Re: DSM: Simple solution

Robert Swanson (
Wed, 13 Dec 2000 01:09:42 -0800

It can be difficult to understand the drama of the subtleties of
interaction. When I applied behavorist training to teaching of the severely
retarded I was astonished at the degree of influence perpetrated when by all
reason a person (staff) is being benign. Take for example a simple remark,
"your sock is on the floor". The meaning is not benign. What creates meaning
is tone of voice, rate of speaking, the frequency of such remarks, the
association of the remark with what comes before or after, what behavior the
remark was interrupting, what gestures were included, ect. Also the absence
of any remark about the sock creates meaning in the relationship of

Does this still seem benign. Recognizing these not really subtle influences
made all the difference working with the severely retarded. Also at Shriners
Hospital for Crippled Children where one staff came on who was rather
nonchalant, and her subtle influence brightened the whole atmosphere of the
hospital. People got along, crying and acting out stopped, there were more
smiles and fewer injuries. Nonchalantness did not force the children but it
was a strong invitation to cooperate. The effect occurred not because she
was aloof but because she interjected herself as a different kind of model.

Watch animals. Watch the difference between the ones largely ignored by
their owners as compared to ones given subtle loving attention. Even a cat's
seeming aloof personality can dramatically change. Those mentally retarded
adults -- I got the impression few of them would be in our care if they had
not been put away somewhere but given the subtle influences they needed from
understanding adults. Until one has specifically made note of qualities of
interaction and the outcomes of those interactions the drama goes largely
unnoticed and relationships suffer.

The hard science is brain science. The brain will not develop specific
activities unless those activities are modeled. Sudbury students do a
considerable amount of modeling for eachother, most of which probably came
from home and tv. If the students can break free of limitation's influence
to create their own culture of heightened awareness, higher brain function,
extraordinary cooperation, and methods of self-discipline that take them
farther, faster, this would be worth making a point about (more than what is
being said). At best I here of students getting into college and often being
entrepreneurs owning a business. Or that they learned math quickly. Why are
there not more comments about peculiar and extraordinary feats of
self-discipline and cooperation and happiness. The potential is definately
there. I've seen what happens to animals, the severely retarded, and
children who can't use their legs or arms. And I know how my own potential
is stymied by subtle and arrogant influences of status quo. It is
suffocating. I do not believe Sudbury students are free of this. A strong
evidence may be that students still need a thirty year old domineering
control system punishing people for stepping outside the box it created. So
much more is possible. I acknowledge the good SVS has done, and, there is so
much more.

One point that should be very clear -- this is about adults being
responsible for their behavior. This is not about arrogant adults thinking
they are doing children a favor by leaving them alone (even if it is better
than what we usually do to kids), or by raming opinions into children subtly
or otherwise.

And, no, the JC cannot force the students to do something an adult wants
unless the JC is unduly influenced by adults, which subtly, it certainly may


on 12/12/00 5:40 AM, Kristin Harkness at wrote:

> Robert,
> Based on this
>> Actually, we can guarantee a process and control that process
>> either simply or in depth. First, acknowledge that doing little as
>> an adult at Sudbury is a profound influence. Then initiate small
>> steps that most people will be able to acknowledge results for.
>> Then expand on those results. This process will develop just
>> as the JC has developed from basic principles into a culture.
>> Gradually the intent of the culture will move from
>> emotionalism-survival to heart based creativity. A process for
>> implementing this change is provided for in the book "Living
>> Joyfully With Children" (Amazon has it). Willing students can
>> post one of the lists in the book and give staff (and students)
>> feedback. Accurate feedback would be most helpful.
>> Request discussion groups. Let the JC implement any
>> enforcement.
> I have to agree with others on this list that the kind of school you want is
> not a Sudbury model school. What you suggest is, in fact, antithetical to
> the Sudbury model. You want adults to actively attempt to shape students
> producing 'results' in a way that can be measured, and to use the JC to
> 'enforce' this process when, one presumes, students resist.
> I would not enroll my child in the school you describe. The freedom of the
> child to choose her or his path is the core of the Sudbury model.
> Kristin Harkness

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