Summerhill is the name of a school. Summerhill is also the name of a book written by A. S. Neill who founded this school in 1921. This story is both about the school and its extraordinary founder. Even though no school like this exists in India today, every parent will profit by reading this book. The book will challenge parents to rethinktheir own approach to their children. Thoughtful parents will be shocked to realize the extent of pressure and power that they unwittingly use against their children. This book will provide new meanings for words like love, approval and freedom.
The school has been around for over 85 years. It is surprising that only 800 children have passed out from this school during its long existence.The massive impact Summerhill has had on libertarian education across the world is totally disproportionate to its miniscule size.
Neill was a stringent critic of modern society. Schools today develop a kind of a person which we call a mass-man. Schools have become giant factories churning out kids who must fit into the present order, who cooperate smoothly, and who consume more and more.The present system must create children whose tastes are standardized, people who can be easily influenced and whose needs can be easily anticipated and quantified. The system needs men and women who feel free and independent but who are willing to do what is expected of them. People who fit into the social machine without friction and who can be swayed by national jingoism, religion, caste,patriotism or the scores of babas who masquerade as god incarnate.
Summerhill showed the world that a school could abolish fear of teachers and adults and, deeper down, fear of life. Staff at Summerhill does not stand to their dignity, nor do they expect any deference because they are adults. They are addressed by their first names and are seldom given nicknames. For thirty years, GeorgeCorkhill, the school science master was George, or Corks or Corkie. Every child loved him.
Neill was deeply influenced by the experiments of Homer Lane’s “Little Commonwealth” who started a reformatory for delinquent children. Punishments and prison sentences cannot reform a criminal, because to him they are only a proof of society’s hate. The first essential of any reform school is thechance of social approval.
As long as children have to salute the warden, overseer, jump up when the superintendent enters the room there would be no real freedom, and hence no room for social approval. The great lesson Neill learnt from Homer was, “Always be on the side of the child.”
So, when children stole, instead of being reprimanded they were given a small prize – a token of socialapproval and soon they overcame this habit. Summerhill often got children who were socially traumatized, some of them expelled from normal schools. This little incident stands out as Neill’s genuine love and respect for children. Once, a nine year old boy came to Summerhill. The boy was literally dragged to school, as he had awful experiences in his previous schools and had sworn never to attend onein future. The boy was in a terrific rage. The boy picked up a stone and threw it on a glass window. The glass shattered to pieces. Neill who was standing nearby just kept mum and looked on. The boy broke several panes. After a while the boy got exhausted and started panting. Neill kept quite. In the end Neill picked a stone and broke a glass pane himself! Be on the side of the child. It was nopoint sermonizing to a child in distress – a traumatized child.
Summerhill does not expound a theory. It is a sensitive recapitulation of over half a century of experiences with real children. “Freedom works” is one slogan which emerges from the book.
Neill like many other thinkers before him maintains firm faith “in the goodness of the child”. He believes that an average child is...