Sunday, January 27, 2008

Summerhill on CBBC

Home educators' reactions to the CBBC series of Summerhill, first two episodes here (shortly to be deleted) and here, have been strongly favorable, for whether or not the series is a reasonable representation of Summerhill, it certainly puts across some theories of autonomous education and evidence for its efficacy very effectively. "When children want to learn, they go like rockets" says the science teacher of the 14 year old who after studying chemistry for under a year, is doing A level standard work. Yes, in the HE community we see this happening over and over again.

Quite a few HE kids watching the film, recognised the themselves in it: the familiarity with taking responsibility for their lives, for deciding how to work in groups, with understanding the function of rules and with thinking creatively about how to make rules workable, the wrestling with moral issues etc. In fact, the lives of the children at Summerhill seem very similar to home educators' experience of HE meetings, camps and festivals, bar the presence of parents.

It seems almost inevitable that the Telegraph should be very ambivalent about the series. In this article, they plump firmly for the idea that the whole thing is a propaganda exercise, but in another report, they quote the directer Jon East talking about Golding's "Lord of the Flies":

"That single book did more than anything else to damage people's faith in the essential decency of children," says Jon East, head of drama at CBBC and director of Summerhill. If repressed public schoolboys who are used to being caned are suddenly left unrestricted on a desert island, it's not surprising that these terrible instincts are unleashed. However, I think that if Summerhill pupils crashed on to the same island, they'd soon have a meeting, set up a committee, find wood, make food and be basking in the sun, entirely happy."

Yep, he has it! And the great thing about this is that Jon East is none other than the Head of Drama at CBBC. He says:

"An awful lot of drama is set in schools - and yet each series only reinforces the dominant paradigm," he says. "What we're trying to say in this drama is that there could just be another way of doing things."

There could indeed. More of this please, Mr East!


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed it! And - as said in the article - very refreshing to have the 'dominant paradigm' challenged. The one disappointing thing in Harry Potter for instance is that it is just a reflection of the system without offering better solutions.


Lisa G said...

I enjoyed it as well. I have long said that if there was a school I would choose to send my kids to, Summerhill would be it, there are also a couple of schools in the US run along similar lines, it's a pity they are all so far away. It's also good to see a TV programme which shows there is another way, I look forward to the first BBC drama set in the Home Ed community, perhaps we should suggest this to Jon East!

Anonymous said...

"says the science teacher of the 14 year old who after studying chemistry for under a year, is doing A level standard work"

Many teachers back in the 90's would love to have used me as an example of how their education worked.

Summerhill is a boarding school.

They even encourage boarding for very young children. If you read their policies you will find that parents are not meant to call their children or have any sort of contact expect for term holidays.

Parents are meant to drop them there and get on with their own lives, so their children can be "independent" now. Like it was independence to live in a closed institution.

The best independece you give children is when you kids asks your help to go to a place he wants to go and you help get him there, because he is still small and ignorant to safely get along in the world.

They also have something in their policies like "don't expect your children to call unless they are distressed." It really gives the impression children will bullied into not calling mummy.

The good school is the one you don't have to go.

Summerhill doesn't quite get it. It thinks the problem is how the school is governed. But as an adult you are not expected to manage the services you use to have good service.

emma said...

There's a lot about Summerhill which is wonderfully autonomy respecting but, like Leo, I think there's a weird inherent contradiction in it being a ---boarding school---

There's an independence agenda thing going on.

Mind you, for the female lead (I've watched the first two episodes following your links), I can quite see why Summerhill would be a million times better than home. And what really depresses me is the number of children whose first opportunity in their whole lives to let their hair down and sit in a tree is when they leave home to go to university (with exactly the same thing going on with mobile phones and mothers constantly calling...)

Anonymous said...

yes, boarding is a sad thing if you come from a happy family, so Summerhill would perhaps not be a good solution for HEd children in such homes (unless child chose it of course) but it is a great deal better than home for most of the children there. I must admit I thought 5 years old boarders a bit shocking!


Carlotta said...

I agree and actually was going to blog that point, but thought it might get confusing. I think that the Summerhill independence agenda is definitely not necessarily autonomy respecting. Home sickness should be taken seriously, imo.

And if the headmistress is prepared not to observe the rights of the parents, (ie: in not even telling Maddy that her mother had called and asked her to put her mobile back on), what sort of message does that send to children? That you can take your own needs seriously, but that you don't even need to consider the needs of others? (Ok, Maddy's mother is morally flawed, and Maddy should be able to ignore her request, but she does need to know about it for the reason above, I think.)

Plus, I don't think the rehabilitation of Ryan would happen so quickly. The problems we encounter in the HE community with children who have difficult home lives and/or who have been excluded from schools for bullying usually take many years and much hard labour to resolve, and that is if they don't leave the group before that.

What CBBC could do with is a genuine example of what autonomy respecting relationships between different generations really looks like!

the Internationale said...

I HE'ed my son from 10-11. He then spent a few years back in the system and has just left again at 15. He watched the series and said he wished he'd had a school like SH. I said that was how I'd wanted HE to be. He's detoxing at the mo but if there are any interesting, dynamic learning spaces in London... heh, let me know.

Anonymous said...

I've got two sons boarding there aged 16 and 14 (they were both in the drama). They both started there aged 10. There are very few young children boarding and it only usually happens when they have an older sibling already at the school.

They take day kids and even weekly boarders up to a certain age. Much of the community life at Summerhill takes place in the evenings and at weekends so it is almost always the kids choice to board.

I think you have taken the drama a little too literally regarding how the school views / deals with parent contact - I certainly don't feel that contact is outlawed by the community - in fact the school has regular parents' weekends each term. Both boys have mobile 'phones and we communicate a lot during term time.

The drama got more right about Summerhill than it got wrong but it was a Children's Drama and as such needed to get certain points across in a limited amount of time.

It was good though and it seems to be sparking the right sort of debate at last.

Joy Wharton

Carlotta said...

Thanks for that insight, Joy.

Anonymous said...

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dude said...

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