Re: [Discuss-sudbury-model] analogies, and talking "bad"

From: Scott David Gray <>
Date: Sun Oct 9 11:45:00 2005

On Sun, 9 Oct 2005, Karen Locke wrote:

> But I think it's a worthy discussion topic. What would
> young people do without schools? How would society
> change? What place would our democratic schools have in
> assisting such changes? Would this be a good direction to
> go in?

I won't repeat myself, but I'll offer up a link, re: my own
opinions of a conceivable means by which society could
transform to away from the mandatory education model.

On Sun, 9 Oct 2005, Alan Klein wrote:

> I agree with you re analogies and I think you missed
> Tay's point, at least as I heard it. He was distinguishing


> between talking about what is wrong with public schools
> and "talkin' trash" about them. He was also pointing out
> the emotional baggage that comes along with certain
> analogies, in this case the analogy of public education to
> slavery. One aspect of "bad analogies" is that they cloud
> the point, rather than sharpen or clarify it. That said,
> in over 35 years of involvement in alternative education,
> I confess that I have used that particular analogy many,
> many times! The question, as I see it, is what does using
> it do to our effectiveness in communicating with others.
> Just because it appeals and makes sense to us does not
> mean that others will respond to it in that way.

<Shrug> The point of an analogy is to demonstrate something
in it's clearest way by pointing up a similar situation --
as a sort of reductio ad absurdum. Scientists, Judges, and
all people use the tool of analogy all the time. I suppose,
given that, that an analogy whose points of resemblance to
-- and points of departure from -- the issue at hand are
missed or ignored by most of the audience, is ultimately a
bad analogy -- or at least needs some explaining.

I don't want to belabor the point, but I did want to write a
word or two on the difference between a prison analogy and a
slavery analogy, and what makes them seem apt from this this
writer's POV:

A prison analogy seems a decent analogy for discussing
truancy laws -- prisons intrude directly on a person's right
of free assembly but not on his or her rights of free
thought. The reason why the slavery analogy comes to mind
for traditional schools, is because of the added component
in a traditional school of a person being expressly directed
what to do with her/his time. As opposed, simply, where to

Of course, no analogy is perfect. What I wrote on the thread
"Slavery, Education, Political Philosophy, Caring, Human
Rights, Effecting Change":

On Sat, 5 Feb 2005, Scott Gray wrote (see

> In one fundamental way, the issue of truancy laws is
> different than issue of slavery. Over the long run,
> despite the humiliating and disgusting treatment of
> children in the modern era, the rights of children that
> are mostly protected (the right to life, and to grow up
> safe from fear of physical or other terror) are of enough
> intrinsic value relative to the rights categorically
> denied them (assembly, speech, due process, etc.) that one
> cannot justify armed rebellion.
> The problem is, the rights of children which are
> "protected" are NOT protected BECAUSE they are innate
> human rights. They are protected because people LIKE
> children -- most people refuse to RECOGNIZE that children
> have innate rights. The fact that everyone CARES for
> children has an insidious effect. It means that one is not
> taken seriously when one argues basic human rights for
> children. It's hard enough to convince a person that s/he
> is treating an opponent or enemy unfairly -- try
> convincing her/him that s/he is treating unfairly people
> whom s/he KNOWS s/he cares deeply about.

So, as you can see, the spread of this analogy is partly my
doing and/or fault. I still feel that analogy is reasoned,
though I may grant that in our culture the words have such
impact on other levels that they are of mixed value, when
the analogy hasn't been well explained. Thus this effort.

Back to Alan:

On Sun, 9 Oct 2005, Alan Klein wrote:

> The other point that has been made clearly for me in
> this latest discussion is that the actual "slavery" aspect
> of education is the compulsory aspect of it - the
> state-mandated requirement that people attend - not what
> happens inside school walls. As long as our schools are
> following these laws, a strong argument can be made that
> we are morally no better than any other school on the
> "slavery spectrum", though we usually claim moral high
> ground there, particularly over "progressive" or "free"
> schools. I used to claim that same high ground. I am no
> longer so confident.

No; as far as analogies, what you describe is the *prison*
element. See above.

On Sun, 9 Oct 2005, Danny Greenberg wrote:

> There are good analogies and bad analogies. Part of
> life is distinguishing between the two. One can ask, is
> it a good or bad analogy to talk about buying a Lexus
> sedan as being analogous to enjoying the bliss of
> beautiful admiring models? Is it a good or bad analogy to
> talk about the Israelis treatment of Palestinians as being
> analogous to the Gestapo's treatment of its enemies. And
> so forth. These are an important part of developing
> judgment. There is no thought without some sort of
> analogy; a dictionary is nothing more than a collection of
> analogies, as is every discussion of quantum theory (does
> anyone think nuclear particles are made of actual
> strings?)
> Nor is it always beneficial to avoid talking about what,
> in one's opinion, is bad about something as well as
> talking about what is good about the alternative being
> advocated by the speaker. Should we avoid talking about
> the bad aspects of nazism, or the gulag, or colonialism,
> or slavery, or gender discrimination, and only focus on
> the good things we enjoy in our culture? Is this actually
> a productive way to advance human moral sensitivity?
> I wonder whether all the people who are put off by
> writers on this list who talk bad stuff in public schools
> are equally desirous of avoiding bad talk about the
> Vietnam War, or companies that pollute the environment, or
> elected political leaders who are mired in corruption?
> Are we really so emotionally delicate that we cannot
> deal in a reasoned way with arguments that we feel are
> wrong?

I suspected that if I waited a little bit, either Danny or
Joe Jackson would write an argument like this. ;-)

--Scott David Gray
reply to:
Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong
impulse to see it tried on him personally. 
-- Abraham Lincoln
Received on Sun Oct 09 2005 - 11:42:50 EDT

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