Re: DSM: An introduction and some questions...

From: Scott David Gray (
Date: Sun Jan 20 2002 - 17:07:18 EST

On Sun, 20 Jan -1 wrote:

> * what conditions are necessary for a learning organization to unfold as a healthy,
> adaptable, robust structure?

Pretty similar to the conditions needed for any organization
or institution to be healthy, adaptable, and robust. Here
are some things that help: Transparent institutions and
accountable officials, political and real equality between
its members, a respect for the rule of law as opposed to
cults of personality, a willingness on the part of the
organization and its institutions to leave individuals free
to make their own judgements as long as the broad aims of
the organization and its other members are unhurt by those
judgements, etc.

> * how do such conditions get created?

Political democracy, coupled with a respect for individual
liberty, openness to self-examination, and a healthy modicum
of responsiblity on the part of members; and for an older
institution the presense of respected traditions and limits
within the community.

> * what is surprise?

A word; and like most words it means different things to
different people in different contexts. The word itself and
its usage are arbitrary, and will change from group to

I guess that the most common usage is something like: "The
reaction of a person to something that has occurred without
warning or an understanding that such a thing might occur."

> * what is play?

A word; and like most words it means different things to
different people in different contexts. The word itself and
its usage are arbitrary, and will change from group to

I guess that the most common usage is something like: "The
act of engaging in an activity for its own sake, rather than
for material or social benefits gained by engaging in the

> * how do these two phenomena contribute to and shape the structure of a learning
> organization (again, I mean this rather broadly as an individual, group, community,
> organization, neighborhood, city, company, etc.)?

That's an odd question. YOU didn't describe two phenomena
-- you gave two words and asked me to attach them to
phenomena. And now you are asking me how these two
phenomena that _I_ defined relate to a community!

Well... I'll try... Given my definition of play, I suppose
that nsn-Sudbury educational models (including Montessouri,
Progressive, etc.) believe that "play" as I defined it is a
_bad_ thing. Some of these traditional models believes in
certain game-like activities being pursued _towards_ certain
ends. Of course, play as an end in itself is the be-all and
end-all of a person's day at a school like Sudbury Valley --
including some very hard _work_ that people take on in the
spirit of play as I defined it.

> * is it possible to imagine traditional school structures operating in principle along the
> same lines as SVS while "teaching" the same sorts of things that schools imagine themselves
> teaching? That is, and let me be more specific, can "mathematics" (whatever that might
> mean) be taught in more playful ways where surprises are embraced and encouraged? what
> conditions would be necessary for such a thing to happen? what is a teacher doing? what are
> students doing?

Nope. The main principle under which SVS operates, is that
there should be no curriculum. That is, that the
institution should _not_ have a list of things to teach
and/or inculcate in its students. As far as "teaching
mathematics in a playful way" -- making a _game_ of
something and then coercing or compelling people to be part
of that game is _neither_ freedom nor play in any useful

> OK. I know that I will get some comments on coersion; however, if people don't have
> experiences with learning mathematics in this way, can we imagine making the assumption
> that students actually want to learn mathematics, and then take it from there...

The person who "wants" to learn mathematics presumably
_wants_ to learn it in a certain way -- rarely as a game.
It seems to me a mistake to _assume_ that another person
wants to know something, or the path which that person wants
to take towards knowing it; at least from the SVS
perspective. This is the definition of a curriculum -- that
I can stand outside of another person and know better than
s/he does what is best for her/him and/or what s/he will

When I became interested in statistics and probability
theory, I approached it in a _playful_ way -- but it would
have seemed (at least to me) inefficient forced and stupid
to engage in a "calculus game." More to the point, I don't
think that I ever "wanted" to learn anything about
probability theory -- but one day I asked the question "what
are the odds that a 'trend' people are seeing can be
explained entirely by chance." What I _wanted_ was to
figure out how to do that; and after I figured out how to do
that I continued to wonder some other things...

> So, I'll stop there...I've said way too much already, but I am hoping that there will be
> some people interested in having this conversation with me.
> Sincerely,
> Darren Stanley
> (

--Scott David Gray
reply to:
Never express yourself more clearly than you are able to

-- Niels Bohr ============================================================


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