Re: [Discuss-sudbury-model] questions about social atmosphere

From: Alan Klein <alan_at_klein.net>
Date: Sat Feb 15 11:00:01 2003

You remind me of our first year at The Highland School, a democratic -- but not "Sudbury Model" -- school in WV, It was 1981 and I had a Radio Shack Color Computer which I left at school. Several kids, generally ages 9-11, got into playing computer games. At first, their competitiveness with each other expressed itself in put-downs, name-calling, etc. As they co-created the school's culture their competitiveness began to express itself more and more in encouraging each other to do their best, congratulating each other on impressive efforts, going all out to make a new personal high score, etc.

I am also reminded of the first year of a "school-within-a-school" program I co-founded in a public elementary school in Ann Arbor, MI. We had 58 second through sixth graders, two teachers, and three rooms in a wing of an old building. Though we couldn't be as democratic as we would have liked, we did have democratic meetings to create our class rules and our "judiciary system" to enforce those rules.

The group followed a typical pattern of having a "honeymoon" period at the beginning of the year during which no rules were created. They then started creating rules, as they began to be aware of and isolate those behaviors they considered out of line. Then, in late October, they realized they needed some kind of way to enforce those laws.

One boy, Robert, who had a very troubled home life, was quite good at antagonizing others. In the first meeting during which penalties were discussed, people kept bringing up Robert's past "sins". The list grew and grew and it began to look as though Robert was going to have to forfeit his recess (the punishment of choice for the group at that moment) for the rest of his natural life! He began to look visibly shaken. At that moment, a third grader, who was lying on his back in the middle of the meeting area amidst a sea of 60 bodies, raised his hand. The Chair called on him and he said, "We all know Robert has a temper, but I don't think we should string him up by his thumbs for every little thing he does."

That wise comment, from the "middle" of the group in every way, turned the tide and the group "invented" the concept of probation. They applied it to Robert and the crisis was averted!

~Alan Klein
  ----- Original Message -----
  From: raymond hulser
  Anyway, as Gabe's social life has become more complicated (attending nursery school, increasing language skills, etc.), I've become increasingly curious about how kids at democratic schools generally treat one another. Lately, I've noticed that all of Gabe's friends who attend pre-school, engage in a surprising amount of -- for lack of a better word -- disturbing behavior. Specifically, I've seen a surge in teasing, name-calling, and excluding ("We don't like you," "No boys allowed") since these kids turned 3. I know that most people think this is typical pre-school behavior, but I think it's related to pre-school culture, and will get worse once they are immersed in the culture of traditional schools. I've been clinging to the hope that the democratic school culture fosters a higher degree of respect and compassion, so would really appreciate your observations of how kids tend to treat one-another in that setting (especially Fairhaven). I'm particularly interested in your observations of:
  - how disputes are handled between individuals or within groups outside of school meetings
  - how do older kids tend to treat younger ones?
  - what kinds of social groups do you see? what age ranges do they encompass? are they cliquish?
  - do you think the frequency of name-calling, excluding, teasing, etc. is lower among democratic school kids than it is among their traditional school peers?
  - among the five year olds, do you see significant differences in behavior between kids who attended pre-school and those who did not?
Received on Sat Feb 15 2003 - 10:59:46 EST

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