Here’s one situation that I’ve seen hundreds of times. An intelligent young child or teenager has been underachieving in standard school, and has begun to have emotional and/or behavioral problems. Such a child often feels coerced by standard schooling to pay attention to that which is boring for them, to do homework for which they see no value, and to stay inside a building that feels sterile and suffocating. Depending on the child’s temperament, this coercion results in different outcomes — none of them good.
Some of these kids get depressed and anxious. They worry that their lack of attention and interest will result in dire life consequences. They believe authorities’ admonitions that if they do poorly in school, they will be “flipping burgers for the rest of their lives.” It is increasingly routine for doctors to medicate these anxious and depressed kids with antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs.
Other inattentive kids are unworried. They don’t take seriously either their schooling or admonitions from authorities, and they feel justified in resisting coercion. Their rebellion is routinely labeled by mental health professionals as “acting out,” and they are diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder. Their parents often attempt punishments, which rarely work to break these kids’ resistance. Parents become frustrated and resentful that their child is causing them stress. Their child feels this parental frustration and resentment, and often experiences it as their parents not liking them. And so these kids stop liking their parents, stop caring about their parents’ feelings, and seek peers whom they believe do like them, even if these peers are engaged in criminal behaviors.
Bruce Levine, Ph.D.
From Mad In America blog, Societies With Little Coercion Have Little Mental Illness
By BRUCE LEVINE, PH.D.
The entire philosophy of a Sudbury school is that we trust children to make their own personal choices. So it’s peculiar that we sometimes find ourselves with a strange phenomenon: a student who doesn’t want to be here.
Kids who volunteer to be here - especially those who championed it to their parents in the first place - experience all the benefits we describe elsewhere. Not so with the unwilling student. They tend to sulk and take little advantage of the opportunity. Often enough, they face Judicial Committee much more than most, because the rules of an institution they didn’t choose mean nothing to them. In the end, we usually have to remove them, if they don’t remove themselves.
Sending a child here against their will defeats the entire purpose of a non-compulsory democratic education. So, please, talk with your child before you send them here. Make sure it’s also what they want.
Sean Vivier, MLSS Staff
You’ve likely been part of this conversation. A child expresses exasperation with some aspect of their life. Then the adult dismisses it with a certain condescending contempt, as they look to you and shake their heads. These kids think they have it rough. You, of course, are expected to agree.
Here’s the thing. Kids do have it rough. The fact that they don’t pay income taxes or raise a family or pay the mortgage doesn’t negate that. It is quite possible that both an adult can have a rough life and a child can have a rough life.
Consider. If you strike an adult, you are guilty of assault. That’s not necessarily the case with children. Even where it is against the law, many people will refrain from reporting the crime either because they believe hurting children is right and proper or they don’t want the bother and conflict.
Plenty of children also face constant bullying. Of course you have it rough if you live in constant fear of verbal and physical attack.
Children don’t have the same kind of work as adults, but when adults go home, they tend to be done with their work. They can relax, while children are forced to bring much of their work home with them, so that their entire day is stressed.
More than that, they have no choice in their work. Adults have autonomy. Children do not. That alone brings a great deal of suffering to mind.
Keep in mind that something easy for an adult isn’t necessarily easy for a child. Of course many things are no trouble for you after 30 or 40 or 50 years of life. Much less so with only tens years of experience under your belt. Time management, for example, is easy when you’ve been doing it for decades. Less so when you have just the one.
But most of all, kids have it rough because they face all their struggles, and adults dismiss their concerns out of hand.
Sean Vivier, MLSS Staff
Liam Marshall-Butler is currently a student at MLSS.