From A.S. Neill's 1960 classic Summerhill:
"Children who come to Summerhill as kindergarteners attend lessons from the beginning of their stay; but pupils from other schools vow that they will never attend any beastly lessons again at any time. They play and cycle and get in people's way, but they fight shy of lessons. This sometimes goes on for months.
The recovery time is proportionate to the hatred their last school gave them. Our record case was a girl from a convent. She loafed for three years. The average period of recovery from lesson aversion is three months."
I recently learned about Summerhill, an experimental private school located about 115 miles northeast of London. At Summerhill:
- Students can come and go as they please; if they want to skip class, they can without penalty.
- Students and staff democratically vote each year on the rules of the school.
- There are no official tests or exams other than those for students applying for university.
A.S. Neill, a lifelong educator, started the school because he had noticed destructive tendencies in modern education. One was that schools often conformed children to fit their agendas, rather than the other way around. The other was that traditional schools viewed children rather suspiciously.
In any case, the above quote really struck a chord with me for two reasons.
1. There is a slow process to things. Adjustment takes time, and it does no one any good to force the issue prematurely.
2. Intrinsic motivation matters. A late bloomer who actually cares > a bored, mechanically studious overachiever.
There are countless anecdotes in this book about the effect of Summerhill on its students. One student goes on to become a successful engineer; another a professor of mathematics. In these two circumstances, the students wouldn't have been deemed exceptional if judged solely on their exam scores. But other immeasurable "metrics" would point to the inevitability of their success.
Who knows if Summerhill still operates like this today. But there is something refreshing about a school that focuses on process and intrinsic motivation over outcomes and coercion.