Authoritarian Schooling: a Catalogue of Damage
For twenty years or more I have been visiting schools described as democratic or progressive or free or child-centred and finding a huge variety of places that seemed to me to be excellent. Some had no lessons but many rules and others had many lessons but no rules, some were governed entirely by the school meetings of students and staff and others were owned by benevolent dictators, at some the staff offered courses and at others the students decided entirely for themselves. It was only recently that I realised that although there was no single word to describe all these organisations, there was a single word to describe the type of education they were reacting against, and that word was 'authoritarian.'
I have written about these places in two books, Real Education, Varieties of Freedom, which describes eighteen schools in eight different countries, andLifelines, which I wrote to counter the argument that democratic education was only suitable for the wealthy, liberal, middle class. (Lifelines describes places of education for children as far from the wealthy, liberal middle class as I could find, including street children in Delhi and abused, orphaned or abandoned children in Thailand. The book ends with these words: 'Children from secure backgrounds will manage somehow under almost any system. The children for whom non-authoritarian education matters most are the deprived, the down-trodden, the deserted and the desperate. For the rich, such education is suitable; for the poor, it is essential.)
I began to write a book about the damage done by authoritarian education, drawing on my own and other people's experiences at school, books by John Holt, Alice Miller, Jürg Jegge, W. B. Curry and others, and adding sections on staff-pupil conflict, punishment, the ignorance of politicians and a score of other topics.
Eventually I had a collection of almost fifty short essays of two or three pages which followed no pattern and failed to develop any consecutive argument. This did not make a sensible book, and there was far too much text to make a realistic printed catalogue.
At last it occurred to me that I had assembled material that would be ideal for a website. It would not matter that it was not consecutive, because visitors to the site could dodge about from one topic to another just as they wished. The home page would consist of nothing but an array of thumbnails with brief captions they could click to reach the actual articles. Each article would end with a few suggested internal links, and the option of returning to the home page. That is what my webmaster, Suzanne Harris, and I have been developing.