Sudbury: Theme & Variations (Part II)

As the title suggests, this is a continuation of a post I wrote a few days ago, the second half of a talk I prepared last December, but ended up scrapping. You don’t need to have read the earlier post first, but the two do work together to make my overall case.

Where else does theme-and-variations apply to Sudbury schools? Well, we all have School Meetings, and we all have some form of democratic conflict resolution. Usually this means JC (Judicial Committee), but some schools—at least in the past, and usually due to small numbers—used something called a Judicial School Meeting, a sort of blending of JC and School Meeting. Some schools have one or another form of mediation, including a daily pre-JC meeting where people have the option—if all parties agree—of talking through complaints more informally and seeking agreement or understanding. And some have an Ombudsman, a clerk who investigates allegations of elected officials not doing their jobs. Even within JC there are any number of variations, from how many people make up the JC to the vocabulary (e.g., sentences vs. consequences) and the procedures for handling cases.

One more theme-and-variation subject would be the diploma procedures at nearly all Sudbury schools. On the theme side, there’s generally a thesis that prospective graduates have to defend; usually something like the assertion that they’ve adequately prepared themselves to become effective adults. But the specific steps—such as whether that defense is voted on by a local panel, by a panel of people from other Sudbury schools, or by the entire Assembly—varies among schools. Schools in at least two different states aren’t even allowed by law to issue documents called diplomas, except under certain conditions, but we all have some means of acknowledging and honoring the moments when our older students are ready to move on.

This idea of Sudbury as theme and variations was an easy choice for a topic because, seriously, it’s been part of my daily life here at Clearview, my personal curriculum. Alpine Valley’s been around since 1997, and so we’ve had years to create and hone our procedures, to develop our own culture and ways of doing things. After thirteen years there, I really felt—to some extent, still feel—like the new kid in town who’s always thinking, sometimes saying, “Well, at my old school they sure didn’t do things like this!”

Right from the start I had to work through where the differences between these schools are just a matter of variations, and where they’re such that I should jump in and suggest changing things: in the context of this talk, I had to decide which differences are thematic, and which are merely variations, equally valid ways of implementing the Sudbury model. Gradually I came to realize that, as Clearview does have that familiar, Sudbury feel, for the most part the differences between it and Alpine Valley are relatively minor.

The bottom line, I’d say, is that the variations among Sudbury schools, combined with the communication and connection we enjoy, make all our experiences that much richer. Each of our schools can try different things, compare notes, support and learn from each other. For example, the first time I visited Clearwater in Seattle I saw that they had this one indoor space where active play was permitted. That seemed like such a good idea for us at Alpine Valley, since we had both the need and the facility for that kind of dedicated play space. So when I got back from my trip, I proposed that new rule, and it’s been in place ever since.

Also, on perhaps a more substantive note, this type of monthly discussion meeting is something I’ve been trying to import here from Alpine Valley. Parent-school relations are always a tricky thing to carry off in a Sudbury environment, where we ask for the parents’ trust yet insist on this being the kids’ space to do whatever responsible things they want. How do you support parents and keep them feeling heard and valued while respecting every student’s autonomy and privacy?

Well, this may be a good place for me to stop talking and open things up for discussion. I want to encourage all of you, whenever you have any questions, to find a way to get the answers you need. I think to the extent that we can honestly share our varying perspectives and work to understand where we’re each coming from, then Clearview Sudbury School will have that much greater a chance of growing and thriving.

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One response to “Sudbury: Theme & Variations (Part II)

  1. Pingback: Sudbury: Theme & Variations (Part I) | Write Learning

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