Thursday, December 31, 2009

Summerhill Education vs. Standard School Education

Here is a passage, where Neill explains the difference between his school and standard schools.

Summerhill Education vs. Standard Education

I hold that the aim of life is to find happiness, which means to find interest. Education should be a preparation for life. Our culture has not been very successful. Our education, politics and economics lead to war. Our medicines have not done away with disease. Our religion has not abolished usury and robbery. Our boasted humanitarianism still allows public opinion to approve of the barbaric sport of hunting. The advances of the age are advances in mechanism--in radio and television, in electronics, in jet planes. New world wars threaten, for the world’s social conscience is still primitive.

If we feel like questioning today, we can pose a few awkward questions. Why does man seem to have many more disuses than animals have? Why does man hate and kill in war when animals do not? Why does cancer increase? Why are there so many suicides? So many insane sex crimes? Why the hate that is anti-Semitism? Why Negro hating and lynching? Why back- biting and spite? Why is sex obscene and a leering joke? Why is being a bastard a social disgrace? Why the continuance of religions that have long ago lost their love and hope and charity? Why, a thousand whys about our vaunted state of civilized eminence!

I ask these questions because I am by profession a teacher, one who deals with the young. I ask these questions because those so often asked by teachers are the unimportant ones, the ones about school subjects. I ask what earthly good can come out of discussions about French or ancient history or what not when these subjects don’t matter a jot compared to the larger question of life’s natural fulfillment of man’s inner happiness.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Text User Interface using PythonDialog2.7

I have been struggling to have a simple text user interface to display information, and then change the variables/ settings in a program from command line (while running the program). This all with a user menu and other tools.

It now works with PythonDialog 2.7, with only 4 days of complete work ! Here are a couple of screenshots, this is pretty cool.

First the default read of the data file and its parameters: Page 1

I can change the telescope name (to correct value "WSRT")

And once I press RETURN key in the window above, the file is modified:

More code and pics will come soon. This is the time to take this program forward...


Monday, December 07, 2009

Summerhill: Happy School

Summerhill democracy makes it a happy school.

Summerhill is possibly the happiest school in the world. We have no truants and seldom a case of homesickness. We very rarely have fights - quarrels of course, but seldom have I seen a stand-up fight like the ones we used to have as boys. I seldom hear a child cry; because children when free have much less hate to express than children who are downtrodden. Hate breeds hate, and love breeds love. Love means approving of children, and that is essential in any school. You can’t be on the side of children if you punish them and storm at them. Summerhill is a school in which the child knows that he is approved of.

Mind you, we are not above and beyond human foibles. I spent weeks planting potatoes one spring, and when I found eight plants pulled up in June, I made a big fuss. Yet there was a difference between my fuss and that of an authoritarian. My fuss was about potatoes, but the fuss an authoritarian would have made would have dragged in the question of morality--right and wrong. I did not say that it was wrong to steal my spuds; I did not make it a matter of good and evil--I made it a matter of my spuds. They were my spuds and they should have been left alone. I hope I am making the distinction clear.

Let me put it another way. To the children, I am no authority to be feared. I am their equal, and the row I kick up about my spuds has no more significance to them than the row a boy may kick up about his punctured bicycle tire. It is quite safe to have a row with a child when you are equals.

Now some will say: “That’s all bunk. There can’t be equality. Neill is the boss; he is bigger and wiser.” That is indeed true. I am the boss, and if the house caught fire the children would run to me. They know that I am bigger and more knowledgeable, but that does not matter when I meet them on their own ground, the potato patch, so to speak.

When Billy, aged five, told me to get out of his birthday party because I hadn’t been invited, I went at once without hesitation --just as Billy gets out of my room when I don’t want his company. It is not easy to describe this relationship between teacher and child, but every visitor to Summerhill knows what I mean when I say that the relationship is ideal. One sees it in the attitude to the staff in general. Rudd, the chemistry man, is Derek. Other members of the staff are known as Harry, and Ulla, and Pam. I am Neill, and the cook is Esther.

In Summerhill, everyone has equal rights. No one is allowed to walk on my grand piano, and I am not allowed to borrow a boy’s cycle without his permission. At a General School Meeting, the vote of a child of six counts for as much as my vote does.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Summerhill: Lessons and Exams-- 2

This is what Neill says about the exams:

All the same there is a lot of learning in Summerhill. Perhaps a group of our twelveyear-
olds could not compete-with a class of equal age in handwriting or spelling or fractions. But in an examination requiring originality, our lot would beat the others hollow.

We have no class examinations in the school, but sometimes I set an exam for fun. The following questions appeared in one such paper:

Where are the following:- Madrid, Thursday Island, yesterday, love, democracy, hate, my pocket-screw driver (alas, there was no helpful answer to that one).

Give meanings for the following:- 9 the number shows how many are expected of each)- Hand (3)…. Only two, got the third right – the standard of measure for a horse. Brass (4)…. Metal, cheek, top army officers, department of an orchestra. Translate Hamlets, To-be-or-not-to-be speech into Summerhillese.

These questions are obviously not intended to be serious, and the children enjoy them thoroughly. Newcomers, on the whole, do not rise to the answering standard of pupils who have become accustomed to the school. Not that they have less brainpower, but rather because they have become so accustomed to work in a serious groove that any light touch puzzles them.

This is the play side of our teaching. In all classes much work is done. If, for some reason a teacher cannot take his class on the appointed day, there is usually much disappointment for the pupils.

David, aged nine, had to be isolated for whooping cough. He cried bitterly. “I’ll miss Roger’s lesson in geography,” he protested. David had been in the school practically from birth, and he had definite and final ideas about the necessity of having his lessons given to him. David is now a lecturer in mathematics at London University.

A few years ago someone at a General School Meeting (at which all school rules are voted by the entire school, each pupil and each staff member having one vote) proposed that a certain culprit should be punished by being banished from lessons for a week. The other children protested on the ground that the punishment was too severe.

My staff and I have a hearty hatred of all examinations. To us the university exams are anathema. But we cannot refuse to teach children the required subjects. Obviously, as long as the exams are in existence, they are our masters. Hence, the Summerhill staff is always qualified to teach to the set standard.

Not that many children want to take these exams; only those going to the university do so. And such children do not seem to find it especially hard to tackle these exams. They generally begin to work for them seriously at the age of fourteen, and they do the work in about three years. Of course they don’t always pass at the first try. The more important fact is that they try again.

Summerhill : Lessons and Exams -- 1

Here is what Neill has to say about examinations and lessons in his introduction to his school.

What is Summerhill like? Well, for one thing, lessons are optional. Children can go to them or stay away from them--- for years if they want to. There is timetable--- but only for the teachers.

The children have classes usually according to their age, bue sometimes according to their interests. We have no new methods of teaching, because we do not consider that teaching in itself matters much. Whether a school has or has not a special method for teching long division is of no significance, for long division is of no importance except for those who want to learn it. And the child who wants to learn long division will learn it no matter how it is taught.

Strangers to this idea of freedom will be wondering what sort of madhouse it is where children play all day if they want to...
[story of a student]

This story shows that learning itself is not as important as personality and character. Jack failed in his university exams because he hated book learning. But his lack of knowledge about Lamb's essays or French language did not handicap him in life. He is now a successful engineer.


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Summerhill -- A S Neill

Summerhill is not just an idea, but an ideal. For a times on this blog, I will now copy and paste paragraphs about this wonderful Summerhill School from A.S. Neill's old book copy. I intend to buy multiple books about this school and related topics. If you have not seen this book, or read the link, I will strongly urge you to give a brief read once, at least. So, here goes the first update.

When my first wife and I began the school, we had one main idea: to make the school fit the child--- instead of making the child fit the school.
I have taught in ordinary schools for many years. I knew the other way well. I knew it was all wrong. It was wrong because it was based on an adult conception of what a child should be and of how a child should learn. The other way dated from the days when psychology was still an unknown science.
Well, we set out to make a school in which we should allow children freedom to be themselves. In order to do this, we had to renounce all discipline, all direction, all suggestion, all my training, all religious instruction. We have been called brave, but it did not require courage. All it required was what we had, a complete belief in the child as a good, not an evil, being. For almost forty years, this belief in the goodness of the child never wavered; it rather has become final faith.
My view is that a child is innately wise and realistic. If left to himself without adult suggestions of any kind, he will develope as far as he is capable of developing. Logically, Summerhill is a place in which people who have some innate ability and wish to be scholars will be scholars; while those who are only fit to sweep the streets will sweep the streets. But we have not produced a street cleaner so far. Nor do I write this snobbishly, for I would rather see a school produce a happy street cleaner rather than a neurotic scholar.