Re: DSM: decisions, decisions!

From: Michelle Patzke (
Date: Sun Aug 19 2001 - 09:22:25 EDT

Dear Christy:

My name is Michelle Patzke. I helped found a Sudbury School in the Chicago
area 5 years ago. We are starting our 5th school year and I have staffed
at the school all 5 years. During that time, we have had 3 students that I
can remember transition back from our school to public school. If memory
serves there were about 10 (stayed with us one year), 12 (stayed with us
one year) & 13 years old (I think stayed with us 2 years or so). In 2
instances, I fielded calls from the public schools they went back to asking
for their transcripts. I informed the school we had no transcripts as we
were an ungraded school. One contact pushed and wanted to know where to
place the student. I told them I could not respond to that question as
that is not how we worked. In two contexts, the children were placed in
their age category. In one, the school placed the child via tests.
According to self reporting, all students did just as well, if not better,
academically than before attending our school. In two contexts (I never
heard from the third student about this point), the students felt they did
much better at dealing with behavioral conflicts at school because of the
oral communication skills they had learned at our school.

For myself, I started a Sudbury School in part because of my son. He was
in a Montessori school from the parent & child program near birth through
7th grade. He had been raised to be a person, not a child. He was always
given choices. Ok, I cheated when he was really little. At the park, I
would ask if he wanted to leave in 10 minutes or 5 minutes during a time
when he thought the biggest number was the last number. But, very quickly
he learned the ruse. And, over time, he learned to see if he could bargain
for more time as opposed to simply choosing one of my offered choices. He
was expected to do what he was capable of doing and supported with things
he needed help with. At his old school, he would have a problem with
something and try and change it and get in trouble. For example, a kid got
injured playing tackle football and so the school said no more playground
football. He did a petition asking to play touch football and was told
doing that the petition was inappropriate. He got labeled as the "bad
kid". He learned school work (which was done on a monthly contract basis)
was a drudge to get through not a learning experience. The biggest
challenge he ever seemed to get out of the contracts was during a month
when we were out of town for a week and then he was sick for a few days at
the beginning of the month. If you successfully finished your contract
(i.e. did all your work and tested out on all materials at at least 90%),
you got to go on a field trip the last school day of the month. If not,
you had to stay with the teacher (even on weekends), until you did
successfully complete the contract. During this particular month, the
teacher said when he returned that he would be unlikely to go on the trip
because of the school time he'd missed. Rising to the occasion, grabbing
the tossed gauntlet, my son finished the contract 3 days early. School was
teaching my child, you have no control over your life and that what is best
is to acquiese to others expectations and demands regardless of your
opinions on their demands and the consequences for not doing so were
labeling and being treated abysmally by your categorized class regardless
of your actual behavior. More importantly, school was teaching him that he
was BAD. For us, this was unacceptable.

I think fear over the decision to send your child to a system of education
that is radically different from what you experienced and which many people
will tell you will hurt your child's future is inevitable. Why is fear
overcoming your "everything in me screams to send my child"? I don't know
how old your child is, but is not some time allowing them to be free, to
experience inner direction, to discover the wonder of the world through
their own devices, to make decisions and know the consequences of those
decisions (good or bad) are solely the result of their choices better than
virtually never experiencing this until a substantially older age? Sudbury
Schools present children with the world; a child's options at a Sudbury
School are limited only by their imagination and determination.
Traditionals schools require children to march to someone else's tune at
someone's else's pace down paths that are almost exclusively chosen by
someone else. I find it scarier to think of my child as a piece of dough
moving down an assembly line to be pressed into a mold whether s/he fits or
not and learning extremely bad habits in the process (whether the bad
lessons is, as I was, become a trained seal A student, or fall through the
cracks or be "BAD") than the possibility at sometime in the future (when,
after time in a Sudbury School, they have developed a sense of self and
self-confidence) having to transition into a more traditional system.

I hope this has been of some help. The above outlines why I would, & did,
choose to send my child to a Sudbury School. Stating the obvious, you are
the parent. The choice about your child, is yours. You clearly love your
child and want what's best for him or her and that already gives him or her
a substantial leg up. I wish you good luck in the decision making process.



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