Re: DSM: Almost Democracy

From: Scott David Gray (
Date: Sat Nov 03 2001 - 11:57:13 EST

On Sat, 3 Nov 2001, Alan Klein wrote:

> In fact, it occurs to me to wonder what the age breakdown of the SVS
> Assembly is, because that's where the Bylaws live and that's from where the
> power of the SM flows. I hypothesize that there are more adults in the
> Assembly than students. If I am correct, just as I could have pulled the
> plug on the democracy in my classroom, so could the Assembly pull the plug
> on SVS's democracy. In either case, the adults have the final veto power. In
> fact, leaving the Assembly aside, I daresay that almost all students at SVS
> and at other democratic schools are dependent on their parents for funding.
> It is the parents, then, who have the final veto power over the freedoms at
> democratic schools - no parents equals no students which equals no school.

I believe that there are more School Meeting members than
parents at the present (we average almost exactly 2 kids per
family, there are some 1-parent families, and the SM
includes staff). However, your reading of the division of
powers in the school is mistaken. The School Meeting does
_not_ derive its power from the Assembly -- it derives its
power from the By-Laws (the same document that the Assembly
derives its power from).

The division between these two "houses" is very plain. The
Assembly may discuss broad philosophical issues, vote on the
award of diplomas, _review_ the budget (it does not author),
and offer amendments to the By-Laws (requiring a 2/3
majority). Meanwhile, the SM is responsible for all
day-to-day operations of the school, including the hiring
and firing of the staff, the authoring of the budget, the
school rules and the administration of the school.

So, no, the Assembly could not "pull the plug" on the SM,
any more than the Massachusetts legislature could "pull the
plug" on Massachusetts democracy. Sure, it is "possible"
however, there are very high hurdles to be met in order to
dissolve the existing constitution and to rewrite it.

Some parental Assembly members _are_ sometimes confused
about the division between these two houses (always a
minority, thank goodness), and believe as you suggest that
the SM derives it power from the Assembly. In order to make
the relationship between the two plainer, I sometimes
consider a motion to amend the By-Laws, to require that any
future amendment to the By-laws to originate in the School

Parents who send their children to SVS know that they are
_not_ enrolling themselves. they know that they are letting
their children join a tightly knit political community --
and they generally know that their children gain more
benefit from this community precisely _because_ they (the
parents) leave the school to the School Meeting. They know
that the wider community of the Assembly has limited powers
vis-a-vis the school, just as the Federal government of the
US has only limited powers vis-a-vis the town of Framingham.

That is to say, most parents at SVS look at the bigger
picture. Even if, as an individual, a parent disagrees with
a School Meeting decision, s/he knows that his/her kids'
happy and healthy development in the context of the school
_depends_ upon the sovereignty of the School Meeting. And
so, most parents wisely do _not_ attempt to turn SVS into a
parent coop. (This does not mean that such attempts don't
happen -- in 1968, and again in 1986 the school split over
these issues.)

I commented on the parental role in the school more
thoroughly elsewhere. One place to see my thoughts on why
it is good (for both parents and kids) that parents are
_not_ involved in the daily community of the school is at

> ~Alan
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Scott David Gray" <>
> > << My position on this debate is a matter of opinion of
> > course -- I can't "prove" that being systematically lied to
> > is worse than being forced to make my bed, any more than a
> > person on the other side can "prove" that getting used to
> > the language and forms of democracy is more valuable than
> > honesty. This is an aesthetic judgment, about the kind of
> > life one wants to live, and the way that one wants to see
> > others treated.

--Scott David Gray
reply to:
As a rule, there is no surer way to the dislike of men than
to behave well where they have behaved badly.

-- Lew Wallace ============================================================


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