The Little Commonwealth in Time

ANTHONY WEAVER is at present working at Oxford on a survey oj the treatment of maladjusted pupils in the educational system. Before becoming senior lecturer in education at Whitelands College, he taught in a variety of schools, was head teacher at a school for maladjusted children and warden of a residential clinic., He is the author of “They Steal for Love” and of “War Outmoded”, and has contributed to several issues of ANARCHY.

THE EXPLANATION USUALLY GIVEN FOR HOMER LANE’S SUCCESS is that he was on the side of his children. This same attitude can be described as a cure by love, by which Ian Suttie chose to explain the working of psychoanalysis; or as charity, as is done by those of Quaker belief.

1. It merges into the life of a community in which a formal structure of shared responsibility is maintained. The best current example, to my knowledge, of a therapeutically planned environment is Otto Shaw’s school, Red Hill, near Maidstone, where the staff act as stage managers in the drama of self-government by highly intelligent maladjusted boys.
On the other hand, one afternoon this month, in the children’s ward of a mental hospital, I found a boy in a single cell, on a mattress without a bed, his clothes taken from him. Why? Because he had played around with a gardener’s wheelbarrow on his way to the school unit within the hospital grounds that morning. The treatment had been stipulated, over the head of the teachers, by the doctor in charge who, typically, had no understanding of the meaning of shared responsibility, nor presumably of child development either. He regarded education as something a child receives: as a table may receive a coat of paint. Ordinary medical training appears to be excessively punitive these days.
2. An important feature of the Little Commonwealth was a recognition of the therapy of work—carried out on the farm on which the citizens depended for their livelihood, and in the running of the house and cottages. In this respect Reddie of Abbotsholme (1889) had been a forerunner although he had considerably greater influence outside this country than within it. Bedales under Badley, the Landerziehungheime Schule in Germany under Hermann Lietz and, indirectly, Salem and Gordonstoun were conspicuous offspring in the form of progressive
schools for middle class children. Makarenko from Poland had known the work of Lietz, and his collaborator Wyneken, before starting in the new Soviet Union, the Gorki Colony, whose survival depended directly upon the labour of its members. A generation later Henrietta Szold, the inspirer of Youth Aliyah, whose immigrants came mainly from Germany and Poland, was echoing Lane, when she declared two basic principles of the children’s villages to be the self-reliance of the adolescent group and the habit of manual work.
3. The Israeli’s third principle was the need for study and in their emphasis on this they may be said to have extended the practice of the Little Commonwealth. It may also be said that in work with maladjusted children in the last twenty years remedial teaching in the 3Rs, greatly stimulated by the researches of Schonell, Kellmer Pringle and Gulliford at the Birmingham· Centre, has gained a place in treatment never envisaged by Homer Lane.
4. The application of learning theories begun by Binet and his collaborators in France and by Burt in Britain, before the first world war, and greatly extended by the American schools since, have taken place alongside those of the dynamic psychologists—Aichhorn, Jung and Melanie Klein.
As a result child psychotherapy in Britain has become available, since the establishment of the Health Service of 1948, on a scale and in a manner undreamed of by Lane or by Makarenko.
5. Undoubtedly the successors of Bedales in the progressive school movement of the 1920s and 1930s owed much to Freud’s work on the unconscious in their use of painting and drama as a means of expression of symptoms for interpretation. But the function of creative work in these media, as well as through dance and craft, has since been more clearly regarded as a means of assertion of an individual’s identity and integrity, and in itself as a main objective of education.

This, I suspect, was hardly appreciated by Lane, and it is certainly not appreciated by the general run of psychiatrists and school medical officers now.
The accompanying table gives a rough indication of the chief ingredients of treatment practised in a variety of establishments.

To sum up, we may see that Lane’s achievement was limited by the absence of remedial teaching, of psychotherapy and of an understanding of the place of art in education. But we also see that the Special Schools which are increasingly coming under the control of the Health Service and the School Psychological Service, tend to be ignorant of Lane’s demonstrations of the benefits to be derived from “work” and from self-government.

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Aug 19 2018 17:39


Anarchy: a journal of anarchist ideas

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