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Where does A. S. Neill stand in the history of education? Was he not, after all, against academic learning? against the conventional wisdom of morals? against sexual control? against adult authority? against religion? Or may he have been a modern Socrates, seeking to release the young from the mind-set of their elders by the giving of 'freedom'?
Bryn Purdy, who visited and was invited to work at Summerhill in the 60s, presents the canon of Neillian beliefs: child empowerment, child democracy, sexual ethics, religion, and the relevance of learning.
Purdy counterpoints the skein of Neill's arguments with the thinking of others, within and without the educational world: for example, Shelley and John Stuart Mill on 'freedom'; Montaigne and Tagore on 'learning'; and Shaw, Ibsen, William Blake, Richmal Crompton and Lao Tzu throughout.
Neill's aim was perhaps ambivalent. Was it, as he declared on one occasion, "the bringing of happiness to some few children", or, on another, "The Summerhill Idea is of the greatest importance to mankind"?