Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




On March 23, 2000 a group of school children sat in the Royal Courts of Justice in London and voted to accept an agreement between Secretary of State for Education David Blunkett and their school, Summerhill School in Leiston, Suffolk. This vote ended a year-long fight to keep the school from closing. Carmen Cordwell, the chair of that meeting later remarked, "This is our charter for freedom. After 79 years, this is the first official recognition that A.S. Neill's philosophy of education provides an acceptable alternative to compulsory lessons and the tyranny of compulsory exams. With this one bound, we are free at last." Freedom, compulsion, tyranny- this fiery language fits the passion of the moment which has been immortalized in the memory of the small, tight-knit Summerhill community. Those in the world of democratic education see the March 2000 decision as a definitive victory which legitimizes and protects their existence.2 For the outsider , however, Summerhill's fight is nothing more than a human interest story in the Sunday newspaper or maybe a forgettable scene from a period of national education reform. Somewhere in between these two extremes there is a narrative that is both unique and representative, zoomed in on 12 acres and stretched out across an entire nation, revealing a fundamental misalignment between the roots of large bureaucratic forces and the origin of the emotive and deeply personal experiences of a small community as well as the commitment to education that lies at the heart of both extremes.