DSM: Re: <aerolist> Article on Summerhill in Today's Christian Science Monitor

From: JerryAERO@aol.com
Date: Wed May 09 2001 - 00:54:17 EDT


In a message dated 5/8/01 7:04:25 PM, pshier@mindspring.com writes:

<< http://www.csmonitor.com/durable/2001/05/08/fp17s1-csm.shtml >>

Here's the article in case people have trouble downloading it. I participated
in the interview with Marjorie and I thought she did a pretty good job.
Letters to CSM supporting and adding to this might be helpful. It was set up
by Ron Miller through the publicist we have been working with, in order to
promote Matthew's book

Jerry

FEATURES, LEARNING

A school's life without rules

* Book goes behind scenes of Britain's Summerhill

By Marjorie Coeyman (marjorie@csmonitor.com)
Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

WOOD WORK: Students at Summerhill School in Leiston, England, pursue
different projects in woodshop. The school, founded in 1921, allows students
to decide when and what they will study.
PHOTOS BY ROBERT HARBISON - STAFF/FILE
Students regulate themselves. If a child would rather read than go to class,
that's fine. The idea that adults need to steer children at every turn is
frowned upon.
Such notions - gospel at the famed Summerhill School in Leiston, England -
could hardly be more out of step with today's concerns about accountability
and standardized test scores.
That's one reason Matthew Appleton, for nine years a houseparent at the
so-called "school without rules," wrote "A Free Range Childhood: Self
Regulation at Summerhill School" about his experiences there. The flood of
current sentiment against free-spirited schools prompted him to remind
educators and parents that Summerhill and the ideas that shaped it have been
standing for 80 years and still have much to offer.
Despite its extremely liberal approach, the school produces students who tend
to thrive and generally emerge well prepared for adult life.
It's an experiment that has been regarded as a marvel by some and a fluke by
others.
Founded in 1921 by Scottish schoolmaster A.S. Neill, the British boarding
school gained international fame in 1960 when an American publisher produced
a compilation of Mr. Neill's writing called "Summerhill: A Radical Approach
to Child Rearing."
Educators around the world were enthralled by the philosophy behind what was
also known as "the do-as-you-like school." In the United States, the book
became required reading in education courses throughout the 1960s and '70s,
and inspired the creation of hundreds of "free schools," a handful of which
still operate today.
But in recent years, the pendulum has swung far from the ideas championed by
Neill. "People today are much more fear-based with respect to their
children," Mr. Appleton says. "Especially in the United States, there is much
more focus on the diagnosis of learning problems and dealing with them
through medication. What is needed is more confidence."

Surviving without strictures

Academics are not at the center of Appleton's book, because they are not at
the center of life at Summerhill. There is no particular pedagogical theory
in practice at Summerhill. In keeping with an overall desire to allow
children and adults alike as much freedom as possible, teachers are allowed
to use whatever methods they prefer, including the traditional
stand-up-and-lecture format.

POPULAR PERCH: Bernd Wickschrath, a 1997 Summerhill student from Germany,
snags a seat in a beech tree on campus.
But no student - even the youngest - is ever required to attend a class. The
theory is that, left to their own devices, children will eventually take a
natural interest in learning and guide themselves to whatever is good and
useful.
It's a notion that horrifies many people. Last year, the British government
took the school to court in an attempt to either change the noncompulsory
stance toward classes or shut the school. The British courts, however, upheld
the right of the school to continue with its unconventional methods. It
remains open, with Neill's daughter ZoŽ at its helm.
Government inspectors who visit the school tend to concede, Appleton says,
that many students appear to be willingly and successfully engaged in
academics. Others, they note, seem completely adrift and uninvolved in
classroom work.
But, he says, often new arrivals at the K-12 school require time to adjust.
Thrilled by their newfound freedom, they may ignore classes for a time, but
Neill's philosophy predicts that within a few weeks or months of living
without adult compulsion, they will voluntarily become interested in learning.
When it comes to school governance, Summerhill has always been a total
democracy. Apart from a very small number of rules focused on health and
safety -no drinking, smoking, or playing with matches - all regulations at
the school are determined by the majority rule of the children and adults at
the school. (Children and adults alike are accorded one vote each.)
Everyone at the school attends the regular meetings that determine policy and
handle discipline problems. At one such meeting some years ago, mandatory
bedtimes were abolished by popular vote. For a time, students skateboarded
through the halls at all hours, and many kids were too exhausted to attend
classes.
However, says Appleton, in a perfect example of the workings of
self-governance, the children eventually came to recognize that the new way
of life was making no one happy and eagerly voted to reinstate mandatory
bedtimes.

Maintaining international appeal

British youngsters have always made up about one-third of the school's
student body, but other nationalities have ebbed and flowed with the times.
Once popular with Americans, today the school sees few applicants from the
US, perhaps in line with increased concerns about test scores and an
inclination toward a more traditional form of education.
The school's popularity in Japan has soared, however, and the school's
administration has had to set a limit on the number of Japanese it will
accept to prevent Summerhill from being dominated by a single culture.
Appleton believes the school's appeal to Japanese parents is in reaction to
the very rigid scholastic system in that country. "The US and Europe are
moving more towards the Japanese system, whereas the Japanese are realizing
that's not working," he says. "Japanese parents see their children really
miserable."
Some educators have raised questions about whether the Summerhill method
could work outside of certain ideal conditions - for example, a small student
body and a boarding-school setting.
In response, Appleton points to the Albany Free School in New York, which
applies the Summerhill philosophy as a day school, and Rising Hill, a
1,000-student school in a tough London neighborhood which in the 1960s
achieved markedly improved student behavior by experimenting with Neill's
ideas.
Some today call Neill the grandfather of the charter-school movement,
insisting that the free schools inspired by Summerhill in their turn caused
educators to search out means of founding smaller, more innovative, and less
regulated institutions.
For Appleton, the charter-school movement is just one more proof of the
enduring nature of Neill's theories. Over the course of 80 years, he points
out, "educational trends have come and gone. But Summerhill is still here."

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