Alternative Education resource Organization
On Wed, 13 May 1998, Tim Kyng wrote:
> In recent messages there has been some suggestion that the phrase
> "progressive education" is not very helpful. I agree, and I think that in
> fact what most of us believe in is "democratic education", which seems a more
> useful phrase.
> Certainly, what I found most exciting about Summerhill was self-government.
> One of my criticims of the school, though, is that this democracy was only
> partial. I well remember an incident when Neill appointed the world's worst
> cook to the staff. She didn't believe in adding salt to food, among other
> fads. There were vociferous protests that the food was horrible and
> inedible. The matter was raised at a General Meeting, and we were told that
> we could not interfere with staff matters. This caused great anger, and I
> remember my own anger about it still.
> Children should not be led to believe that they are living in a democracy,
> only to find out that, lurking behind this facade, is the old authoritarian
> attitude after all. This is to cheat the children.
> The problem is related to private ownership by a single individual. As
> Albert has explained, certain things are outside the scope of democracy at
> Summerhill. These things, in my opinion, are of vital concern to the
> pupils. They include the finances of the school, the hiring and firing of
> staff, and the admission and expulsion of pupils. Just why it should be
> considered that kids are incapable of dealing with these matters is beyond my
> comrehension. Such an attitude seems highly paternalistic to me. Finances
> should be wide open to scrutiny, especially if a school is crying poor and
> not paying the staff the proper union rate. And why should the kids be
> denied the right to a say in the appointment and subsequent assessment of the
> staff? How can this be described as democratic? This situation should really
> be described as a benevolent dictatorship, in which democratic rights are
> allocated according to the whim of the owner/headmaster. Incidentally,
> freedom of speech is also prone to being restricted in such a situation.
> There is a decided reluctance on the part of staff, particularly, to express
> opposite opinions to the owner of the school, but this also does affect the
> Virtually all universities now have student representatives on the governing
> body, and these often exercise considerable influence and power over staff
> and other matters. Most university students are not much older than the
> older kids at our schools, so why cannot similar rights be given to them?
> I believe that Sudbury Valley is fully democratic and that the matters I have
> referred to above are fully under the contol of the community. I applaud
> this. Summerhill, it is time for you to catch up!
> I fail to see how a school can be said to be a genuine decomcracy in the full
> sense when some of the most important issues are arbitrarily removed from the
> power of the General Meeting even to discuss. What we have in fact is a
> benevolent dictatorship, and the extent of that is determined by the
> particular member of the Neill dynasty who happens to be occupying the throne
> at any particular time. The present incumbent is clearly not of a democratic
> disposition except in matters of comparatively minor importance. In fact she
> doesn't understand what freedom means, since freedom depends first and
> foremost upon freedom of speech, and all other freedoms are dependent on that
> primary freedom. SVS, by contrast, seems to be a full and genuine
> democracy, which I applaud.
> I hope we can continue to be on good terms, and I will try not to allow my
> impatience to spill over into intemperate language.
> Best wishes,