My favourite A.S.Neill anecdote: if it featured a car, I could have called it ‘Cars and Girls’

Here’s my favourite Neill anecdote, told in my own words. It works like a stun grenade lobbed into the ivory tower of pedagogy and pediatric development, I reckon.

I’d like a snappy title: how about this:

“MANUAL WORK IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL”

Once there was a boy at Summerhill who could not read. Teachers were concerned about him, and wanted to help. Neill said, calmly and firmly: “No.”

The years went by and the boy –  still utterly illiterate and fast approaching his final year of school – wanted a motorbike: the key to his freedom to roam the leafy lanes of East Anglia, and the key to meeting GIRLS in the nearest town, several miles away.

That summer, as he turned sixteen (and became eligible for a provisional license to legally ride a 50cc motorcycle), he  discovered a rusting moped in a hedge.  He dragged the wreck back to Summerhill and set about restoring it. He scrubbed and cleaned until it gleamed.  Of course it wouldn’t go. It would need masses of mechanical and electrical know-how to get it going, if this were even possible.

So he went to Neill, they all called him Neill, and knocked quietly on the half-open door of Neill’s study, clutching the Haynes manual for the Honda 50, and asked: “ Neill , please will you teach me to read this?”

And Neill said, calmy and firmly:

“Yes.”

§

 

Thanks to Joel, for evoking this with your blog, to be found here:

http://playworkings.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/comparisons-of-some-early-twentieth-and-early-twenty-first-century-thinking-about-children/#respond

Start your reading about Neill here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._S._Neill

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/apr/23/leila-berg

(I think I would have first heard of Neill by reading an article in New Society by Leila Berg)

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4 thoughts on “My favourite A.S.Neill anecdote: if it featured a car, I could have called it ‘Cars and Girls’

  1. Thanks, we all do.

    I hit Bookfinder4U (excellent way to search the planet for cheap secondhand copies) and couldn’t find a lot. His book on Summerhill, in a 1998 edition, is £15 on bookdepository. Let’s not compete for them – let me know what you grab and I’ll go for others then we can do loans.

    But first: the public library!

    • I have ‘Neill of Summerhill: The Permanent Rebel’ (Jonathan Croall) on order from Amazon. Some cheap copies there. Have been reading a copy belonging to someone else, but getting my own. Did look into local library but nothing doing (though libraries can do inter-library loans, of course, if readers request stuff).

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