Re: [Discuss-sudbury-model] SVS=Elite? AND Urban Students

From: Bruce Smith <bsmith_at_coin.org>
Date: Tue Dec 3 14:56:01 2002

This is Bruce at Alpine Valley School in Colorado, with a few thoughts on
elitism and staff hiring.

Like Mike, I am leery of embarking on an endless, theoretical debate of the
term "elitist," yet find the distortions and/or misunderstandings in some
of these posts too great to ignore. I hope that I can add to this
discussion in a way that's honest, yet doesn't arouse any further
resentment or hurt feelings.

<<Sudbury requires that new staff work without pay or
with little pay for an unspecified amount of time until they
become part of the scenery.>>

This comment seems to confuse the staff hiring process with the issue of
staff compensation. Unlike conventional schools, Sudbury schools cannot
make use of a standardized package of educational credentials plus one or
two brief interviews in their hiring process. To make an informed hiring
decision, we have to have staff candidates spend enough time at school so
that they become relatively known (and so the candidates can know what
they're getting themselves in for :). Are we to pay candidates for what is,
essentially, an extended interview? Whatever one's opinion on this, it is
simply not an economic possibility for most (if not all) Sudbury schools.

This brings me to a contemplation of what is meant by elitism here (not to
mention "hegemony," a word which takes me right back to my own grad school
days :). I'm not sure how others on this list would define it -- it's
certainly hasn't been defined in depth in recent posts -- but as I see it,
elitism may be interpreted as indicating a system inaccessible to people of
ordinary or below-average means (or a belief that only people of a certain
means are entitled to some privilege).

As Joe has mentioned, a number of Sudbury schools have gone to great
lengths to ensure that their tuition is affordable to virtually all
families. All Sudbury schools, so far as I know, make it their mission to
keep tuition as low as possible. We face a constant balancing act, keeping
tuition reasonable while also trying to pay staff as fair a wage as
possible. As Mike stated, viability is a very important concern for our
schools: if we can't stay open, then we wouldn't be able to argue about how
elitist we are, would we? :-) Since virtually all Sudbury schools operate
without government subsidies, and since many foundations shy away from
schools that don't implement mandatory testing and arbitrary evaluation, we
depend on tuition income for the bulk of our revenue.

Elizabeth speaks of the "luxury" of working for free. It may be helpful to
look on Sudbury schools as the small businesses they are. When opening and
running a business, one does everything one can, and everything one must. I
think the reason some people bristle at being labelled elitist lies in the
fact that many of us have made *tremendous* sacrifices in order to open and
work at Sudbury schools. When staff members rely on the income of another
adult in their family, how exactly is that elitist? Doesn't that make them
one more two-income (or two-occupation) family? When staff members postpone
life decisions (e.g., purchasing a home, starting a family) because they
wish to get a school off the ground, does that make them elitists?

Obviously, financial considerations restrict many families from exercising
a truly free choice of schools. I also recognize that pursuing a staff
position at a Sudbury school requires certain sacrifices on the part of
candidates. But blaming schools for being in the economic position they're
in seems to me unlikely to further the discussion; neither does tarring all
Subury schools and staff with the epithet "elitist" without a more complete
knowledge of the situation in question.

Bruce Smith, staff
Alpine Valley School

------------------------------------------
"When I was four, I could draw as well as Raphael.
It has taken me my whole life to learn to draw like
a four-year-old child."
                         -- Picasso
Received on Tue Dec 03 2002 - 14:55:07 EST

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