RE: [Discuss-sudbury-model] TCS

From: Joe Jackson <>
Date: Tue Jun 3 12:42:01 2003

Tom, thank you for your reply.

> At SVS you are not
> "allowing" a child to learn. You are simply not getting in
> the way of them doing so.

I feel this is semantics. By putting up the bread and sending a child
to a Sudbury School, the parent is "allowing" the child the privilege to
be in a extremely desirable and beneficial culture. The school meeting
"allows" members of the school to have certain rights and freedoms. The
child "allows" school meeting to place limitations on her behavior in
exchange for the privilege of being there and enjoying the rights and
liberties, etc. In the whole concept of common preference, each party
is "allowing" the other something.

"Allow" does not automatically indicate a coercive relationship, it
speaks to a process. And as a person used to explaining Sudbury to
newbies, "allow" implies the transition from traditional learning
environments to self-led ones.

The use of the word "allow" here is secondary to the specific points
that I have been making repeatedly, which is:

- TCS, in it's pure philosophical form, has much in common with Sudbury
in terms of recognizing the rights of children and questioning the
necessity of coercion in childrearing,

- that I have been disappointed with the cultural context that many of
the advocates of TCS have chosen to isolate on one philosophical thrust
of TCS, take it to it's ridiculous extreme, and use it as a weapon to
batter over the heads of parents who are unwilling to place the interest
of the child over the interest of the family at every turn.

You wrote:

> The same kind of
> trust is involved, in that one knows that the child's path to
> growth and knowledge is their own.


> No matter how we might
> speculate, or think we "know better", the best thing that we
> can do is to be a trusted advisor, giving them the benefit of
> our experience and knowledge when they want it,

#1: Yes, by all means, IMO this is absolutely a primary kernel of what
makes the Sudbury school so effective in giving the child the space for
their inner voice to emerge. This bit of truth, along with a dogged
commitment to finding common preferences, are how I approach parenting.
And while these concepts are not proprietary to TCS, the literature
surrounding TCS is very good at making parents look at their own
behavior when it comes to their children.

#2: And while the hyperbole is absent, your very next statement is
precisely the same "grab a single philosophical point and take it to the
extreme" approach I have seen over and over with TCS proponents. By the
rest of the family stepping back and relegating themselves to "advisors"
in the many real-life situations (baby with knife, 13-year-old having
sex with adult, etc -- not made-up case studies here) we have brought up
in this discussion, the child doesn't just learn that their desires and
needs are on-par with the other voices in the family. They learn that
the family will put itself to tremendous disadvantage in order for the
child to do what they wish or need to, especially if it is a difficult

(And for those of you who think difficult children are a product of
nurture, you haven't looked around enough. The examples of families who
have children who are intensely and inherently devoted to common
preference brought up right next to and using the same environment as
very high-maintenance kids, abound. My kids were easy coming out of the
womb, judging from some of the wonderful, respectful parents I've seen
whose 3-y-o kids wouldn't know a common preference if they poured an
entire can of paint on it and set it on fire...)

Again, since the tendency here seems to be to take paragraphs like my
response to #2, above, and substitute the word "Sudbury": the Sudbury
school is a culture, and the only single bit of philosophy that
characterizes the "right" way for an interpersonal transaction to happen
is that there is none. A culture is a culture, and the good ones
balance many, many things well. Rights vs. responsibilities, liberty
vs. the good of the whole, democracy vs. leadership.

The Sudbury school is not automatically a place where these things
balance well. It is one part model of a certain "flavor" or culture
PLUS one part broad overriding philosophies (self-initiated learning and
democracy) PLUS *ten* parts whatever that the people and community turn
it into. Determinations of the relative importance of activities: the
conversations and games that some engage in are important; interrupting
them without good cause is a "write-up-able" offense -- but official
school business always trumps any other activity. Why, in the eyes of
these interpreters of TCS that dominate the listserve can parents not
"pull rank" by making determinations of the relative importance of
certain behaviors (babies with knives, 13-y-o's with 27-y-o lovers) with
the gravity of the potential consequences (pregnancy, disease, injury)
and the asymmetrical impact these consequences pose to the parents?

IMO Sudbury is not a philosophy, it is a bunch of schools. So I believe
that on balance TCS and Sudbury are apples and oranges. If you looked
at a household wherein the members respected each other and took
responsibility for themselves, well that's an orange just like Sudbury -
it's the whole package, not just a single strand of philosophy.

Given that, I believe that if one were to equate the important Sudbury
element of "self-initiated learning" with allowing the child to
similarly lead themselves in TCS, we have no issue here. As long as a
child's activity does not present an adverse impact on the school or
family that is disproportionate to them being one person in a school of
sixty or a family of four, I have no problem. But if TCS is interpreted
in a way wherein the role of limit-setter is an inappropriate for
parents at all times, then you are asking parents to always put the
family's interests secondary. At the least, that's a irrelevant and
misleading message. At the worst, it's arguably an omission of
limit-setting that causes children to seek the hard limits in another

Welcome back, Tom.

-Joe Jackson
Received on Tue Jun 03 2003 - 12:41:26 EDT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0 : Mon Jun 04 2007 - 00:03:05 EDT