[Discuss-sudbury-model] Assessment of Booroobin

From: Carol Hughes <carolhughes1_at_earthlink.net>
Date: Sat May 17 13:03:01 2003

Hi Derek,
You said, "comfortable middle class situations, etc, to the extent that it lacks vigor and energy and does not support different things and initiatives" as the cultural climate you are dealing with. Here in New England the traditions are at their core very much worshipped. People in this area are tearing down half million dollar houses and building 2 million dollar homes to replace them. How else, I wonder could they express their power? The natural human drive for excellence has been translated into acquiring excellent possessions.

Personally I go for excellence in experiences. I ran across a quote today "If everything on earth was rational, nothing would ever happen", Fyodor Dostoyevsky. When dealing with the Accreditation Board, their attempt to "measure" your school is at its premise an irony, since you are attempting to introduce an educational system which empowers the student to create and manifest his/her own value system. Perhaps it can be suggested to their board that a person qualified to assess your school would need some experience in progressive educational theories, some background in psychology, philosophy, any science which is perceived to be ever-changing.

Would it be possible to come up with your own questionnaire presented to them for review of the quality of what you are doing? Years ago I home-schooled for a few years. The town I live in required monthly reports on my children's "school". We live on a lake. So I would watch my boys as they gazed on the lake for hours feeding the ducks and standing there next to tall trees and under the sun. Wish I still had the "academic" description of this scenario. Some of my best creative writing was brought to bare on this. Botany, biology, sports, General Science can all be gleaned from such a scene. What I realized is that the administrators needed a language to fill in the blanks of their forms that was familiar and comfortable. In one report I indicated that my seven year old had learned his twelves tables (which incidentally he just spontaneously started to do with nary a math class). The feedback from them was, but did he know his numbers 1-18. Still scratching my head over that one. How on earth would he be able to do the twelves table without those numbers? In point of fact, we had visited the very excellent Museum of Fine Arts the day before. I've long noted that children/people need a lot of assimilation time (perhaps even a few days) after enriching experiences. My son was sitting there in the living room in a dreamy kind of state and staring at our french door that had twelve panes of glass and out popped the tables. That moment is emblazoned in my mind. He taught me, this seven year old, how the mind works when it is given time and quality experience.

Another sort of trick I've learned in negotiating with closed-minded people is to present information to them in a way that they can bring it to someone else that makes them look good. It's an old sales trick I read about years ago. You tell the prospective "customer", after qualifying them with a few questions, just what ammunition they need to go home and convince someone else what a great idea it is to buy whatever. And selling is what you must do, like it or not. There's a great book, "How to Negotiate Anything" by Cohen. He talks about different cultures in it as well.

It is really tough to deal with an agency that is really trying to "police" you. Expressing sympathy to their representative, such as, "This must be difficult for you to assess, given that our theories are sooo very new, progressive, and daring" Who doesn't want to be perceived as new progressive and daring?

Hang in there. Every time there has been controversy in our family and school life it has been an incredible opportunity for our children to learn great negotiating skills.

Our oldest son had to deal with the college he is attending losing accreditation because of political games. 80% of the student body dropped out. He decided to stick it out. The issue has been resolved in court. The students are coming back. It was very painful and difficult to stay at the school. But, I believe it is precisely because he was raised to make his own decisions, be part of the process, and come from strength instead of fear that he was able to make the choice to stay and now he is flourishing there.

I hope this helps somewhat. Let me know what perspective writing might be helpful to you to present to others. You know, the parent's perspective, the teacher's perspective, the student... etc. It couldn't hurt to have them get emails from us trailblazers from all over the world.

All the best,

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: The Booroobin Sudbury School / Derek Sheppard
  To: discuss-sudbury-model_at_sudval.org
  Sent: Friday, May 16, 2003 9:06 PM
  Subject: Re: [Discuss-sudbury-model] Another assessment of Booroobin

  Hi Carol,

  Thanks for your response.

  I have read and appreciated what you have said in other forums. Your breadth and extent of experience is refreshing. You might note that this afternoon I'll be picking up 2 good friends, recent SVS Graduates, who will be spending some time with us in their second visit.

  It is good to have comment on what we say on our web site. We appreciate constructive input. Almost everything that goes on to our web site, has been considered by all Staff, the Chairperson of our Assembly and some Students. We are clearly alone in what we have to say and do in education, in Australia. What is written is intended to be challenging, but also real, in the context of our culture. Although both countries are democratic, there is a different evolutionary developments in Oz that makes our society different. And for Americans coming here, it can be refreshing; but having worked and lived here all my life and travelled and read lots and lots, we are simply too laid back. People in Oz are so comfortable with their lot, their typically comfortable middle class situations, etc, to the extent that it lacks vigour and energy and does not support different things and initiatives. It is changing, but slowly. That's why, for instance, most inventors and until recently many of our brightest people including scientists go overseas to get the support that they need to actually get things done. So the words are intended to wake up people from their slumber. The words might change over time, because we're still youthful compared to the maturity of Sudbury. I will bring your thoughts to the attention of our PR Committee.

  I'd suggest that you consider drafting something, but it is important to orchestrate any communications, so that they are the most effective for us. Timing will be considered by both our SM and PR Committee.

  Regards, Derek Sheppard
  The Booroobin Sudbury School - a centre of learning
  Ph +61 07 5499 9944 Fax +61 07 3251 0470
  Homestay boarding accommodation
  Ph +61 07 5499 9943
    ----- Original Message -----
    From: Carol Hughes
    To: discuss-sudbury-model_at_sudval.org
    Sent: Saturday, May 17, 2003 10:45 AM
    Subject: Re: [Discuss-sudbury-model] Another assessment of Booroobin

    "We may need at least moral, and perhaps written support."
    You got it. How can we help? Do you have some email addresses that we can send messages to? My youngest daughter just did her thesis defense. She was four years old when she started at Sudbury Valley School. My two sons who are 22 and 25 also graduated from there.

    I looked up your website and if I may say so, your opening remarks are a bit... well look at your words and then Sudbury Valley's words that are the first words one sees when reading your website. You may not have meant to, but you have put a negative comparison here, and questioned the veracity of traditional schools and right away seem to invite controversy. Make no mistake, I agree with every single word you say, but while you are experiencing harrassment and unfriendly "visits" I would temper this kind of dialogue. I feel a little bold in writing this to you. It is my sincere intention to help.

    In writing emails on your behalf I would love to have a person to run it by first in order to be sure it serves your purposes. Good luck. It is a better world that has people who do not rest on their laurels and sit around griping about schools, but rather stand up for a better way.
    Carol Hughes

    "A School for young people of the 21st century and beyond. Booroobin works with young people rather than doing things for, or to them. Life is changing rapidly. Young people need time, space, respect and trust to learn about themselves and the world around them, to play and have fun so they learn how to sustain themselves, and be adaptable. Dated information and mass teaching practices compromise, dilute and diminish innate creativity and natural learning abilities. Booroobin is a place where young people learn what they need to know, making all sorts of choices themselves, especially about what they learn and how they spend their time and taking responsibility for all the outcomes. Student Graduates of democratic Schools are better prepared for life as independent, effective, responsible adults. "

      The Sudbury Valley School is a place where children are free.

      Their natural curiosity is the starting point for everything that happens at the school.

      Here, students initiate all their own activities. The staff, the plant, the equipment are there to answer their needs. Learning takes place in formal and informal settings, in large and small groups, or individually. All ages are free to mix at all times. The dynamics among students of different ages, helping each other learn about everything from human relations to math, is one of the greatest strengths of the school.

      Students share responsibility for their own environment, and for the quality of life at school. The school is managed by the weekly School Meeting, where every student and staff member has a vote: an education at Sudbury Valley is also an education in hands-on democracy.

      From: The Booroobin Sudbury School / Derek Sheppard
      To: discuss-sudbury-model_at_sudval.org
      Sent: Friday, May 16, 2003 5:26 PM
      Subject: [Discuss-sudbury-model] Another assessment of Booroobin


      Our School Meeting recently decided to let our networks of friends know that we had been advised and are being subjected to yet another "assessment". This follows inspections and assessments in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001. There were 2 visits in each of those years. The process last time was so inept and drawn out, that it cost us well over $AUD100,000 directly in fees, charges and legal costs and further tens of thousands of dollars through write offs, through the forced sale of the School campus. For a School that commenced in 1996, we had worked hard, most of us sacrificing wages for years, to build up our beautiful campus, resources and staffing to satisfy Students' needs. There were still residual debts arising out of that last action, but we have managed. The first 6 months of this year were going to be hard enough financially. It is our intention to claw our way back to ownership of our campus, over the next 2 to 3 years, unless the State government acknowledges responsibility for our losses, as they ought to.

      Booroobin is only one of about 3 democratic Sudbury model Schools in the world, which is either partially or fully government funded.

      This assessment is being undertaken by the relatively new Non-State Schools Accreditation Board. The Board is an agent and a component of new legislation governing non-State Schools in Queensland, passed by Parliament in late 2001. Booroobin objected to elements of the legislation, when it was being considered and after it was tabled. The legislation gives the Board lots of rights and few clear responsibilities, and expect all sorts of responsibilities of independent Schools and gives few rights (above beyond accountability to our Students, members, insurers, ASIC, etc). We believed that we were a guinea pig, a test case, for the way the legislation might work, when we last had assessors in 2001. We were told we weren't, but we maintain that opinion.

      The Board advised at the beginning of the last School holidays that it had "information that indicated we may not be complying with the accreditation criteria". It was therefore issuing a "Notice of Entry" giving authority for assessors to come onto the School premises and do almost anything they like, including asking for any documents and taking copies of them.

      The Assessors attended the School pn April 30. They were polite, and asked all the same questions that had been asked previously. At their request, we gave them many of the same documents as previously, including those available to the anyone to see and print that are available on our comprehensive web site, along with new documents developed in line with our democratic, ever improving, changing and evolving nature. We spoke with the benefit of more experience.

      We have written requesting details of the "information" and asking for natural justice. When the Chairperson responded, the requested information was not supplied and we were simply told to do what had been required of us. A week after the Notice of Entry, Directors agreed that we would write a strong letter to the Premier of Queensland, making a plea for some understanding, and to leave us to implement our philosophy and principles, without so much intrusive intervention. We have invited him to visit. There has only been an interim reply. The School Meeting has decided to undertake a Freedom of Information (FOI) search, as we have done previously, and this has been lodged.

      We can't afford another impact like the last. We considered refusing the Notice of Entry, but decided to allow entry, and give the new Board the benefit of the doubt. We realise and are critical that no reasonable grounds have been given for what is essentially a fishing expedition. But we had no money for a legal defence, and didn't want to invest energy in that direction. Civil disobedience might have been one avenue.

      We may need at least moral, and perhaps written support. The School's 5 Staff and older Students were strong and clear, and spoke individually from their own personal experiences, but as if with one voice, about who we are and what we do. The Students told the Assessors simply and clearly that they were capable of doing anything they wanted to. Usually there has been mixed impacts on Students. Not so this time. Those Students who know and understand the issue, are brilliantly supportive, working alongside Staff as equals. Something that the assessors and most Schools are unused to. If the assessors can get the message that the democracy of Booroobin is about a world view and the big picture for each Student rather than the narrow view of mainstream Schools, then we might get through the assessors' report to the Board, who makes a decision based on what they receive. Our recent 2 weeks end of Term holidays were completely consumed getting prepared for this assessment, just as in most previous years.

      Regards, Derek
      The Booroobin Sudbury School - a centre of learning
      Ph +61 07 5499 9944 Fax +61 07 3251 0470
      Homestay boarding accommodation
      Ph +61 07 5499 9943
Received on Sat May 17 2003 - 13:02:39 EDT

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