A Short but Deep Adventure in Europe

In May, the Sudbury schools in Europe usually get together at one of their schools for a few days of deep conversing and even deeper collegiality building. Mostly staff attend these conferences, but some students who are particularly interested in their institutions also come.

This year the conference was held at the Sudbury School Ammersee. The Sudbury School Ammersee was formed after many years – about 10, as I recall – of work, and is located within not-so-easy commuting distance of Munich. It is located near a lovely lake and (it is said; you can’t prove it by me because it was too overcast while I was there) there are beautiful views of the Bavarian Alps in that entire area. One thing is certain: the little town (Ludenhausen) in which the school is located is a lovely, bucolic landscape, and the people in the area are very happy to have the school in its midst. It is in a comfortable building with all the things you need for a Sudbury school building (or for a conference) – small rooms, large ones, kitchens! – and is thriving.

This is the Ammersee school’s first year of operation, so the conference was very much a celebration of that milestone, as well as others, and a sober consideration of the forces that are challenging the existence of European Sudbury schools. Staff attended from the Neue Schule Hamburg; Demokratische Schule X, in Berlin; Newschool.nu, the Netherlands; Sudbury School Gent, Belgium; Roskilde Sudbury Skole, Denmark; Fokus School, Switzerland; Jerusalem Sudbury School, Israel; Kanaf Democratic School of Golan Heights, Israel; plus Derry Hannam, from England, who has been influential in helping several schools; me, representing SVS; and from very serious groups forming schools in Paris (Ecole Dynamique, which will open this fall), in the Czech Republic, and in Munich proper. I may have missed one or two, but I hope not.

The lingua franca was English. That was not for my benefit; it was the normal state of affairs. It is in fact the language all of the attendees speak extremely well and have in common. Since I only speak one language, English, (fairly) well, it always wows me to be among so many fluent multi-lingual people.

In general, I felt that I was in a rarefied stratosphere. Any group of Sudbury school founders is a group of people who are strong, clear-headed, and very determined. Starting and maintaining a Sudbury school in Europe, where authorities have been ruthlessly attacking them for quite a few years – most forcefully in the last few years – takes tremendous grit and determination. At this moment, those in Belgium and Denmark are particularly under fire to compromise, compromise and compromise some more. Several schools, notably two in the Netherlands and one in Belgium, have been forced to close because the parents involved were sued. Nevertheless, Dutch founders have gone on to form a new school.

I already knew a lot of the people from other venues. Some had come to Sudbury School Workshops at SVS, or at Fairhaven, in Maryland; many have visited us as founders. Others I had met during earlier trips to visit European schools and groups. Quite a few are in correspondence with the larger group of schools all over the world, through an email list run by SVS. What was more important was that most of them had found ways to get to know each other via the internet or visits to schools. It was exciting to be in every large and small conversation and meeting with these people. To me, they are all heroes, and I am thrilled to renew acquaintances and make new ones.

I had always wanted to go to the European Sudbury school conferences, but work here prevented it – May is a very busy time. This year, we, the Public Relations Clerks at SVS, felt the time had come to express our solidarity. The time to say, even more loudly, “we are all in this together”, although we know that what we can do for any other school or group is extremely limited. This year we decided at sort of the last minute, in a hurry, that I would go. I flew out on Wednesday night, and home on Sunday, so I missed very little time at “our” school; on the other hand, the jet lag took a while . . .

Everyone treated me like a visiting queen for two reasons. One, because someone came from SVS and they are very respectful and grateful for our existence; the other because I had a cast on my left (dominant) hand, and needed a lot of things done for me. Of course the second thing might have caused people to shun me, but the opposite happened, including at my adorable hotel, where they didn’t even have any particular feelings for me, but worked very hard on my comfort! From cutting up my food, to rolling my spring rolls from delectable fresh local ingredients for me, and driving me at my whim, people were extraordinarily solicitous. There is no way to express the grace with which these things were done. It was as if I somehow deserved it!

One of the things that made the experience so delightful, for all seventy of the attendees, was that there were two men associated with Sudbury School Ammersee – one as staff, among other things in his life; one as the husband of staff – who love to cook together, and are basically professional-chef-level non-professional chefs. So mealtime was always a surprise, always a delectable surprise, and usually Bavarian in content. Their desire was to show off the best of Bavarian cooking, and we were mighty appreciative of their non-stop work. They, too, went out of their way, at every meal and even at snacks, to be kind and considerate of my well-being. The atmosphere, fueled by everyone’s general bonhomie, was high-spirited. At night there were bonfires and continued fun. Music seemed to spontaneously erupt many times during the day and evening.

There was a major threatening cloud hanging over the conference – nothing to do with the weather! How to make Sudbury schools more secure in the EU was the major point of discussion, and will continue to be. All of the other things are trivial in comparison! I think that some of the schools that had felt most threatened this spring took some comfort and courage from the support and advice offered by their peers. All of us wish that the freedom from interference we enjoy in so many states in the United States will soon be the norm in the European Union and beyond.

The people who are forming a school in The Czech Republic asked if I knew of any Sudbury alum (with some administrative experience in our school) who might want to come spend a year, or even half a year, helping and advising them next year. I wouldn’t be surprised if other schools and groups would be thrilled to have that kind of help.

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