"Why did you choose to identify yourself with a persecuted minority?"

I recently asked that question of a 17 year old SVS student with whom I am good friends.  I have trouble understanding the fact that several kids that I know very well who have one Jewish and one non-Jewish parent have made a conscious decision to identify themselves as Jewish.  (Theoretically, one is Jewish if one has a Jewish mother; all of the kids in question do not, but do have Jewish fathers.)

This young woman gave me an answer that stopped me dead in my tracks.  She said, "Everyone in our school is part of a persecuted minority."  Her brilliance and her wisdom astonished me.  And of course it is true.  It is more true for the students, and very true for their parents, and also true of the staff.

You have to have so much courage to enter SVS, as she did, as a teen.  No one, no matter how much they say they do, understands why you are stepping so far out of the main stream.  If you are really lucky, your parents have a clue.  But meanwhile everyone in your life, and everyone in your parents' lives, finds the situation unfathomable; finds your decision bizarre and totally risky, and you yourself have to enter a long long period in which you are, even if you are happy about your decision, defending yourself to someone at least every day, while you are fighting for a toe-hold in the vast river that is Sudbury Valley.  You are, to put it plainly, as close to persecuted as I hope any students ever get.

 You and your family may find many relationships strained - some of them never recover.  You cannot help but doubt that you will ever really be able to "get an education," whatever that means.  But you all have an inkling that the persecution may be worth it; that the people you care about will learn to understand; and that the reason, which you could only have had an inkling of at the beginning, that you took the step out of the mainstream and into the whirlpool will turn out to be true: that you will build a sounder, more competent and also more able to soar, you.

The results that we see when we look around us make it clear every day.  I once asked a parent who was in great distress about her child's delayed reading a question that stopped her dead in her tracks and (at least) calmed her fears long enough for him to grow up some: I said, "What is it like when you take him places where there are only adults."  She described a boy who was able to speak intelligently to people of any age, and was furthermore a good conversationalist.  He was interesting and curious.  Case closed!

That doesn't mean that you won't worry if you are a parent as you withstand the slings and arrows of most people you know.  Treating children as people is its own reward, but it is also rewarded by them behaving as people.  Sometimes being in a persecuted minority is worth it!

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.