A few days ago I excitedly shared links to a great new TV show about Summerhill School in the UK. A great recent ally of Freechild, Margaret, shared some wonderful reflections as well as her reaction to the show: Just like me, she watched every episode in a row! Its that good.
But why Summerhill and the focus on it? Entering my eighth year of working in schools promoting student voice, I am confident to share that there are a lot of reasons, but they boil down to this: Summerhill is real. Rather than a half-boiled conception of what youth could do, instead of a compromised perspective of what society could be, more than 80 years ago A.S. Neill built the foundation of a wonderful place built on absolutism, just like public schools, only opposite.
Instead of telling students what they can do and what they can’t, instead of instilling an idea of what you should learn and what you shouldn’t, Summerhill is a complete environment that embraces the student’s conception of learning from the ground up. This type of freedom exists in few other places around our world, and it is fantastic that Summerhill has been able to carry through this vision in its most genuine, most absolute form.
Do I think Summerhill is for every student? Surely not – but every student should be able to choose that form of schooling as an option. Do I think there are problems in the Summerhill model? Maybe. I just listened to a Lupe Fiasco song where he says, “Wings don’t make you fly and a crown don’t make you king.” That reminds me that having a voice doesn’t make you heard, and I am afraid that a Summerhill experience might program students to expect that experience of radical democracy everywhere they go. Maybe that’s a problem.
But overall, I deeply admire everything inherent within and throughout the school. If you want to read more about Summerhill I would suggest you start at their website, much of which Zoe Redhead has written herself. Then check out the Wikipedia article about the school – its growing nicely. There are also several books about the school. Did I mention the television show?