discuss-sudbury-model Democracy in education.

Tim Kyng (z7531389@student.unsw.edu.au)
Wed, 13 May 1998 19:49:35 -0700

In recent messages there has been some suggestion that the phrase
"progressive education" is not very helpful. I agree, and I think that in
fact what most of us believe in is "democratic education", which seems a more
useful phrase.

Certainly, what I found most exciting about Summerhill was self-government.
One of my criticims of the school, though, is that this democracy was only
partial. I well remember an incident when Neill appointed the world's worst
cook to the staff. She didn't believe in adding salt to food, among other
fads. There were vociferous protests that the food was horrible and
inedible. The matter was raised at a General Meeting, and we were told that
we could not interfere with staff matters. This caused great anger, and I
remember my own anger about it still.

Children should not be led to believe that they are living in a democracy,
only to find out that, lurking behind this facade, is the old authoritarian
attitude after all. This is to cheat the children.

The problem is related to private ownership by a single individual. As
Albert has explained, certain things are outside the scope of democracy at
Summerhill. These things, in my opinion, are of vital concern to the
pupils. They include the finances of the school, the hiring and firing of
staff, and the admission and expulsion of pupils. Just why it should be
considered that kids are incapable of dealing with these matters is beyond my
comrehension. Such an attitude seems highly paternalistic to me. Finances
should be wide open to scrutiny, especially if a school is crying poor and
not paying the staff the proper union rate. And why should the kids be
denied the right to a say in the appointment and subsequent assessment of the
staff? How can this be described as democratic? This situation should really
be described as a benevolent dictatorship, in which democratic rights are
allocated according to the whim of the owner/headmaster. Incidentally,
freedom of speech is also prone to being restricted in such a situation.
There is a decided reluctance on the part of staff, particularly, to express
opposite opinions to the owner of the school, but this also does affect the

Virtually all universities now have student representatives on the governing
body, and these often exercise considerable influence and power over staff
and other matters. Most university students are not much older than the
older kids at our schools, so why cannot similar rights be given to them?

I believe that Sudbury Valley is fully democratic and that the matters I have
referred to above are fully under the contol of the community. I applaud
this. Summerhill, it is time for you to catch up!


I fail to see how a school can be said to be a genuine decomcracy in the full
sense when some of the most important issues are arbitrarily removed from the
power of the General Meeting even to discuss. What we have in fact is a
benevolent dictatorship, and the extent of that is determined by the
particular member of the Neill dynasty who happens to be occupying the throne
at any particular time. The present incumbent is clearly not of a democratic
disposition except in matters of comparatively minor importance. In fact she
doesn't understand what freedom means, since freedom depends first and
foremost upon freedom of speech, and all other freedoms are dependent on that
primary freedom. SVS, by contrast, seems to be a full and genuine
democracy, which I applaud.

I hope we can continue to be on good terms, and I will try not to allow my
impatience to spill over into intemperate language.

Best wishes,