Respect for others

2010 February 22
by Evan Lenz

Chip responded to my recent post on how Sudbury students learn self-discipline. To do his questions justice, I’m responding with another full post.

I quickly point out that I know little about the Sudbury approach so please forgive me for feeling like your answer is incomplete.

I think you’re right. There’s more that should be said about this.

“Sudbury students, by necessity, learn self-regulation, because no one else is there to regulate them…”

That’s it? Taken out of context, that sounds like great potential for chaos. If there is no one there to regulate them, is there someone there to teach them how to regulate themselves? Does anyone there give them guidance? Kids don’t often have the same value system.

Each school has an implicit shared value system as reflected by their community agreements. All school members are held accountable to keeping those agreements. The Judicial Committee (JC) is essential in this regard. It provides a structure for the school to compassionately address complaints one member may have against another. The reality is that chaos does not reign at Sudbury schools. Stated more positively, the reality is that Sudbury schools are phenomenal examples of people being civil and respectful to each other. I think one of the key reasons for this is that there’s no one to rebel against. There’s no “us vs. them” mentality. There’s only “us.”

Chaos sometimes erupts in traditional schools because of an underlying pent-up urge to break out of all the externally imposed controls. When there are so many people (kids) controlled by so few (adults), there’s an imbalance in the system. Remove that imbalance and there’s nothing to drive an eruption, or to cause chaos to ensue. To assume otherwise is to assume that kids are chaotic by nature and that, if kept unchecked, kids will—I don’t know—self-destruct? Proponents of the Sudbury approach don’t share that assumption. And many, many years of experience haven’t given them any reason to think otherwise.

I’ve always felt that teaching kids self-discipline and respect for others should begin at home and be supplemented by the school. The two efforts should be complementary.

I agree that respect is learned (or not) both at home and at school. But the question should be: How is respect for others best learned? Should it be taught from without? Modeled by example? Coerced by threat of punishment? If a child acts “respectful” simply in order to avoid punishment, how genuine is that respect? Do we care if it’s genuine? Or is the respect afforded someone potentially related to the respect they will in turn afford others?

In this case, if the effort at home is lacking, it sounds like there isn’t a back-up plan at school.

On the contrary, respect for others is supremely valued by and foundational to the Sudbury school model. Kids find that they are respected as first-class people at school, even if they are used to being treated as second-class citizens elsewhere, whether at home or at their previous school. Once this realization sinks in, a wonderful thing happens. They stop fighting against the world. They start to lay down the defenses they’ve built up over the years. And they find a place from which to reach out to others in a loving way. Respect for others as human beings, regardless of differences in age or otherwise, is foundational. But it’s only the beginning.

Here’s a compelling vision. Wouldn’t it be great if we no longer had to ask the question, “How do we teach kids respect?” The Sudbury approach and others like it envision a world in which respect is part of the air kids breathe.

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. February 23, 2010

    Thank you for a much more thorough answer. It makes sense. Now I have a better understanding of the Sudbury method.

    Chip

    • Evan Lenz permalink*
      February 23, 2010

      Chip, I’m glad to hear it. And I’m curious: how does the additional information strike you?

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