Diss: Axel Kühn: Alexander Neill
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This thesis deals primarily with the German, but also considers the international response to and influence of British educationalist A.S. Neill and his well-known school, "Summerhill".

The first part of the thesis, "Literarisches", outlines the story of A.S. Neillıs life, focusing largely on his publications and the publicıs response to them. One of the major distinctions between Neill and other influential educators of his time is that throughout his life Neill wrote prolifically, and in this way, and with varying success, tried to determine the discussion and debate around his ideas. He was, perhaps, the last international "superstar" in the educational field.

Neill was born in 1883. The opening biographical sketch describes his childhood and youth, including his education as a "pupil-teacher" at his fatherıs school, his first teaching experiences at Scottish primary schools, and his entrance into Edinburgh.University, where he became editor of the student magazine and began dealing with educational topics in his very first articles and editorials.

He then went into journalism, but with the looming threat of the First World War, returned to teaching. He became head of Gretna Green.Village.School, in Scotland, and for the first time was able to experiment with new and radical methods of child-rearing. The first of the 19 books he wrote appeared in 1915 under the title A Dominieıs Log, and it and its successors immediately became British best-sellers. In A Dominieıs Log he described, in a humorous way, his pedagogical practice, the key elements of which already consisted of "freedom to decide whether to go to lessons or not", "excursions into nature", and exotic topics such as "Womenıs Rights" and "Modern Drama". Neill turned traditional religious lessons based on Christian dogma into lessons on the worldıs main religions, and he set up evening classes for those pupils who had reached the age of 16 and were taken from school by their farmer-parents in order to help with the family income.

Neill later became a teacher at a London progressive school, but was not able to adapt to the schoolıs too "traditional" ways of teaching. He became co-editor of The New Era, documenting and supporting reforms in education. In this role he came into contact with numerous different progressive educational experiments in the United Kingdom and in mainland Europe, as well as in the USA. He attended conferences and gave lectures, and visited a great number of different progressive schools.

In 1921 he travelled across Europe, visiting progressive schools in the Netherlands, Austria and Germany. He came to rest in Hellerau, a suburb of Dresden, where the Dalcroze-school, a school of eurythmics, offered him the chance to establish an international school as one of its two branches, the other branch being the "Deutsche Schule". Instead, at Christmas 1921, Neill founded his own school in Hellerau which, following the subsequent move to England, was called "Summerhill".

The first part of the thesis also traces the further development and the various "ups and downs" of Neillıs school and of his educational thinking. All of his books and most of his articles are discussed, as is the debate which accompanied them. So, too, are contemporary publications relating to Neill and his school, the first of which are described chronologically in textboxes alongside the biographical narrative. Special attention is paid to the editorial process involved in two of Neillıs most successful books: Last man alive, a story for children which was a best-seller in Germany and recently became a film here; and "Summerhill", the compilation of texts from five of Neillıs earlier books which was edited by Harold Hart and published in the USA in 1960, and the success of which saved the school from financial closure.

Part One of the thesis ends with Neillıs death in 1973, followed by a brief outline of Summerhillıs subsequent history. Currently under the leadership of Neillıs daughter, Zoë Redhead, the school is still working according to Neillıs principles. Apart from accommodating to the realities of modern media, and adaptations occasioned by the intake of a high percentage of Japanese pupils, there have been no major changes.

Part Two of the thesis, "Profanes", returns to the discussion of the way that Neill was portrayed and understood in the popular media of the day, and in particular in popular newspapers and magazines. Another of the main differences between Neill and most of the other educational pioneers from the beginning of the last century is that Neill always seemed to evoke debate and controversy about his "scandal school". As a matter of fact, no real scandal actually ever happened, but the "yellow press" christened Summerhill with names such as "ıThe Do-as-you-please' school", "The Kiss-and-swear school", or even "Britainıs craziest school".

Alongside this popular discussion, another thread has accompanied the school since the end of World War II. The British Ministry of Education in its various permutations since the war has regularly threatened to close the school if this or that requirement was not met. During Neillıs lifetime these demands always were answered or met, but one of his major fears was that the Government would one day make a demand which would touch on some indispensable element of the schoolıs philosophy, such as the childrenıs freedom to choose whether to attend lessons or not. Finally, in 1998, after a steady stream of invasive inspections, the issue came to a head and Summerhill went to court. The school triumphed over the Government; the judges decided that international residential free schools have a wider scope to express their educational concepts than state schools.

The history of these inspections and the related discussions and facts are described chronologically in this part of the thesis, which ends in two final chapters. The first of these deals with film, television and radio programmes on Summerhill, and the second deals with examples of artwork (photographs, drawings and sculpture) which relate to Neill as an important personality of our time.

Part Three, "Akademisches", concludes the chronological survey begun in Part One with a brief characterization of all available publications on Neill and Summerhill which have appeared since his death. There is a brief survey of a number of key authors - beginning with Herb Snitzer and his 1964 book Living atSummerhill, and ending with Matthew Appletonıs description of the school reality in Summerhill in the 1990s - who have all written more or less influential books on Neill and Summerhill, and who kindly answer questions concerning the circumstances which surrounded the publication of their books, the influence of Neill and Summerhill on their thinking, and about their relation to the school today.

Academic and scholarly publications on Neill and Summerhill are gathered together and described in a concluding chapter, in which it is shown that Neill was consistently discussed in relation to several educational movements, such as "Reformpädagogik" (the progressive education movement at the beginning of the 20th century), and as representative of the connection between education and psycho-analysis. These associations sometimes had a negative impact on the understanding of Neill, as shown clearly in the German context in the 70s when a purely accidental connection was drawn with a movement called "antiautoritäre Erziehung" (anti-authoritarian education) because Neillıs German publisher gave one of Neillıs most successful books, Summerhill, the subtitle "Theorie und Praxis der antiautoritären Erziehung" ('theory and practice of anti-authoritarian educationı). This resulted in fantastic sales for the book, but put the educational discussion of Neill and his thinking in Germany on a wrong track for decades.

In the résumé of the thesis, the recent popular and academic discussion about Neillıs educational idea and its importance are reflected.  It is shown that Neillıs concepts, as embodied in Summerhill, give children the opportunity to grow up as individuals in a democratic society, developing skills that are more appropriate to the needs of our modern world and its rapid technical and social development than those which are learned in schools with a more traditional approach. Children at Summerhill still have the chance to decide for themselves which topics they want to learn, and where they have the motivation they are much more effective learners than pupils in traditional schools. Formal school-certificates are available, and the children at Summerhill need much less time to acquire them than children at other schools. The percentage of children leaving Summerhill with completed school-certificates is higher than the British average. What is more important is that children at Summerhill have a secure and harmonious childhood, without competition and adult interference or over-protection. They learn to make decisions for themselves, and learn how to organise a democratic society. Despite some difficulties in adapting to the competitive and prescriptive system of further education once they leave Summerhill, former pupils quickly overcome these difficulties, are able to integrate harmoniously into society, and many attain high educational standards.

The Bibliography lists in chronological order all available articles and books which have a connection with Neill and Summerhill, beginning with the first years of the 20th century, and covering the whole of the century. A short statistical survey based on these publications examines the development of the interest in Neillıs ideas, an interest which increased again in the nineties. A special chapter briefly describes the reception of Neillıs ideas and work in Japan and Asia, relying on data mainly from Japanese, but also from Thai and other sources. A final section lists all of those publications by Neill which it was possible to gather together in the preparation of the thesis.

Diss: Axel Kühn: Alexander Neill
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