Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood

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St. Martin's Press, Sep 15, 1995 - Education - 304 pages
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Originally published in 1960, Summerhill became an instant bestseller and a classic volume of education for an entire generation. Now, this thoroughly expanded and revised version of the original Summerhill reinstates the revolutionary "free school" traditions begun by Summerhill's founder A.S. Neill.

As American education lags behind the rest of the world, this new edition is more timely than ever. The children of today face struggles far greater than any previous generation and we, as parents and teachers, must teach them now to make choices for themselves and to learn from the outcome of their decisions.

This classic work yet again invites a new view of childhood and presents an essential treatise that challenges us to rethink our approach to education.

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Although I surely disagree with Neill on some particulars, his free school inspires me Who knows: I might start my own some day. I am beginning to believe that the free school approach is the best educational approach.
This book does dispel some of my perceptions of what a free school is. I suppose I have come to think of a free school as something pure in form. Such is not the case. On page xxii, he even talks about expelling children. Ironically something the public schools seem to only do very reluctantly in the worst cases, and it seems especially rare at elementary school.
There were too many introductions to this edition. They were good but there were a lot of them.
On page 4, Neill compares school to the military. This made me think of The Servant by James C. Hunter, which said that the military way is fine for war but in everyday situations we need servant leadership.
His school uses “self government” of the children. I am not a fan of democracy, but one of autonomy. I am loving the free school idea, yet I still despise democracy. On page 18, he did say that democracy in his free school was not 100%, since there needed to be some not so democratic aspects. Sounds good to me. At least he’s sensible enough to realize that. Some people want democracy in everything.
On page 38 he praised tangents! I am a big fan of them myself. One of the goals of Federation Without Television, which in my book is fairly similar to a free school, is to promote creatively and spontaneity. Federation Without Television allows and even encourages tangents and digressions. We have even had lectures full of only tangents.
On page 62, Neill says something very similar to what Deborah Tannen said in her book You Just Don’t Understand. Both of these authors argue that those who violate policies, rules, laws, and procedures are often those who cherish authority and power when they receive them, and break the law and rules because they are not in power themselves. I think this is a profound insight.
Neill praises eclecticism on page 70, something I am also very fond of. Eclecticism is one of the major guiding forces in my existence.
On page 77, he discusses fasting. Again fasting is something I adore and practice.
Neill condemns alcohol! I loathe alcohol to the max. He discusses prohibiting alcohol in his free school (81). Some contend that to take away the right to drink is an egregious violation of freedom. Neill does not think so! Nor do many others who have argued against this notion. In my book Evil: the Impact of Alcohol and the Power of Alcohol Industry, I show how taking away the right to drink really has no effect on freedom. At worst, you are taking away one choice; you still have a million choices left.
In one place, it sounds like he advocates a dispassionate or at least a detached approach. “If you are possessive about people, you ought not be a schoolmaster” (110). I do not think I agree with this.
He, like many other opponents of the school system, disses teacher certification. “Teaching is an art, not a science. But the law is there, and Picasso would not be able to get a job as an art teacher if he had not trained” (115). I love it! How true!
Throughout the book he describes his distaste for Latin. He suggests that a big reason for this is because it was rammed down his throat. It’s interesting because I find Latin to be so fascinating. He hates it. For awhile, I found Latin fascinating, and finally I began to study it. I have been studying it for a little less than a year now and it has been so enriching and fulfilling. I have studied it on my own and with my own discipline. I know I do not need a formal course or a Latin teacher. Ironically my love of Latin and his hate of Latin both prove the point that the school system is bad.
It’s good he is not too pure. “Of course there is a limit to self-regulation. We cannot allow a baby of six months to discover that a lighted cigarette burns painfully” (228). I

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About the author (1995)

A. S. Neill was born in 1883 in Forfar, Scotland. In addition to establishing the Summerhill School, Neill lectured widely and published over twenty books. He died in 1973. His daughter, ZoŽ Readhead, now serves as the headmistress of Summerhill.

Editor Albert Lamb, a Summerhill alumnus, worked as a cartoonist and musician before returning to the school to help out on the staff. He now commutes between Summerhill and his home in the Cotswolds, where he lives with his family.

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