"Bringing Happiness to some few Children"

Bryn Purdy

Where does A.S.Neill stand in the history of education? Has he a right at all in those august annals?

Was he not, after all, against academic learning? against the conventional wisdom of morals? against adult authority? against sexual repression? against religion? Was A.S.Neill not merely wilful: wayward in his practice? a mountebank in his books?

Or may he have been a modern Socrates, seeking to release the young from the mind-set of their elders by the giving of 'freedom'? for which he was made to drink the hemlock of public obloquy for half a century.

Book Cover

The author tested the principles of 'The Summerhill Idea' in schools for disturbed children for over a quarter of a century, offering the child the option of attending class or not, and incorporating a daily Meeting, or 'Moot', to discuss non-punitively the resolution of behavioural and communal issues.

Latterly, he created a cottage press, named after Neill, to present the child's-eye-view of life and of school.

Bryn Purdy, who visited and was invited to work at Summerhill in the '60s, presents the canon of Neillian beliefs: child empowerment, child democracy, sexual ethics, religion, and the relevance of learning. He essays a definition of Neill's "Summerhill Idea".

The author counterpoints the skein of Neill's argument with the thinking of others, within and without the educational world: for example, Shelley and John Stuart Mill on 'freedom'; Montaigne and Tagore on 'learning'; and Shaw, Krishnamurti, Ibsen, William Blake, Richmal Crompton and Lao Tzu throughout.

Neill's aim was perhaps ambivalent. Was it, as he declared on one occasion, "the bringing of happiness to some few children", or, on another, portentously, was "The Summerhill Idea of the greatest importance to mankind"?

What, in the child's-eye view, is the Idea. One Japanese pupil expressed herself spontaneously in a conversation, later broadcast, thus:

Summerhirrians are Summerhirrians, no Japanese or English or French or American or anyting else. No. We are Summerhirrians...

Summerhill is the best school I never been. All the boys my boyfriends; all the girls my girlfriends. I love them. Summerhill is just happiness...

ISBN 978-1-900219-03-7
Paperback, 76 pp
Published by The Educational Heretics Press, £8.95

Available from: The Educational Heretics Press, 113 Arundel Drive,Bramcote Hills, Nottingham, NG9 3FQ UK Website
or The Mellstock Press, 9, St. Laurence's Gardens, Belper, Derbyshire, DE56 1HH
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Copyright Bryn Purdy 2004 Web design Jed Bland 04.04.07