie.
> >
> This depends on what you consider positive and negative. Have you
> considered the idea that the freedom itself is "positive", regardless of
> what one does with it -- and it's up to the kid to decide what's positive?
> >> 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
> >> 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,
> >> 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
> >> 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
> > from the piece groaning. My girlfriend - a Catholic school grad with
> > 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
> >> the sort of school that you think we are." People outside of the
> >> may think that our real task is _proving_ ourselves to people, but in
> >> 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
> > 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
> > this isn't a "Bad Thing". Which was the impression the piece left.
> >
> Let me skip to the bottom rather than prolonging this good dialogue. You
> make many interesting points. I think you are saying you wish that we
> learn to speak more persuasively to people who aren't "in the choir", and
> course we are all struggling to do this all the time and are sympathetic
> your desire.
> My experience (being on the board from the beginning at Red Cedar in
> Vermont, also trying to get Marin Sudbury School started, and now a parent
> and staff husband at SVS), and I suppose some of what Scott is trying to
> say, is that it's a mistake to try to hide the way this looks from a
> distance. If you try to bring people closer to it by making the surface
> look different, you end up with frustrated people down the line. Both the
> staff and the parent end up frustrated down the line.
> Those who aren't open to this aren't going to come on over if we just say
> better. Thirteen years ago, my wife (who you saw speaking on the show)
> a Catholic school graduate with almost no exposure to Sudbury...
> So keep at it, and let me know what I could have said better, and do
> to me about indulgence.
> ===========
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