Re: DSM: TCS (Taking Children Seriously): Non-coercive Schools?

From: David Schneider-Joseph (
Date: Fri Feb 22 2002 - 01:19:31 EST

As an SVS alumni, a proponent of the Sudbury model, and supporter of TCS
philosophy and member of the TCS community, I believe I can offer some
useful ideas to this discussion.

1) According to the TCS definition of coercion (which you can see at, democracy is not
inherently coercive. It can be, and often is (even SVS democracy), but
doesn't have to be. If everyone's preference is to make decisions
*within* the framework of a democracy, then it is not necessarily
coercive if the democracy makes a decision that I disagree with.

To explain this, I'll use an example: I like having money. I'd love to
have more money. But I also think stealing is wrong. Unless I am in
poverty, it is my preference that people who earned money legitimately
keep the money. If I make more money, I want to earn it. As another
example: I like playing chess. When I play chess, I try to win. But I
don't find it coercive when I lose. I love the learning experience and
I'd much rather lose within the rules of chess than win by any means
possible (including cheating).

Now, in all three examples, someone *could* find these situations
coercive. Depending on the circumstance, I could (and often do) find a
decision made by a democracy I'm a member of coercive. There are also
some people who play chess *only* to win, and are very distraught when
they lose. I use these examples only to illustrate what coercion means
according to the TCS definition, not to make any points about the morals
of democracy or economics or chess.

2) The TCS position on coercion is that coercion is *harmful* to the
person being coerced, not that it is always wrong. In fact, the TCS
position is that coercion is often perfectly moral, and sometimes the
ONLY moral way to act. It is coercion, for example, to use force in
self-defense, but perfectly moral. A common preference cannot be found
with someone who's not interested in finding one.

TCS does say that it is possible and desirable for parents and children
to have non-coercive, common preference-finding relationships (because
of the unique nature and responsibilities inherent in such
relationships). It's often hard work to figure out how to avoid
coercion, and it will probably take many generations before there will
ever be a completely non-coercive parent (if there ever is one), but it
is very important that parents try very hard with their children to
avoid coercion.

3) I think a good analogy with a Sudbury school is that of a town
government. In many ways it serves the same roles. It allocates some
communal funds, hires some people to keep things running smoothly, and
sets basic rules of behavior so that everyone feels that their rights
are being protected. It also has a judicial system for dealing with
rule violations. By their nature, rules are coercive to someone who
does not want to follow them. And enforcing those rules with a judicial
system is also coercive. But IF the rules only outlaw actions that are
violations of the rights of others, then it is perfectly moral to use
coercion to enforce those rules. It just so happens that the rules at a
Sudbury school only exist as a defense against coercive behavior, i.e.
theft and assault, not to coerce people "for their own good", which are
what most of the rules in other schools and homes are there for. In
this way, there is nothing contradictory to TCS philosophy in the
Sudbury model.

So, strictly speaking, people that want to break the rules at a Sudbury
school are not "doing what they want to do." But I don't think that any
TCSer would think that the actions that are not allowed at SVS should be
allowed. Nor is this statement misleading in any but the most literal
interpretation, in my opinion, because the vast majority of Sudbury
school students ARE doing what they want to do, all day.

4) Finally, I definitely agree that parents should never force their
children to go to school, Sudbury model or otherwise, and if their
children don't want to go to school they should help them find other
activities that they *do* like. No Sudbury school would enroll a child
that refused to attend, but it is unfortunately true that it's possible
for parents to coerce their children into saying that they want to
attend even if they don't really want to. There is no way that a
Sudbury school can prevent that, nor does it have any moral obligation
to, anymore than a supermarket should refuse to sell food to children
unless the manager can be sure that the child is not there because of
parental coercion. But I think Sudbury schools are the one type of
school where nearly every single student wants to be there, usually
because (among other reasons) it is a haven *from* coercion.

David Schneider-Joseph


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