A Dominie’s Log

A while back my sister gave me a copy of “A Dominie’s Log” by AS Neill, the founder of Summerhill School and a guiding light in progressive education. I hadn’t read it in a while, but the reference to “log” appealed as it has a renewed resonance in today’s world of blogging. Introduced by Hugh MacKenzie, a geography teacher (of course) the book traces Neill’s thoughts and reflections on education as a young teacher in Gretna in 1914. A year later he was dismissed. moving south to teach in Hampstead and then Austria, before establishing Summerhill in 1921 in Lyme Regis, (later, Leiston).

Here he is writing before the 1st World War,

” I have resolved to keep a private log of my own..(unlike the official log) in this log I shall write down my thoughts on education. I think they will be mostly original. Tonight.. I sat at my desk and thought. What does it mean? What am I trying to do? ….I shall henceforth try to make my bairns realise. Yes realise is the word. I think I want them to realise what life means..I want to help them to find an attitude; I want these boys and girls to acquire the habit of looking honestly at life”

There is much to be taken from this little book; Summerhill had a reputation for anarchy, and Neill was castigated for his libertarian, progressive approach. Yet much of what he says makes eminent sense;he wanted the best for all children. He believed in self discipline, not the strap; he wants his bairns to be exposed to the greatest of literature. he argues that the best books on citizenship are not written by educationalists, but by Plato, Thomas More, Bacon, HG Wells; he wants them to fire their imagination by letting them read Shelley, Blake, Tolstoy, even Nietzsche; these were men who had ideals and “ideals are creatures of imagination.”

So, the habit and practice of committing thoughts to paper are not new. I think Neill would have been intrigued by web 2.0 and would have embraced formative assessment. I think he would have things to say about A Curriculum for Excellence. I think he would have written a very interesting-and provocative-blog!