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

From: Ardeshir Mehta, N.D. (
Date: Fri Feb 22 2002 - 18:35:33 EST

Hi Alan, Laura and David,

Thank you for your posts.

I had written:

> > One cannot excuse the coersive nature of most *public* schools by
> > saying that if the child wants to leave, he / she can always do so.
> > And if this argument applies to public schools, then surely it ap-
> > plies to *all* schools.

To this, you, Alan, replied:

> It is an unfortunate truth of economics and law that most parents/students
> do NOT believe they can always leave if they want. Therefore, this argument
> does NOT apply to most people in public schools (your Cyrus and my Kelly
> notwithstanding!)

Even if it applies only to Cyrus and Kelly, it surely applies to any
SVS student also.

I had added:

> > So the question still stands: What would it take for Sudbury to aban-
> > don coerciveness in favour of non-coercive methods of conflict reso-
> > lution, such as, in Deutsch's terms, seeking "common preferences"?
> >
> > For if it doesn't, it can hardly be -- as Martha Stewart might put it --
> > "a good thing". (Would *you* say it is?)
> My experience at The Highland School and what I know of SVS says that that
> is what almost all SM and JC deliberations become: a search for common
> preferences. It is couched in the language and practice of democracy, as
> versus consensus, but the outcome is usually the same.

What does the term "versus consensus" (in the context of SVS)

And even if "versus consensus" means the same as "common pref-
erences", which I doubt, surely you will not argue that "rules" -- or
"allegation", "charge", "trial" or "sentence" -- (as per the Sudbury
Valley web pages) mean the same as common preferences, will you?

If, as you assert, almost all SM and JC deliberations are a search
for common preferences, then let me re-word the question: What
would it take for Sudbury to abandon terms such as "rules", "sen-
tence", etc., which most definitely imply coerciveness, in favour of
terms such as "common preferences", which just ooze with non-

For what one *calls* something is often of vital importance: that's
why no auto-maker calls any of their cars "Clunker" or "Lemon".

And Laura, you wrote:

> I agree with TCS philosophy in that it is up to each person to decide where
> they want to be.
> You make a good point about city life versus village life. At least people
> are free to leave a Sudbury campus if they want to go explore the city.
> Who said anything about "NOT trying" to find common preferences?? (I
> didn't!) I don't think that I underestimate human potential by saying that
> I don't think we are as highly evolved as Deutsch expects us all to be. I
> do think we all have the potential - I just think it is going to take a lot
> longer to get there than Deutsch seems to. If that is pessimistic in some
> people's view so be it. I call is a realistic view.

But how do you *know* that that's going to be the case? Just
How do you know that we are not as highly evolved as Deutsch
expects us to be? How do you know that it will take longer than
Deutsch seems to think? *Have* you actually tried -- and tried
your very best, at that? Honestly, now.

Even I myself, if I have to say honestly, have to admit that I
haven't (yet) tried this. But I intend to, in future.

> We should always at
> least try to find common preferences to be sure.

Of course. That's just what TCS is saying.

> How would a school go about making this point about giving kids the choice
> not to be there with families that enroll? Should it be explicitly stated
> in printed materials?

Yes, I think so: along with the democracy and freedom bit. If not,
I'd say it's like hiding the cookie jar.

> As for what it would take to eschew rules in favor of finding common
> preferences - I don't know off hand if there is a single solution. I think
> it would take lots of practice and people seeing other people do it
> effectively so that others can learn the skill. It seems like it would be
> something that would come from within the individuals that make up the
> community. I can imagine it coming from the top down.

Yes, I think so. However, what would be the harm for someone to
at least suggest this in a meeting, and explain it as the right way to
go in keeping with the school's philosophy?

And finally, David, you wrote:

> 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.

"Moral" is hardly what I would call using coersion (or force) even
for self-defence -- if by "moral" one means something good. The
result could well be the death of a human being, or at least harm to
him / her; and how can the death of, or harm to, a human being be
called "good" an *any* sense of the term?

As Lao Tzu says,

     To rejoice in a military victory is to rejoice in the slaughter of
     men, women and children! How can the government of a nation
     be entrusted to people who rejoice in such things?

Note that he does not talk about a "just" war as opposed to an "un-
just" one. Winning World War II was a military victory for the Al-
lies, but though it was better than *losing* the war, it was hardly a
*good* thing: it resulted in the slaughter of more than twenty mil-
lion people. The *real* good thing would have been to *prevent*
WW-II -- for example, by *not* imposing the Treaty of Versailles
on defeated Germany after WW-I, but rather having a kind of
"Marshall Plan" at that time too -- as a result of which it is highly
unlikely that Hitler would have risen to power.

If the TCS position is that coercion is on occasion moral in the
sense that it is *good*, then I dispute that claim most vehemently.
If it's their position that it is sometimes the lesser of two *evils*, I
agree: with the stipulation that the word "evils" be emphasised, as I
have done above, so as to cause no misunderstanding whatsoever as
to what is truly good and what isn't!

You added:

> 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.

Here I agree, with the proviso that the rules should clearly spell out
that rules *are* coercive, and the justification of their being coer-
cive is that they are the lesser of two *evils*, for *not* having
these rules means that people would be free to coerce *others*.

But even then, the TCS philosophy is, as I understand it, that there
may always be more *creative* ways than counter-coersion to deal
with people who feel an urge to coerce others -- such as persuasion.
(After all, this is what TCS itself does, by *persuading* parents not
to coerce their children, rather than by making *rules* about it!)

Why should anyone at SVS feel the urge to indulge in coercive be-
haviour in the first place? If there is no such need, then I see no
need for rules to *defend* against such behaviour, either.

If on the other hand someone at SVS does feel such an urge or a
need to indulge in coercive behaviour, then surely it should be ad-
dressed, in the sense that its deeper causes sought, and dealt with,
preferably by persuasion.

Coersion -- whether via rules and sentences, or otherwise -- only
deals with manifestation, not with causes.

However, as I said, I agree in most part with you, David. And as I
also said, I am sending your post to David Deutsch on the TCS list
for his comments, if he has any: for his article obviously makes it
clear that in *his* mind the philosophies of TCS and SVS are *not*


Ardeshir <>.


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