Re: DSM: The Sudbury model -- appropriate for all children, yes or no?

From: A&A Mitter-Burke (
Date: Thu May 31 2001 - 10:45:19 EDT

Warren & Adeshir,

As a parent of three students, I am a member of the Assembly of Sudbury
Valley School and therefore get mailed to me a copy of each graduating
student's written defense of the thesis that they have "taken responsibility
for preparing him/herself to be an effective adult in the community at
large". It is a fascinating exercise which I have witnessed close-up for
three years now, and this year there were almost twenty who went for it (I
think a relatively high number?).

A typical thesis of someone who came to SVS as a teenager includes a
description of their alienation wherever they were before and the liberation
they experienced at SVS. But a variation on that theme is the "brush with
the law" theme, in which this person discovers that SVS is a highly
rule-driven place where infractions bring you into confrontations with your
peers instead of arbitrary adult authority figures.

And the justice meted out by these peers is tediously incremental, detailed
records are kept and compared with successive infractions, and involves
extensive determination and discussion of the facts with one's peers.
Non-arbitrary, non-adult, a rotating committee of one's peers, on which each
will eventually serve.

Patterns of repeated infractions can snowball, over time, into a suspension
for a few days, or (my favorite) an "indefinite suspension" through which,
as I understand it, not only (as with all suspensions) does the kid have to
do the leg work of arranging for both his parents to come to a suspension
conference with a specially-appointed suspension committee (composed, I
think, of a couple students and a staff member), in which the situation is
thoroughly discussed...

...but then the student has to go back before the School Meeting and make a
presentation of why they should be let back in, upon which there is a vote.
A "no" vote (the exception, not the rule) at that point doesn't expel the
kid, it just says, "We're not convinced that you're ready, go think about it
some more, and come back and try again."

And several theses each year include tales of catharsis in which this very
reasonable treatment gets through to the previously impenetrable kid who has
an "aha!" experience and things fundamentally change going forward. And
once in a great while (have there been any this year?) they don't get it
after several tries and are expelled as the result of some major

My point is that it's *tediously* incremental, it's fact-driven, it's
kid-driven, and it's rare that anyone gets expelled. What more are you
asking for?

-Alan Mitter-Burke


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