Summerhill schooling

Published April 20, 2011

I’ve just finished watching a programme about the Summerhill School in Suffolk. I don’t make a habit of watching kid’s TV… oh, who am I kidding… but either way, the subject matter fascinated me.

Summerhill is a school that revolves around the concept of the school fitting the child, rather than forcing all children to comply to the same hideous timetable. Kids that go there don’t have to attend lessons, and when they do, they can pick and choose what they want to learn. Because if someone chooses to learn about something, you’ll usually find they learn quicker and better.

The school is also run as a community, of which the teachers are a single part of, rather than the policing force. They have school meetings which are chaired by the pupils, rules and punishments are dictated by a democratic vote with everyone - young or old - with an equal say.

The TV show was a drama, based on true events, and follows the school as it goes through a legal case against the government. OFSTED took exception to the fact that children aren’t forced to go to lessons, and wanted to shut Summerhill down. In the end, they came to a settlement with the school, so that although they don’t approve, they are mostly left alone.

The failure of the compulsory education system in the UK to prepare children for the world outside is something close to my heart, but it’s not something I’ve ever been particularly vocal about because I figured you couldn’t do anything about. Aside from home schooling, what options are there?

The policy statements are a good place to start:

Most of the school work that adolescents do is simply a waste of time, of energy, of patience. It robs youth of its right to play and play and play: it puts old heads on young shoulders.

When I lecture to students at teacher training colleges and universities, I am often shocked at the ungrownupness of these lads and lasses stuffed with useless knowledge. They know a lot: they shine in dialectics: they can quote the classics - but in their outlook on life many of them are infants. For they have been taught to know, but have not been allowed to feel.

I don’t know if it’s all the right way to go about things but at least it is something different. I want to read more on the subject, although all the books I can find are not available on the Kindle.

Perhaps for this I will make an exception.

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