Freud showed that every neurosis is founded on sex repression. I said, “I’ll have a school in which there will be no sex repression.” Freud said that the unconscious was infinitely more important and more powerful than the conscious. I said, “In my school we won’t censure, punish, moralize. We will allow every child to live according to his deep impulses.”
I slowly discovered that most of the Freudians did not understand or believe in freedom for children. They confused freedom with license. They had been treating children who had “ever had freedom to be themselves, and who had therefore developed no natural respect for the freedom of others. I am convinced that the Freudians founded their theory of child psychology on these warped children.
The Freudians found a great deal of anal eroticism among infants, but I have not found this to be true with self-regulated babies. The antisocial aggression the Freudians found in children does not seem to be there in self-regulated children.
I gradually learned that my territory was prophylaxis - not curing. It took me years to discover the full significance of this, to learn that it was freedom that was helping Summerhill problem children, not therapy. I find that my chief job is to sit still and approve of all the things that a child disapproves of in himself - that is, I try to break down the child’s superimposed conscience, his self-hatred.
A new boy swears. I smile and say, “Carry on! Nothing bad about swearing.” So with masturbation, lying, stealing, and other socially condemned activities.
Some time ago, I had a small boy who deluged me with questions: “What did you pay for that dock!” “What time is it?” “When does the school term end?” He was full of anxiety and never heard any answer I gave him. I knew he was evading the big question that he wanted to have answered.
One day, he came to my room and asked a string of questions. I made no reply, and went on reading my book. After a dozen questions, I looked up casually and said, “What was that you asked? Where do babies come from?”
He got up, reddening. “I don’t want to know where babies come from,” he said, as he went out, slamming the door.
Ten minutes later he came back. “Where did you get your typewriter from? What’s playing at the movie theater this week? How old are you? (Pause.) Well, damn it all, where do babies come from?”
I gave him the correct answer. He never came back to ask me any more questions.
Clearing away rubbish is never anything else but toil. Work of this kind is made tolerable only by the delight of seeing an unhappy child become happy and free.
The other side of the picture is the long, tiresome study of a child with no success forthcoming. One will work with a child for a year, and at the end of that year be overjoyed to think that the boy is cured of stealing. Then one day the boy relapses, and the teacher almost despair. I have patted myself on the back about a particular pupil and then five minutes later have had a teacher rush in and say, “Tommy has been stealing again.”
Yet psychology is somewhat like golf: you may go two hundred strokes on a round, you may swear and break your clubs-- but on the next sunny morning, you will walk to the first tee with new hope in your heart.
If you tell a child any vital truth or if he confides his troubles to you, he forms a transference-that is, you get all the child’s emotions showered on you. When I have cleared up a small child about birth and masturbation, the transference is especially strong. At one stage, it may even take the form of a negative transference, a hate transference. But with a normal child this negative phase does not last long, and the positive love transference soon follows. A child’s transference dissolves easily. He soon forgets all about me, and his emotions go out to other children and to things. Since I am a father substitute, girls naturally develop a stronger transference to me than boys do, but I cannot say that a girl always develops a positive transference and a boy always develops a negative transference. On the contrary, I have had girls who showed quite a fierce hatred of me for a time.
At Summerhill, I used to be both teacher and psychologist. Then I slowly discovered that a man cannot play both these roles. I have had to give up being a psychiatrist, for most pupils cannot do much work with the man who is their father confessor. They become irritated and are always in much fear of my criticism. Moreover, if I praise the drawing of any one child, I evoke much jealousy among the other children. The psychic doctor should not really live in the school at all; the children should have no social interest in him.
All schools of psychology recognize the hypothesis of the unconscious, the principle that we all have buried wishes and loves and hates that we are not conscious of. Character is a combination of conscious behavior and unconscious behavior.
The housebreaking youth is conscious that he wants to acquire money or goods, but he does not know the deep motive that makes him choose this way of getting money instead of the social way of earning it. That motive is buried, and that is why moral lectures or punishments never cure him. Scoldings are heard only by his ears, and punishments are felt only by his body. But these preachments and punishments never penetrate to the unconscious motive, which controls his behavior.
Because this is so, religion cannot reach a boy’s unconscious through preachment. But, if some night his curate went out scaling with him, that action would begin to dissolve the self- hatred responsible for the antisocial behavior. That sympathetic kinship would start the boy thinking in different terms. The cure of more than one young thief began when I joined him stealing our neighbor’s hens or helped him rob the school’s pocket-money drawer. Action touches the unconscious where words cannot. This is why love and approval will so often cure a child’s problems. I do not say that love will cure a case of acute claustrophobia or a case of marked sadism; but generally, love will cure most young thieves and liars and destroyers. I have proved in action that freedom and the absence of moral discipline have cured many children whose future had appeared to be a life in prison.
True freedom practiced in community living, as in Summerhill, seems to do for the many what psychoanalysis does for the individual. It releases what is hidden. It is a breath of fresh air blowing through the soul to cleanse it of self-hatred and hatred of others.
The battle for youth is one with the gloves off. None of us can be neutral. We must take one side or the other: authority or freedom; discipline or self-government. No half measures will do. The situation is too urgent.
To be a free soul, happy in work, happy in friendship, and happy in love or to be a miserable bundle of conflicts, hating one’s self and hating humanity--one or the other is the legacy that parents and teachers give to every child.
How can happiness be bestowed? My own answer is: Abolish authority. Let the child be himself. Don’t push him around. Don’t teach him. Don’t lecture him. Don’t elevate him. Don’t force him to do anything. It may not be your answer. But if you reject my answer, it is incumbent on you to find a better one.
Love and Hate
The child receives his conscience from his mother, his father, his teacher, his minister--from his environment, in general. His unhappiness is the result of the conflict between conscience and human nature; or in Freudian terms, between his super-ego and his id. Conscience may win so complete a victory that the boy becomes a monk, and entirely renounces the world and the flesh. In most uses, a compromise takes place-a compromise that is partly expressed in the phrase, “to serve the devil on weekdays and to serve God on Sundays.”
Love and hate are not opposites. The opposite of love is indifference. Hate is love that has been changed to the other side of the coin-by thwarting. Hate always contains an ingredient of fear. We set this in the use of the child who hates a younger brother. His hate is caused by fear of losing mother’s love, and also by fear of his own revengeful thoughts about his brother.
When Ansi, a rebellious Swedish girl of fourteen, came to Summerhill, she started out by kicking me to make me angry. I was the unfortunate substitute for her father, whom she hated and feared. She had never been allowed to sit on his knee nor had he shown her love in any way. Her love for her father had been changed into hate by his not reacting to her love. At Summerhill, she suddenly found a new father who did nor react with sternness, a father whom she did not fear. Then her hate came out. The fact that next day she was exceedingly tender and gentle to me is proof that her hate was merely disguised love.
To understand the full significance of Ansi’s attack on me would mean to know and understand first of all the story of her warped attitude to sex. She came from a girl’s school where the pupils discussed sex morbidly and dirtily in dark corners. Her hatred of her father had much in it of the hate that a repressive education in sexual matters had given her. And her hate for a mother who had often punished her was likewise intense.
Few parents realize that by punishing they change their child’s love for them into hate. Hate in a child is very difficult to see. Mothers who notice that their children are tender after a spanking do not know that the hate roused by the spanking was immediately repressed. But repressed feelings are not dead; they are only sleeping.
There is a little book called Morals for the Young by Marcus. I often try the experiment of reading verses from it to children. One verse runs:
“Tommy saw his house on fire
His mother in the flames expire;
His father killed by falling brick
And Tommy laughed--till he was sick.”
This verse is the favorite. Some children laugh very loudly when they hear it read. Even children who love their parents laugh loudly. They laugh because of their repressed hate for their parents-hate caused by spankings, by criticism, by punishment.
Usually, this kind of hate emerges in fantasies that are seemingly remote from the parents. One young pupil, a boy who loved his father dearly, liked to fantasy that he was shooting a lion. If I asked him to describe this lion, he soon found it had some connection with his father.
One morning, I took each pupil individually and told him the story of my own death. Each face brightened as I told of the funeral. The group was especially cheery that afternoon. Stories of giant killing are always popular with children because the giant is likely to be Daddy.
There should be nothing shocking about a child’s hatred for his parents. It always dates from the period when the child was an egoist. The young child seeks love and power. Every angry word, every slap, every injury is a deprivation of love and power. Every scolding word from Mother means to the child, “Mother does not love me.” Every “Don’t touch that” from Father means, “He stands in my way. If I were only his size!”
Yes, there is hatred of parents in the child, but it is not nearly so dangerous as the hatred of the child in the parents. The naggings, raging, spankings and lecturing of parents are hate reactions. Thus the child of parents who do not love each other by a very poor chance for healthy development for taking it out on the child is a universal habit of such parents.
When a child cannot find love, he seeks hate as a substitute. “Mommy takes no notice of me. She does not love me. She loves my little sister. I’ll make her take notice of me. I shall!” And he smashes the furniture. All problems of child behavior are basically problems that were begotten by lack of love. All punishment and moral lectures simply increase the hate - they never cure the problem.
Another hate-producing situation is the child whose parents possess him. He hates his bonds, while at the same time he desires those bonds. This conflict sometimes exhibits itself as cruelty. Hate of the possessing mother is repressed; but since an emotion must always find some outlet, the child kicks the cat or strikes his sister, this being an easier way than rebelling against the mother.
It has become a platitude to say that we hate in others what we hate in ourselves. Yet, platitude or no it is true. The hate we received in our infancy we bestow on our own infants, be we are ever so willing to give them our love.
It has been said that if you cannot hate, you cannot love. Maybe. I find it difficult to hate. And I have never been able to give out what might be called personal love to children; and certainly never sentimental love. The word sentimental is difficult of definition; I call it bestowing the attributes of a swan on a goose.
When I was treating Robert, an incendiary, a thief, and a potential homicidal character, I naturally had transferred to me his hate and his love of his father. One day, after a talk with me, he ran out and squashed a large snail with his bed. He told me about it and I asked him to describe a snail. He answered, “A long, ugly, slimy brute.”
I handed him a piece of paper and asked him to write the word snail. He wrote “A Snail.”
“Look at what you have written,” I said.
Suddenly he burst into laughter. He took his pencil and wrote underneath:
“A. S. Neill.”
“You didn’t realize that I was the long, ugly, slimy brute that you wanted to jump on, did you?” I remarked with a smile.
Thus far, there was absolutely no danger to the boy. To make his hate of me conscious was a good thing for him. But suppose I had gone on to say something like this: “Of course I was the snail, but really you do not hate me; you hate the part of your- self that I stand for. You are the slimy brute that must be killed. You were killing a quality in yourself, etc.” That, to me, would have been dangerous psychiatry. Robert’s job is to play marbles and to fly kites. All that I, or any teacher or doctor, am entitled to do is to free him from conflicts that prevent his flying kites.
Any parent who expects gratitude knows nothing of child nature. Children hate to be indebted to anyone. I have had a long experience of resentment among pupils whom I kept at Summerhill for no fees or for much reduced fees. They expressed more hate against me than twenty paying pupils. Shaw wrote, “We cannot sacrifice ourselves for others without coming to hate those for whom we have sacrificed ourselves.”
It is true. And the corollary is true: we cannot sacrifice ourselves for others without coming to be hated by those for whom we have sacrificed ourselves. The cheerful giver does not seek gratitude. Parents who expect their children to be grateful are always doomed to disappointment.
To sum up, every child feels that punishment is hate and of course it is. And every punishment makes the child hate more and more. If you study the diehard who says, “I believe in corporal punishment,” you will always find him a hater. I cannot emphasize too strongly that hate breeds hate, and love breeds love. No child was ever cured of hate except through love.
Spoiling the Child
The spoiled child--using the word spoiled in any sense we like --is the product of a spoiled society. In such a society, the spoiled child fearsomely clings to life. He has been allowed license instead of freedom. He doesn’t know the meaning of true freedom, which means loving life.
The spoiled child is a nuisance to himself and to society. You see him in trains scrambling over passengers’ feet, yelling in the corridors, never paying any attention to his harassed parent’s pained request for quiet--a request, indeed, that he has long ceased to hear.
Later in life, as the spoiled brat grows older, he has even a worse time of it than one subjected to too much discipline. The spoiled child is terribly self-centered. He grows up into a man who throws his clothes all over the bedroom, expecting someone to pick them up. Of course, the spoiled child, now grown up, collects many a rebuff.
Often the spoiled child is the only child. Having no one of his own age to play with or to measure himself against, he naturally identifies himself with his parents: he wants to do what they do. Since his parents consider him the world’s wonder, they encourage this apparent precociousness, because they fear to lose his love if they thwart him in even the slightest way.
I sometimes find this attitude in teachers who coddle their pupils. Such teachers are in constant dread that they will lose their popularity among the children. That fear is the royal road to spoiling. A good teacher or parent must cultivate being objective. He must keep his own complexes out of his relationship with the child--not an easy thing to do, I grant, for we are so often blind to our own complexes. The unhappy mother, for example, is in danger of having a spoiled son, for she is prone to bestow upon him the wrong type of love.
In Summerhill a spoiled boy is always a heavy handful He wears my wife out, for she is the mother substitute. He plagues her with questions: “When will this term end! What time is it? Can I have some money?” Underneath it all, he hates his mother. The questions have the motive of annoying mother. And a spoiled girl is always trying to get a reaction from me, for I am the father substitute. Usually, she seeks not a love reaction but a hate reaction. The spoiled newcomer will hide my pen or tell another girl, “Neill wants you,” which really means that she wants Neill to want her.
Spoiled boys and spoiled girls have kicked my door, and have stolen my things just to get a reaction out of me. The spoiled child resents suddenly being thrust into a family of many members. He expects the same yielding treatment from me and from my staff that he has received from his fond parents.
The spoiled child usually gets far too much spending money. I often writhe when I see parents send their child a five-dollar bill to spend, and yet I, because of their economic plight, have allowed them to pay low fees or even no fees at all.
A child should not be given everything he asks for. Generally speaking, children today get far too much, so much that they cease having appreciation for a gift. Parents who overdo the giving of presents are often those who do not love their children enough. Such parents have to compensate by making a show of parental love, by showering expensive presents on their children much the same as a man who has been unfaithful to his wife will lavishly buy her a fur coat he can’t afford. I make it a rule not to bring my daughter a present each time I go to London; and in consequence, she does not expect a present after every trip. The spoiled child rarely values anything. It is he who gets a new chromium-plated three-speed bicycle, and three weeks later leaves it out in the rain all night.
The spoiled child very often represents for the parents their second chance in life. I have made little of life because so many people thwarted me; but my son will have every chance to succeed where I failed. I failed. It is this motivation that makes a father who had no musical education insist that his son learn to play the piano. And it makes a mother who gave up a cause for marriage send her daughter to ballet lessons even though the child is heavy-footed. And it is parents like these who compel countless boys and girls to take up jobs and studies that, left to themselves, they would never dream of taking up. The poor parent cannot help his feeling. It is very hard for a man who has built up a thriving clothing business to discover that his son wants to be an actor or a musician. But it often happens.
Then there is the spoiled child whose mother does not want him ever to grow up. Motherhood is a job-but not a lifetime job. Most women realize this; yet how often one hears a mother remark about her daughter, “She is growing up too quickly.”
A child should not be permitted to violate the personal rights of others. Parents who do not wish to spoil their children must distinguish between freedom and license.