When I was younger I used to see a book on the shelf of my Mother’s bookcase. It kept appearing throughout our lives, even when we moved and many other books got lost, this one was always around.
The title was: Neill! Neill! Orange Peel! And the title only drew me in more as I started learning English; I got a kick out of the rhyme.
Eventually, I went onto learn more about the author. By the way, the full title of the book is: Neill! Neill! Orange Peel! An Autobiography by A. S. Neill, the World-famous Headmaster of Summerhill School
So as I casually researched about the author, Alexander Sutherland Neill, I came to learn that he was this radical of radicals in his time. He started what is commonly known as “free school movement” although he didn’t actually start any movement.
He started a school with very different principles than those of traditional education. The emphasis in the whole Summerhil experience is that the child is an individual and should be free to chose. That’s it, free to choose what to do, when to do it and without adult interference.
Notice I said no “interference” and not “interaction” or involvement. The whole point of Neill’s philosophy on child rearing is that the kinds should be free to chose what they want to learn, when they want to learn it and why. At the same time, they should be able to play or not and pretty much govern themselves.
It’s a strange notion, believe me, especially if you’ve never encountered anybody with this type of thinking. What do you mean the kids don’t have a class schedule? What do you mean they can just leave class and go play outside?
I mean exactly that. If they want to, they can go play outside. If they want to go paint they can go paint, if they want to explore then they do that. Classes are often short, like 3 weeks or so and they are not instructor led but community based.
Everyone inputs and participates on equal level and ground, the adults show what it is to be learned and give options on how to learn it and it becomes an interactive playful and rewarding experience.
The results of all this is supposed to be a happier child, with strong self esteem and self worth and a really strong understanding of themselves while achieving harmony and meaning.
It is quite remarkable approach to raising kids, and it isn’t widely accepted. Mainly I think that it is feared and most people simply can’t understand how a child would be able to do what I’ve said because they themselves aren’t free. Most “modern society” people are used to following a routine that is often set by outside circumstances and activities.
Going to work, and doing things that we don’t want to do put us on edge, over time it creates conflicts with our neighbors and our friends. The tension that this authoritarian environment creates is destructive and detrimental to all individuals and this is one of the strong notions surrounding the whole “free school” or “democratic school” or Summerhill.
I am very inclined to get Waterclaire involved in something like this soon. And if I can’t find something like this then I may just have to roll up my sleeves and do it myself.