On Voting and Schooling and Living

I’ve never paid more attention to a primary than I have this one, and it’s not just because of Bernie. It’s actually more because of Sudbury.

There’s an argument that having closed primaries is “undemocratic.” But it isn’t. A primary is for a party and a party is, at the end of the day, a club. They aren’t required to be democratic for anyone other than their members. And being a United States citizen may make your voice count in a general election, but it doesn’t mean your voice matters to a political party.

Most of us don’t understand this because all we really know is “America is the best country in the world! Democracy is the awesome! Thank you to the men and women that fought for my right to vote!”

Then I wonder, “Where was everyone supposed to learn about how our government runs? Who was responsible for teaching us what it takes to get registered? Where were we supposed to learn that our voice matters? Where were we supposed to learn how to actually advocate legislatively for our families and communities?”

And the answer is supposed to be school, right?

The school that handed out the coveted Citizenship Award to the best (read: most obedient) child in the class.
A good citizen is an obedient one.

The school that has classes called “Government” but the only thing I remember doing was “learning” all the states and their capitals.
Fill your head with trivia. Don’t worry about thinking.

The school that made announcements every day of the spring semester to make sure every 18 year old male was registered for the draft, but never seemed to muster the same amount of passion to make sure the same 18 year olds were registered to vote.
Fight our wars, but don’t vote on them.

I’m just not buying that the education system as a whole (not teachers in specific) is that interested in actually producing citizens that are engaged with life. Which is where my excitement about Sudbury comes in.

I know I have a reputation for being all about everyone following their dreams. And that is me. I want everyone to be the you-iest you you can be. So I’m sure everyone thinks my love of Sudbury is about my kid having the freedom to follow his passion for YouTube lawnmower videos. And that is part of it.

But the other part, the biggest part, is that I want him to wrestle with life and his community as early as possible. And I don’t think there’s a better place to learn to wrestle than in a democratic free school.

Let’s pretend Otis wants to start a blueberry farm at the school because he loves blueberries. He doesn’t get to just walk outside and start digging because the school isn’t just his, it’s the school’s. So he’d have to come up with a plan for his blueberry farm, and probably start talking to others at the school about his idea to get them on board or at least supportive of a Blueberry Farm. He’ll have to figure out how to get the Blueberry Farm item on the school meeting’s agenda. He’ll have to think about possible arguments against the Blueberry Farm and how his plan will address them. He’ll have to present his plan to his peers. He’ll have to deal with the real pain of rejection if they vote no or the elation of success if they vote yes. He’ll probably learn that either way, yes or no, life goes on and there’s always a new thing to worry about tomorrow. And his peers are going to learn how to listen to big ideas about Blueberry Farms and ask questions to figure out if Otis’s Blueberry Farm is a good idea for not just Otis, but the whole school.

My hope is that when you’ve spent 12 years advocating for yourself and your community, you aren’t going to walk into the ‘real world’ and just stop. You have developed a worldview that says, “I have the right to ask questions, make my concerns heard, and be active in this ongoing conversation called Life because that’s all I’ve ever really known.”

One thought on “On Voting and Schooling and Living

  1. Let’s not just pretend that Otis is interested in a Blueberry Farm. Let’s consider all the school operation and staff selection and contracting issues that get dealt with in the School meeting where Otis has the opportunity to enter into the debate and vote on the matter. These are part of what introduces kids at Sudbury model schools to the essence of participation in a democratically operating community, one in which they are considered equal participants, regardless of age.
    Read more about it at http://www.sudval.org or at the website of your local Sudbury model school.

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