Re: DSM: Sudbury Valley/Summerhill

Scott Gray (
Mon, 19 Oct 1998 10:54:33 -0400 (EDT)

On Mon, 19 Oct 1998, Sharon Stanfill wrote:

> Having spent a fair bit of the last few days learning about
> SV schools (mostly by visiting web pages, and also by talking
> with a SV school parent) and then having read Neill's Summerhill,
> I'd be interested to hear about what folks consider to be the
> major points of variance between SV and Summerhill.

There is no question that Summerhill was a book which greatly influenced
and inspired the founding staff at Sudbury Valley.

There are several differences, that I can see. The most significant, is
that Summerhill is organized around Freudian psychology, and the premise
that children need parental figures taking charge of them.

This has led to several things in Summerhill that one would not see at
Sudbury Valley, and vice versa.

1) There is no pretense of equality before the law between staff and
students at Summerhill. A. S. Neill hired and fired staff himself, with
no vote, and certainly saw himself as above the law (eg running around and
breaking windows with a student). Neill tried to take the role of
counselor, and certainly wrote about himself and his wife as parents and
counselors to the kids.

2) Summerhill is a boarding school, in part from a tradition that children
need to be _protected_ from their parents. Sudbury Valley doesn't see
itself that way. While Summerhill is concerned to protect kids from
things that can cause psychological stress, Sudbury Valley assumes that
kids are naturally strong enough to be able to deal with what they are
likely to encounter in their daily lives, and makes no efore to "protect"

3) Rule of law is considered less important at Summerhill than it is at
Sudbury Valley, in part because the law in the UK prevents the school from
being self-governed without a headmaster, and in part because of the
Freudian background of Neill. Summerhill was _owned_ by Neill (is it now
owned by Zoe?), wheras Sudbury Valley is owned by the Assembly -- each
student parent and staff member being an equal partner legally.

Where the schools differ is in their beliefs as to what children want or
need in order to develop socially. What the two schools share, is a belief
that academia doesn't need to be forced upon or sold to students. Each
school has hundreds and hundreds of alumni, who never had formal classes,
and who nontheless have succeeded by any reasonable standard of success
(entering the college / career of first choice, having a higher income in
later life, self-reporting as happy, a high level of civic / community
involvement, etc).

> Sharon

--Scott David Gray
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