Sunday, 15 July 2012

Can Freedom Can Cure?

At A S Neill’s Summerhill School there were always students who came from public schools that would not tolerate their behaviour anymore. The experience that Neill gained from living with these students led him to believe that when a child is cruel it is because of the lack of love. Here he was highly influenced by the remarkable work of Homer Lane at the Commonwealth School (1913) for delinquent youth (I recently acquired a copy of his work through Abe Books). This school was self-governed and abolished all fear, punishment, and external discipline. The ethos was to trust children to grow in their own way without any pressure from outside. As a boy who did not do well in school, Neill was often punished by his own father by being whipped with a strap for not being a good enough student: “often he was cruel to me and I acquired a definite fear of him” .

Homer Lane showed A S Neill that freedom can cure a problem child. He always looked for the hidden motive in any delinquent act, convinced that behind every crime was a wish that originally had been a good one. He found that talking to children was useless and that only action counted. He held that in order to rid a child of a bad social trait one should let the child live out his desires.

Alice Miller looks at how we rationalise conventional child rearing as being for the child’s own good.  Miller explores the sources of violence within us and how these are created by strict child rearing practises.  The cost of this punishment and coercion is the compassion and humanity in later life both in private and public.  Her message is “people whose integrity has not been damaged in childhood... will feel no need to harm another person or themselves”.

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