Re: DSM:teachers/classes

Scott David Gray (
Wed, 21 Oct 1998 16:38:21 -0400


Before I can give a satisfactory answer, or be convinced by your arguments, I
need at least _one_ solid example of _something_ that one cannot learn
without instruction. Until you present a concrete _example_ we're just
playing with words, and I may well be misunderstanding what you're saying.
To simply say that "there are times that one can only learn by instruction"
leaves me unable to respond -- mostly because I'm trying to defend a negative
against an as-yet-unstated positive claim.

Sharon Stanfill wrote:

> The several bases for my assertion that there are times that one can only
> learn by instruction are personal experience,experience of others,
> my understanding of how skills are acquired, and a certain amount of what
> I might call 'just common sense'. The areas in which I think is occurs
> includes what you term skills.

Your experience (and others' experience) might show that one _can_ learn by
instruction... However, in order to demonstrate that one can _only_ learn by
instruction, one would need to show that a person _denied_ instruction failed
to learn certain things. You have not yet presented me with one piece of
_evidence_ for this.

> I am not asserting that SV does not supply instruction - I am
> asking how SV addresses this issue. What the traditional educational
> culture would call classes is one way this is normally addressed, however
> you have told me that what SV calls classes are something else, and
> something which does not seem to address this issue. I also assume that
> 'traditional classes' in essence do not exist at SV. I have not seen
> anything in such SV literature as I have found that addresses this point.

I am not convinced that this is an "issue". In any case, Sudbury Valley does
_not_ address this issue. Yet, our alumni have gone on into the whole range
of careers and life syles; from professors of mathematics, to medical
doctors, to auto mechanics, to farmers, to professional musicians.

It is clear, from our experience, that Sudbury Valley alumni are not lacking
in any area or ability. Further, it appears that it is a rare Sudbury Valley
student who seeks "instruction".


* SVS students do not receieve formal instruction (if I am mistaken in
this, then it is because we have defined our terms differently).
* Some (most? all?) SVS students succeed in any walk of life (see Legacy
of Trust, for some statistics).

The only way I can resolve this syllogism is to conclude that "therefore,
formal instruction is not neccesary to succeed in any walk of life".

What, in particular, do you think "cannot be learned" without formal
instruction, or is easier to learn with formal instruction? If you could
give me a concrete example, then I perhaps I'll agree that instruction is
helpful/necessary in learning that skill, and be able to give anecdotes about
how that is "addressed" at Sudbury Valley. However, I can't think of
anything off hand.

It's also possible that our difference is centered around a definition...
Perhaps I mean something different by "instruction" than you do. If you
simply mean being in the same community as others steeped in the culture and
thought surrounding a particular field, than I would agree that "instruction"
plays a role... However, I am hesitant to use the term "instruction" that
way, as to _most_ people the term implies a programme or curriculum which one
person leads another through.

> It would appear that the way SV handles this is by individual assertion -
> if someone wants instruction in something, they seek out an instructor,
> of which are are potentially many. (I say potentially because being
> a master of skill does not necessarily make one capable of teaching it.)

An interesting concept. A few people do, under particular circumstances,
seek formal instruction. However, there does not seem to be any correlation
between which students seek that, and what kinds of lives they go on to after
Sudbury Valley (or between what they seek formal instruction about and what
they go on to). For the great bulk of students at SVS, formal instruction
just plain doesn't happen (they don't instigate it, and neither do others).

Also, writing as an SVS alumnus... I can say that learning is a natural
process that the human mind engages in constantly... It takes a great deal of
effort to _prevent_ the human mind from learning... Perhaps the best single
way to prevent the human mind from acquiring information is to start rigidly
presenting it in a fashion which is driven by an outside person or curriculum
(ie instruction), rather than simply letting people explore books and
conversation topics that interest them at their own instigation.

There is no question in my mind that SVS was a far more intellectually
stimulating environment than college (a place of formal instruction). In
college I found myself bored and disgusted rather than intrigued and

> And whatever happened to Socratic method? I'd certainly include that
> as a category of academic learning. To me, it is neither lecture nor
> discussion.

I'm no fan of Soicrates at all... Check out what both Xenophon (a friendly
critic) and Plato (a sycophantic follower) have to say about him... Socrates
used faux "discussion" to instruct, in a most unpleasant way, in which every
question was leading and every point made for the other side was a straw
dummy (at leat in Plato, not especially the Meno)... Socrates' instruction
was mostly aimed at trying to get a bunch of rich boys to rebel against the
democracy and make themselves "philosopher kings". Note, too, that this
actually happened -- the Athenian democracy was overthrown by a violent and
unpleasant oligarchic coup which placed some of the rich-boy pupils of
Socrates into power.

While I agree that it would be unfair to paint what Socrates was doing as
"lecture" it is likewise unfair to paint it as discussion. It had a definite
curriculum behind it, and ever line spoken was designed to herd the audience
into particular logical traps -- in which Plato was complicit by writing weak
flaccid arguments for the opposition.

How Socrates became the darling of those who believe that kids should play a
part in their own instruction, I'll never understand. We have no writings
from Socrates, only little plays by Plato which do not present _true_
conversations, and reports from Xenophon of a self-absorbed and haughty
misogynist. There is little question that Socrates (at least as presented by
Plato and Xenophon) cared nothing for anyone else's opinions, doing his best
to "teach" his own warped curriculum.

(Yeah, I would probably have voted for the hemlock... :-)

> Sharon


-- Scott Gray

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