- by David
- I first encountered an alternative
to conventional education when I was twenty-six, having already
found much to object to in the school where I was teaching. One
day when I was browsing in a bookshop I came across a description
of Dartington Hall School, which seemed to answer all my
objections. Within a year I was teaching there.
- Almost thirty years later, when
Dartington Hall School closed, a group of the children and staff,
of whom I was one, started Sands School, which had even more
radical principles, I worked there for five years until I reached
the age of sixty.
- For all those years, I had been
searching for an ideal system of education. Teaching is such a
demanding occupation that I had to concentrate my attention on the
school I was working in, usually trying to solve problems rather
than to develop new ideas. It was not until after I had retired
that I began to realise how much there was to learn from other
schools, all round the world, that shared the same principles and
ideals but had found different ways of putting them into practice.
- In conventional schools children
are literally prisoners: the law keeps them in. Learning according
to inclination is not an option; children's inclinations are not
considered relevant; adults tell them what they must learn. They
make the best of it and enjoy themselves as much as they can, but
they are always under someone else's authority, unable to conduct
themselves as they would wish, unable to follow up their own
interests. School seems to be designed to destroy their
individuality, to turn them all, as the Swiss teacher Jürg
Jegge says, into cogwheels that will fit smoothly into the
machinery of society.
- Governments cannot make schools
ideal merely by altering the amount of topic work or testing
children more often or buying more computers or improving the
staff-student ratio. The ideal school must have an entirely
different atmosphere. It must not even try to manufacture cogs.
- Dan Greenberg, of Sudbury Valley
School in Massachusetts, has commented that when compulsory
education was introduced in the nineteenth century, parents
objected because it prevented their children from learning
anything useful. They wanted their children at home, observing and
helping adults at work, teaming the things that they would need in
the future. Time directed by a teacher was time wasted.
- Nowadays people seem to believe the
opposite - for children, time not directed by a teacher is time
wasted. The pendulum has swung too far. Educationists have become
so fascinated by the concept of teaching that they have forgotten
to consider what children actually need to learn.
- Ideal school-leavers would be
literate and numerate, of course, but they would also be happy,
considerate, honest, enthusiastic, tolerant, self-confident,
well-informed, articulate, practical, co-operative, flexible,
creative, individual, determined people who knew what their
talents and interests were, had enjoyed developing them, and
intended to make good use of them. They would be people who cared
for others because they had been cared for themselves.
- Conventional school organisation
seems designed to produce superficially competent people who,
underneath, are evasive, self-interested, ruthless, frustrated,
cautious, obedient, timid conformists; they will be complacent
about approved achievements and easily humiliated by public
failure; they will have spent so much time at school struggling to
acquire knowledge that does not interest them and skills that are
irrelevant to them; they will probably have lost all confidence in
the value of their own true interests and talents. They will be
people who don't care much about others, because most other people
have never seemed to care much about them.
- The school curriculum is supposed
to equip young people for life. If you think back to yourself as a
school-leaver, do you see yourself as having been equipped for
life? Do you see yourself as having been a knowledgeable person
even within the narrow limits of the subjects that you studied in
classes? Since you embarked on your adult career, have you not in
fact forgotten most of what you were taught? How are you now on
the periodic table, long division, Chaucerian English? I would
suggest that the lesson that you remember most clearly from all
those years in school is simply the importance of doing what is
expected of you, the importance of fulfilling a proper function as
- All over the world there are
conventional schools that ignore children's curiosity, suppress
their energy and overrule their generous moral impulses. And all
over the world, as I have at last discovered, there are people who
have seen the damage that this does, and have set up schools that
are different. Eighteen of these schools are the subject-matter of
this book. They are schools which decline to train children to
become cogs, and indeed help children who have been so trained to
lose their "coggishness."
- In all of these schools the adults
have a fundamental respect for the children and believe it is
right to allow them to develop naturally as themselves. Children
are not seen as clay to be moulded or pots to be filled; they are
not regarded as trainee adults, but as people, just like anybody
- It follows that it would have been
inappropriate to rely principally on the teachers for my
information. The views of current or former students (or sometimes
both), are included in the description of almost every school.
- The schools are arranged in
historical order, by the date of foundation. For chapters seven
and twelve the dates of the first schools to be founded have been
used. I have visited all the schools except for Neel Bagh and the
Kleingruppe Lufingen. In most I spent at least a week.
- I chose the schools because I knew
them, was impressed by them and felt them to be sufficiently
distinctive to warrant separate description, or because what I had
heard or read of them promised interest and surprises. I was not
disappointed. The first entry in my diary for one of my last
visits begins "Astonished all over again."