Musings on a Sudbury Education

Robert Bembery



            I’ve been going through the material in the starter package [SVS’ School Planning Kit] and it has led me into a process that I did not expect. During many phases of my life thus far, I've experienced moments of revelation about myself and the world around me. Having invested a substantial amount of time in this material has led me to another of these moments. It literally brought tears to my eyes to learn, from the outside-in, at least in part, why I am the way I am in terms of my own mind, my development, and my overall sense of culture.

            Race and culture. When I first went to college, I was surprised to see mainly people of the same race sitting together and that several groups, due to my having a mixed-race body, thought that I should belong with them. My mother rejected being referred to as African-American, and my father who looked European insisted that he was black. Since childhood I had many arguments with family members about race. My aunt in particular tried to pin me down with the “one-drop rule”, meaning one drop of African and you are simply just black. None of them seemed to understand the distinction between race and culture, or that the “one-drop rule” was a mechanism that could only prevent growth or psychological wholeness.

            Fortunately, I spent more conscious hours at SVS than anywhere else. This insured that SVS would indeed function as my main source of culture, which included Danny, Hanna, Mimsy, Joan, and everyone else at SVS. Being immersed in the culture of SVS, I never felt anyone around me needed to be forgiven for the acts of their ancestors, or treated In a different way because of their looks or where they may be from. Such thoughts just never entered my mind. I could not have spoken in this way back then because there were no structures in my paradigm of reality that allowed for it. I feel that my experience growing up free with others who were free resulted in an organic understanding of being human. Any attempt to condition my mind towards separatism would be rejected outright because such divisive thoughts made no sense to me. None of it would stick; such oily ideas would not mix with my watery mind.

            The culture of SVS, notably distinct, does not create the “us versus them” form of in-group versus out-group dynamic which is so prevalent in society, ancient and modern. Maybe this is because the culture of SVS is more basic: what permeates life at the school is so innately human that it is universal. Maybe it is just because the vast majority of SVS students are so happy! Maybe it is because their minds are free.

            Psychology and philosophy. Now this is interesting, because an aspect of my philosophy is very simple at its core. It is the assumption that the mind relying on logic cannot arrive at the truth beyond any other possibility. So at the end of many philosophical debates, or any argument for that matter, is “yes, this is possible”. It seemed to allow room for everything and nothing at the same time, and could never be locked into any form of dogma. Bringing experience to the table allowed for higher and lower probabilities, but not anything like an unchangeable certainty. I trace this philosophy to how the SVS culture uniquely effected my own personal psychology and philosophy. I found the need to keep my mind free or risk unnecessary limitations in thought and being. A good example of this occurred in a course in college on symbolic logic. When I was playing with the logic problem I was given, I solved it in a unique way, and the professor refuted my solution outright and said there is no way this can be right, “if it is right I will call you and eat my hat”. That night I received a call and he said he was eating his hat!

            After I began practicing psychotherapy I found that many of those I worked with individually had many self-imposed limitations about themselves that would prove to be ultimately debilitating. So I created a paradigm development program of sorts, that emphasized that most people had paradigms, but that for the majority of people these paradigms remained unconscious. Each person would begin uncovering their own paradigm by themselves, discovering what seemed helpful and what seemed detrimental. Never did I influence the unfolding of their paradigms, and eventually they would work through the detrimental aspects on their own, using their own innate wisdom as human beings. Soon I encountered many theorists and practitioners that worked similarly, such as Carl Rogers and Roberto Assagioli. It seemed I was onto something, but then I realized that it was very similar to the work of the staff at SVS.

            No matter what happened at SVS, in the end I always felt seen and accepted unconditionally for who I was. (Additionally, I didn't know that any staff member even had a degree, let alone their fields of interest before SVS!) I have found it interesting that self-disclosure is considered an absolute no-no under most circumstances in psychotherapy. Even in this instance I can see my culture coming through, the SVS culture that was transmitted to me through my immersion in it.

            Now as students we would say whatever we wanted, we were not Rogers or Assagioli to each other, but you as staff embodied all that was necessary for us to succeed, all while keeping it real. This is one of many gifts that you, Hanna, Mimsy, Mike, Joan, Wally, Marge, Denise, David, Martha, Mikel and others have given to me and no words can describe how grateful I am!

            Other thoughts. Having attended SVS from the age of 4, I feel I received my entire education at SVS. Everything I learned was of my own volition. I learned how to read at the age of nine. I asked my mom instead of asking a staff member, and found a system I could use called The Reading Game, which seemed appealing to me. The only reason I did this was so that it would not interfere with my day at school! It took three weeks to finish and it was off to the encyclopedias! Actually my first book was Necronomicon, which I read cover to cover. My second book was Clive Barker's horror novel, “In the Flesh”. I can still remember everything I read and learned during my time at SVS. I remember my first math lesson with Dan, where he asked if I could read various strings of digits deep into the millions. I was talking to Chris Brown about this and he remembered the same experience learning math with Danny. It was interesting to us both how easy it was to remember what we learned. Maybe this is one difference that occurs when heart and mind are aligned in the desire to learn.

            Regarding the centrality of conversation, Dan is completely spot on in his lectures about this! This was the case for myself then, and remains so now. Conversation was where so much of the magic happened. Along with conversation was just being together, doing things together, just togetherness. Of course, there were also solitary times, such as sitting at the top of the beech tree, getting to school early, or leaving late. Although my preference was certainly togetherness, it was easy to be alone too. At around eleven years old I would really enjoy riding my bike in my neighborhood at 2 or 3AM. I felt so free in all ways. I had so much confidence, and a definite sense of peace with myself.

            My mother was a real supporter of SVS ideas. She said that she didn’t understand the model, but she trusted you all and she learned to trust me. Anytime there was an attempt to coerce me I would not budge. It actually didn’t matter to me what she thought, and so on those rare occasions that she would threaten to put me in another school I would just reject it. One time I stated that “if you put me in another school, then I will just sit there and I won't do anything”, which ended the discussion. (I think I was eight.)

            I remember as a teenager I had an audio cassette of one of Dan’s interviews. I don’t know where that tape came from, but I listened to it several times. I even fell asleep listening to it to try and absorb the material in another way. I remember that while listening to it I felt so proud and fortunate.

            I listened to Mimsy’s reading of Free At Last and it brought up so much affect in me. It was a beautiful reading, bringing me back to what I cannot help but call the good ole days! Having experienced the full-spectrum life that I've had, I can see that my experience at SVS was a huge contribution to my resilience to adversity and that no matter what happens, SVS has served as a symbol to me of what makes life worth living. I guess to me that means freedom and relationship. There is also an untainted innocence in the sense that no SVS student is led to believe they’re bad, or good for that matter. Behavior itself is judged as distinct from being. I think this is one area that I struggled to get back to for sometime, but an area that has been consciously reintegrated nonetheless. I love who I am, what I am, and I am happy.

 

            After re-reading that long stream of thought, I just wanted to preface what I mentioned about learning in the last section. I want to clarify that when I said “everything I learned was of my own volition,” I was actually not referring to the substantial learning that actually occurred, but instead only the conscious endeavors to learn a specific skill, like reading, math, chain mail, computers, games and so on. The reality was that I was learning constantly and, such as in the transmission of culture, much of this learning was what I would consider unconscious. However even that word “unconscious” somehow fails to convey the nature of the learning. Maybe such a word does not yet exist.

 

 

 

 

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