The one and only “best class’‘ I have ever attended is the Judicial Committee at Sudbury Valley.
Basically, the JC is the organ of the school which keeps the school safe, deals with interpersonal conflicts, and ensures that the physical plant is not abused or vandalized. It took us many years to create the concept of the school’s judicial system and even longer to develop a tradition which is now embedded in the culture of the school to such an extent that it runs really smoothly and effectively.
I went to a private high school, to college, and to graduate school at an Ivy League university, and I learned things about science there. But watching many generations of our students run the Judicial Committee, I am impressed by how much they learn about life – lessons which undoubtedly will be valuable to them throughout their lives. I am astounded by how serious and responsible the members of the Committee are, working every single day to do their job for as long is it takes. And I am always moved by how they care about each individual student, as well as about the welfare of the school as a whole.
The JC is comprised of two clerks who are elected by the School Meeting and serve for about ten weeks; five students from all the age groups, who are chosen by the School Meeting chairman who serve for one month; and one rotating staff member, who serves approximately once every two weeks. So eight people come to the “seminar room” everyday at 11:00 a.m. sharp and sit around the table and deal with all the complaints that have been filed.
It is truly amazing that kids of all ages and personalities arrive on time day after day and sit there quietly attending to what comes up. Five year olds are expected to do their “jury duty” just as everyone else in the community is. All the students sense that they are equal to all others regardless of their age, and that with equal rights comes equal responsibility to participate in ensuring those rights.
The JC clerks run the meetings. They lead the questioning of the witnesses, write the reports, keep records, and go to the School Meetings to answer any questions about JC matters. From time to time the Meeting votes to send a report back to the JC for clarification. In fact, one of the hardest “lessons” for the clerks to learn is to cope with criticism at the School Meeting and not become defensive, but rather accept it graciously and with open minds.
So, what did I learn in this class called the JC? I learned that when you trust children and expect them to take upon themselves the responsibilities of keeping the peace in the school, as well as seeing to it that the place is safe and the property is not damaged and kept in order, the students are capable, trustworthy, fair, and eager to do their share of work carefully and patiently.
The JC is the heart of the school. It is where kids from the youngest age feel the freedom in their bones, and the respect to which each human being is entitled.