Abolishing the Judicial Committee

(by Michell. Original article in Chinese 廢除瑟谷法庭 )

Here’s the motion proposed by a six-year-old boy in the School Meeting: “Abolition of the Judicial Committee (JC).” The purpose of the Judicial Committee is to resolve any conflicts in the community. It investigates written complaints about possible violations against the community rules and makes sure that a due process is applied. This is an important system that upholds the philosophy of respect, freedom, responsibility, equality, and justice.

Seven-year-old Toby responded immediately, “We can’t get rid of the JC! Sudbury won’t work if there is no JC!” Eight-year-old John supported the argument, “Yeah right, we can’t do that! The JC is here to protect everyone’s rights. We can’t get rid of it!” All the other kids also commented, “How can we get rid of the JC? It will be a disaster if we have no JC!” “No no no, we can’t abolish the JC!”, “I’m against this proposal!”

Due to all the objections, the motion was voted down.

I was surprised and touched to see John’s reaction. A week ago, John was suspended for one day for multiple violations of a school rule. When the sanction was announced, he broke down in tears, “I don’t want to be suspended… I want to come to Sudbury…” We sat with him, let him express his sadness. He spent quite a long time to adjust himself, and finally accepted the sanction. Though it was only yesterday the suspension was imposed, he was the one who objected to the proposal strongly today.

Kids do not like sanctions. Nobody enjoys the sanctions. You think if they hate them so much, they will vote to get rid of the Judicial Committee? That did not happen. If the system is fair and kids really feel protected by it, equally treated by it, and the core values of respect, equality and justice are maintained, they do their best to protect the system.

The power of the Sudbury Judicial system is that the power is not in the hands of a few authority figures. All the rules are created by the whole community members, and everyone including the adults must abide by the rules. If a kid yelling at another kid is violating a rule of “no verbal harassment”, then an adult yelling at a kid in the name of “teaching” is no less a violation and will be brought up to the JC.

In each case, we listen, investigate, discuss, communicate, reflect on the relevant rules, and reference to our basic principles. Sometimes, the proposals that children make in the School Meeting do not seem to make sense. But they learn from debate, from mistakes, and from experiences too. If they find out things don’t work, they will make changes. There is a lot of trials and errors in our system, but the underlying core values are not compromised.

No matter how chaotic the world is, our community is a place where children can experience true respect, equality, and justice.