Selected by Colin McCrossin
to rear children who will become happy human beings, men and women whose values are not to have much, not to use much, but to be much.
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. all crimes, all hatreds, all wars can be reducced to unhappiness. this book is an attempt to show how unhappiness arises, how it ruins human lives, and how children can be reared so that much of this unhappiness will never arise.
a school that makes active children sit at a desk, studying mostly useless subjects is a bad school. it is a good school only for those who believe in such a school, for those uncreative citizens who want docile, uncreative children who will fit into a civilization whose standard of success is money. summerhill began as an experimental school. it no longer is; it is not a demonstration school, for it demonstrates that freedom works. when my first wife and i began the school we had one main idea: to make the school fit the child -- instead of making the child fit the school. we set out to make a school in which we should allow children freedom to be themselves. in order to do this, we had to renounce all discipline, all direction, all suggestion, all moral training, all religious instruction. we have been called brave, but it did not require courage. all it required was what we had -- a complete belief in the child as a good, not an evil, being. for almost forty years, this belief in the goodness of the child has never wavered; it rather has become a final faith.
we have no new methods of teaching because we do not consider that teaching in itself matters very much. whether a school has or has not a special method for teaching long division is of no significance, for long division is of no importance except to those who want to learn it. and the child who wants to learn long division will learn it no matter how it is taught.
i emphasize the importance of this abscence of fear of adults. a child of nine will come and tell me he has broken a window with a ball. he tells me, because he isn't afraid of arousing wrath or moral indiganation. he may have to pay for the window, but he doesn't have to fear being lectured or being punished.
children make contact with strangers more easily when fear is unknown to them. english reserve is, at bottom, really fear; and that is why the most reserved are those who have the most wealth. the fact that summerhill children are so exceptionally friendly to visitors and starngers is a source of pirde to me and my staff.
the function of the child is to live his own life -- not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, nor a life according to the purpose of the educator who thins he knows what is best. all this interference and guidance of the part of adults only produces a generation fo robots. 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 830 suburban train -- a society, in short, that is carried on the shabby shoulders of the scared little man -- the scared-to-death conformist.
up to a few years ago girls were apt to come late to summerhill; we had lots of failures from convents and girls schools... these girls who came late were usually children of parents who had no appreciation of freedom, for if they had had, their girls would not have been problems.
if a child is free to approve of himself, he will not usually be hateful. he will not see any fun in trying to make an adult lose his temper.
the exaggerated aggression we see in unfree children is an overprotest against hate that has been shown toward them. at summerhill where no child feels he is hated by adults, aggression is not so necessary. when i was a boy at a village school bloody noses were at least a weekly phenomenon. aggression of the fighting type is hate; and youngsters full of hate need to fight. when children are in an atmosphere in which hate is eliminated, they do not show hate.
in most schools where i have taught, the staff room was a little hell of intrigue, hate, and jealousy. our staff room is a happy place. the spites so often seen elsewhere are absent. under fredom, adults acquire the same happiness and good will that the pupils acquire.
the aim is life is to find happiness, which means to find interest.
every time we show tommy how his engine works we are stealing from that child the joy of life -- the joy of discovery -- the joy of overcoming an obstacle. worse. we make that child come to believe that he is inferior, and must depend on help.
parents are slow in realizing how unimportant the learning side of school is. children, like adults, learn what they want to learn. all prize-giving and marks and exams sidetrack proper personality development. only peans claim that learning from books is education. books are the least important apparatus in a school. all that any child needs is the three R's; the rest should be tools and clay and sports and theater and paint and freedom. most of the school work that adolescents do is simply a waste of time, of energy, of patience it robs youth of its right ot play and play and play; it puts old heads on young shoulders.
learning should come after play. and learning should not be seasoned with play to make it palatable.
creators learn what they want to learn in order to have the tools that their originality and genius demand. we do not know how much creation is killed in the classroom with its emphasis on learning.
indifferent scholars who, under discipline, scrape through college or university and become unimaginative teachers, mediocre doctors, and incompetent lawyers would possibly be good mechanics, excellent bricklayers or first-rate policemen.
it is an absurd curriculum that makes a prospective dressmaker study quadratic equations or boyle's law.
caldwell cook wrote a book called the play way, in which he told how he taught english by means of play. it was a fascinating book yet i think it was only a new way of bolstering the theory that learning is of the utmost importance. cook held that learning was so important that the pill should be sugared with play. this notion that uness a child is learning something the child is wasting his time is nothing less than a curse -- a curse that blinds thousands of teachers and most school inspectors. fifty years ago the watchword was learn through doing. today the watchword is learn through playing. play is thus used only as a means to an end, but to what good end i do not really know.
if a teacher sees children playing with mud, and he thereupon improves the shining moment by holding forth about river-bank erosion, what end has he in view? what child cares about river erosion? many so-called educators believe thta it does not matter what a child learns as long as he is taught something. and of course, with schools as they are -- just mass-production factories -- what can a teacher do but teach something and come to believe that teaching, in itself, matters most of all?
when i lecture to a group of teachers, i commence by saying that i am not going to speak about school subjects or discipline or classes. for an hour my audience listens in rapt silence; and after the sincere applause, the chairman announces that i am ready to answer questions. at least three-quarters of the questions deal with subjects and teaching. i do not tell this in any superior way. i tell it sadly to show how the classroom walls and the prisonlike buildings narrow the teacher's outlook, and prevent him from seeing the true essentials of education. his work deals with the part of a child that is above the neck; and perforce, the emotional, vital part of the child is foreign territory to him. i wish i could see a bigger movement of rebellion among our younger teachers. higher education and university degrees do not make a scrap of difference in confronting the evils of society. a learned neurotic is not any different than an unlearned neurotic. in all countries, capitalist, socialist, or communist, elaborate schools are built to educate the young. but all the wonderful labs and workshops do nothing to help john or peter or ivan surmount the emotional damage and the social evils bred by the pressure on him from his parents, his teachers, and the pressure of the coercive quality of our civilization.
a parent's fear of the future affords a poor prognosis for the health of his children. this kind of parent is not content to leave willie to learn to read when he wants to, but nervously fears that willie will be a failure in life unless he is pushed. such parents cannot wait for the child to go at his own rate. they ask, if my son cannot read at twelve, what chance has he of success in life? if he cannot pass college entrance exams at eighteen, what is there for him but an unskilled job? but i have learned to wait and watch a child make little or no progress. i never doubt that in the end, if not molested or damaged, he will succeed in life. of course the philistine can say "so you call a truck 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 out to be successes.