Post from A.S. Neill Summerhill's School

June 28, 2018

As Summerhill cruises calmly towards her 100th birthday (more about this soon!) I thought a little bit of nostalgia and history is in order............This from Neill in 1945, the year before my birth. xx Zoë 


What is an ‘Educated Man’?

We need a new standard in education writes A.S.Neill, head of Summerhill School, one of the most famous “experimental” schools in Britain

Daily Worker Monday July 16th 1945 – cost, one penny


The Education Act is to give ample education to all, and children from eleven onwards will be competing for places in higher schools. Good, but what kind of education is it to be?

The danger is that the workers will accept the standard of education that the rich have adopted, that is, one that produces an “educated man.”

So that the next question is this one: What is an educated man?


The answer of the rich and cultured would possibly be: a man of liberal culture, a culture that values learning, placing a university degree as a criterion of top success. Children will have more and better and higher maths and languages and what not: they will learn quadratics that they will never use, French they will never speak, history that ignores people. But learning is not education and many of us know B.A.s and M.A.s who are stupid and narrow. The people must refuse the education of the Haves, must demand a new education altogether.


Let me put up two lay figures and compare them:-
Robert Somebody, of Someplace Hall. Educ. Eton and Oxford. B.A. (Fine Library; reads Milton and Dryden and Shelley; can read Homer in the original Greek). Bob Nobody, of Side Street, E.C. Mechanic, maker of tools on precision machines. (Reads the Daily Worker, but if you mentioned the name Milton to him it might suggest a mouthwash rather than “Paradise Lost”.) Robert is a man of culture, a highly educated gentleman. Bob, with his occasional mistakes in grammar and spelling, is a common man of little education.

But in a capitalist State it is almost impossible to escape snobbery, and either consciously or unconsciously Bob feels himself inferior to Robert, and is inclined to seek for his children, if not for himself the opportunities that gave Robert his culture and superiority.


And so, when the new Act promises education for all, poor Bob is apt to think that classroom learning will automatically bring the new Jerusalem in which Robert and Bob will be equally educated.
What Bob does not realise is that his culture belongs to tomorrow, while that of Robert belongs to yesterday, the yesterday of squires and leisured class.


It is ludicrous that a man who can do skilled handwork should feel inferior to a university professor who may not be able to mend a puncture, ludicrous that the ploughman who can make a perfect stack or a straight furrow should rank lower in culture than a teacher. They talk of the new era, the era of the common man, but if he is going to accept the academic standard of the uncommon man we shall end in pedagogical Fascism.

The question, then, is not how many schools we are to have or how many trained teachers: it is the more fundamental one: Are we to drop the daft idea that mere knowledge is culture, mere book-learning education?
Education is living, doing, being. It is more to do with feeling than thinking, for in the great things in life we act after our feelings and not our intellects.


Feeling made us choose the fighting Churchill the national leader, but when the great national leader became the small Tory leader our intellects protested . . .but we couldn’t keep our feelings out of the protest all the same.

Our schools deal with the intellect; they almost ignore the feeling side of life, so that when we leave school our undeveloped emotions are easily satisfied with cheap films, the sensational and pictorial press, the minor delights of watching racing and football.


Hence the common man should by-pass the education of the rich and academic and seek a new education that will start with the heart and not the head.

This education should be primarily creative – writing plays instead of cramming Hamlet; making music, not only listening to it, painting pictures instead of having lectures on the Post-impressionists, creating things out of wood and metal and plastic, dancing, play – for childhood is play-hood and we none of us had enough play in early years. School barracks and discipline murder play.


With creation must go freedom. School discipline is an excellent way of turning out a servile proletariat, and one who has called a teacher “Sir” and humbly asked to be excused to go to the lavatory, is well on the way of accepting all the bosses of industry and finance later.


True, the public schools have their discipline also, but it is the discipline that leads to mastery, not servility.

The only discipline of any value is self-discipline, and my school has shown for 25 years that a child is capable of using self-government with an absence of obedience to, respect for and fear of adults.

True self-government in a big school with desks and prison-like rooms and a meagre concrete playground, with compulsory attendance at lessons is not easy to have. 

This suggests that the new school must not be a barracks, a cram shop. It must be a spacious hive of creation with self-determination for all children to seek their own lessons (and by gum, they will demand the best teachers too!).

The new Education Act won’t abolish the barrack school, and we don’t expect it to do so. But what I mean is that, while accepting minor advances, we must keep our eyes fixed on the big ideal. And, after all, the Education Act leaves so much out. Why didn’t Butler decree that all caning and fear be ruled out of school? If a teacher in Russia beats a child he is automatically sacked, and in pre-Hitler Saxony corporal punishment was forbidden. 
Again, why did Butler allow the religionists to steal his Act? All that fuss about the Church schools (that seem to beat the children just as effectively as non- church schools!).


The common man should demand that religion have no place in the school. Christ’s followers whacking kids – why teach religion and allow the devil to have all the best canes as well as the best tunes? The difference between a caning teacher and an S.S. guard in Buchenwald is only one degree; both introduce hate and cruelty.

I end with a plea to readers to realise that the new world of radio and films and science need a new standard of culture and education. I know all about acres and rods and poles; I can solve geometrical problems, but my culture is of no use when my radio set goes west.


Then the university-trained teacher has to call in the knowing local radio expert, who, poor devil, fancies that I am better educated than he is.

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