Convincing the Parents

A while back, I was helping out with a support group for LGBT teenagers. One of the teens had heard about Sudbury schools, and asked everyone to share their opinion. So we went around the circle one by one and shared our thoughts.

The teenagers were in unanimous agreement: Sudbury was awesome. They had never attended a Sudbury school personally, but they knew the philosophy (because I had explained it to them previously), and they all felt sure that they would do better in a Sudbury environment. The only negative emotions expressed was a sense of frustration and regret that they hadn't been raised Sudbury in the first place.

The adults (aside from myself) were more reluctant. Their feeling was that Sudbury might be good for some kids, but other kids needed structure. They seemed content to let the public school system remain in place, mostly unchanged.

In my experience, this is common. Kids understand what they need, but adults just don't get it. Partly this is because today's adults went through yesterday's schooling, back when things were a bit looser and there was less pressure and more free time. But mostly I think that adults have simply forgotten what their own experiences were like, and they lack imagination about possible alternatives.

Why do adults tend to think this way? Mostly because of school! The standard school system encourages conformity: obedience is valued and divergence is punished. By the time you get to be an adult, you've long since learned to silence your own intuition about the importance of personal freedom. By the time you reach your 30s or 40s, it's even easier to slip into amnesia about what school was really like, since it happened so long ago. And now that you're a full-fledged adult, you're expected to make a habit of ignoring children's needs and emotions. Of course the adults in this setting had expressly gathered for the purpose of supporting the kids in their LGBT-related struggles, and in that area they were actually quite supportive and helpful. But when it came to the topic of school, they were less helpful.

I honestly think we need Scholastic Abuse Support Groups, specifically designed to help kids who are burdened by the traditional school system. More than that, we need to treat kids as full human beings in all walks of life. If I'm ever in a room full of kids and they all say that they hate X and they prefer Y, I'm going to give some serious thought to the idea that maybe X is actually a bad idea for the vast majority of kids, and Y is a good alternative. I should not presume to know better just because I'm older. Maybe the kids know something that I don't.

In terms of Sudbury recruitment efforts, the easy part is persuading the kids. The hard part is persuading the parents. But we must convince the parents, because they hold the legal power to decide which schools their kids attend.

I feel bad for the kids whose parents just don't get it. I also feel bad for the parents who have apparently forgotten the value of freedom.