Re: Working for love and all that.

Tim Kyng (
Wed, 22 Apr 1998 08:48:34 -0700

Dear Joe,

When I criticised the notion that it is OK to adopt a hands-off attitude to
illiteracy in schools that adhere to the general ideal of democracy and
freedom, I was posing a question that I think is worthy of discussion. Of
course it was not directed specifically at Sudbury. My question arises out
of my experience at Summerhill and my knowledge of what has happened to those
of my friends (some of them very close to me) who have suffered in their
lives as a result of leaving Summerhill with inadequate literacy. I could
give chapter and verse, but that would be difficult and would involve talking
about the personal affairs of people I know. I believe (I am not being
dogmatic), on the basis of what I know, that the idea that people can "catch
up", having left a school as an illiterate, is only rarely true. Of course,
I have no idea of what has happened to similar pupils of Sudbury.

It is interesting that a former pupil of Summerhill, who is a professional
sociologist, offered to conduct a survey of ex-pupils to see how they have
got on in life since leaving the school. This was never taken up. Has a
similar survey ever been done for Sudbury?

The point here is that it is all very well to make assertions about the
benefits of a free and democratic education, but until we have more evidence,
these remain only assertions. I believe there IS a problem with illiteracy
when the theory of freedom, etc., is applied rigidly and without being
tempered by observation of the practical results, and when modifications are
not made accordingly, with the application of common sense.

Having said all that, I repeat that I am a strong supporter of democracy in
education. If there is genuine democracy (which would appear to be the case
at Sudbury) genuine freedom (not license) follows. But I would also repeat
that criticism should be taken seriously and knee-jerk reactions should be
avoided, otherwise an atmosphere is created which is inimical to free speech.

Best wishes to all,


Joe Jackson wrote:
> Hey.
> You wrote:
> > Now, I have not, by the way, criticised the Sudbury model. In fact, by
> > implication, I praised it, when I said that at Summerhill the pupils do
> > not choose the staff whereas at Sudbury they do, and I made it clear
> > that I thought the pupils should choose the staff.
> Say it ain't so - another monolithic struggle for truth initiated by a
> simple misunderstanding? So this whole time you're not even talking about
> Sudbury Schools? I would say that would be a major distinction.
> You do realize that Summerhill and Sudbury Schools are entirely dissimilar?
> I got the distinct impression you were dismissing aspects of the Sudbury
> model while simultaneously admitting you had not done any reading on the
> model when you wrote:
> > Is it right to stand back and simply do nothing and let a child go out
> > into the world ill-equipped to lead a decent, satisfying life? I think
> not.
> > I don't think the movement for freedom and self-government in education
> > has ever really faced up to this problem.
> and,
> > it is said that kids who do not learn to read and write well at such
> schools
> > soon catch up later and do extremely well. No one ever seems to
> challenge
> > this statement, and I have never seen any follow-up surveys of how kids
> > get on after they leave (I understand Sudbury has done some, but I
> > wouldn't be certain). As far as my knowledge goes, this statement is
> highly > dubious.
> The phrase "movement for freedom and self-government in education"
> certainly sounds like Sudbury Schools to me. If you are referring to
> Sudbury Schools, any amount of research on your part would reveal that they
> indeed DO catch up. If you are referring to schools like Summerhill, I
> think everyone needs to understand that there are vast differences between
> Summerhill and Sudbury Schools.
> > I really think that hostility to criticism, which is based on the idea
> that
> > anyone who criticizes is an enemy, is very harmful. Progress is often
> > made as a result of criticism, whether fair or unfair (both are useful).
> > Conversely, a lack of criticism leads to stagnation and decline.
> Look, many of the things you are saying are untrue, and you don't have any
> basis for them. That makes me angry. I'm sorry if anger makes people
> uncomfortable.
> > Finally, my remarks about underpaid staff were made from the point of
> > view of a pupil, whereas most of the replies to this point have been made
> > from the point of view of staff, or at least supporters, and often from
> > what seems to me to be a very doctrinaire, theoretical point of view.
> You were a pupil of Summerhill, not a Sudbury School.
> > I was pointing out the practical results of some of the more extreme
> > practices, such as standing aside when kids are not becoming literate,
> > and letting them go out into the world, in effect, crippled. This in my
> > opinion is irresponsible, and criminally so. The idea that they will in
> > some magical way, "catch up" later, is, to my knowledge, simply not
> > true, except in a very few cases.
> You're wrong, Peter. The reason we're having a problem here is that you
> keep making unfounded assertions "to your knowledge".
> > I agree with the principle of non-compulsion in education, but I do not
> > agree with a hands-off attitude, which amounts to indifference and
> neglect.
> (Sounding like a broken record) And your basis for saying the "hands-off
> attitude amounts to indifference and neglect" is.....?
> > It is vital that the "Movement" should willingly and enthusiastically
> > accept criticism, both from enemies and supporters.
> I crave meaningful, well-founded criticism. I'm not getting it from you.
> You should be prepared to deal with angry people who will confront you for
> making broad, authoritative statements and not supporting them. I have yet
> to see you mount a plausible criticism of the Sudbury Model. I don't think
> you truly understand how different Summerhill and Sudbury Schools are.
> I didn't mean it when I told you to go away - I just sort of typed it and
> I'm a pathetic jerk. Sorry.
> Joe Jackson