The vision of Kilquhanity

7th August 1998 at 01:00
ON THE one hand schools have become less authoritarian and teachers more liberal. On the other hand the education system has reputedly lost its characters, its individualists. It is debatable whether a managerialist search for common and higher standards has led to conformism, but the age in which an education leader can promote a vision unhindered, or at least unabashed, by the demands of accountants is probably past.

A year before he died at the age of 88 last month, John Aitkenhead decided that his school at Kilquhanity should close. For more than 50 years he had pled and led the cause of freedom in education and happiness for children. He was a teacher in the mould of A S Neill and in Scotland of R F MacKenzie, although the latter tried to be a libertarian in a state system and fell foul of it.

Aitkenhead was an unblinkered visionary marginalised in the way that Scots like to treat those they cannot quite fathom. A committed pacifist, he might have changed his mind if Hitler had invaded. An advocate of pupil democracy, he persuaded his charges to revoke their ban on bedtimes. He was above all a teacher and that meant believing pupils should learn, through wanting to. The division between academic and practical education ought to be illusory. Aitkenhead, like all good teachers, could make a lesson in mathematics out of a practical ploy, and he insisted that if a pupil broke a window he or she mended it. He did not want to evangelise for all schools but set out a vision for others to benefit from if they had a mind to.

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