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

From: Dawn Harkness (dawn@harkness.net)
Date: Tue Nov 06 2001 - 13:39:27 EST


William, I have wracked my brain and cannot remember a single time a student
has asked me a stupid question. Maybe staff members will have different
opinions on this because they have more contact with students than I do as a
parent and Assembly member. What distinguishes me from most other parents
is that I also happen to be an attorney who has worked with many teens, and
over the years I have been approached with a wide range of legal questions
from SVS students. Not a single student has ever asked me what I would
consider to be a stupid question. If I did hear a stupid question I would
treat them as I treat adults: Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.
Be that as it may, I have heard some stupid statements from students (as
well as other parents, trustees and staff members) over the years and I
treat them just like I treat anyone who makes stupid statements. Those I
challenge head on.

I have given much thought to your criticism when you wrote:

"As an "outsider" who asks questions, all I can say is that I see an
attitude of extreme belief in the Sudbury model and a sometimes snooty air
in defending it."

I think it is funny that you consider yourself as an outsider. Maybe that
is true in this forum, but for the most part it seems to me that you are
part of the dominant culture which sees at least some value in the
traditional educational system.

Having said, that, I have heard this criticism (in words to that effect)
over the 7+ years I have been a parent of an SVS student many times. It is
similar to comments I have heard directed at me on several issues having
nothing to do with SVS, like my absolutely unbending commitment to (read
extreme belief in) lesbian and gay civil rights and children's civil rights.
And when I was younger I tended to take those words to heart more, naively
thinking that it was important to accommodate those critics' feelings so
they would like me and maybe I could over time educate them so that they
would see things my way At this point in my life, I just don't give a damn
what those folks think of me or my core beliefs. I know I am right and they
are wrong and I have no conflicting feelings about it. Other folks I know
who feel as strongly as I do take a different approach, and try to win
people over with gentle persuasion, a populist approach, if you will. And
to some degree I admire
those who succeed using those political skills. I don't have those skills
and I don't particularly wish to acquire them. I'm not about being popular,
I'm about being right and making a clear impression. My experience tells
me, mine is the more effective approach, even if it makes some folks very
uncomfortable.

Let me offer an example: I have a friendly acquaintance with a Universalist
Unitarian minister. One day we were discussing our approaches to people who
hit their children in public. She told me that once when she was on the
subway, she observed a mother spanking and slapping her child. She got
right next to the woman and said in a sympathetic way, "Gee, some days it
really is hard to be a parent isn't it. Parenting can be so tough,
especially when you are having a hard day. Is there something I can do to
help"

I don't know what it is about me, but I tend to be a magnet for the
criminally insane and people who hurt their kids. My approach to dealing
with parents who hit their kids is usually one of two options. I say, "
Hey, would you like to take a swing at someone your own size who can defend
themselves?" Or if they are much bigger than me, I say something like, "You
are going to make a great candidate for elder abuse. I bet when you are
eighty and can't defend yourself, your kid is going to smack the shit out of
you." They always stop hitting their kids, and get very embarrassed and
sometimes defensive. Maybe they even think I'm nuts, but no one has taken a
swing at me yet.

Both the minister and I realize that we are out of step with the 90% of
Americans who legally hit their kids. Both of us are in the even smaller
minority of bystanders who refuse to ignore people who hit their kids, and
so we feel some affinity with each other in this matter. We both believe
that no matter what we do, that parent is probably going to hit that kid
again at least in the isolation of their home. However, we both agree that
her approach is likely to be soon forgotten while my approach is likely to
ring in their ears for a long time. I think that they will stop and think
before they hit their kids again in public if only because a crazy woman may
speak up in their child's defense.

Why is that true? I think it is because her approach is, by design, not
critical and non-judgmental. Her goal is very short-term: she is strictly
parent focused, hoping to gently distract the parent from hitting at that
moment. My goal is to stop the hitting, and send a clear unequivocal and
memorable message to the parent, the kid and bystanders that what the parent
is doing is wrong and there could be dire consequences down the road. I
don't see anything wrong with being judgmental and confrontational under
these circumstances. In fact, I think it is a moral imperative to let the
parent, the child and every other bystander know that at least one person in
the world thinks hitting children is absolutely wrong. I think it is
important to demonstrate that not everyone will go along to get along. I
also think my friend does more harm than good because her approach is not
critical and sends the wrong message to everyone involved, particularly the
child, that this behavior is human and understandable under stressful
circumstances.

Whether anyone agrees with me or not, I have a deep belief that not being
subjected to physical violence is a basic civil right. When adults do the
exact same thing to another adult, it is illegal and we call it domestic
violence or assault and battery depending on who is doing the hitting and
who is being hit. Unfortunately, our legal system does not extend this
right to bodily integrity to children. If the person is a parent or
educator, then it is called discipline or corporal punishment. If the
person who is doing the hitting is another child, it is frequently swept
under the rug as normal kid stuff. I think this is absolutely morally
wrong. This legal subjugation of children is as important a civil rights
struggle as others are to me, and I'm not diplomatic about it.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The difference between many
others in this discussion group, particularly the educational reformers, and
me is that I'm not at all concerned with concepts like "is this the best way
to turn out Nobel Prize winners." I think this same attitude is expressed in
your post, William, when you wrote, "You may be right, but I am still
exploring and formulating my ideas on how education should be offered. " To
me a Sudbury school is an oasis which extends civil rights (extending beyond
the very basic issues of bodily integrity) to children in a world which
categorically denies them. This key component is absolutely absent in the
traditional authoritarian traditional schools. And no matter how much those
"cool" teachers try, they cannot change this basic fact of life for their
students in these systems.

Maybe you'll take this as just another sign of my arrogance and snootiness
but to date, I haven't worried about whether my child will learn what she
needs to learn to become the person she wants to become. On this I have had
no doubt whether or not she is home schooled, attends SVS, or most other
traditional schools. That is not what I worry or care about, although over
time I have come to believe that SVS is the best place for her educationally
as well. What I really care about is whether she can enjoy as a child what
most of us enjoy as adults, basic civil rights, freedom and liberty. What
reform types care about is very different.

If one looks at the world as I do, there is no shame in being passionate,
uncompromising, critical or judgmental in defense of my core beliefs. If
traditional teachers and ex-teachers want any support for their complicity
in this repressive system. I think they should look for a different
discussion group. Because while there may be some diplomats among us, this
discussion group has some people who will not compromise our values to make
them feel comfortable with what they have done to children. I'm less
concerned with making them feel ok than I am making a clear statement to all
the students, parents, and others who may be bystanders/lurkers and trying
to figure out why they feel so out of step with the rest of the world.
Ironically enough, my controversial style hasn't hurt me none, as far as I
can see. I have found that the best people like me for my convictions and
my willingness to express them. In my opinion this separates the proverbial
wheat from the chaff.

Dawn Harkness

----- Original Message -----
From: "william van horn" <wmvh1@excite.com>
To: <discuss-sudbury-model@sudval.org>
Sent: Monday, November 05, 2001 11:33 PM
Subject: RE: How We Come Off to Others (was RE: re[2]: DSM: democratic
classroom)

> As an "outsider" who asks questions, all I can say is that I see an
> attitude of extreme belief in the Sudbury model and a sometimes snooty air
> in defending it.
>
> You may be right, but I am still exploring and formulating my ideas on how
> education should be offered. I certainly do not think that the public
> schools are doing a good job and I am skeptical that they could ever
change
> enough. I think there may be too much inertia built into the system. And
> though I see Sudbury as a fantastic answer, I am not totally convinced.
But
> I am part of this discussion to learn more, so excuse my naive questions.
>
> I'm curious, how do you respond to a student when he or she asks what
> appears to you a stupid question?
>
>
> William
>
>
>
>
>
> _______________________________________________________
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