A S Neill was the educational Lysenko of his day. His schooling system was an absolute disaster. The vast majority of children left to decide their own educational pace will fail miserably to make significant progress. OFSTED failed Summerhill when it eventually got inspected– it was being run by his daughter after his death– itself evidence of its lack of credible management. Probably the only really well known achiever that came out of Summerhill was John Burningham, the children’s book illustrator.
Just read these accounts– and bear in mind they’re a selection published in the Guardian, which was always going to put the best possible gloss it could on the Summerhill experience, and ask yourself whether you really want your children’s education to have the same character and outcomes as these.
One of my little hobbies is collecting accounts by people who were subjected as children in the 60s and later to various forms of libertarian or closed separatist sectarian upbringing and education. The experiences they describe are never less than horrifying. The best of them is “My Life in Orange” by Tim Guest, a brilliant telling of his experience of being the child of a woman who gave herself and him up to the Bhagwhan Shri Rajnesh. It wasn’t just Jimmy Savile who spent years subjecting children to appalling abuse in plain view and got away with it.
Very sadly, Guest died suddenly of a drug overdose a year or two ago.
Another wonderful account is “When Skateboards will be Free”, an account of a US SWP upbringing by the son of a mother who obviously had issues beyond those that went with giving her life to the SWP cause.
A less sensational, but no less deeply sad book is “Children of the Revolution: Communist Childhood in Cold War Britain”, a collection of accounts of the lives of the children of British Communist Party families–the periods covered range from the 20s and 30s to the 70s and 80s. Many of the tellers (especially Michael Rosen and Jackie Kay) regard their “progressive” CP upbringing positively. But to any reader not already sold on the need to justify the existence of the CP and the life choices of their parents, their lives as children were painfully diminished by being subjected to the imperatives of Stalin’s, Khrushchev’s and Brezhnev’s CP.