A sense of community
Posted by lpearle on 1 November 2006
Yesterday at MPOW we had a mandatory meeting for Upper School teachers. It was to discuss – vaguely, at times – a matter of Rule Breaking and Consequences. This wasn’t some minor infraction; the police will ultimately be involved, and expulsions (yes, plural) may occur.
The day before, a friend sent me an e-mail about her partner, who is running for state legislature. Their daughter had attended the Sudbury Valley School. Now, I’ve known this friend since our days at a traditional prep school (25+ years ago), and we’ve had some interesting conversations about education and community. Don’t worry, I won’t be going into my rant about constructivism (I’ll save that for next week, when I’m blogging the conference after the one I’m attending this week).
One of the things that drew my friend (and her partner and their daughter) to this school was the community. She felt that there wasn’t this sense of “Us vs. Them” that occurs so often in school life, that the students and faculty genuinely cared about each other and would work to help each other. Case in point: a friend of ours had a terrible loss during her sophomore year at our school. She started drinking, and rather than us (her friends, the ones that cared about her) going to someone and saying “look, this friend of ours is in real pain, and needs help, and we’re worried about her” we helped hide the drinking (when we weren’t participating). It became a matter of “see what we can get away with” rather than us taking care of someone who needed more help than we could possibly have given.
Apparently this doesn’t happen at Sudbury. In a similar situation, the students would go talk with someone, would get more help, would ultimately be better friends than we were to our friend.
This is not the case at MPOW. There still is an “Us v. Them” mentality, where students try to get away with things, or help cover up things, that hurt not just another person but the community. And the punishments come across not as “you’re hurting yourself, and us, so let’s try to figure things out” but as “You. Have. Done. Wrong.” Which only continues this cycle.
I don’t know that many schools, or students, can break that pattern. I do know that it happens on a person-by-person basis, where a student feels comfortable confiding in an adult in the community. But as a school-wide culture? Nah. Which is too bad, because I think that we, as a whole, would be healthier if we did less “service” in places like hospitals and on issues like Darfur, and spent more time on building the trust and caring that Sudbury seems to have built.