2012-12-22T22:11:32+01:00

Freedom, good food, and fresh air.

Here are my notes from book "Summerhill School" from A. S. Neill:

  • p3 Teachers want to be little gods protected by dignity. They fear that if they act human, their authority will vanish and their classrooms will become bedlams. They fear to abolish fear. Innumerable children are afraid of their teachers. It is discipline that creates the fear.
  • p6 It is because I believe that a difficult child is nearly always made difficult by wrong treatment at home as well as at school that I dare to address parents as well as teachers.
  • p7 The difficult child is the child who is unhappy. He is at war with himself; and in consequence, he is at war with the world. The difficult adult is in the same boat. No happy man ever disturbed a meeting, or preached a war, or lynched a Negro. No happy woman ever nagged her husband or her children. No happy man ever committed a murder or a theft. No happy employer ever frightened his employees. All crimes, all hatred, all wars can be reduced to unhappiness. This book is an attempt to show how unhappiness arise, how it ruins human lives, and how children can be reared so that much of this unhappiness will never arise. More than that, this book is the story of a place - Summerhill School - where children's unhappiness is cured and, more important, where children are reared in happiness.
  • p8 Newspapers have called it a 'go-as-you-please school' and have implied that it is a gathering of wild primitives who know no law and have no manners.
  • p15 You cannot make children learn music or anything else without to some degree converting them into will-less adults. You fashion them into accepters of the status quo - a good thing for a society that needs obedient sitters at dreary desks, standers in shops, mechanical catchers of the 8:30 suburban train - a society, in short, that is carried on the shabby shoulders of the scared little man - the scared-to-death conformist.
  • p19 Under adult discipline, the child can become a hater. Since the child cannot express his hatred of adults with impunity, he takes it out on smaller or weaker boys.
  • p22 It is well known that 'the law makes the crime'.
  • p25 One spring we had a spate of bad luck. Some community-minded seniors had left us after passing their O level exams, so that there were very few seniors left in the school. The vast majority of the pupils were at the gangster stage and age. Although they were social in their speeches, they were not old enough to run the community well. They passed any amount of laws and then forgot them and broke them. The few older pupils left were, by some chance, rather individualist, and tended to live their own lives in their own groups, so that the staff was figuring too prominently in attacking the breaking of the schools rules. Thus it came about that at a General Meeting I felt compelled to launch a vigorous attack on the seniors for being not antisocial but asocial, breaking te bedtime rules by sitting up far too late and taking no interest in what the juniors were doing in an antisocial way.
  • p26 There has to be a certain amount of sacrifice on the part of the adult if children are to live according to their inner nature.
  • p29 The upshot was that my proposal to leave doors unlocked was supported by two hands - my own and that of girl or seven. And I discovered later that she thought we were still voting on the previous motion, that children of seven be allowed to go to the cinema. The children were learning out of their own experience that private property should be respected.
  • p30 The outside world wastes its precious energy in worrying over trifles. As if it matters in the scheme of life whether you wear dressy clothes or say hell.
  • p30 True, it is apt to call a spade a damn shovel, but any ditch digger will tell you with truth that a spade is a damn shovel.
  • p32 Why children and kittens play I do not know I believe it is a matter of energy.
  • p32 At Summerhill the six-year-olds play the whole day long - play with fantasy. To s small child, reality and fantasy are very close to each other. ... Small children live a life of fantasy and they carry this fantasy over into action. Boys of eight to fourteen play gangsters or Red Indians and are always bumping people off or flying the skies in their wooden aeroplanes. Small girls also go through a gang stage, but it does not take the form of guns and swords. It is more personal. Mary's gang objects to Nellie's gang, and there are rows and hard words. Boys' rival gangs only play enemies. Small boys are thus more easy to live wit than small girls.
  • p33 It seems to be clear that boys and girls have different ideas about play. Boys play much more than girls do. Sometimes a girls appears to substitute a fantasy life for play, but boys do that. Boys do not generally play with girls. Boys play gangsters, and play tag games; they build tree huts; they dig holes and trenches and do all the things that small children usually do. Girls seldom organize any play. The time-honoured game of playing teacher or doctor is unknown among free children, for they feel no need to mimic authority. Smaller girls play with dolls; but older girls seem to get the most fun out of contact with people, not things.
  • p36 Self-regulation implies a belief in human nature, a belief that there is not, and never was, original sin. Self-regulation means the right of a baby to live freely without outside authority. It means the baby feeds when it is hungry; that it becomes clean in habits only when it wants to; that it is never stormed at nor spanked; that it shall always be loved and protected. Of course, self-regulation, like any theoretical idea, is dangerous if not combined with common sense.
  • p44 Freedom means doing what you like, so long as you don't interfere with the freedom of others. The result is self-discipline.
  • p45 The fight is an unequal one, for the haters control education, religion, the law, the armies, and the vile prisons. Only a handful of educators strive to allow the good in all children to grow in freedom. The vast majority of children are being moulded by anti-life supporters with their hateful system of punishments.
  • p45 The tragedy of man is that, like the dog, his character can be moulded. You cannot mould the character of a cat. You can give a dog a bad conscience, but you cannot give a conscience to a cat. Yet most people prefer dogs because their obedience and their flattering tail-wagging afford visible proof of the master's superiority and worth.
  • p46 Freedom is necessary for the child because only under freedom can he grow in his natural way - the good way. I see the results of constraint in new pupils coming from other schools. They are bundles of insincerity, with an unreal politeness and phoney manners. Their reaction to freedom is rapid and tiresome. For the first week or two, they open doors for the teachers, call me 'sir', and wash carefully. They glance at me with 'respect', which is easily recognized as fear. After a few weeks of freedom, they show what they really are. They become impudent, unmannerly, unwashed. They do all the things they have been forbidden to do in the past: they swear, they smoke, they break things. And all the time, they have polite and insincere expression in their eyes and in their voices.
  • p47 Criminality appears in a child as a perverted form of love.
  • p47 If I can't get love, I can get hate. Every case of criminality in a child can be traced to lack of love.
  • p47 We cannot get away from the fact that a child is primarily an egoist. No one else matters. When the ego is satisfied, we have what we call goodness; when the ego is starved, we have what we call criminality. The criminal revenges himself on society because society has failed to appreciate his ego by showing love for him. The young gangsters of the world are seeking happiness, and I make the guess that their unhappiness in home and school is the root cause of their being antisocial. The happiness they should have had in childhood gave place to the spurious happiness of damaging and stealing and beating people up.
  • p48 A boy is born is a mean street. His home has no culture, no books, no serious conversation. His parents are ignorant and slap him and yell at him; he attends a school where strict discipline and dull subjects cramp his style. His playground is the street corner. His ideas about sex are pornographic and dirty. On television he sees people with money and cars and all sorts of luxuries. At adolescence he gets into gang whose aim is to get rich quick at all costs. How can we cure a boy with that background?
  • p49 Lane was a genius in the understanding and handling of delinquent children. He cured them because he constantly gave out love and understanding. He always looked for the hidden motive in any delinquent act, convinced that behind every crime was a wish that originally had been a good one. He found that talking to children was useless, and that only action counted. He held that in order to rid a child of a bad social trait on should let the child live out his desires.
  • p53 For years Ansi had found pleasure in leading her school gang against authority. In stirring up rebellion, she was doing something she hated. She hated chaos. Underneath, she was a law-abiding citizen. But Ansi had a great desire for power. She was happy only when she was directing others. In rebelling against her teacher, she was trying to make herself more important than the teacher. She hated laws because she hated the power that made laws. I find such power cases much more difficult to cure than sex cases. One can with comparative ease track down the incidents and teachings that give a child a bad conscience about sex, but to track down the thousands of incidents and teachings that have made a child a sadistic power person is difficult indeed.
  • p55 Love is being on the side of the other person. Love is approval. I know that children learn slowly that freedom is something totally different from licence. But they can learn this truth and do learn it. In the end, it works - nearly every time.
  • p57 The best way to make a child a liar for life is to insist that he speak the truth and nothing but the truth.
  • p60 There is no short cut to curing under freedom; it is a long weary time until the problem child turns his or her corner. I am convinced that our characters are formed very early in life, and although they can be modified be environment or therapy, in them remain elements that are beyond change. I can find traces of Calvinism in myself, irrational fears that stem from the first years of my life.
  • p62 Freedom works best with those who have enough combined free emotion and free intelligence to absorb it.
  • p66 You can do nothing if a vital truth has to be kept dark.
  • p68 If he is going to use psychology he should do so more in action than in words. Hugging a child will often do much more for it than interpreting its dreams.
  • p70 My motto is: take from each [system] what you want and reject the rest, and never label yourself as one of a school. I'd hate to think that long after I am dead teachers will call themselves Summerhilliens. They will thus advertise the fact that they are dead.
  • p72 Today the word therapy makes me think of Hermann Goering's: 'When I hear the word Kultur I reach for my gun.' In my time I have met dozens of people treated by all schools of psychology, and their therapy had not apparently changed them into active, creative, happy people.
  • p73 I think it is happiness that makes our girls look attractive and our boys handsome.
  • p78 The tidies person often has the most untidy mind. I say this with all the detachment of a man whose desk always looks like a heap of papers under a 'No Litter' notice in a public park.
  • p82 The good health that we enjoy at Summerhill is due to freedom, good food, and fresh air - in that order.
  • p85 The perverts who require to be scourged with whips or to beat women with rods are merely extreme cases of people who, owing to sex miseducation, are unable to give love except in the disguised form of hate.
  • p87 'Why not? This is a free school.' 'Yes, but it isn't a free civilization. Suppose I gave you one and the Ministry of Education heard of it. They would close my school.'
  • p88 Conditioned children of both sexes are often incapable of loving. This news may be comforting to those who fear sex; but to youth in general, the inability to love is a great human tragedy.
  • p89 Sex with love is the greatest pleasure in the world, and it is repressed because it is the greatest pleasure.
  • p95 In fact, death enters early into every child's fantasies.
  • p101 I might define myself as a true believer in humanity. My message has been this one; a child's emotions are infinitely more important than his intellectual progress. I have tried, with I fear little success, to show that schools, by ignoring emotions, leave them to outside influences, the press, the kitsch of radio and TV, commercial TV ads, a plethora of magazines geared to a mentality of ten.
  • p102 Freedom works best with clever children. I should like to be able to say that since freedom plays most of the time for years; but when the time comes, the bright ones will sit down and tackle the work necessary to master the subjects covered by government exams. In little over two years, a boy or girl will cover the work that disciplined children take eight years to cover.
  • In our educational policy a nation, we refuse to let live. We persuade through fear. But there is a great difference between compelling a child to cease throwing stones and compelling him to learn Latin. Throwing stones involves others; but learning Latin involves only boy. The community has the right to restrain the antisocial boy because he is interfering with the rights of others; but the community has no right to compel a boy to learn Latin - for learning Latin is a matter for the individual. Forcing a child to learn is on a par with forcing a man to adopt a religion by act of Parliament. And it is equally foolish.
  • p104 ... the words of the old public-school headmaster: "It doesn't matter what you teach a boy so long as he dislikes it."
  • p107 When I lecture to students at teacher training colleges and universities, I am often shocked at the ungrownupness of these lads and lasses stuffed with useless knowledge. They know a lot; they shine in dialectics; they can quote the classics - but in their outlook on life many of them are infants. For they have been taught to know, but have not been allowed to feel. These students are friendly, pleasant, eager, but something is lacking - the emotional factor, the power to subordinate thinking to feeling. I talk to them of a world thay have missed and go on missing. Their textbooks do not deal with human character, or with love, or with freedom, or with self-determination. And so the system goes on, aiming only at standards of book learning - goes on separating the head from the heart.
  • p108 Higher education and university degree do not make a scrap of difference in confronting the evils of society. A learned neurotic is no better than an unlearned neurotic.
  • p110 To every child, adult approval means love; wheres disapproval means hate.
  • p112 When I lived in Germany the only Germans who seemed able to laugh at themselves were the Jews.
  • p113 Humour is a kind of emotional safety-valve and it a man cannot laugh at himself he is dead before his death. Someone once wrote that most men die when they are forty but aren't buried until they are seventy. He must have meant the humourless men.
  • p114 Once a young man thought he could run the school better than I could. He agitated among the staff and made some converts so that the atmosphere was one you could cut with knife. I should give up being the boss; the staff should handle everything, finance, entolment of pupils, salaries. Naturally I got rid of the rebels as soon as I could, reluctantly, for they were good teachers. I fancy that, instead of challenging father substitute, even a non-authoritarian one. I doubt if Summerhill could be run by a committee, for the progress of a committee is too often the pace of the more conservative members.
  • p115 It is sad that old pupils do not become teachers and return as members of the staff. Perhaps they are too well-balanced to teach, but I have had housemothers whe were ex-pupils and they did this work well - partly because they did not require a period of living out their complexes when coming to a non-authoritarian atmosphere.
  • p117 A recent woman visitor said to me, "Why don't you teach your pupils about life of Jesus, so that hey will be inspired to follow in his steps?" I answered that one learns to live, not by hearing of other lives, but by living; for words are infinitely less important than acts. Many have called Summerhill a religious place because it gives out love to children.
  • p117 In my boyhood, faith was easy to accept. The earth was the centre of the universe and a kindly God had put the sun and moon and starts there to light our footsteps. He was a very personal God; he knew us all individually and when we died rewarded us with a harp or punished us with a fire. We had no idea that our earth was a minnow in an ocean of stars and planets. Because our earth was the center of the universe, man was the supreme subject of creation, and like the stars immortal.
  • p118 And because Granny and Boston had no doubts, but I knew, as if by instinct, that hell was my destination. Yet there was no hate in Granny. She was a vary human, loving woman, and one of her joys was to listen to the often obscene gossip of the woman from the cottage over the road.
  • p118 The Bible says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." It is much more often the beginning of psychic disorder. For to invest a child with fear in any form is harmful.
  • p119 To ask a little child to be unselfish is wrong. Every child is an egoist. The world belongs to him. His power of wishing is strong; he has only to wish and he is king of the earth. When he is given an apple his one wish is to eat that apple. And the chief result of mother's encouraging him to share his very own apple with his little brother is to make him hate the little brother. Altruism comes later, comes naturally if the child is not taught to be unselfish; probably never comes at all when the child is taught to be unselfish. The young altruist is merely the child who likes to please others while he is satisfying his own selfishness. By suppressing the child's selfishness the selfishness becomes fixed. An unfulfilled wish lives on in the unconscious. The child who is taught to be unselfish will remain stuck being selfish through life. Moral instruction thus defeats its own purpose.
  • p120 Children unconsciously realize that stealing is sickness. They are little realists, and are far too sensible to postulate an angry God and a tempting devil.
  • p121 I personally have nothing against the man who believes in god - no matter what god. What I object to is the man who claims that his god is the authority for his imposing restrictions on human growth and happiness. The battle is not between believers in theology and non-believers in theology; it is between believers in human freedom and believers in the suppression of human freedom.
  • p122 To be a free soul, happy in work, happy in friendship, and happy in live, or to be a miserable bundle of conflicts, hating one's self and hating humanity - one or the other is the legacy that parents and teachers give to every child.
  • p125 Of course, the philistine can say, "Humph, so you call a lorry driver a success in life!" My own criterion of success is the ability to work joyfully and to live positively. Under that definition, most pupils in Summerhill turn to be successes in life.
  • p133 Success to me does not mean degree and good jobs and fame; success means seeing a child come with a face full of hate and fear and in two years have a face full of life and happiness.
  • p135 The inspectors are blind to the fact that Summerhill runs on the principle that if the emotions are free our intellect will look after itself. One cannot teach anything of importance - to love, to have charity - and one cannot inspect anything of importance.
  • p137 I like to meet the man who, at the age of fifty-three, says he doesn't quite know what he is to be in life.
  • p144 An Indian lady asked me a string of questions. She flicked back her pages. "But, Mr Neill, ten minutes ago you gave the very opposite reply." "I grow quickly," I said. "You can't expect me to stand still, can you?" She did not even smile.
  • p145 I have usually found that the poorer the parents the more punctual they are in paying the fees.
  • p148 The young devil in hell rushed to his master in great perturbation. 'Master, master, something awful has happened; they have discovered truth on earth!' The devil smiled. 'That's all right, boy. I'll send someone up to organize it.'
  • p149 It takes no genius; one does not have to be a superman, only a man or woman without the wish to tell others how to live.
  • p150 Disciples are dangerous and too often inferior.
  • p164 For many, money comes too late in life to have any deep significance.
  • p166 "The boy's just hopeless," said my father gloomily. "He might be a teacher," ventured my mother. "It's about all he's fit for," said my father grimly, and without a smile.
  • p171 The lesson is this, Neill. Good music you can hear again and again: inferior music bores you stiff if you get it more than once. --H. M. Willsher
  • p175 It was all piddling stuff, like taking Milan Cathedral to pieces stone by stone to discover where the beauty lay.
  • p177 Nowadays I should tell them the truth, that I was poor. Mainly from my mother, who feared that we might revert to her working-class mother's status, I had the idea that poverty was a crime, a thing to be ashamed of, to hide as skilfully as one could. I must have played my part well, for years afterwards a fellow student, who had been a pal, remarked, "Yes, it was all very well for you, Neill. You had money and I hadn't."
  • p177 The whole question of my attitude towards money is important. Because of the poverty suffered in my young years, I have a queer meanness about money. I grudge paying out small sums, yet can sign a cheque for a large amount without a moment's hesitation. Many other men regard cheques in a similar way: to us, a cheque isn't real money. It is fantasy money, and therefore of no emotional value.
  • p184 Just as a person's fear changes into positive energy when rowing a boat in a bad swell, so he can absorb terror and pity while assisting others in pain. And one cannot feel deeply for complete strangers.
  • p202 I disclaim any originality in thought. Indeed, if I have any merit it is that I have a flair for spotting the people who matter.
  • p202 ... and, or course Christ. I admit that last influence with difficulty, owing to my early "religious" training which made hi a god instead of a most human human. All I have gained from the general picture is a vision of the man Jesus, a man giving love, asking none in exchange. He also had charity, condemning no one if we except the money-changers, and there his reaction only showed how human he was. Sin to him appeared to be sickness; he apparently was conscious of man's unconscious two thousand years before Freud was born. He did no have to resist temptation because within himself he did not feel guilty.
  • p203 Some men use humour to cover up more serious matters in life, for it is easy to laugh something off instead of facing it.
  • p209 It meant putting learning in its place - below living. As a schoolmaster i had used knowledge as the criterion of success. Lane showed me that emotions were infinitely more powerful and more vital than intellect.
  • p214 The first and last Christian died on the Cross. --Nietzsche
  • p214 Lane did not need a religion; he lived religion, that is, if "religion" means giving out love and not hate.
  • p215 One evil of humanity is that we persist in telling children how to live. All our educational systems strive to mould them in the image of their elders, and the children in turn mould their children, and one result is a very sick world full of crime and hate and wars. Thus, the vicious circle persists, and millions of children are unhappy and tense in mind and body. The weight of this tradition is so heavy that only one man in a thousand can ever challenge or even want to challenge the morals and taboos of society.
  • p219 "Bend the tree when when it is a twig and it will be bend when it is fully grown." He also said, "What is wrong with psychoanalysis is that is deals with words, while all the damage is done to a child before it can speak."
  • p220 This is what I cannot get at, the "why" of mankind's hate and war and discipline.
  • p221 It is obvious from his wife Ilse's book that Reich in the end lost his reason. That never worried me; many great men went mad - Swift, Nietzsche, Schumann, Ruskin, lots of others. (I know I am not a genius because I haven't.) To me it didn't matter a damn if he has a streak of paranoia ... who doesn't?
  • p224 I used to think that the way to a girl's heart was paved with compliments, and it took me a long time to discover that another man won her heart by telling her what a nasty bitch she was.
  • p231 Summerhill has been a scientific experiment in one respect, in that we strove to impose nothing, we simply stood by and observed what children were and did when left to themselves.
  • p241 Altogether, I think I am rather proud of these facts, feeling that to be acknowledged by the officials would suggest that I was out of date.
  • p243 Nowadays, I do not think in terms of youth and age. I feel that years have little to do with one's thinking. I know lads of twenty who are ninety, and men of sixty who are twenty. I am thinking in terms of freshness, enthusiasm, of lack of conservatism, of deadness, of pessimism.
  • p243 Age lessens fear. But age also lessens courage. Years ago, I could easily tell a boy who threatened to jump from a high window if he did not get his own way to go on and jump. I am not so sure I could do so today.
  • p244 I have lived to see - won't say the death of God since there are many millions of Moslems and Catholics around - lived to see the decline of Protestant religion. In England the churches are not full; youth is largely indifferent to organized religion. It does not believe in si and heaven and hell.Its gods are more harmless - pop stars, disc jockeys, football heroes - but the "new religion" has one characteristic in common with the old: the hate and violence between the supporters of football teams compares with the hate and violence in religious Ulster with its Roman Catholic and Protestant teams wanting to murder each other.
  • p246 Children have changed in some indefinable ways. ... Fundamentally the change in youth must be due to its loss of faith in age, in authority, in power, and for that I can cry hurrah to the new generation.
  • p249 Freedom is a relative term. The freedom we think about in Summerhill is individual freedom, inner freedom. Few of us can have that inner freedom. In our school freedom means doing what you like so long as you do not interfere with the freedom of others. That is the outer meaning, but deeper down we strive to see that children are free internally, free from fear, from hypocrisy, from hate, from intolerance.
  • p250 New generations must be given the chance to grow in freedom. The bestowal of freedom is the bestowal of love. And only love can save the world.
  • p253 Perhaps the most puzzling feature in man is his capacity for sacrificing himself for objects he is unconscious of.
  • p257 Their attitude was: "This is a free school: I'll do what I like." It took them some time to grasp the fact that freedom does not mean doing exactly as you like. They found that in a self-governing school they had to obey the law made by the whole community. And it was hard for some of them to conform.
  • p259 Our schools' chief function is to kill the life of children. Otherwise the Establishment would be powerless. Would millions of free men allow themselves to be sacrificed to causes they had no interest in and did not understand? Is the future of humanity one of slaves ruled by an √©lite of powerful masters?
  • p262 Unfortunately most things in life come too late. Barrie put it: "They give you nuts to chew when your teeth have gone."
  • p262 I am often spoken of as the man who loves children. Love is hardly the world to use a problem boy is breaking my school windows. One cannot love masses, only individuals, and not all individuals are lovable. No, I reject the word love; I prefer Homer Lane's "being on the side of the child", which means approval, sympathy, kindness, plus a complete absence of adult authority. It is of more value to understand children than to love them.
  • p263 Is the radical marching with red flag because he loves the poor, or because he hates the rich? Alas, to look for motives is as useless as to look for a life plan.
  • p265 No, self-analysis is impossible. You cannot psychoanalyse yourself because you cannot face the factors that would offend your own opinion of your ego.
  • p266 I am ignorant about psychology. Where does the truth lie? In Freud, Jung, Reich, Marcuse, Fromm, Rogers? Is sex repression the main cause of world wickedness? If Adler's power motive is right why fo the masses have no power and no desire to obtain it? If original sin exists why aren't all crooks and murderers?
  • p267 It is a fallacy that knowledge means power. I have known men who seemed to know everything, and understood nothing.
  • p267 Nay, the important thing is not ultimately to know, it is to feel, and all the university degrees in the world do not help one to feel.