[Discuss-sudbury-model] Fw: [savesummerhill] Play and the right to play

From: David Rovner <rovners_at_netvision.net.il>
Date: Mon Dec 30 12:36:00 2002

----- Original Message -----
From: <slowsnail2001_at_yahoo.co.uk>
To: <savesummerhill_at_yahoogroups.com>
Sent: Monday, December 30, 2002 6:17 PM
Subject: [savesummerhill] Play and the right to play

> Dear e-group,
> As I was sharing texts, I thought I would send you an article I have
> recently written, about play. I am trying to get Summerhill involved
> with projects on the right to play.
> Best wishes,hope it is of interest, have a happy new year
> Michael Newman
> SummerhillSchool
> In Celebration of Play
> "Imagine a school. where you can play all day if you want to. and
> there is time to sit and dream."
> Summerhill is 82 years old and is the oldest and most famous school
> in the world based on children's rights. It has five key statements
> of policy. Number 3 states, "To allow the children to be completely
> free to play as much as they like. Creative and imaginative play is
> an essential part of childhood and development". More controversially
> it goes on to say, "Spontaneous, natural play should not be
> undermined or redirected by adults into learning experiences. Play
> belongs to the child."
> A.S.Neill, the founder of Summerhill, believed that the child should
> be free to become who they wanted, and a vital aspect of this was
> play and emotional development.
> "Most of the school work that adolescents do is simply a waste of
> time, of energy, of patience. It robs youth of its right to play and
> play and play, it puts old heads on young shoulders." A.S.Neill
> If you walk around Summerhill's 12 acres of grounds, especially in
> the summer, you will see children aged 6-17 playing together. The
> games can include nearly the whole school, only 91 children and
> eleven full-time adults, based on spies, assassins, propaganda
> officers, military police, secret generals and armies, or smaller
> groups sitting on the grass or chasing through the woods. In the
> woodwork they make swords, bows and arrows, wooden guns, and from the
> local DIY shop they make their own light sabres from broom handles
> surrounded by foam. Last year a group of 7-13 year olds invented
> their own Jedi league, scoring points during fights, depending on the
> status of their opponent, eventually winning the role of Jedi knight.
> British bulldog, guess the word, stuck in the mud, socks, kings,
> touch prisoners, kick the can, treasure hunts are played in the
> evenings. Tree houses and huts are built. On the Big Beech there is
> the famous rope, from which the children swing from the first main
> branch. The sand pit is full of tunnels, toys and secret cities.
> Boxes are made into a network of tunnels in the classroom.
> The difference with other children is that no one tells them to stop
> playing, no one tells them to go to lessons, no one tells them to do
> exams. They are free to decide what they want to do during the school
> day. This controversial right has existed since 1921. It has survived
> even after years of threats from OFSTED and finally the government.
> These lead to the school winning its historic court case in the Royal
> Courts of Justice in 2000. Now the right to play at Summerhill is
> legally recognised and protected by the government. The school even
> has its own unique inspection process.
> I was involved, as one of several advisers, in the production of
> a `big book' called `Play on the Line'. It looked at play in east
> London compared to play in the Saharawan refugee camps in the
> Algerian desert (West Sahara has been illegally occupied by Morocco
> for many years). At the launch the representative from the local
> education authority, Tower Hamlets, made a speech defending a book
> that looks at the importance of play by stating at least it had value
> within the literacy hour. Tragically we are in a world where the
> word `learning' has been corrupted into `activities with an assessed
> outcome', `education' corrupted into a word referring to classrooms
> and teachers, and `play' as something whose worth must be judged by
> an adult defined outcome - greater dexterity, literacy learning,
> social skills, increasing motivation for learning science, or other
> academic subjects, or road safety or citizenship.
> Tragically we are yet to be seen as an animal that is naturally
> inquisitive, social, playful, creative, imaginative. We are treated
> as one that must be tracked, that must be consciously lead through
> our learning, with national standards to compare us against.
> We are in a society where the questions; why play? Why learn? Why be
> sociable? Why be co-operative? Why participate? Why be just? Are
> addressed through role-plays. We are attempting to instil in our
> children values that they are not learning from the structures and
> behaviour of the communities of which they are members. Our society,
> our communities, do not humanise us so our schools are looking into
> ways of training our children. Ironically the methods they use are
> ultimately those of therapy. This is an unacknowledged recognition
> that our communities, including our schools, are failing.
> When children, so used to training for exams, for targets, for
> objectives set by `authorities', are faced with a progressive school
> like Summerhill, they express the belief that children will not
> learn, let alone be able to make decisions about their communities
> and justice.
> I have presented Summerhill to academically successful, confident,
> articulate sixth formers, studying for A-levels. The questions and
> values the school raises are so conflicting with their own that they
> respond with disbelief and hostility. Even the teachers and the head
> have intervened with disbelief at their student's aggressive defence
> of the function of schools being for the preparation for exams, for
> qualifications for college, for jobs, and the necessity for imposed
> authority, imposed rules, for obedience. These young people do not
> see the reasons for citizenship teaching, or for children having
> rights to participate and to play, unless it will help them to get
> work when they leave.
> The beauty of rights is that they are based on a culture of defending
> humanity and dignity far removed from any tests of efficiency or
> utility. "Do rights work?" is an unanswerable question, as within it
> is a hidden contradiction, one found at the very heart of societies
> driven by measurement and accountability.
> At a citizenship conference, in the British Library, that launched a
> report on student participation in European schools, I asked the then
> Minister for Citizenship and Standards in Schools, Jacquie Smith MP,
> how she could reconcile the vast amount of time and energy on
> standards leaving little for citizenship and values. She responded
> with the set answer of the need for literacy and numeracy. I have yet
> to see the significance of national curriculum key stages 3 and 4
> science, maths, humanities, English, to learning how to read and
> write. Indeed they assume literacy and numeracy!
> An inner city London state comprehensive school shared its practice
> of citizenship with the conference. Sixth formers explained, in
> emotional voices of pride how they acted as ombudsmen for other
> children in their school. When I asked them what they felt was the
> most important thing they had learnt during their school lives one of
> the boys replied, "to solve problems without the use of violence."
> Talking to them and their headmistress afterwards the ironic contrast
> between their values and those expressed by Jacquie Smith had been
> very strongly felt. They were sad she had not been able to see their
> presentation.
> At the annual conference for the Society of Storytelling at
> Newcastle, a storyteller, over lunch, told us about her childhood.
> When she was at primary school and her teacher set maths problems she
> would daydream a landscape of shapes and colours through which she
> would travel. At the end she would find the answer, which was
> invariably correct. The problem came when she was asked to explain
> her method, to show her workings. Again and again she was taught the
> public method, which she eventually used, only to lose her beautiful,
> private landscape. Her maths assessment was high.
> Let us never forget, the right to play is not about the usefulness of
> play, its contribution to learning, its part in the socialisation of
> the child. It cannot be framed within the meanings of our `education'
> system. It is about the child standing in the sea watching the waves
> splash over his toes for half an hour, it is about experiencing the
> real or imaginary world without the need to reference why. Summerhill
> represents this unambiguously, and is a vital symbol for reference in
> the discussion and exploration of citizenship.
> As the Summerhill Outreach Officer, along with an elected committee,
> we are running projects with schools, colleges and universities that
> explore issues of children's rights using the experiences of children
> who live them.
> Projects so far include assisting two schools with developing
> democratic structures; helping four schools with their human rights
> days; organising the first Dover student's citizenship conference
> partnered with Dover District Council involving ten secondary
> schools; organising four schools to take part in a consultation with
> their MP on children's rights with the background of the UN's
> scrutiny of rights in the UK; representing two NGOs at the UN Special
> Session on the Child in New York; running workshops at conferences in
> Europe including `Children's Identity and Citizenship in Europe',
> student leadership conference at the College of School Leadership,
> first student conference of the School Councils UK, Oxfam's Global
> Citizenship conference. Summerhill is working in partnership with
> Suffolk County Council Citizenship Initiative, Dover District
> Council, Norwich and Ipswich Co-op Society, English Heritage and
> Article 12.
> We would welcome any proposals for further projects and
> collaborations, especially with respect to play.
> Michael Newman
> Science Teacher and Outreach Officer
> Summerhill School
> Leiston, Suffolk IP16 4HY
> Tel: 01728 830 619
> Fax:01728 830 540
> e-mail: slowsnail2001_at_yahoo.co.uk
> website: www.summerhillschool.co.uk
> <http://www.summerhillschool.co.uk>
Received on Mon Dec 30 2002 - 12:35:13 EST

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