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Work in progress primary source analysis Document Transcript

  • 1. Primary Source Study 1. Introduction The Progressive School movement began in the 1920s with anumber of schools developed in reaction to the Victorian era incombination with the Prog Schools’ leaders own experiences ofschool and their feelingss about Freud. They were arguably more‘reactive’ than progressive. 1
  • 2. The three schools I am studying are: Malting House - Geoffrey Pyke & Susan Isaacs (1926 - 29) Beacon Hill - Bertrand & Dora Russell (1927 - 1944) Summerhill - AS Neill (1921 - present day) The primary source is a letter from AS Neill to DoraRussell in the Spring of 1944, shortly after Russell finallyclosed her school. The letter was found in the Dora Russell archives, held atthe International Social Studies Archive but also availabledigitally. Pieces are not easy to retrieve; they are in acomlicated download system where you cannot preview what you aregetting beyond a tiny thumbnail however I tried to findcorrespondence with either Isaacs or Neill in the hope offinding out their opinions towards one another and eventuallystumbled upon several letters from Neill - none of which arepublished in his collected letters (”All the best, Neill”). This piece is particularly interesting for highlightingseveral important themes: 1. Community among progressive school members 2. Attitudes towards family members 3. Staffing problems 4. Financial problems 5. Journalism and publications 6. “Oceans of compromise” 2. Interpretations Community among Progressive school members The Progressive School Movement has been written aboutcollectively in several major education works - Skidelsky,Stewart, The Modern Schools Handbook. However it is difficult toknow to what extent it was a movement versus a coincidence oftime and place. There appears to have been relatively littlecommunication between the headteachers of the schools and theirbiographies exclude one another. Though the ideas are similar and all were labelled byjournalists as “Do As You Please” schools there were crucialdifferences in the style of teaching. While AS Neill remainedcommitted throughout to the idea of students being able to dowhat they want and having self-governance they was more of ascientific zeal in the other schools and they gradually changedover time (references?) The letters uncovered show however that Dora wroteregularly to Neill, she asked for his help with finance, and at 2
  • 3. regularly to Neill, she asked for his help with finance, and atone point even allows Neill to bring his charges to her schoolduring an evacuation. This is not mentioned in Neill’sbiography. Why? (a) Potentially it would bring nationalscandal, both were well known and had famous divorces. (b) Neillwas too busy creating himself as the leader of a narrative anddid not want to give the glory away. (c) Dora Russell was againbeing ignored for being female and therefore uninteresting(Tamarisk Tree and other letters). 2. Attitudes towards family members Neill’s wife was dying in the manner he describes when hewrote this letter (biography). The language was shocking - atleast to me! - and seems to be of someone who does not much carefor his wife. The theme of family and relationships isinteresting through all three schools ( Isaacs, biog). Pyke & Isaacs have an affair that all but ends MaltingHouse. The Russell’s eventually divorce from their ‘openmarriage’ when Bertrand has an affair with a second nanny andDora becomes pregnant by another man (who offers to marry her,but she refuses) ( Tamarisk Tree). Neill marries several times throughout his life ( biog, putin what these are) and the relationships are secondary to hisschool. For all three the school seems to be about meeting desiresthat cannot be held together in their own personal life.Freudian reading, psychohistory. 3. Staffing Problems All three schools struggled with staffing. The Dora Russellarchives have hundreds of letters of people writing wishing towork there, many are unsuitable - they are attracted by thefame, and even when all three get people they complain that theyare not used to the school. It does appear that the particularstyle of the school requires a level of patience that mostpeople do not have. The issue of women leaving to have children wasparticularly pertinent. One of the reasons why Russell andIsaacs are both involved is because it enables them to work withtheir own children. 4. Financial Problems Both Malting House & Beacon Hill were rocked byrelationships but the actual reason they could not continue wasdue to the impact this had on finances. As Neill describes 3
  • 4. due to the impact this had on finances. As Neill describeshere, they are struggling. Summerhill, of all the schools,appears to have had the best finances because AS Neill publishedconstantly - he was particularly famous in the US during the1960s, and this might explain why Ellis Library has such a glutof his books (and other books on Summerhill) from this time. Financial problems were exacerbated by externalconsequences - in the case of Pyke, it was the 1929 depression(he was a trader and became bankrupt). In the case of Beacon Hill the loss of Russell was alwaysproblematic, as was the fact that he continually insulted theschool and distanced himself from it. But the really big problemwas WWII. First Russell was forced to move because the area shwas in was being heavily bombed. The second building they movedto was then taken over by the government and she did not gainany compensation (it went to the landlord). This prompts Russellto write to people (including Neill) for money, or advice on howto get money. It does appear that she is less successful becauseshe is female and not widely known (she was always hidden behindBertrand Russell in almost every article, and is mad about thisin her biography and subsequent writing!) 5. Journalism and Publications It is notable that Dora Russell, Susan Isaacs and AS Neillwere all prolific writers and authors. Russell and Isaacs bothalso lectured. Only AS Neill was able to combine the two andnearly always wrote as a way of making money for the school.Isaacs and Russell both maintained writings about other subjectsalongside the school and there is a sense that both wereresearchers or ‘social scientists’ first, with the school reallya subject for their own narrative. This does not play aparticular part in the schools’ demise (it really was financial)but it does show something of a difference in motive. 6. “Oceans of Compromise” The most interesting sentence in this piece is Neill’swords: “Oceans of new progressive schools mostly compromises” Over the years progressive schools tended back towards thenorm. They became stricter, the adults imposed more in thegovernment, they closed down, they introduced uniforms, theybent to the will of inspection regimes introduced after WWII. ASNeill’s description of Oceans of Compromise is both desparateand correct. The question to be answered by the historian is: Why? 4
  • 5. From what I have said so far: - Finance - Relationships - Motivated by ‘fame’ or ‘social science’ rather thaneducation - Staffing These appear to be key and one is led to wonder to whatextent these are the issues surrounding new schools even today.When one looks at the charter schools that closes we see a lotaround finance and staffing. I also wonder the extent to whichrelationships matter. It seems so unlikely that they couldmatter greatly for all three schools and yet be simply absent inthe literature today. Why is that missing? Are we allprofessional now? Or is there still an ‘ocean of compromise’ inthe research we are doing? Synthesis - What does this tell us about US EducationHistory? 1. Finance is a greater driver of change than ideology -the integration of girls and boys is equal in these schools(quite rare in England) because of finance, this was also thecase in the US, equally - I expect - in the case of segregation,types of schooling, specialisation, etc. 2. The importance of relationships - are they in any of thebooks we discussed? Mann - first wife died, this spurred him on as he grievedfor a very long time, Second wife - Mary Taylor Peabody - was ateacher, very highly respected, and absolutely significant inhelping Mann win over most of the people who helped him stay onboard Jefferson - married once, 6 children - his wife, Martha,had half-brothers and sisters who were slaves because her fatherwas a slave trader and attorney and fathered them. They werethen inherited by the Jeffersons. Jefferson also fathered achild by one of the slaves, Sally Hemmings. DNA testing in 1998has proven the link. Du Bois - Twice! - first died - she was an almost ‘saintly’woman who became entirely withdrawn (Lewis’ Biography) - Du Boishad serial affairs with famous/educated women and all butignored his daughter. His second marriage was to a woman of 50when he was 84. Booker T. Washington - married 3 times - first two died -second one had been to MA Normal School - then went to work atTuskagee - is this likely to have had an impact? *CO-FOUNDER OFTUSKAGEE* 3. To what extent does ‘fame’ affect history? - Mann, Webster, Jefferson, Booker T. Washington, Du Bois: 5
  • 6. Mann, Webster, Jefferson, Booker T. Washington, Du Bois:this is the ‘narrative’ that we are sold but perhaps there is adifferent one bubbling just underneath the surface. Conclusion: This project makes me want to be a historian. 6