Re: DSM: degrees of illusionary freedom

From: Bruce Smith (
Date: Tue Nov 06 2001 - 09:14:34 EST

This post gives me that opportunity, first, to respond to a general trend
on this list of late (and of old) which saddens me: the manner in which
those who are critical and ask hard questions bring down the wrath of those
who cry "can't we all just get along?" I regret, for example, that my post
is given the label "Sudbury-centric" simply because I choose to be blunt in
my criticism of traditional schooling and the lip service it pays to
respecting children. Still, I will not refrain from being blunt on this
list. This is not about attacking people or easing them in: this is a
discussion on Sudbury Valley and its implications for how people might best
be educated. I think the discussion is best served by forceful arguments
which are simultaneously respectful -- by which I mean those that refrain
from ad hominem attacks (including, I believe, even the hardest-hitting
arguments in this thread). I'll save the kid gloves for PR, and trust that
anyone who subscribes to this list is mature enough to handle a reasonable,
yet passionate, argument. Further, I will hope that simply being
opinionated isn't enough to earn me a reputation as intolerant or

<<I suspect that the realm of questions that the SM can address is limited
-- I'm guessing that they have no authority to rewrite the school's
articles of incorporation, for example. Why not give them "actual power"
by granting them that authority? [rhetorical question]. Our Founding
Brothers _assumed_ that very authority when they tossed the Articles of
Confederation and hashed out our current Constitution. So, by the same
all-or-nothing standard by which classroom experiments in democracy are
judged by some, SVS is just "some sort of illusion... where they just play
at the form of democracy." [didn't somebody named Greenberg or Sadovsky
say once that all play is learning?]. >>

First of all, I think it's more "Sudbury-centric" to say not simply that
"all play is learning," but rather that people are always learning in
whatever they do. :-)

I realize Jesse's question here was rhetorical, but I still wish to
respond. It is correct that SM cannot amend the articles of incorporation,
nor the Assembly bylaws or policies. But SM members _have_ the actual power
you want to give them, as they are also members of the Assembly. Thus in
some sense, Sudbury schools are more democratic than this republic where we
must rely on elected representatives to vote for us most of the time (not
to open up the democratic vs. republican thread/can of worms again :).

It's less that I view classroom democracy as an all-or-nothing proposition,
and more, as I said previously, that I bristle when people who work in
authoritarian schools boast of how much they are respecting students. My
position is one of questioning those who toss students a democratic bone
from time to time, saying how respectful they're being, yet continue to
participate in a system which oppresses children. Each individual must make
their own choice as to what system to support, and where they can make the
greatest contribution. Also, believe it or not, I respect an individual's
right to participate in traditional education. In fact, my highest
educational value is choice, which explains both why I loathe traditional
education (for denying children the right to make choices) and why I accept
that if people choose such a system, they should be able to have it.

I just want to call a spade a spade. I think the argument's been made on
this list before that being partially free is somewhat like being partially
pregnant or dead. All metaphysical hairsplitting aside, if democracy is
tantamount to freedom, then any "partial" freedom is a qualified simulation
of the real thing.

<<ALL freedom comes with limits, and some might argue that there is no
freedom without the existence of boundaries. SVS simply has fewer
externally imposed limits than rogue classroom experiments in democracy.
But SVS still has limits. And classroom experiments still have some level
of democracy. My point? There are levels of democracy -- it's not all or

It is true that in this country, even, democracy has been a long-evolving
process. And of course freedom has limits! My point, again and finally, is
that it comes down to who has a voice in determining those limits. In a
traditional school, it's the adults who retain ultimate control ("veto
power," I believe Jesse called it). In my strongly-held opinion, that
hamstrings classroom democracy to the point that it can be, at best, a
simulation. Whether or not such a simulation has value, let's not pretend
it's anything more than that. (Besides, I can't help thinking, why give
children a simulation if you can give them the real thing? --
understandably, a big IF for various reasons)



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