Summerhill and totalitarians

14th November 1997 at 00:00
At first glance, the attack on Summerhill School looks like one of those situations where a inspector of limited understanding has tried to "judge a game of tennis by the rules of basketball".

But I suggest that it is a symptom of a more serious problem, a disease in education called totalitarian tendencies. My colleague from Poland, Professor Eugenia Potulicka, a comparative education scholar, had no hesitation in describing the UK schooling system created by the 1988 Education Reform Act as "totalitarian". She identified this disease from her personal experience of occupation by the Soviet Union and the previous occupation by the Nazis.

The agents of the State have already achieved the closure of Kilquhanity House School and Rowen House, and the tabloids gave a helping hand in the closure of Dartington. The inspectors also put paid to the trailblazing activity at other schools such as Madeley Court, Telford.

Under Bernhard Rust the Third Reich criminalised home-based education. Soon after, all alternative schools, such as Steiner schools, were persecuted into extinction.

The excuses given for this drive to uniformity are always the same. "It is in the national interest." "It is needed to drive the economy." "It is for the good of the children." "Tough choices are needed." "Teachers and parents are not to be trusted." But, as Professor Bengu, education minister for South Africa, pointed out during his recent visit to UK, democracy means the absence of domination. South Africa is working towards democratic forms of schools with an increasingly learner-driven curriculum, and away from totalitarian tendencies.

The fundamental educational problem is to find ways to help children grow into adults who have no wish to do harm. Traditional education has, if anything, had the opposite effect because an important aim of traditional education has always been to make children into the kind of adults who were ready to hate, kill and define as enemies anyone their leaders might declare to be their competitors.

ProfessorROLAND MEIGHAN 113 Arundel Drive Bramcote Hills Nottingham

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