In the following text, A.S.Neill describes his famous school, Summerhill, which he founded in 1921. Read the first part of the text.
THE IDEA OF SUMMERHILL
This is a story of a modern school – Summerhill. Summerhill began as an experimental school. It is no longer such; it is now a demonstration school, for it demonstrates that freedom works.
When my first wife and I began the school, we had one main idea: to make the school fit the child – instead of making the child fit the school.
Obviously, the school that makes children sit at desks studying mostly useless subjects is a bad school. It is a good school only for those who believe in such a school, for those uncreative citizens who want docile, uncreative children who will fit into a civilization whose standard of success is money.
I had taught in ordinary schools for years. I knew the other way well. I knew it was all wrong. It was wrong because it was based on an adult conception of what a child should be and of how a child should learn.
Well, we set out to make a school in which we should allow children freedom to be themselves. In order to do this, we had to renounce all discipline, all direction, all suggestion, all moral training, all religious instruction. We have been called brave, but it did not require courage. All it required was what we had – a complete belief in the child as a good, not an evil, being.
My view is that a child is innately wise and realistic. If left to himself without adult suggestion of any kind, he will develop as far as he is capable of developing. Logically, Summerhill is a place in which people who have the innate ability and wish to be scholars will be scholars; while those who are only fit to sweep the streets will sweep the streets. But we have not produced a street cleaner so far. Nor do I write this snobbishly, for I would rather see a school produce a happy street cleaner than a neurotic scholar.
What is Summerhill like?...
Questions for prediction
The text goes on to describe Summerhill. Before you read say what you think the answers are to these questions.
1. Do the children choose whether to go to lessons or not?
2. Is there a timetable for lessons?
3. Do the children have classes according to their ages or according to their interests?
4. Does Summerhill have special teaching methods?
5. Are the children happy?
6. Is every single decision about everything made democratically by both teachers and children?
7. Does Neill find it easy to influence the children at Summerhill?
Now read the second part of the text.
Well, for one thing, lessons are optional. Children can go to them or stay away from them – for years if they want to. There is a timetable – but only for the teachers.
The children have classes usually according to their age, but sometimes according to their interests. We have no new methods of teaching, because we do not consider that teaching in itself matters very much. Whether a school has or has not a special method for teaching long division is of no significance, for long division is of no importance except to those who want to learn it. And the child who wants to learn long division will learn it no matter how it is taught.
Summerhill is possibly the happiest school in the world. We have no truants and seldom a case of homesickness. We very rarely have fights – quarrels, of course, but seldom have I seen a stand-up fight like the ones we used to have as boys. I seldom hear a child cry, because children when free have much less hate to express than children who are downtrodden. Hate breeds hate, and love breeds love. Love means approving of children, and that is essential in any school. You can’t be on the side of children if you punish them and storm at them. Summerhill is a school where the child knows that he is approved of.
The function of the child is to live his own life - not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, nor a life according to the purpose of the educator who thinks he knows what is best. All this interference and guidance on the part of adults only produces a generation of robots.
In Summerhill, everyone has equal rights. No one is allowed to walk on my grand piano, and I am not allowed to borrow a boy’s cycle without his permission. At a General School Meeting, the vote of a child of six counts for as much as my vote does.
But, says the knowing one, in practice of course the voices of the grownups count. Doesn’t the child of six wait to see how you vote before he raises his hand? I wish he sometimes would, for too many of my proposals are beaten. Free children are not easily influenced; the absence of fear accounts for this phenomenon. Indeed, the absence of fear is the finest thing that can happen to a child.