Sudbury Valley has no bells announcing times and few clocks on the walls, but everyone seems to know when noon arrives. Noon, after all, is when The Concession opens, and The Concession is where everyone can buy whatever snacks and cold drinks their hearts desire, from the ample stock laid out on the Main Lounge table.
Watching the customers at the Concession table is a fascinating experience, because they are all engaged in the difficult task of setting priorities. That might seem like an overblown way of describing people buying at what is actually nothing more than a small convenience store. But if you watch the younger children, in particular, carefully, you can literally feel the wheels spinning in their brains, calculating the pros and cons of this candy versus those chips versus the packaged noodles versus the cold sodas, each category itself full of choices (Plain Fritos? BBQ Fritos? Cheetos? Plain Potato Chips? BBQ flavored Chips? Cheezits? Something else in that chip box?).
This is a much more complex exercise than one realizes at first glance. Because there is another complicating factor: how much money do I have today for Concession? And, given the amount I have, what can I buy with it? You might think that this narrows the choices but, alas, it seldom does - except when clearly the sum is only sufficient to buy one of the cheapest items. Most of the time, there is enough for more than one. So now the task is to isolate the two top priorities that are affordable.
But even that is not the whole story, not by a long shot. The money angle is much more complicated than simply deciding how to spend what one has in hand. Suppose, for example, I have more money than I wish to spend today. I can “deposit” it with the concessionaires, who will record it in their little black book as a credit to be available to me in the future. Or suppose, to my consternation, that I don’t have enough for what I want. I can then apply to “run a tab” - open a credit account with the Concession. This depends on their assessment of my credit-worthiness, a factor with which I am totally familiar. I know that I have to start with a small tab (if I can run one at all), show that I am a responsible borrower by paying back in a timely manner, and slowly work my credit limit upwards.
If all that fails, I can turn to my friends, and “share.” Who can I turn to who might be willing to share? With whom have I offered to share in the past? And who is likely to buy something I want?
Now, admittedly this all sounds like a gross exaggeration of what is really going on in a young child’s mind. (We have no trouble seeing it all through an adult perspective, where we usually go through this process fairly rapidly, unless we’re buying clothes or a car . . .) But if, on an average school day, you become a fly on the wall in the Main Lounge between 12:00 and 1:00, you will have no trouble seeing it all play out, quite obviously. Just focus on the children under 8 or 9 years old.
Sudbury Valley’s Concession is a laboratory for experimenting with setting priorities. The process is eminently transferable. Once you learn how to do it in relatively non-essential situations, you get good at the process, and have a much easier time when confronting really important choices