DSM: Mighty Joe Jackson and the Everlasting Diploma Discussion

From: Bruce Smith (bsmith@coin.org)
Date: Mon Dec 17 2001 - 15:48:11 EST

First off, I think Mike Sadofsky's characterization of the diploma dynamic
is right on: it goes as far as any such explanation could in describing how
and why a school based on student-directed and -evaluated learning would
enter into the diploma game.

I genuinely respect the uniqueness of the (former?) Fairhaven diploma
process. I find the arguments Joe has offered intriguing, though I remain
unconverted. The attendance-in-good-standing diploma strives to offer a
compromise, a halfway point between (qualified) external evaluation and no
diploma whatsoever; but as sometimes is the case, I'd prefer either extreme
to the muddled middle ground. Many (most?) Sudbury schools already have a
document which details students' attendance in good standing: it's called a
transcript -- a nonevaluative record which is available to students upon
request. Insofar as the diploma represents the school's respone to a
persistent student request -- in the manner Mike described -- I continue to
be satisfied with AVS's current process.

I'm also curious how the recent changes in the Fairhaven diploma process --
to which Joe so coyly alluded -- came about.

<<What if the majority wanted corporal punishment, report cards and
mandated group showers? Where is the line between being a Sudbury model
school, the core of which represents a set of several basic beliefs about
learning and culture, and simply being a democratic school?>>

These examples take a good question -- what are the self-imposed limits on
democracy -- to its logical extreme. It's important to bear in mind that
the only thing that ever counterbalances the rule of the majority in a
democracy is the culture of the people that comprise it. In the U.S., this
derives from a consensus that principles like life, liberty, the pursuit of
happiness, not to mention the Bill of Rights, are ideals we shouldn't mess
with (even if we continually disagree on how to manifest them). In Sudbury
schools, the cultural norm is respect for the individual, which I believe
obviates the above examples. Perhaps a better mousetrap would lie in the
example of letters of recommendation. Typically these are written by staff
as individuals, not in their official capacity as staff, but how meaningful
a distinction is this, really? How can one write a non-evaluative,
unofficial recommendation? Is the evaluation here permissible because, as
with the diploma, the student requests it and needs it to pursue a
self-chosen goal?

<<In my mind using the label "high-school dropout" as a stick to get
students to get up and perform in front of Assembly is inconsistent with
the ideals of the model.>>

This depends on whether people believe that stick, as opposed to the
rite-of-passage carrot, is more of a determining factor in students'
decisions to pursue a diploma.

With glowing red cheeks,

Bruce Smith Brucey Bruce Bruce Smith

p.s. just to dispel any possible doubt, Joe and I are being playful friends
in this exchange...right, Joe? Friend, buddy, pal??


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