Tuesday, June 10, 2008

TNS Tuesday - The Case of the Spitter

So my husband had this idea that I might consider setting aside one day a week to write a little something about the school my kids attend or something about 'Democratic Education' in general. Since we're currently hosting a house guest who is here for a couple of days 'checking out' The New School, and some of the stories we've been sharing are fresh in my mind, I figured today was the day to start Tuesday TNS. It's maybe the first installment, maybe the last (I'm dedicated like that), but I'll try to give you a glimpse into what life is like with two kids learning how to:
  • learn responsibility through self-reliance.
  • be free to explore without the constraints that smother interest and breed mediocrity.
  • develop individualized curricula, including group and independent study, hands-on exploration, travel, correspondence, experiment, and major projects, limited only by their imaginations and ambition.
  • be accepted for who they are and gain insight and toleration of others by working in a community composed of empowered individuals, without age or other imposed segregation.
  • learn the arts of liberty by participating in the student administered judicial process and using the tools of the participatory democracy of the School Meeting which govern and manage The New School.
  • use the close, supportive community of The New School as a base from which to explore local, regional and global communities, through trips, personal contacts, and telecommunications..
  • reflect on their growth to adulthood, while preparing the written arguments and public defense of their belief that they are ready to be responsible and productive adults. Proof of this, to the satisfaction of the school community of students, staff, and parents, is the requirement for graduation from The New School.
So did you make it through all that? It's how The New School is run, and until you have a student who actually attends the school, you might find it difficult to understand exactly how it all works, thus my reasoning behind TNS Tuesday.

In today's installment of TNS Tuesday, I'd like to address the topic of the JC... Or what's better known as the 'Judicial Committee' of The New School. You see, in a democratic school, the school is run by the students. The students, utilizing the democratic process make decisions regarding school rules, staff members, budget and disciplinary issues, by a majority vote... Which brings me to my story...

This event happened years ago, I think my son was around 10 yrs. old. I just received his permission to tell this story, which is.... My son spit on someone at school.... (funny, I didn't know he was a spitter?) Because he spit on this person, she 'wrote him up' and took him to the JC. The process takes a few days, in the same way being summoned for a court case can take a few months. When my son went before the JC (a group of his fellow students) he was found guilty of the crime of spitting. After deliberation, a judgment was handed down. My sons sentence? In order to understand how really disgusting spitting is, he was given a bottle and sentenced to fill it to a certain point with his own spit. Now, my son, being a squeamish sort was filled with horror at the notion of seeing his spit collected in a bottle. He 'neglected' to carry out his sentence. Refusal to carry out a sentence results in 'Exile' (a number of days decided upon, in which the student may not attend school.)

Now it's important to understand at this point that the parents of a New School student are NOT made aware of what their kids DO or DON'T DO at school. A Democratic Education is based on the idea that the student is given the responsibility to be in command of their own education. Therefore, if they make a mistake, they suffer the result. In turn they can be proud of all THEY achieve because THEY are the ones who've achieved it, as a direct result of their own choices. No helicopter parenting takes place at The New School.

So, I discover that my son has 2 exile days from school... The parents are informed (of course) that their kid has been given an exile, in order to make plans for them being home instead of in school, but they are told nothing more than that. It's up to the student whether or not to share the reason with his/her parents. In this incident, I didn't ask... (this story came out a year or so later from his sister.) I simply told my son that since he was going to be home, it would be an opportune time for me to get some help painting his and his sisters room. This was not a punishment, it was merely a matter of, "Oh hey, you're gonna be home? Cool, you can help me paint!"... We ended up having a really good time doing the project together and he learned some painting skills, so it turned out to be a win-win situation. As a result of the entire affair I can proudly say, my son never spit on anyone ever again... Because through his given sentence, he was able to grasp just what a disgusting habit spitting at people really is.... Wait 'til I tell you about the kid (not my own), who was found guilty of slamming doors.

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Blogger Mama's Losin' It said...

How interesting. I've never heard of this kind of school and to be honest, I think I'd feel a little uncomfortable sending my kids to one. I'm interested in hearing more about it though...

4:24 PM, June 10, 2008  
Blogger lime said...

it all sounds great but i have to admit some squeamishness about them not saying why a kid is exiled. i understand the theory behind it but the practice is something to wrap my head around.

if you do continue this as a series i really will look forward to it so i can understand from one who is involved in this type of education how it works.

8:26 AM, June 11, 2008  
Blogger EmBee said...

Let me ask you this Lime... If someone were to make a mistake in judgment, and the issue was handled between himself and the party who was 'wronged'... Would it be necessary for the issue to be broadcast to his family? What would be the purpose of doing so? So more punishment and further shame could be administered?

I should note that if a student becomes a discipline 'problem', as in they continue to carry out their bad behavior, then a meeting is called between the parents, student, staff and select fellow students... This meeting is called an 'Alcibiades' (an ancient Greek advocate of foreign policy). Through the 'Alcibiades Meeting' it is hoped that the matter of the student not taking the school rules and JC seriously can be resolved.

Mama, I'll continue writing about the school but tell me what about it makes you feel uncomfortable?

9:52 AM, June 11, 2008  
Blogger lime said...

i'm not into shaming a kid and it's not a guarantee that i'd impose further punishment (though on a case by case basis i might, though I have to say being exiled seems a serious enough sort of thing to me or is that just my experience coming form a public school? i mean i think of the sorts of things that get a kid suspended for a few days and they are kind of serious). i'd want to know why the kid did what they did, what will they do to avoid a repeat of the behavior, what was learned.

and ok, here's an example that i may have to deal with next year. our school has decided to go to what they are calling "uniforms" but really is just a very strict dress code that is going to be open to enough interpretation that i see kids being needlessly harassed over stupid things. my daughter, who will be a senior, has already stated her intent to show up sans uniform as a means of protest. i've told her she has the right to protest peacefully. the school is going to impose consequences and unfortunately she will have to deal with them but so long as i know she has been peaceful in her protest she will have no negative consequences at home. i just want to be kept informed of what transpires as i may have to defend her actions.....then again, it would seem this sort of situation would be avoided completely at the new school because there are no uniforms and the kids are encouraged to formulate their ideas and defend them and any sort of discipline is on a case by case basis and it doesn't seem like you'd have to be defending your kid against "one size fits all" rules and discipline...ok, it's late, i hope i am making sense as i think out loud.

again, i am excited to learn about this and process what it all means. thanks for your patience.

10:56 PM, June 11, 2008  
Blogger EmBee said...

Lime, I haven't forgotten you, I'm trying to formulate a reply to your comment that's neither too long nor incomprehensible. It would be SO much easier to discuss face to face.

2:52 PM, June 12, 2008  
Blogger EmBee said...

Hey Lime, sorry it's taken me awhile... (dinner party last night and all) but here's a reply for you regarding Trust. This piece was composed by a staff member at TNS, I'm not nearly as eloquent with descriptions of 'heavy' concepts.

Trust is an important idea at The New School. Trust in children lies at the heart of the School. It is a basic belief underlying the design and function of the School that children can be trusted to grow and develop in good ways, if they are free to do so.
Like most ideas, however, trust is not easy. Differences in understanding about such a fundamental concept can lead to very different ideas about how the School works. It is important to distinguish among some of the possible meanings of “trust,” because the School is very serious about this idea.
Some people understand “trust” to mean something like, “I am counting on you to do what I want you to do, even though I am not watching you.” This is “trust” of a sort. But, it is trust that retains control. A child who is trusted in this way is given freedom from supervision, but not freedom to make choices.
At The New School, trust must be deeper than mere relief from supervision. Trust at The New School must mean “I believe that you are a good person, able to make good decisions; I believe in you, even when I do not understand or agree with your decisions.” This sort of trust is much harder. It gives a child control. It is an act of faith that the child will rise to the occasion and exercise that control in ways that are good. Even if they are painful or don’t work out, they are worth doing and the child must be allowed to pursue them, to learn their own lessons in their own ways.
Trust has to be freedom to do new and unexpected things. Trust to do dangerous or provocative things. Trust to grow, even when we do not understand the growth as it is happening.

11:49 AM, June 13, 2008  
Blogger lime said...

thanks. i REALLY appreciate that. very thought provoking ideas. deeply so. thanks:)

2:17 PM, June 13, 2008  

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