Friday, October 12, 2012

'Good kids' Vs 'Troublemakers'

Dedicated to Aman, Kaif, Khalid, Alisha, Afsha, Kusum, Abhay and all
of you... if you ever read this, please know that I'm sorry for having
been part of the problem during my time with you; I'm sorry I wasn't
able to fight for you.
Yukta, Ashraf, Kauseen, Ismail and all, this goes out to you as well.

Page 156 from "Free At Last : The Sudbury Valley School"

Perhaps the most extreme example we ever had was Stella, who by
fourteen was such a hellion in her school that the School Committee of
her home town voted to pay for her tuition to attend Sudbury Valley,
even though this was against state law. They couldn't get rid of her
fast enough. Every year a delegation would come up from the town to
see whether we were still in existence, and whether she was still

I took a little while, but before long she confronted herself. By the
time she was ready to leave, she was on her way to becoming an honors
student in college, an MA in Psychology, and a prolific writer of

For us, the Stellas and the Roberts and the Sams are part of a
pattern. I remember the very earliest days at school, during a School
Meeting, when a bunch of the "A" student types began complaining
bitterly about the others, saying they were poor citizens who
shouldn't be at the school. "We come to School Meetings, help in every
way possible; we are the kind of students you want. The others are
misbehaving by lounging around all day and staying away from all civic
duties." I remember taking a deep breath, and telling them with some
feeling: "Those 'bad guys' know more about the school than you do.
They are grappling with their lives, and, right now, that's work
enough for them. You guys are so busy trying to please everyone else
that you haven't even started to know yourselves."

The fact is, the 'troublemakers' have done marvelously at Sudbury
Valley, almost without exception, and _always_ if their parents have
supported them. The reason is relatively simple: the very fact of
being a troublemaker is a sign that they haven't given up the fight.
Try as people might to break these kids, to reform them, to make them
fit the common mold, they have kept up a struggle and not given in.
They have spunk, moxie. True, their energies are often directed into
self-destructive activities; but these same energies, once released
from battling an oppressive world, can be swiftly turned to building
their own inner world, and even to building a better society. One
after another, these students have contributed much to improving the
quality of life at school.

Alas, the "A" students have a harder time. They are so used to
pleasing their teachers that they are at sea when they first arrive.
"Who is there to please?" they wonder. Often they try the staff, whom
they see as similar to their former schoolteachers. No dice. The staff
here doesn't hand out gold stars. Where to go from there?

It's a painful adjustment. It's not made easier by the discovery that
everyone else at school is smart, alert, quick-witted. The struggle to
get to the "head of the class" has no meaning as Sudbury Valley, no

These kids, not the "troublemakers", are the real victims of society.
After years of conforming to outside authority, they have lost touch
with themselves. The spark is gone from their eyes, the laughter from
their souls. If they do not destroy, neither do they know how to
build. To them, freedom is terrifying. There is no one to tell them
what to do.

The "cure" is hard, and takes time. It doesn't always work. Often the
best medicine is a heavy dose of boredom. With no program director to
organize their activities, these students often lapse into a state of
deep inactivity. Invariably, we tell them that when the boredom
becomes intolerable, they will rouse themselves, out of sheer
desperation, to create their own framework. It happens, sooner or
later, but what a cost these poor "good children" have to pay for
their former acquiescence !

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