More to ponder : some observations about home life and schooling from a Scottish dominie

“In the unhappy home, discipline is used as a weapon of hate. Obedience becomes a virtue. Children are chattels, things owned, and they must be a credit to their owners”.

“I believe that in state schools it’s all wrong. It’s based on fear. The mere fact that children who should be moving all the time are sitting on their arses for about six hours a day is all against human nature. It’s against child nature.”


Alexander Sutherland Neill (1883-1973) was a Scottish progressive educator, author and the founder of Summerhill School. Established in 1923, Summerhill School was first situated in Lyme Regis in Dorset, England and was later moved in 1927 to its present site at Leiston in Suffolk. The school continues to follow and develop his educational philosophy. In the 1960s Neill’s ideas about education were influential throughout the world and they remain so among those who believe children learn best when in the main they are supported to make their own discoveries rather than being compelled to follow a prescribed and narrow curriculum based more on the needs of the state and less on the needs of a child.

“Dominie” is a Scots word for a male school teacher. In their time both Neill and his father were dominies. Neill was born in the town of Forfar and lived there before his family moved to Kingsmuir, a nearby village when his father was appointed to the post of head teacher at the local school.

Roger Lewis comments,

In the late 1960s whilst still at college a few of us arranged to visit Summerhill. We had read the Penguin book Summerhill and were keen to meet the man and his school. This was like no other school we had visited before or taught at during teaching practice. The young people we met on arrival seemed calm and self-assured and showed us around. The tour was completed with a question and answer session held by Neill in his study. It was crowded and the day was very warm as he sat comfortably in his armchair and patiently answered the our questions -no doubt the same questions he had answered on Saturday visiting days done for years. One such question was how could we take his ideas on child-led education into the State school system. His answer gave us a mixture of disappointment and hope. Michael Duane, the headteacher of a secondary school in Islington, London, had tried the Summerhill approach. Unfortunately the powers that be didn’t support him and he resigned. However Neill also persuaded us not to give up because of this and to do small things that would help to put the child first.

Link : A. S. Neill Summerhill film