So when a young idealist from Scotland, Alexander Neill, opened a school where attending classes was optional and all the rules were decided in weekly meetings with pupils and teachers having an equal say, it was written off as a short-lived libertarian experiment of the fairly eccentric 1920s. Predictably the Establishment and right-wing press had a field day, deriding Neill as a "corrupting influence" on children and labelling his establishment the "Do As You Please School".
Alexander Sutherland Neill.
Neill's philosophy was simple. He believed that the happiness of the child was paramount and that self-respect and respect for others would result. "There is more true education in making a snowball than in listening to an hour's lecture on grammar," he once said.
Summerhill, the school he established between the world wars, far from being a passing fancy, is still being run to this day in rural Suffolk, with a greater pupil roll than ever, a testament to its progressive founder.
Arguably, outside a few interested circles - education, libertarianism and various branches of psychology - the Summerhill project is little known.
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