I am cur­rent­ly read­ing “Neill of Sum­mer­hill – the Per­ma­nent Rebel” by Jonathan Croall.

I don’t know how much of A. S. Neill’s work and phi­los­o­phy I under­stood when I was at col­lege in the late 60’s/early 70’s. What I do know is that I’ve known for a long time, as did he, that infants are innate­ly good when they are born. 

There were days in the past few years when I have thought, as Neill wrote in a let­ter in 1931, “…I am weary of clean­ing up the mess that par­ents make.”

It was my own school­ing that had the most pro­found influ­ence on me. From my first expe­ri­ence at age 4 years 7 months when I first attend­ed a Catholic pri­ma­ry school as one of the few non-Catholics until I final­ly left my aca­d­e­m­ic Eng­lish gram­mar school 14 years lat­er to take an office job, every aspect of how I was treat­ed formed my ideas of the edu­ca­tion that I hoped for for my children.

I had doubts about an Amer­i­can edu­ca­tion when I was first con­tem­plat­ing it for my old­est son. We had talked about edu­cat­ing our chil­dren our­selves even before we had them. As we were com­pil­ing the first US edi­tion of Reed’s Nau­ti­cal Almanac we envi­sioned our­selves sail­ing around the world and our chil­dren trav­el­ling every­where with us. A Sail Mag­a­zine arti­cle pub­lished in the 1970’s about a fam­i­ly that lead such a life was inspi­ra­tional to us both. (We nev­er sailed round the world!)

The only rea­son my old­est son attend­ed a part-time pre-school was because by the time he was 4 years old near­ly every oth­er child he knew was in full time or at least half day part-time pre-school. Gone were the days of meet­ing at the park with oth­er fam­i­lies where our chil­dren were free to cre­ate their own games.

Of course, once I encoun­tered the mean­ness of pub­lic school admin­is­tra­tions I knew I had to do some­thing dif­fer­ent. It was real­ly only that I was so dif­fer­ent from those around me (that fun­ny Eng­lish accent made me unusu­al to start with!) cou­pled with not being reli­gious – did I men­tion that on mar­ry­ing I also took a Jew­ish sur­name? Too many fac­tors mak­ing me an obvi­ous “outcast in the south” all of which prompt­ed me to do what I could for my child to appear conventional.

I was wrong to even think that either of my sons would end up being “typical Amer­i­can­s”. You sim­ply can’t be a typ­i­cal Amer­i­can fam­i­ly when you come from first gen­er­a­tion immi­grants on both sides!

Thus came our choice to home edu­cate our sons. It was some time before I realised that I had brought our chil­dren up with free­dom pri­or to them reach­ing school age (they were already being ‘home edu­cat­ed’). Once I went back to that, away from the rigid­i­ty of the book learn­ing tra­di­tion­al route, their brains went back to func­tion­ing as they had in their ear­li­est years. Freely and naturally.

Which brings me back to Neill of Sum­mer­hill. His great belief in the chil­dren that he taught, espe­cial­ly those who were trou­bled in their ear­ly years, his belief that par­ents were con­tribut­ing fac­tors in the prob­lems the chil­dren had and that in order for a child to heal they need­ed ten­der­ness, time and free­dom, are all my beliefs.

It’s belief in the good­ness of the child over the effi­cien­cy of the sys­tem or con­ve­nience of the parents.

I’ve come to it by myself but am encour­aged to read more of the books by indi­vid­u­als who wrote about such beliefs in the 20th century. 

I won­der where sim­i­lar thinkers are in the 21st century?