Re: DSM: democratic classroom

From: Highland (
Date: Sun Nov 04 2001 - 19:55:38 EST

    We seem to have at least three issues going on here. One is the
issue of what individuals can/should do in the face of the huge,
anti-democratic school system in this country. Danny Greenberg has
expressed my feelings about that issue, although I doubt that most
American teachers suffer the doubts about the overarching system that
most members of the Jewish councils did.
    The second issue is what constitutes a "democratic" school since
even the most authoritarian schools can call themselves democratic.
This is an extremely complicated issue which has yet to be resolved -
and may never be to everyone's satisfaction.
    The third issue is our need to rank order communities from lesser to
higher levels of democracy with democratic classrooms ranking near the
bottom and Sudbury Model Schools at the top. I think we encourage this
ranking need by focusing on a "model" and overlooking the nature of
democratic process. The democratic process assumes interactions between
unique individuals. This means that No Two schools will develop the
same structures to deal with their problems of daily life. (The attempt
of a school with 5 kids in Ontario to implement JC is an example of the
problems inherent in attempting to transplant a model.) Lately, I've
enjoyed visiting several West Coast schools who claim to be democratic.
I've also visited Sudbury Valley School. None of these schools were
structurally the same in every respect as The Highland School, yet I
felt comfortable that all were working hard at doing democracy.
    Having been involved for many years with helping to create and
maintain a democratic school, I know the hours spent on dealing with
everything from tax law to asbestos control to state regulatory agencies
of all sorts and kinds. After doing all that so our community could do
our best to practice democracy, I can understand the frustration poeple
feel toward schools saying they are democratic while trampling over
individual rights and making decisions where some people's votes count
more than others. That said, what I'm interested in hearing are
individual and collective experiences of people doing democracy in their
own situations - not trying to better imitate a model.
    Sudbury Valley is a wonderful example of democratic schooling and I
have learned much from the tremendous effort people there have made to
let the world know about a better way for kids (and adults) to live.
However, what has been and continues to be of most value is hearing
about specific situations, thinking about them, discussing them with
others who hold a democratic philosophy, reflecting on the situations in
light of that philosophy, and applying what's useful from this process
to my own specific situation.
    If the goal of the DSM listserve is to understand and more correctly
implement a single model, then perhaps this listserve isn't the best
place to talk about people's experiences in doing democracy. Constantly
wrestling over following a model limits our discussion and encourages
grading the "correctness" of our structures, rather than encouraging
deeper and more useful discussion.
Candy Landvoigt, The Highland School


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