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

From: David Rovner (
Date: Sun Mar 03 2002 - 03:59:00 EST

Can we conclude from what is said below, that David Deutsch is mistaken when he writes: " . . . I conclude, therefore, that the CLAIM is simply false, and that the school's regime, though it seems much more humane than a typical school, is nevertheless systematically coercive both in its overall constitution and in its detailed functioning." ? [What about Sudbury Valley? -- Why the Sudbury Valley School is not TCS ]

"The child is not the mere creature of the State."

David Rovner -
Favors ending government involvement in education,
working for the Advancement of Democratic Schools
& the Freedom of Learning, Individual Rights and
Objectivist philosophy in Israel.

Separate School from State

----- Original Message -----
From: "David Schneider-Joseph" <>
To: <>
Sent: Friday, February 22, 2002 8:19 AM
Subject: Re: DSM: TCS (Taking Children Seriously): Non-coercive Schools?

> 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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