How We Come Off to Others (was RE: re[2]: DSM: democratic classro om)

From: Joseph Moore (
Date: Mon Nov 05 2001 - 15:46:58 EST

One vote in agreement here.

I've been guilty of this, too, so not just pointing fingers at others, but:
Many of the responses in here and many of my own encounters and discussions
with proponents of the model have been characterized by a more or less
subtle bad attitude. Not that this happens all the time, but way too often.
For example:

- been-there, done-that replies (long suffering sigh almost audible) to
people's questions. Hey, if we can't answer a legitimate question in a
polite, supportive manner, why not just stay quiet?

- militancy towards people groping forward. People see the problems with
schooling, and are struggling in what often looks like a near-vacuum to make
it better. It wouldn't kill us to acknowledge their efforts - ya know, home
schooling isn't as good as a Sudbury education. So? If someone who may live
a thousand miles from the nearest Sudbury school has risked the ire of
friends, family and the establishment to try to give their kids something
better, that's a great and noble thing. It wouldn't hurt us to acknowledge
that every once in a while before we unload the dump truck of reasons why
it's not good enough.

- somebody asks a question here - and gets a reading list or a reference to
archived discussions in response. I would suggest a reading list is a good
response to a request for a reading list, but not to a question posted to a
*discussion* group. It's like we don't have time or interest in responding?
Then don't respond.

- as Alan mentioned, the whole 'democratic classroom' thing - sure, it's
partial and limited, and those of us with any real experience with the model
can see that the whole idea of a democracy within a traditional coercive
school is fundamentally and fatally flawed - but can't we spend a line or
two acknowledging the attempt and sympathizing before we shoot it down? And
then, shoot it down as gently as possible? Just because we may be tired of
hearing of it doesn't mean it might not be a shining moment for the poster
who tried it.

I'd chalk this all up to the lack of nuance inherent in an email chat list,
except that it also characterizes many of the face to face encounters I've
had. And, unfortunately, it's not just me - I've asked others who have come
in contact with proponents of the school about how it left them feeling, and
had a couple of those 'oh, you too?' moments.

Note that I'm not suggesting watering anything down, least of all the
philosophy that underlies our schools. I'm suggesting a little more sympathy
and a little less militancy in supporting our views. If I had to describe
the net emotional impression I've gotten from all my dozens of encounters
with other proponents of the model on a 'warm, sympathetic and supportive'
to 'cold, aloof and off-putting' scale, it would be, frankly, way closer to
the cold end. If it weren't for the beauty of the philosophy (and the
enthusiasm of Amy Erez, who was my first encounter with Sudbury) I might not
have been able to see past the defensiveness and possessiveness of
supporters of the model.

Sorry, this got real long, but one last thing: Maybe the model is like a
child. Maybe, in our well-intentioned efforts to protect it and nurture it,
we've in fact been smothering it and stunting its growth. Maybe we need to
have more confidence in it, to trust that it can stand up and make its way
in the world without us fussing over it so much. Personally, I've been
trying to develop a much more open and supportive attitude towards both the
model and its critics. There's no reason this model should not explode upon
the world - our kids, with their freedom and their skills, put the lie to
all the objections and all the claims of coercive schools. We just need to
run our schools as best we can and embrace our critics as best we can, lay
out our arguments in as calm and helpful a way as we can and do our best not
to make any more enemies than we strictly need.

Anybody else feel this way, or am I totally off base?

Joseph (on board for 7 years and counting, 3 kids at Diablo Valley School)

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Alan Klein []
> Hi all,
> This whole discussion is one we have recycled over and over.
> I am struck by
> a theme, or perhaps a tone, that seems to recur. Whenever
> people talk about
> their experiences of "sort of doing democracy" in public or
> private schools,
> we fall all over ourselves to come down on them. We go to
> great pains to
> tell them about the evil they are foisting upon their
> unsuspecting students.
> (Hyperbole, for sure, but I think I am accurately noting the
> gist of what
> goes on here.) I wonder why this is so.
> Back in teh early days of The Highland School (early 1980's),
> we used to
> have this discussion a lot. Is The Harmony School in Indiana
> sufficiently
> democratic to be considered a friend or are they the devil
> incarnate because
> they talk freedom but don't practice it to the level we
> believe necessary?
> Why did kids in Chris Mercogliano's class at The Free School in Albany
> (mentioned in a SKOLE article he wrote) have a math class
> they had to rebel
> against rather than being free to choose their own
> activities? Did this mean
> that The Albany Free School is a sham...a mere pretender to
> be cast away and
> scorned by us true believers?
> I have come to believe that this level of heat in this discussion is a
> problem for us as a community of people working for democracy
> in education.
> Simply put, I think it is counter-productive, in that we
> drive off more
> people than we attract. And in this business we need all teh
> friends we can
> get.
> Scott David, Mimsy, Dawn, and Joe ...don't reach for your
> keyboard yet! I am
> NOT suggesting that we water down our philosohies to attract
> more people. I
> am not suggesting that we tell half truths to prospective
> parents to lure
> thm into the fold. I am not suggesting that we bestow the
> "SVS" brand or the
> democratic school label on any school or classroom that
> decides to claim it.
> I am not suggestign that we stop vigorously discussing and
> debating our
> philosophical and pragmatic practices.
> What I AM suggesting is that we tone down the rhetoric that states or
> implies that people do harm to kids when they do their best to apply
> whatever they can of democratic methodology to their classrooms in
> non-democratic schools. Certainly we all may wish that they
> would abandon
> those efforts and join us in our democratic schools. The
> question then is,
> "What is the best way to get them to do so?" My experience
> tells me that
> taking an appreciative look at our own experiences and
> sharing them with
> others is the best way. Telling them that they are going to
> Educational Hell
> for not quitting their jobs in order to start a democratic
> school is not.
> Thanks for listening. You may now fire away!
> ~Alan Klein
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