[Discuss-sudbury-model] A City on a Hill, and a Thank You

From: <yohomyrvaagnes_at_mac.com>
Date: Mon May 17 01:01:00 2004

Dear SVS-discuss community,

I wanted to share a reflection and a personal experience about what SVS
has meant to me. I think this bears relevance to a lot of the
discussion on this list, but mostly I speak from a desire to express
what's in my heart.

I have not attended the Sudbury Valley School, nor do I have children
there, nor have I even visited it. But I have gained an enormous gift
simply from reading about it. My reflection is this: SVS serves an
enormous function for a huge number of people in the world at large by
being a beacon, and a living proof, a "scientific", empirical
laboritory. Simply by being what it is--the realization of the idea of
democracy applied to all regardless of age in a town-sized
community--it shows what is possible for human beings, oppressions
removed. And not in the way that one child genius shows us that, Oh,
Mozart could write concertos when he was four but my kid will never be
that smart or I'll never be able to be that smart--rather, in a way
that is communal, and with a community that is heterogeneous to an
extraordinary degree. Granted, one can wish for greater diversity; I
seem to recall discussions on the list about concerns about
disproportionate racial diversity at the school--if there are, of
course this is an important issue, but not necessarily a problem that
SVS can solve from within--and maybe there are other limits to the
diversity, factors so hard to detect that they have not been
generalized about. Perhaps there is a SVS "type"--and one day some
scientist will isolate the SVS gene or the SVS energy pattern. But
regardless, what is proved is that a far broader cross-section of the
population than almost anyone in the USA thinks possible can teach
themselves, take advantage of resources, choose what course to follow
in life and prepare for it, participate in a democracy and take
responsibility for their fates starting at age four. I think the
common factor really is passion.

It seems to be that nothing should be changed about the SVS model in
order for it to change the world most effectively--not even changing
the tuition requirement, for instance. The issue of our failing public
schools in poor areas is a pressing one, and my heart can't but hurt to
know what goes on there. But SVS needs to be itself in order to do the
most important thing it can for those public schools: exemplify what's
possible. The issue of going into the inner city and trying to save
children from slow torture and brain-death is in many ways a separate
issue. To the extent that it is connected, it is through reformers'
looking back at SVS as a point of reference, a reminder of what a sane
society would look like were one to recover it somehow in a public
school context. SVS is there. One could air-drop leaflets in the
schools and there would be a street address on it, not merely an idea.
It seems to me that the opening of new SVS schools, while it ought to
spare parents expense in any way it can, must remain true to what a
school is, and must be adequately funded. (And yes, that's about %50
the cost of public schools.)

My personal experience is this: reading about SVS my senior year in
college was more important to me than any class I took that year. It
was more relevant to my life at that point than knowing the history of
New England's literature. And relevance to my life was absolutely more
important than relevance to larger theoretical and historical
questions--I needed to start taking responsibility for the space I take
up on this planet. Reading about SVS allowed me to reassess my whole
life, to feel a giddy joy, a sense of liberation, a freedom to do in
each day what I thought best rather than heeding the voices of
"conscience" (really voices urging a show of self-discipline).
Actually, it's turned out years later that I am an indigenous person,
and my nature is bound up with the schedules of the trees and plants as
much as with the schedules of my fellow citizens. And I had never
taken any interest in politics whatsoever until I learned that
democracy was a thing sacred to children somewhere. What a revelation
it was to begin to look at the beauty of the world outside me, as well
as the horror: people all over the world are working for democracy in
astonishing and life-affirming ways, while the unimaginative go about
routinely repressing them. School and mainstream media had not given
me a very accurate picture of the very world I inhabited. So I managed
to "de-school" myself I believe to a great degree by reading about SVS
(I read nearly every book from SVS press). I had always been a very
good kid, and am, as Daniel Greenberg calls himself somewhere, a
"recovering A-student." I hate school in my heart. Almost more than
anything else right now in my life, three years out of college, I want
to expunge every trace of false love for oppression from my psyche. I
had always known in childhood that school was stupid and a waste of
time, mind you. But I continued to believe because I had no other
point of reference. I couldn't question the need to breathe or eat
vegetables, could I? School was sacrosanct. I continued to believe
because I needed to make my parents happy. I continued to believe
because we were all victims of the traumatized society. So it was
essential for me to read about SVS to learn that actually, No, if you
take away the arbitrary restraints, you don't get _Lord of the Flies_,
you get the America we were supposed to have.

Had I not read about SVS, I might have travelled to rural Africa
anyway, and seen what human beings do when not institutionalized. But
reading about SVS was a transformative moment for me and for my
destiny. It also meant that when I saw the kids in Africa, kids who
are so astonishingly happy it made me want to cry at the severity with
which my country hates and fears its children, I could understand
clearly that their playing was itself a valuable activity, and not a
guilty pleasure of the bad.

This is from a desire to say thank you to all of the people who have
risked and sacrificed and embraced their joy to make SVS a reality. I
am a great being. What moves me deeply is truly good, and SVS is
truly good. I want to thank the adults who started it and maintain it
and keep their hands off, the kids who come with their love and their
rebellion, the parents who support them, who dare, or at least open
their minds up to questions and empirical exploration. We live in
dark times, and this is a kind of war, and we need always sanctuaries
of sanity.

With best wishes,

Yoho Myrvaagnes
Received on Mon May 17 2004 - 01:00:03 EDT

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