Saturday, September 17, 2005

Worldview of Summerhill

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Joel Swagman
February 10, 1999
Assignment 1
Education 304 C

Worldview of Summerhill

In his article, The Idea of Summerhill, A.S. Neill describes the school he founded, named Summerhill.  Neill describes the philosophy of the school and shows it in action.  This article reveals much about Neill’s worldview.
Neill believes that human beings are basically good.  In describing his own educational philosophy, Neill remarks that:  
“All it required was that 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”  (Neill in Cahn 369).

Neill seems to believe that each human being has a different purpose, and it is ludicrous to act like all human beings are supposed to do the same things.  “It is an absurd curriculum that makes a prospective dressmaker study quadratic equations or Boyle’s Law”  (Neill in Cahn 376).
Also, although Neill does not explicitly say so, his complaints about the injustices of the world imply that he believes humans have some responsibility to correct these injustices.
Neill’s view of the universe does not shine through quite as clearly in the article.  It seems he does not believe in a universe with good in control, or at least not a Christian God, because he asks, “Why the continuance of religions that have long ago lost their love and hope and charity?”  (Neill in Cahn 374).  This seems like a pretty clear indication that Neill is not a Christian.  It seems that Neill believes humans are in control of their own destiny.  Despite his belief in the goodness of humans, Neill is not impressed with many of the institutions and practices humans have created.  (He lists his objections on page 374 of Cahn).  
Neill seems to believe that the obstacles to fulfillment are conformity, lack of imagination, and lack of creativity.  He describers the unfulfilled human as:
“acceptors of the status quo – a good thing for a society that needs obedient sitters at dreary desks, standers in shops, mechanical catchers of the 8:30 suburban train – a society, in short, that is carried on the shabby shoulders of the scared little man – the scared-to-death conformist”  (Neill in Cahn 373-374).

Evil for Neill seems to be conforming to everyone else.
Neill’s solution is freedom.  Give a human being as much freedom as possible, and make him equal with everyone else, and that human will make the choices that are most fulfilling to him or her.  Assuming Neill does not believe in God, humans must find their own salvation by using their freedom to choose what makes them happy.
Neill’s worldview is appealing in many areas.  He reacts against people being turned into robots, and I applaud his disrespect for conformity.  Likewise, I also find appealing the high regard Neill holds for freedom and equality.

Neill’s view of human nature as basically good is problematic.  I have noted above the contradiction between Neill’s high view of human nature, and his low opinion of human institutions.  Neill’s belief that everyone will naturally make the best choices for him or her self goes against my experience.  I have seen many people make choices that poorly affected their lives.  Neill’s belief that everyone is basically good at heart is in contrast to the great evil which humans commit daily to each other.

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