DSM: RE: Re: Play's the thing

From: Malc Dow (dow@first-ask.de)
Date: Sun Jul 15 2001 - 06:34:17 EDT

On the subject of Play, there follows pages 71 and 72 from the chapter
`Play'; The Free Child, AS Neill (reproduced here under 'fair use').
It was first published in 1953, has anything changed?

Malc Dow

True, small children will play gangster games with shooting or sword play,
very often inspired by a visit to the cinema, yet long before the film era
children played gang games tig, touch, etc. Stories and films will give a
direction to some kind of play, but the fundamentals are in the heart of all
children of all races. What final effect on play the dangerous, sadistic
American Comics will have, I tremble to contemplate.
Summerhill might be defined as a school in which play is of the greatest
importance. Some children play all day, especially when the sun is shining.
Their play is generally noisy. Noise like play is suppressed in large day
schools. One of our old pupils who went to a Scottish university said: “The
students make a hell of a row in classes, and it gets rather tiresome, for
we at Summerhill lived that out when we were ten.” I recall an incident in
that great novel The House with the Green Shutters, where the students of
Edinburgh University played John Brown’s Body with their feet, in order to
rag a weak lecturer. Noise and play go together, and it is best when they go
together at the age of seven to fourteen. One could, with some truth, claim
that the evils of civilisation are due to the fact that no child has ever
had enough play, or, to put it differently, every child has been hothoused
into an adult, long before he has reached adulthood. Our school subjects are
adult affairs, in the main foreign to the interest of the child. Last week
in Copenhagen I met a girl of fourteen who had spent three years in
Summerhill, speaking perfect English. “I suppose you are at the top of your
class in English,” I said. She grimaced ruefully. “No, I’m at the bottom
because I don’t know English grammar,” she said. I think that is about the
best commentary on what adults consider education.
Fear is at the root of adult antagonism to play. Hundreds of times I have
heard the anxious query: “But if my boy plays all day how will he ever learn
anything, how will he ever pass exams ?“ Very few will accept my answer.
If your child plays all he wants to play he will be able to pass
Matriculation after two years’ intensive study, instead of the usual five,
six, seven years of learning in a school that discounts play as a factor in
life. But I always have to add: That is if he ever wants to pass Matric; he
may become a ballet dancer or a radio engineer; she may want to be a dress
designer or a children’s nurse. Luckily we in this country are not so
fanatical about exams as all Continental countries, where, apparently one
cannot sweep the streets without passing an exam. Yes, fear of the child’s
future deprives children of their right to play. There is more in it than
that; there is a vague moral idea behind the disapproval of play, a
suggestion that being a child is not so good, a suggestion voiced in the
phrases applied to young adults . . . “Cry Baby !“ “Don’t be a Baby.” To the
adult child play is a waste of time. It took me a long time to get over my
impatience with children because they never want to work in a garden. So far
we do not as a rule have an economic excuse for encouraging children to work
instead of to play: our incentive therefore must be moral. There are people
who say: “I don’t see why kids should have so much play and leisure. When I
was their age . ...“ They are less neurotic than those who are envious of
youth without being aware of it.

 (ps. If anyone wants the rest of the book in digital format, mail me


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