[Discuss-sudbury-model] Some facts

From: Scott David Gray <sgray_at_sudval.org>
Date: Thu Apr 7 22:40:00 2005

This conversation has devolved into a set of debates over
words that is worryingly abstract and academic and off-base,
and frankly bizarre. It has also led to some serious
misrepresentations and misunderstandings, and also some just
plain misquoting. A set of thirteen relevant items, in no
particular order:

1) Yes, in fact, Sudbury schools are very supportive
communities for all School Meeting members -- staff and
students. People of all ages find people who are ready to
help them with various challenges and questions and projects
in their lives.

2) No, Sudbury staff don't actively advertise potential
activities for students. We don't say things to students
that an adult wouldn't happily say to an adult in a similar
relationship. We *certainly* never announce to a mass of
people something as artificial as "I am going to be working
in the darkroom at X time. Anyone who wants to join me is
welcome to do so." On the other hand, I might quietly
mention to a kid who has *already* expressed an interest in
working with me, that X time would be good for me because
I'm working then anyway.

3) Public activities do exist at the school. The activities
directly related to the governance of the school (this or
that meeting at this or that time) are placed on a common
central bulletin board, just as local town meetings are
announced in the paper. And social things (from plans to
bake pies, to history seminars, etcetera) are sometimes
arranged *by*students* and -- after the fact of the event
being arranged -- announced on the board.

4) At Sudbury Valley, people of all ages are sovereign over
themselves. However, the students and staff are equally
subject to the will of the community, as expressed through
the School Meeting's laws. This is called respect. We do
this, because we feel that respect is and freedom the ideal
environment in which to grow up respectful, responsible, and
fulfilled. We have not been disappointed. The act of
violating that respect -- of treating a child as a different
animal from an adult -- dooms that entire method. The
presumption that adults know better for children than those
children do, is at the heart of school systems oriented
around curricula. But it is at odds with what we do at
Sudbury Valley.

5) It is just as disrespectful to carefully thought out
philosophies of education which use a curriculum, to suggest
that Sudbury schools could have *some* curriculum or *some*
staff who are proactive on academia, as it is to the
carefully thought out philosophies of education which are
practiced by our School Meeting. I mean no disrespect to
systems that use a curriculum when I say that the two cannot
be combined. I do regularly criticize traditional education;
but I at least respect them as operating under a consistent
philosophy. When one talks about 'blending' 'elements of
Sudbury' one is abandoning any clear educational philosophy
for some sort of wishy-washy desire to have it both ways.

6) Sudbury Schools *have* no doctrine. No formal definition
of a Sudbury School exists, anywhere, to my knowledge. On
the other hand, different people involved in schools define
key elements of what they are doing. And different schools
choose to have associations with one another. There are
several schools that Sudbury Valley keeps an association
with, and several that we do not keep a collegial
association with because their philosophies and aims are too
far from ours. And most of the schools that we keep
associations with *themselves* keep associations with other
schools -- which may or may not overlap to a greater or
lesser degree with our list.

7) Alumni from Sudbury schools seem to be doing just fine --
by any measure. Whether you look at income or higher degrees
(questionable measures of success), or self-reports of
fulfillment and happiness, or numbers who get into career of
first choice, our alumni do very well. The question isn't
'aren't you harming those kids?' but 'isn't that neat, how
does it work?'

8) When you treat people with respect, they treat you with
respect. This is why the staff hiring process is, as I
mentioned before, very gentle and respectful. Placing power
in the hands of younger people does not make animals of
them. Particularly when it is *equal* power. People who
manage and govern in unequal environments do sometimes
relish their power a little much, but when an entire
community is taking care of it's own the process can be much
more human.

9) Students at Sudbury schools are 'exposed' to plenty of
things. They are not missing out, because they are not being
formally introduced to them by an adult, in a classroom
setting or otherwise. A review of classroom policies in
*any* traditional school gives the lie to the idea that
people are exposed to more in that environment than in a
Sudbury environment. In a traditional environment, you are
listening to one stream of factoids from one person, without
counterbalancing opinions, or the free market of ideas. In a
Sudbury school, you have dozens of conversations you could
be part of -- many of which are in earshot of your other
conversation so you can't help but be 'exposed' to the
biology/theology/ethics/whatever discussion going on 'over
there.' You also have Internet computers not behind the
*exceeding* restrictive CIPA firewalls that prevent students
even from viewing want-ad sites, and TVs, and books books
everywhere on any subject you could dream of. On the other
hand, traditional schools do everything in their power not
to *present* information but to *limit* information. Their
philosophy of eduction is 'tear down and build up' -- remove
*everything* from the child and then rebuild the child with
a set set of factoids. Sudbury's philosophy is in my opinion
more humane and more realistic -- the child has already
started growing, let him/her continue!

10) Do critical stages of development exist? Yes, they do --
Todd's critique of another post notwithstanding. Most of the
evidence is in language. For example, deaf children in
Nicaragua(?) were denied sign language for several years
because of A) lack of funding for a massive amount of
deafness that passed with a particular virus and B) some
wise-acre educationists' horrible life-destroying idea that
it would keep them from actually learning to read lips. The
children who never were allowed to be exposed to signing
were otherwise treated very well -- but the ones who didn't
get any exposure to signing before age 6 simply never were
able to learn grammar *at*all* even after being intensely
exposed to sign language. And deaf children who got to spend
time together before age 6 but had no language access, and
were *allowed* to do so, actually *developed* a sign
language with grammar and all. Does this mean that people
should be sure to be 'taught' language before age 6 comes?
No -- it means that the mental processes for acquiring
information (play, curiosity, role modeling, watching) are
innately wiser than any professional educators. We may know
a lot about the mind, but there is *MUCH* more that we don't
know, and not only do people learn more when their own minds
set the theme and pace, but in fact people are happier.

11) Yes, students know how to make use of the democratic
process. I didn't do a head count in School Meeting today,
but there were at least 80 people of all ages. The meeting
dealt with several difficult issues, but was respectful
throughout. The debate from all corners was at the highest
level and very interesting. And everybody understood the

12) Democracy means -- government by the governed. Equality
before the law means -- all people being held to the same
standards. Liberty means -- the governing authority only
takes from people's time to meet a clearly defined need and
then only does so in a limited way and/or with a heavy heart
(jury duty, or a military draft), and activities are only
limited from very clear cause and only with a heavy heart.
These three together are the foundations of Sudbury Valley;
I personally feel that this is what people of all ages
deserve, and because it doesn't get in the way of their
learning and in fact seems to help, why the blazes not treat
children with this same human respect and decency?

13) When expenditures of resources are done, they are not
based on whim. They are based upon the desire for
this-or-that in the school, balanced against it's cost. When
the school decides to get x86 computers that run windows and
Linux, it is expressing a decision based upon the relative
demand for different products by persons in the school,
balanced against the relative costs (not only money, but
also space and time). The school meeting is neither
discouraging people from or encouraging people to play with
Macintosh or VMS or Alpha computers by these choices. To be
sure, when a community decides to find something to serve
the common good (building a public park, or a library) some
individual people get more benefit than others -- but that
does not make the community any less pluralistic. On the
other hand, when a community actively supports the idea of
people paid with it's resources knocking on the doors of
people to try and actively cajole them to do this-or-that,
the community is most certainly *not* respecting differences
of opinion or pluralism.

--Scott David Gray
reply to: sgray_at_sudval.org
A great many people think they are thinking when they are
merely rearranging their prejudices. 
-- William James
Received on Thu Apr 07 2005 - 22:38:45 EDT

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