School Meeting Dispatch: Bathroom Rules

Associated School: 

And we’re off, almost into October, and Sudbury education is under full sail here at HVSS. I think of learning at our school as happening in three basic ways: formally - with instruction and structure, informally - with conversation, play, and individual pursuit, and communally - with collaborative problem solving in our Judicial Committee and School Meeting. Personally, I am most excited by the communal learning, and I think it’s a unique facet of the school. Here’s an example from September: last week, a motion to reserve one of the school’s bathrooms for the exclusive use of those aged 12 and up was brought before the school meeting, and a fascinating discussion ensued. Incidentally, I have a toddler, so potty humor is so hot right now at my house, has been for a while, and in fact I’m giggling this very moment, but I promise I’ll spare you, sophisticated readers, any ill-formed jokes in this post, although I will admit that the meeting was not similarly spared.

The raison d’etre of the motion was a claim that some school meeting members, in particular some of the younger ones, leave messes in the bathrooms, creating unpleasant circumstances for the more mature, considerate, and thoroughly trained members of the community. However, in this community any standard imposed by age immediately raises red flags, because we know that age is used in regulation primarily as a proxy for competency, even though it’s an unremarkable observation that each is actually independent from the other. One mechanism the school often employs to bypass this issue and ensure competence is the “certification,” whereby any user of potentially dangerous or messy equipment is trained, tested, and cleared to use. So, right away, the idea of a “bathroom certification” was floated. In this case, though, certification was considered inadequate and ultimately unenforceable. After all, everyone already knows what they’re supposed to do, and bathrooms are used privately behind locked doors. Therefore, the movers asserted, a more draconian measure was required. Still, most members of the meeting chafed at the idea of an age-based regulation, and several of them proposed alternatives: for instance, one bathroom could be locked, and the key kept in the office as it is at many coffee shops. Presumably, anyone who would bother to fetch the key would be likely to use the bathroom considerately. Or, one bathroom could be reserved for use by any member of a group which agreed to take turns cleaning it. Or, one bathroom could be reserved exclusively for those willing to “pay to play,” so to speak; even if the fee were very small, the assumption again was that only considerate users would go to the trouble. There were some less practical ideas too, like bathroom monitors and sign-in sheets. One staff member offered the opinion that the staff take turns cleaning bathrooms throughout the day, which was met with giggles from the students and icy stares from the rest of the staff. Eventually, the movers elected to withdraw their original motion to consider the alternatives they had been offered.

It was the kind of conversation I love witnessing here, or anywhere else for that matter: people identifying a problem and presenting a solution to the community, which carefully considers it and collaborates to find the best way forward. I’m fond of saying that our curriculum is responsibility and our method is freedom. Our students take responsibility not only for directing their own lives at school, but for figuring out how to share our resources and make the community work. We don’t cook up simulations of problems for them to solve, we just safeguard their right to self-governance, and they do the rest. If you attended our recent open house, I think you got a really good sense of the amazing things that happen here. It always strikes me, though, that the school doesn’t deserve much credit for any of it, because what you see here is just people, who we call “students,” taking ownership of their lives and their community, becoming themselves, and doing what people do when they are free and safe, which, simply put, is thrive.

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Hudson Valley Sudbury School

84 Zena Road
Kingston, NY 12401
Phone: 845-679-1002
Fax: 845-679-3874