RE: [Discuss-sudbury-model] How can a young adult get into the world of Sudbury / unschooling?

From: Bruce Smith <>
Date: Wed Oct 29 18:17:01 2003

This is Bruce at Alpine Valley School.

I hesitate to join this thread, because it seems to me (I readily admit, I
could be wrong) that Elizabeth is reluctant to hear Joe's perspective; that
she is so firmly tied to the impressions she gained through her interaction
with the Sudbury community as to have difficulty seeing that community's
point of view. And, yes, I have some concern that she will take anything
critical that I say personally.

(I do know Joe, and I perceived his response to Elizabeth as a
straightforward and reasonable attempt to address -- and defuse -- a
contentious topic. That would be in keeping with previous posts of his, and
reflects a combination of honesty and restraint which I respect. It is
unfortunate that Elizabeth took Joe's comments so personally: if she knew
Joe, she might understand that, as I see it, he was not trying to engage in
a flippant or dismissive _ad hominem_ attack.)

It is clear that Elizabeth had a negative experience with Sudbury personnel
and proponents, that her initial expectations unraveled in what to her was
an intensely negative way. While I respect her process, I doubt that
Elizabeth's depiction is the only, or a complete, account. I am writing
despite my concerns, because I believe that if someone were to take only
Elizabeth's word for it, some inaccurate and misleading impressions could
be formed.

I will try to be respectful, and I ask for the same treatment from any who
may respond to this post.

At 01:43 PM 10/29/2003 -0800, you wrote:
>There is no true democracy in this gig because they're only
>democratic with those inside the community.

I believe this is a misstatement. At Alpine Valley, we have clear and
detailed procedures guiding our interactions with people outside the
school. All those interactions are handled either by School Meeting vote,
or through officials democratically elected by School Meeting members.
Moreover, those officials are expected to act in a consistent and fair
manner, to be good representatives of the school. Due process is
*extremely* important to those in Sudbury schools, both within and with
respect to the outside world. It is unreasonable and unfair, not to mention
grossly inaccurate, to generalize that we have "no true democracy" here.

> You can't just go on a site visit and then be voted in.

I would say this depends on what is meant by "a site visit." Our procedures
at AVS call for an extensive visiting period before a prospective staff can
be nominated and voted on. But we try to be as accommodating as possible.
We recommend a minimum of one 30-hour week, and a 2-8 week period of
approximately 20 hours per week. Every visiting period is voted on
individually, tailored to meet the prospective staff's situation and the
school's needs.

It is critically important to understand that an extensive visiting period
is normally called for in the Sudbury hiring process because the job itself
is so unique. For example, and by way of contrast, when I interviewed for
public-school teaching positions, a relatively brief interview (or two or
three, if things went well) could suffice, because my prospective employers
and I had a well-established, common understanding of what the job
entailed. Also, a very small number of people _make_ the hiring decisions
in most places, so it doesn't take that long.

This is simply not the case with Sudbury schools. The job is so unique,
with so much latititude and discretion, such high expectations for
initiative and responsibility and teamwork, that our schools need to get to
know a prospective staff member much better than in a conventional hiring
situation. Also, since everyone at the school has a vote, everyone needs
the opportunity to fairly assess each candidate.

Many people express an interest in becoming staff who turn out not to have
a solid understanding of the model. Many schools have hired people who
turned out not to be supportive of the model. Thus we have a reason for
establishing a fairly rigorous screening process, one that is firmly
grounded in experience and as reasonable and consistent as possible.

>The onus on the potential young staff outsider is to sacrifice healthy

Here is where, at the risk of assuming things about Elizabeth's beliefs, I
see a reluctance to view things from a Sudbury school's perspective. Many
of our schools struggle for years to make ends meet. Many simply do not
have the funds to pay *any* staff, new or long-timers, a living wage, one
that does not require some sacrifice. That is a fact of establishing a new
business. It is not sufficient cause, in my view, for anyone to take a
diminuitive payroll personally.

Another fact of Sudbury schools is that it takes far fewer adults than many
other educational models. Thus, many Sudbury schools do not need more staff
than they already have. There is some benefit to incumbency, as a given
school is more likely to vote back in a staff they know and like than they
are to take a chance on someone they don't know. But that does _not_ mean
there is an active bias against new candidates. There _is_ a cautiousness
and wariness at times, because those of us who have been at our schools for
a while tend to be protective of them. I'll admit that freely. But we try
to remain open to new staff candidates. (I'm afraid you'll have to take or
reject that one on faith.)

The onus _is_ on the prospective staff member to demonstrate what they can
bring to the school. If the School Meeting believes a prospective staff has
skills that they need, and if the money is there, the new staff member will
likely be hired and paid. It does happen sometimes, believe it or not.

>It doesn't matter to them how many academic papers you've written,

Well...yes: that doesn't matter; at least not directly. Current students
and staff want to know whether a candidate will be an asset to the school.
Having written academic papers may or may not demonstrate that. Plenty of
people have written plenty of papers, yet might not be strong staff candidates.

No one is asking Elizabeth or anyone else to make sacrifices before
becoming staff as some sort of perverted character test. The simple fact is
that because Sudbury schools need to get to know staff candidates unusually
well, an extended visit is necessary. Also, because many schools are not
well off financially, and because they do not require many staff members,
there are not a lot of open positions or a lot of pay available. That is
simply the reality we're faced with here.

I agree with Elizabeth that is difficult to attain (and make financially
feasible) a staff position at a Sudbury school. (Believe me, many of us
wish that staff could be paid more!) But I hope it can also be agreed that
there are justifiable and understandable reasons for this. And strangely
enough, and fortunately for our schools, there are enough people who for
various reasons can make it happen, who can become staff members. I applaud
those who can, and I refrain from criticizing those who cannot, or who
choose otherwise.

Bruce Smith
Alpine Valley School
“Even when one denies God, to serve music, or painting, or words is a
religious activity…There can be no categories such as ‘religious’ art and
‘secular’ art, because all true art is incarnational, and therefore

-- Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art
Received on Wed Oct 29 2003 - 18:16:02 EST

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