Re: Working for love

Bruce L. Smith (bsmith1@ntsource.com)
Mon, 30 Mar 1998 20:08:56 -0600

Bruce from Liberty Valley here.

I wish I could have chimed in earlier, but the busy-ness of staffing a
first-year school and working an additional job...oops, I'm getting ahead
of myself. I promise, I'll try not to repeat too many points that have
already been made, but I've been itching to add my perspective to this
question.

First, how am _I_ supporting myself this year? I've spent most of my
savings. For most of this year I've worked 50 hours a week: 30 at LVS
(not counting meetings and events) and 20 at the local public library (for
less than a dollar over minimum wage, I might add). My parents are also
subsidizing me rather significantly, which is wonderful but depressing
given the fact that I had been supporting myself for several years. So
basically, I'm nearly broke, but I'm doing something I deeply believe in.

Working for love. Hmmm. Well, yes, of course.

In my personal situation, all this wide-ranging discussion comes down to
two key points: first, my school can't afford to pay any staff anything
this year; second, my faith in this model runs so deep that I *can't not*
work for it, so long as I am able.

Do I do this for love? I don't know what else to call it (insanity,
perhaps? :).

Is this moral, the school's asking me to work without wages? <exasperated
sigh> See the above reality check. And if reality isn't enough, ask
yourself what is more moral than doing all you can to enhance the dignity
and growth of a huge population -- _without_ sacrificing your own (no
altruistic self-sacrifice for me, thank you very much; my life is greater,
not diminished, for being here). Yes, staff at any school are entitled to
living wages. But what is a moral dilemma all about, if not competing
goods? For me, the good of this school's survival makes me willing to wait
for the good of the wages I theoretically deserve.

In defense of my school's morality <remove tongue from cheek>, we made it
very clear as a board last summer that staff would likely never be paid for
this year. I ran for staff fully aware of and accepting the possibility
that I would need to rely solely on other sources of income. As far as I'm
concerned, my school has been as "moral" as any institution could have been
under the circumstances. Yes, the economic reality is frequently grim in
the initial stages of these schools. Yes, I would greatly prefer to be
paid -- _in fact_, I abstained from the vote not to pay staff the token we
might have been able to afford. But I fully respect the wisdom of the
majority in this case, and my not being paid has not dented my love of
working at this school -- not one bit. I remain as committed as ever.

At the risk of over-generalization, my impression is that Sudbury staffers
in general tend to comprise an extremely committed and dedicated group,
willing to do whatever it takes to give this more humane vision of
education a chance. So at what level does sacrifice for a cause become
exploitation? I don't think any arbitrary, universal answer to that
question can be given. I could only see this particular situation as
exploitative if the school's motives were suspect (i.e., they could pay me
a living wage but won't), or if my own participation in it were anything
but voluntary. Unlike the days before minimum wages and labor contracts, I
_have_ real choices. I could take any number of jobs, all of which would
pay better than this can at the moment. Indeed, I may have to work more
for wages and less for the school in the future. But that's reality (of
course, other possible realities could include more fundraising and/or more
marketing, leading to more students, in the future).

As for the relation between sacrifice and professionalism, Melissa was
right to refer to her work as a public school teacher. I, too, practiced
that profession for a number of years. There, I sacrificed my time and
energy (and the dignity of my students and myself!), yet was paid quite
well enough. Here, however, I know that my sacrifice is well-directed and
worthwhile. I can confirm: staffing at a school like this, particularly
the first year, *is* stressful and exhausting, draining and confusing; yet
also exciting, heartwarming, meaningful, and Real. I could hardly imagine
a more worthwhile place for me to be.

As for the issue of whether the schools are harmed by underpaying staff (a
significantly more important question, IMHO, than worrying over us poor,
exploited adults), I fail to see how a group of adults pushing their
resources and resourcefulness to the limit to transform a dream into
reality can set a poor example for students. Yes, if it impairs an
individual's performance (not being paid well, that is) or if the school
can't find enough volunteer staff to provide an adequate adult presence for
the school, then a problem might well exist. But money is hardly the sole,
or defining feature, of professionalism: my getting paid nothing this
year isn't negatively affecting my performance or our students.

And if these low/nonexistent wages do pose a problem, what example do our
schools teach? That you assess the situation realistically, and do what it
takes to achieve your goals. That's what I'm trying to do.

Bruce