Re: from [SwiftRain <swifty@nospam.elision.com>] (fwd)

Bruce L. Smith (bsmith@midway.uchicago.edu)
Thu, 30 Jan 1997 12:53:01 -0600

>> I believe that traditional education is "appropriate" for nothing but
>> socialization/indoctrination and training. That's certainly all I saw
>> in my five years as a public educator. The few students who readily
>> adapt to the system, the overly tractable...those I worry about.
>[snip]
>
>alright, i agree with you.
>
>or at least... i would like to agree with you. it certainly seems that
>way to me. but on the other hand, we have quite a few million otherwise
>rational people who insist that there is value in traditional education.

Note: I did _not_ say that there was no value whatsoever in traditional
education. How could I? How could I deny that the institution does
function (however dysfunctionally), that a number of individuals do manage
to emerge from it with knowledge and skills that the institution in some
sense helped them acquire? To do so would be to invalidate all that I
attempted to do within the system, and to deny the reality of all
well-meaning educators and the learning that does occur in the traditional
system, with its many flaws. It seems to me, though, less accurate to say
that traditional education is reponsible for learning than that, somehow,
it doesn't totally quash it: the miracle is that learning occurs *despite,
not because of*, traditional assumptions and structures.

To continue, "socialization and training" (as I initially put it) do not
lack extrinsic value: there are cases in which all of us seek knowledge
and skills which will enable our functioning in a larger community. The
moral burden, rather, depends on the *intrinsic* value of education:
namely, the learning and growth experienced by the individual; or her/his
self-actualization or happiness, if you prefer. What matters is _who_
directs that learning and growth, who *controls* the training and the end
to which the training (if we want to retain that dubious term) is directed
-- whether the students or the adult authority figures have that power.

>it is easy to dismiss an idea as irrational, unfounded or dogmatic when
>only a small number of people believe it -- but what evidence or logic
>can we offer to people that will overcome the weight of the opinion of
>such a vast majority?

In my incomplete and formative view, it would appear that the mechanism
through which the Sudbury model will spread is reform-by-example. In other
words, there exists a microcosm-macrocosm structure to reform, which holds
that society at large should no more be forcibly told what is "right" than
a student should be told what they "must" learn. And this is the approach
that most agrees with me personally: going outside the system (hence, my
leaving public education) in order to reform it (in my case, my continuing
interest in educational issues, and specifically, the Sudbury model).
Persuasion via moral example, if you will.

Thus, as you rightfully point out, the challenge becomes one of amassing
convincing evidence and logic. So why do you think that there is an
emphasis within Sudbury-related literature on its track record, on the
empirical measures of its success (e.g., its having existed for nearly
thirty years, the extremely high percentages of its graduates who succeed
on socially-agreed criteria)? The "example" can only work if it can
communicate to others along criteria and principles they already hold.

I don't dispute that "spreading the gospel," so to speak, will involve
challenges. Indeed, I currently/still experience some difficulty in
communicating to my peers, friends, and family (i.e., people who don't
share my vision and assumptions) the logic of, as well as the depth of my
belief in, the Sudbury model. For now, about all I can say is that it
works, and it's right. I can only have faith that, with persistence,
common sense and courage will eventually prevail.

Here's one piece of "evidence and logic" for you: who will say that the
current system works well, or as it should? Nobody!!! Even those who
believe that traditional education can be reformed agree that much needs to
be done to repair it. IMHO, the primary reason people continue to cling to
a traditional, dysfunctional system stems from a thread that was pursued on
this very list some time ago: fear of the unknown. See Hamlet -- we
humans would rather stick with a life we despise than even contemplate
"dying" to a new and better life which we cannot verify/know in advance.
Either people blind themselves to the systemic flaws of traditional
education, or they believe it's the best possible system.

>what can be the explanation for a world in which only a tiny percentage
>of the people support the most valid opinion?

Well, I could be cynical and mention that elitism is both a handy tool and
an ancient tradition. Those who claim a privileged degree of intelligence
or knowledge have always buttressed their self-image by transforming their
minority status into a strength.

But I won't. I won't presume to comment on the seeming non-correlation
between "the most valid opinion" and the numbers which adhere to it. But
neither will I allow the pace of change or the extent of others' beliefs to
impair my own faith in what I know is right.

Okay, end o' sermon for now. Thanks for continuing the discussion!

-- Bruce

-------------------------

"If a person is determined to learn, they will overcome every obstacle and
learn in spite of everything...but if you bother the person, if you insist
he stop his own natural learning and do instead what you want him to
do...between 10:00 and 10:50 and so forth, not only won't he learn what he
has a passion to learn, but he will also hate you, hate what you are
forcing him to do, and lose all taste for learning."

-- _'And Now for Something Completely Different':
An Introduction to Sudbury Valley School_