Summerhill – an Overview
“All crimes, all hatreds, all wars can be reduced to unhappiness” wrote A. S. Neill, founder of Summerhill School.
Today, all over the world, education is moving towards more and more testing, more examinations and more qualifications. It seems to be a modern trend that assessment and qualification define education.
If society were to treat any other group of people the way it treats its children, it would be considered a violation of human rights. But for most of the world’s children this is the normal expectation from parents, school and the society in which we live.
Today many educationalists and families are becoming uneasy with this restrictive environment. They are beginning to look for alternative answers to mainstream schooling.
One of these answers is democratic or ‘free’ schooling. There are many models of democratic schools in all corners of the globe, from Israel to Japan, from New Zealand and Thailand to the United States.
The oldest and most famous of these schools is Summerhill, on the east coast of England.
Summerhill School was founded in 1921 at a time when the rights of individuals were less respected than they are today. Children were beaten in most homes at some time or another and discipline was the key word in child rearing. Through its self-government and freedom it has struggled for more than eighty years against pressures to conform, in order to give children the right to decide for themselves. The school is now a thriving democratic community, showing that children learn to be self-confident, tolerant and considerate when they are given space to be themselves.
Summerhill School is one of the most famous schools in the world, and has influenced educational practice in many schools and universities. The democratic schools movement is now blossoming internationally, with many schools far and wide being based upon the philosophy of A. S. Neill or inspired by reading his books.
Summerhill is a community of around a hundred people. About 75 of these are children aged between 5 and 17. The rest are teachers, house parents and other staff. It is situated in a large much loved, Victorian house and grounds, two miles from the coast of Suffolk.