You call humanity anti-life. What do you mean? I am not anti-life, nor are my friend’s anti-life.
In my lifetime I have seen two horrible wars, and I may live to see a much more horrible third one. Many millions of youths died in those two wars. When I was a boy, men died in an imperialist cause in South Africa. From 1914 to 1918, they died in the “war to end all wars” From 1939 to 1945, they died to crush Fascism. Tomorrow, many may die to crush or to further Communism. That means that the great masses of people are willing to give up their lives and their children’s lives at the command of central authorities for causes that do not touch their individual lives.
We are anti-life and pro-death if we are pawns of politicians, merchants or exploiters. We are pawns because we were trained to seek life negatively, humbly fitting ourselves into an authoritative society, and ready to die for the ideals of our masters. Only in romantic novels do people die for love; in reality, they die for hate.
That is the crowd aspect. But the individual is anti-life in his everyday existence. His love-making is in the main unsatisfactory; his pleasures are mostly tawdry, cheap, escapist. He is a moralist, that is, one who considers natural living to be wrong or at the best inadequate, and he trains his children accordingly.
No pro-life child would ever be given a conscience about sex or lessons or God or manners or nice behavior. No pro-life parent or teacher would ever strike a child. No pro-life citizen would tolerate our penal code, our hangings, our punishment of homosexuals, and our attitude toward bastardy. No pro-life person would sit in a church and claim to be a miserable sinner.
Let me make it clear that I do not advocate libertinism. The test is always this: Is what Mr. X is doing really harmful to anyone else? If the answer is no, then objectors to Mr. X are acting anti-life.
One can argue the other way and point to the pro-life of young people when they dance, hike, play games, go to films, concerts, and plays. And there is something in that argument too, for youth craves for what is pro-life, and is so brightly alive and optimistic that it finds its pleasure even when it is suppressed by authority. Later this craving persists, so that man is ambivalent seeking pleasure and at the same time fearing it.
When I use the word anti-life, I do not mean death seeking. I mean fearing life more than fearing death. To be anti-life does not mean to be pro-death. To be anti-life is to be pro-authority, pro-church religion, pro-repression, pro-oppression, or at least subservient to these.
Let me summarize: Pro-life equals fun, games, love, interesting work, hobbies, laughter, music, dance, consideration for others, and faith in men. Anti-life equals duty, obedience, profit, and power. Throughout history anti-life has won, and will continue to win as long as youth is trained to fit into present-day adult conceptions.
Don’t you believe that most of humanity’s ills will be solved when the economic problems of the world’s millions have been solved?
It is not very satisfying to realize that our home and school training lead to drab lives for the majority of people. Oh, yes, dull jobs in shops and offices are necessary; what is unnecessary is the deadness of people who hate their desks and sales counters, who have to seek relief for their starved emotions in trite films, dog racing, picture magazines, and newspaper accounts of sensation and crime.
Millionaires with Cadillac’s are no happier in their inner Lives than are railway porters. The answer is that no man can enjoy economic comfort or security if his soul is anti-life and anti-love. The rich man and the poor man have this in common: they have both been reared in a world that disapproves of love, fears love, makes love an obscene joke.
Many who agree that most people are unhappy will say that when all economic problems are solved, then life will be full and satisfying and free. For myself, I cannot believe this. The little we have seen of economic freedom has not been encouraging. The economic freedom that makes possible an electric kitchen does nor lead to any greater happiness or wisdom; all it does is to allow more comfort, and this soon becomes accepted automatically and loses its emotional value.
Our character-forming methods have made England a successful country in material things; they have given us a high standard of living. But that’s as far as the success goes. By and large, people are still unhappy. No, the economic solution alone will never free the world from its hate and misery, its crime and scandal, its neuroses and diseases.
What can we do about an unhappy marriage?
Some middle-class parents seek a solution in psychoanalysis, which very often results in a breakup of the marriage. But even if analysis were more successful than it usually is, we cannot analyze the world. Curative work with individuals is a piddling business, which cannot sufficiently affect the masses.
The solution for humanity lies in proper rearing of the young, not curing the neurotic. I must confess that I have nothing to say that will solve the marriage question of today. It is a hard thought, but if Mr. and Mrs. Brown are living together unhappily because they were reared in an anti-life atmosphere, there is nothing one can do about it.
That sounds like rank pessimism. We can be optimistic only if we strive n, treat the children in such a way that they will not hate sex and life. Every time I see a child spanked, a child lied to, a child made ashamed of its nakedness, I see with misery that such a child will grow up to be a hateful husband or wife.
Do you deem it important that both persons in a marriage should be on the same intellectual level?
The intellectual side of marriage is a minor one. A marriage of heads is a dull, cold affair; whereas a marriage of hearts is one of warmth and giving. Nature does not make a man or a woman fall in love because of the intellectual prowess of the partner. Later, however, when the sex urge weakens, a common intellectual interest will tend to make a couple happy. The same brand of humor is perhaps the best prognosis for a long happy marriage.
What is the cause of excessive worry about work, and why do so many young people commit suicide nowadays?
I question if any child has ever worried about work. The apparent worry has a deeper source; almost invariably, it arises from a sense of sin about masturbation. Children without guilt about masturbation are usually bright and keen in their work.
Stekel said, “Suicide is the last sexual act.” The masturbation prohibition is one that causes a child to hate his body and his soul, and suicide is a logical reaction. If the body is so vile, the sooner it is got rid of the better.
What is your opinion of social workers?
I have great respect for the social workers who enter the slum homes of problem children. They are doing fine work. But does their work go deep enough?
No one expects them to psychoanalyze the mothers and fathers. Everyone knows that their labor is uphill. They cannot abolish the slums that make children anti-social. Nor can they change ignorant parents--parents who stunt growth by bad feeding and make sex a matter of sordid adventures in dark closets.
The welfare workers are heroes and heroines. They endeavor to help youth overcome the evils of a poor home life. Even if a social worker had a complete belief in freedom, how could he apply such principles in a slum home? Could one say to a mother, “Mrs. Green, your son is stealing because his drunken father beats him, because you spanked him at the age of two for touching his penis, because you have never showed him any love”? Would Mrs. Green understand?
I do not say that the woman cannot be re-educated. But I do say that she cannot be re-educated by the talk of a social worker, nor of anyone else. Here the problem is partly economic. At least a start should be made by abolishing the slum.
Under the Summerhill system, how does a child’s will power develop? If he is allowed to do what he pleases, how can he develop self-control?
In Summerhill, a child is not allowed to do as he pleases. His own laws hedge him in on all sides. He is allowed to do as he pleases only in things that affect him-and only him. He can play all day if he wants to, because work and study are matters that concern him alone. But he is not allowed to play a corner in the schoolroom because his playing would interfere with others.
What, after all, is will power? I can will myself to give up tobacco, but I cannot will myself to fall in love, nor can I will myself to like botany. No man can will himself to be good, or for that matter, to be bad.
You cannot train a person to have a strong will. If you educate children in freedom, they will be more conscious of themselves for freedom allows more and more of the unconscious to become conscious. That is why most Summerhill children have few doubts about life. They know what they want. And I guess they will get it, too.
Remember that what is called a weak will is usually a sign of lack of interest. The weak person who is easily persuaded to play tennis when he has no desire to play tennis is a person who has no idea of what his interests really are. A slave discipline system encourages such a person to remain weak-willed and futile.
If a child is doing something dangerous at Summerhill, do you allow him to do it?
Of course not. People so often fail to understand that freedom for children does not mean being a fool. We do not allow our little children to decide when they shall go to bed. We guard them against dangers from machinery, automobiles, broken glass, or deep water. You should never give a child responsibility that he is not ready for. But remember that half the dangers that children encounter are due to bad education. The child who is dangerous with fire is one who was forbidden to know the truth about fire.
Do the children in Summerhill suffer from homesickness?
I notice that when an unhappy mother brings a new child to Summerhill, the child clings to her in tears, screaming to be taken home. I also notice that if the child does not scream enough, the mother is annoyed. She wants her child to be homesick; the greater the homesickness, the more the child loves her. Often the wretched child is playing happily five minutes after the mother’s train has departed.
Why the child of an unhappy home is homesick when he starts school is difficult to say. It is likely that his unhappy home gives him acute anxiety. What, he wonders, is happening at home this minute! The most probable explanation lies in the fact that an unhappy mother, thwarted in her love of her mate, transfers too much of her love and of her hate to her children.
Homesickness is usually the sign of a bad home, a home in which there is much hate. The homesick child longs not for the love of home, but for the strife and for the protection of home. That sounds paradoxical, but it isn’t when we reflect that the more unhappy the home is, the more the child seeks protection. He has no anchor in life, and he exaggerates the anchorage he calls home. Absent from it, he idealizes it. He longs not for the home he knows, but for the home he would like to have.
Do you accept backward children at Summerhill?
Sure. It all depends on what you mean by backward. We do not take mentally defective children, but a child who is backward at school is a different story. Many children are backward at school because the school is too dull for them.
Summerhill’s criterion of backwardness has nothing to do with tests and sums and marks. In many cases, backwardness simply means that the child has an unconscious conflict and a guilty conscience. How can he take an interest in arithmetic or history if his unconscious problem is, “Am I wicked or not?”
I speak with personal feeling about this question of backwardness, for as a boy I simply couldn’t learn. My pockets were full of bits of scrap iron and brass; and when my eyes were on my textbook, my thoughts wandered to my gadgets. I have seldom seen a backward boy or girl who has not the potentialities of creative work; and to judge any child by his or her progress in school subjects is futile and fatal.
Suppose a child refuses to pay the fine imposed by a General School Meeting?
Children never do. But I expect they would refuse if they felt they had been treated unjustly. Our appeal system overcomes any sense of injustice.
You say that the children in Summerhill have clean minds. What do you mean?
A clean mind is one that cannot be shocked. To be shocked is to show that you have repressions that make you interested in what shocks you.
Victorian women were shocked at the word leg because they had an abnormal interest in things leggy. Leggy things were sexual things, repressed things. So that in an atmosphere like Summerhill, where there is no taboo about sex and no connecting of sex with sin, children have no need to make sex unclean by whispering and leering. They are sincere about sex just as they are sincere about everything else.
After Willie, seven, returned from his first term at Summerhill his language was so strong that the neighbors wouldn’t let him play with their children. What should I do about it?
Unfortunate, sad, and painful for Willie, but what is the alternative? If your neighbors are shocked by a few damns and hells, they are repressed people who ought not to be in touch with your Willie.
What do Summerhill children think of the movies?
They see all kinds of films. We have no censorship. The result is that by the time they leave school, they have acquired a good judgment of films. Quite often, an older child will stay away from the movies on the ground that the film doesn’t sound interesting. The older pupils who have seen the great films of France, Italy, and Germany are very critical of the average Hollywood production. Boys below the age of puberty are bored by love films. To them, Kim Novak is nobody.
What do you do with a child who answers back?
No child in Summerhill ever answers back. A child answers back only when he is treated as an inferior by someone who is dignified. In Summerhill, we speak the language of the children. If a teacher complained of being answered back, I should know that he or she was a dud.
Have you any Boy Scouts in Summerhill?
No I don’t think our boys would stomach the one good deed per day. To do a good deed a day consciously savors of priggishness. There is much that is good in the Boy Scout movement, but to me it is marred by its moral uplift and its bourgeois ideas of right and wrong and purity.
In my school, I have never expressed any opinion about the Boy Scouts. On the other hand, I have never heard one of our boys evince any interest in the movement.
What do you do with a child who won’t take its medicine?
I don’t know. In Summerhill, we never have a child who won’t take his medicine. Our feeding is so balanced that illness is not one of our school problems.
Do the older children at Summerhill look after the smaller children?
No, the younger ones don’t need to be looked after. They are too busy on their own important affairs.
Have you ever had colored pupils at Summerhill?
Yes, we have had two colored pupils in Summerhill; and so far as I could see, the other children were unconscious of their color. One colored boy was a bully and was disliked; the other was a likable fellow and was exceptionally popular.
What is your policy with a child brought up in a sincerely religious home? Do you allow such a child to practice religion in Summerhill?
Yes, the child can practice religion, without fear of any adverse comments by the teaching staff or the pupils. But I find that no child wants to practice religion when he is free.
Some new pupils go to church for a few Sundays and then they cease going. Church is too dull. I find no indication that worship is a natural thing in children. When the sense of sin is washed out, prayer is never used.
Generally, children from a religious home are insincere and repressed. That is inevitable under a religious system that has lost its original love of life and concentrates on its fear of death. You can instill in a child a fear of the Lord but not a love of the Lord. Free children do not need a religion because their life is spiritually creative.
Are the children at Summerhill interested in politics?
No. That may be because they are middle-class children who have never had the experience of poverty. I make it a rule to keep the teaching staff from trying to influence the children politically. Politics, life, religion is a matter for personal choice to be made later on in life as the child grows up.
Do any Summerhill pupils join the army later?
So far only one has joined the forces-the RAF. It is possible that the army is too uncreative to attract free children. Fighting after all is destruction. Summerhill children would fight for their country just as readily as any other children, but they would probably want to know exactly what they were fighting for.
Our old pupils fought in the Second World War and a few died.
Why do you have your boys and girls sleeping in separate rooms?
Well, Summerhill is a school in England, and we have to be mindful of the mores and laws of England.