When I tell people about how Hudson Valley Sudbury School (HVSS) works, they sometimes ask if it’s like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. They imagine a vicious world of savage children struggling for supremacy, gnawing on limbs, and skewering random stuff with sharpened sticks. They even bring up anecdotes from their own experience to suggest that we should expect brutality to rein under the conditions we maintain at our school; they’ll say something like, “in my high school, if the teacher ever stepped out of the classroom, even for a second, a fight would break out.” I understand - I’ve even worked in a school where that was indeed the case. If not a fight, something transgressive would happen - a champion would emerge from the rows of desks to make some raucous gesture of contempt for authority, to the hoots and applause of classmates. And when we attempted to have unstructured time, like a recess, there was almost always an actual fistfight. At that school, the adults micromanaged the students as much as possible. The more control a teacher was able to exert over students, the more highly that teacher was regarded; power, and the control it afforded, was the highest good. The most effective teachers were known for directing students with military precision, drilling them in posture and guidelines which sharply restricted how they could move their bodies, even while seated, and where they could direct their gaze at any particular moment. In such an excruciating and oppressive environment, tense but utterly boring, people find ways to rebel - not because they can’t handle freedom maturely when they find or steal a moment of it, but because they are deprived of it. Their “transgressions” are hardly evidence of immaturity; they are, rather, evidence of an unhealthy ecology of relationships. The boys in Lord of the Flies were cultivated within a culture of mistrust and assimilated into a brutal hierarchy at their mid-20th century English boarding school. Left to their own devices, they recreated the ecology of their native psychological habitat. Lord of the Flies is not a cautionary tale about freedom; it’s a cautionary tale about oppression.