On the Side of the Child: Summerhill Revisited

On the Side of the Child: Summerhill Revisited cover

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About the Book

“William Ayers’ dialog with A. S. Neill is particularly important at this time when high stakes testing and an obsession with stigmatizing children as ADD or Hyperactive is a substitute for treating students as respected citizens of their schools. Neill and Ayers understand the importance of choice, voice, and respect in the lives of adolescents and they honor and celebrate it.” —From the Foreword by Herb Kohl

Neill’s Summerhill School and his radical approach to child rearing are as controversial today as they were in 1960. His “code of freedom” emphasized the principles of freedom, love, and positive discipline in the care and education of children. These ideals continue to evoke admiration by many who have found them key to not only raising healthy happy children but also to stemming the tide of violence in our schools and society. Others dismiss these same principles for being idealistic at best and harmful at worst.

In this wonderful new book from Herb Kohl’s Between Teacher and Text Series, William Ayers weighs in as a parent and an educator who has spent years in the classroom experimenting with Neill’s progressive approach. He examines Neill’s idea of freedom as it relates to social justice and questions of class and race in today’s classrooms. He explores what it means to have a school that supports and creates freedom and what such schools have looked like in the past. He also considers what it means to have a school founded on love and acceptance of the child, where the teacher’s goal is to understand children and how they learn, and where all students can and do learn.

Featuring key sections from the original text, Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing, this engaging volume is must reading for anyone considering alternative visions for raising children and for overcoming violence in today’s schools.

Quotes and Reviews

“Ayers, a social activist and educator, takes a new look at the controversial Summerhill experiment of the last century that emphasized freedom and democracy in education to the point that students set the tone and pace of their schooling, eschewing the structured curriculum and activities of most schools. As part of a series exploring innovative approaches to education, with current educators engaging in imaginary dialogues with education luminaries, Ayers speaks to A. S. Neill, Summerhill’s founder. Ayers recalls his own experiences of the 1960s with the Children’s Community in Detroit, an experiment that emphasized racial integration and personal freedom. He explores the concepts of Summerhill in light of current emphasis on structuring children’s behavior, diagnosing and stigmatizing children with ADD and other learning disabilities. Ayers underscores the importance of reciprocity in teaching–that both student and teacher should be engaged in a mutual dialogue. Readers interested in imaginative approaches to education will appreciate this look at the thoughts and experiences of both Neill and Ayers.” —Booklist

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