The story of a free spirit

5th August 2011 at 01:00

Discovering Camphill: New Perspectives, Research and Developments

Edited by Robin Jackson

floris books, pound;20

4 OUT OF 5

The Camphill community in Aberdeen was established by Karl Konig, an Austrian doctor, and colleagues in 1940. They had fled Austria following the Nazi occupation and sought to establish a community based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner to care for, and educate, those with special needs. Now just over 70 years later, as this book illustrates, Camphill is a worldwide brand. There are 10,000 people living and working in over 100 Camphill communities in 23 countries. And it is still growing.

The book achieves its two principal aims: one is to report on the findings of research on several Camphill communities; the other is to discuss societal trends which are likely to impact on the future of the Camphill movement.

The 20 contributors to the book include those living and working in Camphill communities and those who are non-Camphillers. As well as providing insights into the inner workings of the communities, the book provides a critical perspective, highlighting tensions between the communities and the wider world.

In its early days, Camphill was isolated from mainstream educational and childcare developments in Scotland. Konig's initial view of parents was by today's standards a very negative one. He believed that parental attitudes and actions caused disabilities. For example, parental indifference or withholding of love was believed by Konig and others to cause autism.

In a historical analysis of educational developments in Camphill, Zoe Brennan-Krohn argues that the 1970 Education Act changed the dynamics of Camphill's interactions with parents because it gave all children the right to education, regardless of disability. I'm afraid not. It applied only to England and Wales and had no jurisdiction in Scotland. It was the 1973 Melville report, followed by the Education (Mentally Handicapped Children) (Scotland) Act 1974, which put paid to the awful terminology used in Scotland which described some children as ineducable and untrainable and denied them education.

While this otherwise excellent book provides a very good account of the development of residential childcare in Scotland, there is no parallel account of developments in education. I was looking for a chapter which described what has been happening in the country.

Nor is there any account of the curriculum at Camphill. This is a pity because, judging from the HMIECare Commission inspection report of 2007, the Aberdeen School has a very good story to tell. This aspect is especially important, because one of the challenges the school has faced is maintaining its particular identity and philosophical approach to education and care in the face of increasing regulation. And it has done this well.

The contributors are refreshingly frank about the mistakes of the past and the challenges facing the movement in the future. They also convey very well what is inspiring about the Camphill movement.

Mike Gibson is an educational psychologist and former HMIE, seconded to head up the Support for Learning Division in the Scottish Government 2002- 09

About the Author

Robin Jackson lectured at Aberdeen College of Education and King Alfred's College, Winchester, before becoming principal of Linn Moor Special School, Aberdeen. He is now a consultant to Camphill Rudolf Steiner Schools in Aberdeen.

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