The Power of Students

A school without students is not really a school.

While beautiful and quiet, SVS during the summer can be a bit melancholy, like an empty husk. Hot and humid days don’t make it much better. Yes, summer can be a good time to get things done, and it’s the only time large building projects can happen, but the deserted rooms exert an ominous spell. I only really understood how much I missed the students once some of them were back for summer session. What a relief!

I almost hugged the first student I encountered when summer session had begun. Yes, I felt, this is YOUR school, and now that you are back, it makes sense for me to be here too.

What I felt in the difference between SVS with and without students, was not just the presence of more people, or somebody else to talk to – there are always staff members and workers around in the summer, and it is very busy – but the presence of the power of students. There is no school without students. They have the power to make a school, by being there, following their interests, conversing, thinking, looking for answers to questions, by exercising their right to pursue an education. They can also break a school, simply by not being there.

If that is true, why did going to school never feel that way to me as a student? Why wasn’t going to school an empowering act of asserting my right to education, but just the opposite, a rather un-empowering strive for grades, recognition, and somehow “making it,” so I wouldn’t fail in life?

I guess I didn’t go to SVS, but attended regular public schools, where it appeared that teachers and administrators had all the power, and students just a tiny little bit, or none – because, I was told by my teachers, it isn’t really about power, but about learning, and students first need to learn a lot before they can responsibly use power, right?

Perhaps the fear of being outnumbered and easily overwhelmed by students, or of losing one’s job should entire school populations simply decide to walk out, has led to this reversal of roles. After all, the students are, rhetorically at least, the center of all schools, not the teachers and administrators who wield power over them.

Perhaps. There is probably a lot more involved in what looks to me like a sad turn, from a nobly conceived right to education, to what can feel like the prison of schooling. It says a lot about the civility and cooperativeness of the vast majority of people that there isn’t an open revolt against schools. But I’m happy to report that SVS is a place where students do in fact hold the decision-making powers in their hands, and they are learning to use this power here and later in life by exercising it. Yes, as staff members, we are vastly outnumbered by students, and if that’s scary, it’s not any scarier than real life.

Welcome back to school!

The views expressed on this page are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Sudbury Valley School.