Today the UK government is launching an enquiry into sexual harassment, physical violence and even rape between students in UK schools. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) is launching a special helpline to learn more about its prevalence and offer support to victims. I think it doubtful that this is unique to the UK.
For a century Summerhill has lead the way and is now joined by hundreds of schools worldwide using similar methods and with similar philosophies that work towards educating the whole child and place emotional well-being as a priority. This means giving children an amount of freedom and equality that is not even contemplated in mainstream education. In schools with equality and a democratic process for justice, bullying issues can be dealt with before they become serious. Things are talked about openly. Other pupils are called to account.
In schools with equality, there are no taboo subjects – children and adults are able to discuss anything that arises in the school meetings and nobody need fear being called a ‘sneak’ or a ‘rat’ or embarrassed about something that may have happened to them.
As a default setting the children have a voice and are in control of their own lives. They learn to look out for one another and to care. They learn that their voice is important and that they will be heard and action taken on their behalf by the whole community – and they learn this, not through being taught but through living the experience.
The establishment does not recognise these qualities in such unique places as Summerhill, but they should. The so-called “authorities” who run our education systems are missing a trick – missing a HUGE trick.
This would not fully provide answers for today, or even tomorrow – there is a whole culture of generations of children and adults who have grown to accept what is happening – but it will provide answers if somebody actually takes the time to observe and to learn from what is right in front of their noses, if only they would look for it.
I freely invite any government official to come and visit Summerhill, to spend a while learning about what we do and how we do it… But I won’t hold my breath!
PS – If we all share this then perhaps, just perhaps one day it might drop into the inbox of somebody who has the power and interest to make improvements in our education systems.