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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Summerhill at 90

Summerhill isn't a widely-known or even reputed school. It's a "free school" where children are given the choice and responsibility to attend classes or not. Widely frowned upon by much of academia, it has always been financially struggling but has somehow survived these past 90 years.

It has also influenced many other experimental schools. My own high school was based on Summerhill philosophy, and though my school is gone now, in its time and place it was revolutionary. I realize now how very important and influential that experience was in shaping both my education and who I am as a human.

Were I ever rich, I'd found a Summerhill-like school. For many of us who attended St. Francis, it quite literally saved our lives. St. Francis was an ecumenical school as well as a free school, and though Christianity was available it wasn't singularly forced. In my Sophomore year I recall taking a class in Witchcraft History as well as an Islamic History course. I took many English courses in my Freshman year. Aside from the obligatory Classics we read Bestsellers and Mystery novels, which encouraged and edified my love of reading.

I was a scholarship student, one of very few there. Most of the kids were wayward rich types whose families didn't know what to do with them. There were some bad incidents, but we always drew together as a school and everyone really did have a say in what happened. It was painful to graduate and leave that school. Makes me wonder how many people can say that of their secondary education.


Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

I think you must have had a marvelous experience at that school. I did not go to a progressive, free-thinking school like you, but rather a small (about 60 students) religious-run institution. Regardless of the rhetoric, there was a feeling of belonging that one can not get in the larger public schools. Saint John's shaped me in many ways into the individual I am. Surprisingly, I still remember some of that damn Latin.

annieoatcake said...

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

(Robert Frost)

I thought of the above poem, recited by Tonyboy to Johnny in the novel 'The Outsiders', during the mahem of the London riots. At the end of the novel Johnny, in pain and dying, urges Tonyboy to stay 'Gold' (which the 16 year old author used to represent the innocence and goodness of youth).

The riots made me question the kind of society we live in where we manipulate and disregard our young. So much so that when they finally crack and behave in a 'greed is good' way, we manipulate and disregard them again by calling them 'feral rats' and 'mindless criminals'...

I worked in 'community' education for many years, I even trained youth workers and teachers on how to work with young people with 'behavioural problems' in school. My eyes are wide open enough to realise that unless we invest in our young and treat them with the respect they deserve, our society is truly f*****

BTW Miss Laura Austanspace, you clearly have retained your 'Gold', it must have been quite a school!

Austan said...

Starting- That's it- the feeling of belonging, which I think is so crucial to a teen. And the trust and respect that comes out of that mutual trust. Ours was a small school, too; the graduating class was only 33, I think. It was a safe place to become yourself.

And I remember some of that Latin, and some of the Russian and German, too. I can read French just fine but still trip over speaking it!

Annie- Frost is one of the best. Thanks for that poem.

I agree with you wholeheartedly about how we treat our youth. Kids are thinkers by nature; they're processing what we do as we do it. What the hell can they do in a world where all that matters is money? Where pop music is about money, sex and violence? Where education has plummeted? I'd be rioting every f***ing day!

Yeah, Annie it was wonderful, in every sense of the word. I hope you're right. Thank you. You're a Golden Girl yourself.