**** By A.S. Neill. Subtitle: A New View of Childhood. This is a must-read for anyone with plans to have or work with children. I recommend the 1972 edition over earlier incarnations.
Neill's philosophy is, on the face, simple: children should be raised free. Freedom to play, to be autonomous, to make decisions, to have space, to have privacy, to be sexual beings, to generally be children. No responsibilities that are not self-imposed; no restrictions on activities unless they are unsafe or infringe on others' possessions, privacy, or freedom; no expectations of what they should be when they grow up; and, for crying out loud, no guilt trips!
Free children will grow up into happy, stable, well-balanced adults. Restrictions breed hate; hate breeds anger, self-loathing, neuroses, etc. (Phew -- I stopped before sounding too much like Yoda.) Neill believes that children will come to their own conclusions regardless of how adults try to steer them. And steering them will always backfire (usually at the child's expense), whether now or later.
It makes a whole lot of sense to me and, while I think it would be difficult to raise children the way he suggests (especially when most of us did not grow up "free" ourselves), I think it's worth putting some effort into it. Wouldn't we all like to contribute to Utopia in our small way? And, more to the point, wouldn't we like our children to grow up as happy as possible?
In the 1972 edition, Neill has trimmed the fat off his philosophy and added a memoir to flesh out the volume. He traces his life through his youth, his careers, his journey through the education system(s) of England as student and teacher and headmaster. It's a fascinating path to his ultimate philosophy and life's work.
Neill's writing is clean, conversational, and humorous. What struck me about this edition, though, is how it seems to be haunted. Neill revised the book two short years before his death at age 90, and already he haunts the pages. The ghost of his childhood watches silently, fearfully, guiltily. He foresees the end not only of his life but of Summerhill School, the institution he lived for. The effect is eerie, and I wish I could reach back through those pages and say, "Look, it's okay. Your school's still going, for now, anyway. And people are still reading your book. All is not lost."
Now, then. Don't prove me wrong.
Posted by Lisa on July 29, 2003 08:39 PM