Earlier this year a new parent mentioned to me that she had suffered through a couple awkward conversations about the school in nearby communities. The people she had spoken with in these instances made pained, disconcerting facial expressions and offhand remarks about “things they had heard” about HVSS, like “kids play all day at that place!” She found herself, for the most part, stymied as to how to proceed in these conversations. Like any self-respecting educator, I’m quick to offer unsolicited advice, so I immediately directed her to read Jeff’s excellent blog post, The Sudbury Conversation, which has good tips on how to begin responding to the negative caricatures of our school which do regrettably exist, lingering in the atmosphere like ghosts from Salem, perhaps belying a puritanical distrust of homo sapiens per se, in this puffy educator’s opinion, at least.
And then the response to our new promotional video was extraordinarily positive (especially considering that comment threads have become society’s repression-ventilation-system) but it did score a few negative comments (we had decided that we’d know the video was a success when that began) which we have also heard in the past. So I thought I’d just take a moment out of my laborious holiday feasting schedule to provide expanded responses to these hasty assumptions (and then I don’t want to hear them anymore, ok?). Please consider this essentially to be part II of Jeff’s Sudbury Conversation post. And actually it will consist of three posts, because I am long-winded, another classical quality of a good educator that I happen to possess. The posts will take up the following...we’ll call them "questions," because I am also passive-aggressive (I’ll leave it up to the reader to determine whether or not that is also in the classic suite of educator-traits):
- Won’t this program of education just produce entitled “snowflakes”?
- But what about academics?!
- Won’t they just “mess around” all day!?
This post will include the response to question #1...
Special Snowflake Syndrome!!!
On Wiktionary, SSS is defined as, (derogatory) The conviction that one (or often, one’s child) is, in some way, special and should therefore be treated differently than others. A few people, after watching the video, have made some variation on the comment, “oh great - more snowflakes!” I think I get how people arrive at this thought - they see kids making decisions about what to do with their lives and equate that with indulgence. But at HVSS, students don’t just get to decide what to do - they have to work to make it happen, and not only that, but they have to figure out what they want to happen in the first place.
The school doesn’t offer a menu of options students can simply select from, nor does it hand out trophies to 11th place finishers (or first place finishers, for that matter). When our students want something, or to engage in a particular activity, they have to take the initiative to ask for the resources required, follow through by collaborating and organizing with others, and then by maintaining their commitment. What’s more, the democratic structure of the school means that students need to advocate for themselves, create and articulate arguments, and claim responsibility for their communities. The school is, thus, quite challenging. “Snowflakes” are created by a style of child-rearing (including schooling) antithetical to this, namely one which does not ask the child to take any responsibility for themselves or their community. Our program is about as liable to create that type of subject as I am likely to wake up tomorrow a penguin. Covered in snowflakes.