During the founding of East Kent Sudbury we established five core values of our project: Freedom, Democracy, Trust, Responsibility and Equality. These values have served us well, however, they were chosen by well-meaning adults prior to us having a mixed-age learning community. Since then we have attempted to define what these values mean in practice through many hours of discussion, negotiation and play. Our law book has grown and evolved as we seek a consensus on what it means to exercise your own freedom without infringing on the freedom of others. Here are some examples of that in action:
Noise. No disturbingly noisy activity inside the building. The upper floors of the building are for quieter activities, noise levels should not disturb others work.
Media consent. Before allowing others to watch / play media content with you that is not suitable to all you must inform them of its nature and check they consent.
In 2020-21, our third year of opening, a group of students and staff decided together to look at these again and redefine what they mean in practical terms for the community. Over the course of the past year we have researched, investigated and debated various issues that affect and influence our community and wider society.
Beginning with understanding the history of racism and what it means to be anti-racist, we realised you can’t talk about one aspect of discrimination and oppression without also touching on others. This led us to discuss ageism, in particular childism – students were very vocal about how much they disliked being judged or patronised by adults, the differences between equality and equity and whose responsibility it is to ensure everyone has equitable access to something, what it means to seek consent and how commands to ‘be nice’ undermine our personal boundaries. This led us onto democracy and why a community needs a justice system, the differences between different styles of justice and their pitfalls.
Finally, our group decided to create a Community Charter which sets out our core values and the rights and responsibilities of all members of our community, which anyone joining or entering our setting must first read and agree to – and is also available to read here on our website. Each point in our charter came directly from the discussions we’d had throughout the year and was then pulled apart and honed further as a group. Last week our charter was adopted by the community in our weekly meeting, replacing several key laws in our lawbook that have been the mainstays for setting the line between your freedom and mine since we opened. Our hope is that putting all of our core values, rights and responsibilities in one place makes it easier for someone coming into our community to get us right away. But also by deliberately leaving quite a bit open to interpretation there is more responsibility on the individual to consider their actions. “Am I protecting the environment right now?” “What does it mean to treat someone as an equal?”
Having lived breathed slept, basically been all consumed with founding East Kent Sudbury for the past five years or so, I dreamt of creating an organisation together with the young people that are apart of it, but so many decisions had to be made by the adults that created East Kent Sudbury in the first instance. Whilst in theory the power to manage the community was passed from the Founding Group to the Community Meeting on the first day we opened, taking ownership of that community takes time. Redefining the core principles of our community together is a milestone on the journey for our community to be run by and for ourselves.