Humility has been praised across cultures and centuries for its value as a human virtue. In our contemporary times some consider humility a lost virtue. Nietzsche said humility was a will to power disguised as weakness. He praised clear and unapologetic expressions of strength and pride. Of course, he also inspired Hitler and had a psychotic break at the end of his life some attribute, not to syphilis, but to the realization that his philosophy was built upon a misunderstanding of the values he decried.
Our contemporary expression of values suggests we should at least revisit this dormant virtue and rediscover its strength. One place it can be found is Sudbury. Sudbury personifies humility. This humility gives rise to its founding principles: Democracy, Freedom, and Individual Responsibility. Each of these principles is grounded on a humble and respectful stance towards young people.
Sudbury is a pure democracy. One person one vote. A pure democracy views everyone as equal and gives everyone an equal voice. It does not decide that some people are more equal than others. It humbles itself before the sometimes messy process that occurs when a group of unique individuals with an equal say work together to achieve a common purpose.
Sudbury students are free to pursue their own interests in their own way. This academic freedom humbles itself before the mysteries of the learning process. Sudbury does not proclaim what, when, how, or why a student should learn. It humbly respects the interests and learning patterns of each individual student. And it does not judge them on their progress. It humbly respects the ability and desire of a student to hold themselves accountable if given the opportunity.
Sudbury removes itself as the first and final arbiter of the education process. It does not proclaim to have the answers as to what young people should learn and how they should learn it. It does not promise students that if they study certain things and get good grades, then they’ll be ready for college and/or employment. In short, Sudbury humbles itself before its students as individuals capable of taking on responsibility for their own lives and education if given the opportunity.
This is not naivety. This is humility. This is creating an environment that humbles itself before the unfathomably complex dynamics of a school environment comprised of unique individuals. This is respecting the natural genius and abilities of each individual student rather than forcing them into a Procrustean bed of learning. This shows humility to the wisdom of a true democratic process to resolve differences and hold each other accountable with the least amount of infringement on individual freedom. This is humbly respecting the right of a person to figure out for themselves who they are, what they are interested in, and how they are going to integrate themselves and their talents into a dynamic society.
The fool who knows that he is a fool is for that very reason a wise man;
the fool who thinks he is wise is called a fool indeed.
– Dhammapada 63
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.
– Proverbs 11:2
To know when one does not know is best.
To think one knows when one does not know is a dire disease.
– Tao Te Ching 71