A DOMINIE ABROAD by A.S. Neill (£1.50 – ChristieBooks eBookshelf). A fascinating account of A.S. Neill’s experiences setting up a ‘Free school’ in the pre-Hitlerian Germany of the Weimar Republic. Dissatisfied with traditional schooling, with its lack of freedom, democracy, and self-determination, Neill began searching for a place to establish his own school and to experiment with his developing ideas, gathering what was best in the educational systems of various nations. In 1921 he became a co-director of the Dalcroze School in Hellerau, a suburb of Dresden, Germany. Part of an international school, called Neue Schule, the Dalcroze supported the study of Eurythmics. His’s first step was to buy a dictionary and start to learn the language, the next was to record his impressions. His difficulties were many. With cheery optimism the bohemian teacher overlooked the fact that he was in a community with definite laws on education; he also quite forgot the difficulties of finance. There was also the tragic fact that the Dominie’s favourite tobacco was unobtainable within five hundred square miles.

A DOMINIE’S FIVE or FREE SCHOOL by A.S. Neill In 1921 Scottish teacher A.S. Neill moved to Hellerau on the outskirts of Dresden where he co-founded an International School to pursue his own ideas on education: that the child’s happiness should be the paramount consideration in deciding its upbringing, a happiness which grows from a sense of personal freedom. After reading what was at the time considered a popular and exciting story — King Solomon’s Mines — to the English-speaking group of five pupils with the result that four of them went to sleep, he conceived the idea of telling the children a story in which they themselves were the participants and actors. Needless to say, the story was a great success, judging by the remarks of the children. This is the story told by Neill. Its imaginativeness is unique as is its whimsical humour. It makes an original contribution to the art of story-telling for children.

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Dominie1A DOMINIE’S LOG by A.S. Neill

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A Dominie’s Log was directly due to the Scottish Code of Education, by which it is forbidden to enter general reflections or opinions in the official log-book. Requiring a safety-valve, a young Dominie decides to keep a private log-book. In it he jots down the troubles and comedies of the day’s work. Sometimes he startles even his own bairns by his unconventionality. There is a lot in Education that he does not understand. The one thing, however, that he does comprehend is the Child Mind, and he possesses the saving quality of humour. (1915)

DominieDismissedA DOMINIE DISMISSED by A.S. Neill

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In consequence of the Dominie’s go-as- you-please methods of educating village children, the inevitable happens he is dismissed, giving place to an approved disciplinarian. The unhappy Dominie, forced to leave his bairns, seeks to enlist but the doctor discovers that his lungs are affected, and he is ordered an open-air life. He returns as a cattleman to the village where he has previously been a school master. Incidentally, he watches the effect of his successor’s teaching, the triumph of his own methods and the discomfiture of his rival at the hands of the children, in whom the Dominie cultivated personality and the rights of bairns. (1917)

DominieDoubtA DOMINIE IN DOUBT by A.S. Neill (£1.50)

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One day when re-reading A Dominie’s Log, its author decided that a book is out of date five minutes after it is written. In other words, he was in doubt—terrible and perplexing doubt. Do I really understand children? he asked himself. Are my ideas upon education right or wrong ? He decided that he had not sufficiently studied the psychology of children and that, in consequence, he had been guilty of almost criminal neglect. In the same delightfully discursive and humorous manner the Dominic reveals himself, as attractive in his doubts as in his convictions. He does not repent his unconventions. On the contrary, he reproaches himself for having been a heretic, whereas he ought to have been an arch-heretic.  (1920)

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Alexander Sutherland Neill was born in Forfar in the N.E, of Scotland on 17 October 1883 (d. 23/9/1973) to George and Mary Neill. He was raised in an austere, Calvinist house and instilled with values of fear, guilt, and adult and divine authority, which he later repudiated. His father was the village dominie (Scottish schoolmaster) of Kingsmuir, near Forfar in eastern Scotland; his mother, too, had been a teacher before her marriage. The village dominie held a position in the community of prestige, but hierarchically beneath that of the gentry, doctors, and clergymen. The dominie, typically, controlled overcrowded classrooms with the tawse (the belt), as the means of maintaining good order and discipline.

Aged 15, his parents decided to appoint him his father’s assistant “pupil teacher”. The children liked Neill, though he received poor marks from a school inspector. He taught a wider range of topics as his self-confidence grew. After four years, he attended teacher training college— coming nearly last in his class — but continued as a pupil teacher in Bonnyrigg and Kingskettle, where he found the teachers’ instruction militant and loathsome. He remained in Kingskettle for three years, during which time he learned Greek from a local priest, an experience that stimulated his interest in things academic and sublimated his interest in the priesthood into a desire to attend university. After studying with the priest and the Forfar math master, Neill passed his university entrance exam and preliminary teacher’s certification, becoming an assistant teacher at the Newport Public School, where he learned to dance and appreciate music and theatre. He adopted progressive techniques at this school, abandoning the tawse for other forms of establishing discipline. Neill was friendly and relaxed with his pupils; he described the two years he spent there as “the happiest of [his] life thus far”. He subsequently finished his entrance exams at Edinburgh University and received his full teaching certification in 1912. The present work, ‘A Dominie’s Log’, appeared in 1915 — 9 years before launching his own free school, Summerhill in 1924. It is a delightful and insightful record of a young Scottish dominie’s coming of age as a teacher in the early 20th century.

“I smile as I re-read the words I wrote yesterday, for to day I feel that hope has not left me. But I am not any more hopeful about the three Rs and the others. I am hopeful because I have found a solution. I shall henceforth try to make my bairns realise. Yes, realise is the word. Realise what? To tell the truth, I have some difficulty in saying. I think I want to make them realise what life means. Yes, I want to give them, or rather help them to find an attitude. Most of the stuff I teach them will be forgotten in a year or two, but an attitude remains with one throughout life. I want these boys and girls to acquire the habit of looking honestly at life.

“Ah! I wonder if I look honestly at life myself! Am I not a very one-sided man? Am I not a Socialist, a doubter, a heretic? Am I not biased when I judge men like the Cecils and the Harmsworths? I admit it. I am a partisan, and yet I try to look at life honestly. I try and that is the main point. I do not think that I have any of the current superstitions about morality and religion and art. I try to forget names; I try to get at essentials, at truth. The fathers of my bairns are, I think, interested in names. I wonder how many of them have sat down saying: “I must examine myself, so that I may find out what manner of man I am.” I hold that self-knowledge must come before all things. When one has stripped off all the conventions, and superstitions, and hypocrisies, then one is educated.

“These bairns of mine will never know how to find truth; they will merely read the newspapers when they grow up. They will wave their hats to the King, but kingship will be but a word to them; they will shout when a lawyer from the south wins the local seat, but they will not understand the meaning of economics; they will dust their old silk hats and march to the sacrament, but they will not realise what religion means.

“I find that I am becoming pessimistic again, and I did feel hopeful when I began to write. I should feel hopeful, for I am resolved to find another meaning in education. What was it? . . . Ah, yes, I am to help them to an attitude.”

More extracts:

“Macdonald,” I said impatiently, “if you mean to tell me that any man can tell what I am doing to prepare children for after life by squinting at a crowd of entries of the Took- the- History-of-the-Great-Rebellion-this-week order well, I don’t understand your attitude to life in general.”

“That’s all very well,” he protested, “but we aren’t there to make the rules; we’re paid servants who have to administer the laws of wiser men.”

“How do you know that they are wiser?” I asked.

“They’re wiser than I am anyway,” he said with a smile.

“I’m not so sure of it, Macdonald; they are more unscrupulous than you are. They know what they want, definitely and finally; they want efficient wage-slaves.”

“That’s merely a Socialistic cry.”

“It may be, but it’s true. Who rule us? A definite governing class of trained aristocrats.”

“H’m! I shouldn’t call Lloyd George and that Labour man Hodge trained aristocrats.”

“They aren’t born aristocrats I admit, but they are aristocratised democrats. They’ve adapted themselves to the aristocratic tradition. They are on the side of aristocracy; you won’t find them alienating the good opinion of the moneyed classes. We are governed from above; do you admit that?”

“In the main. . . .yes,” he said grudgingly.

“Very good! Well, then, our rulers believe in two kinds of education. They send their sons to the public schools where boys are trained to be governors, but they send the rest of the sons of the community to State schools where they are trained to be disciplined and content with their lot.”

“That’s nonsense.”

“Possibly, but I suppose you know that the members of the House of Lords and the Cabinet don’t send their sons to L.C.C. schools.”

“You are simply preaching class war,” he said.

“I am. There is a class war there has been for generations, but it is a one-sided war.”

“It is,” said Macdonald grimly.

“The upper class took the offensive long ago, and it keeps it yet. Look at the squire down in the village. He won’t ride in the same railway compartment with you or me; he won’t sit beside us in the theatre why, he won’t lie beside us in the kirkyard: he’s got that railed-off corner for his family. I don’t blame him; he has been educated up in his belief, just as you and I have been educated up in the belief that we are his inferiors. When I was down in the school I lectured the whole class one day because I saw a boy doff his cap to the squire and nod to his mother three seconds afterwards.”

“Don’t you see that this village is a little British Empire? Here there are only two classes the big house and the village the ruling class and the ruled. The school trains the ruled to be ruled, and the kirk takes up the training on the Seventh Day. The minister talks a lot of prosy platitudes about Faith and Love and Charity, but he never thinks of saying a thing that the squire might take umbrage at.”

I broke off and refilled my pipe.”


“A Trade Union official delivered a lecture on Labour Aspirations in the village hall to night. I was sadly disappointed. The man tried to make out that the interests of Capital and Labour are similar.

“We are not out to abolish the capitalist,” he said; “all we want is a say in the workshop management. We have nothing to do with the way the employer conducts his business; we want to mind our own business. We want to see men paid a living wage; we want to see “I ceased to be interested in what the man wanted to see. I fancy that he requires to see a devil of a lot before he is capable of guiding the Trade Unions.

Why are these so-called leaders so poor in intellect? Why are they so fearful of alienating the good opinion of the capitalist? If the Trade Union has any goal at all it surely is the abolition of the capitalist. The leaders crawl to the feet of capital and cry: “For the Lord’s sake listen to us! We won’t ask much; we won’t offend you in the least. We merely want to ask very deferentially that you will see that there is no unemployment after the war. We beseech you to let our stewards have a littk say a very little say in the management of the shops. Take your Rent and Interest and Profit as usual; as usual we’ll be quite content with what is left over.”

If a bull had intelligence he would not allow himself to be led to the shambles. If the Trade Unions had intelligence they would not allow their paid leaders to lead them to the altar.

The lecturer had evidently been told that I was the only Socialist in the village, and he called upon me to say a few words. I have no doubt that later he regretted calling upon me. “The speaker is modest in his demands,” I said. “He has told you what Labour is asking for, and now I’ll tell you what I think Labour should ask for. Labour’s chief aim should be to make the Trade Unions blackleg proof. When they have roped in all the workers they will be able to command any thing they like. They should then go to the State and say: ‘We want to join forces with the State. Capitalism is un-Christlike, and wasteful, and we must destroy it. We propose to take over the whole concern ourselves; we propose to abolish Rent, Interest, and Profit …. and Wagery . At present we are selling our labour to the highest bidder, and in the process we are selling our souls along with our bodies. Each industry will conduct its own business, not for profit but for social service; no shareholders will live on our labour; we shall give our members pay instead of wages.’

“Gentlemen, I call an organisation of this kind a Guild, but you can call it what you like. It is the only organisation that will abolish wagery, that is, will prohibit labour from being a commodity obeying the Laws of Supply and Demand.”

“What about nationalisation of land and mines and railways?” said the official. “These are on our programme, and they will revolutionise industry.”

“Hand over the mines and the railways to the State,” I said, “and you have State capitalism. You won’t abolish wages; you’ll buy the mines and railways, and you’ll draw your wages from what is left over after the interest due to the late shareholders is paid.”

“Ah!” he interrupted, “you want to confiscate?”

“If necessary, certainly. We have conscripted life because the State required men to give their lives; why not conscript wealth in the same way? The State requires the wealth of the rich, not only for the purpose of paying for the war; it requires it to pay for the peace to come

“Control of industry by producers has always failed,” he said. “The New Statesman Supplement on the Control of Industry proved this conclusively.”

“Of course it has always failed,” I said. “Flying always failed, but the aeroplane experimenters did not sit down and wail: ‘It’s absolutely no good; men have always failed to fly.’ If the Railway Trade Union got the offer of the whole railway system to-morrow to run as it pleased it would make a bonny hash of it. Why? Because management is a skilled business. But if the salaried railway officials had the vision to see that their interests lay with the men instead of with the masters, then you would find a difference. The Trade Unions without the salaried officials are useless. “I read the Supplement you mention. One of the causes of failure given was that the producers had an interest in the plant and they were always unwilling to scrap machinery in order to introduce better machines.”

“That’s quite true,” he nodded.

“Is it? Why does Bruce the linen manufacturer in the neighbouring town here scrap comparatively new machinery when better inventions come out? He has an interest in the plant, hasn’t he? Why then does he not stick to the old methods?”

“He knows that he will gain in the end.”

“Exactly. And a society of workers running their own business would not have the gumption to see that the new methods would be a gain in the end?”

“The fact remains that they have tried and failed,” he said.

“That merely proves that the workers without their managers are hopeless,” I said. ‘ What can you expect from a section of the community that has never been educated? You can’t make a man slave ten hours a day for a living wage and then expect him to have the organising ability of Martin the cigar merchant, or the vision of Gamage the universal provider. A rich merchant in London said to me when I asked him point blank if he always thought of his profits: ‘Profits be blowed! The great thing is the game of business.’ I don’t see any reason in the world why the manager of say The Enfield Cycle Company should not be as energetic and as capable if he were managing a factory for the Cycle Guild.”

“The workers would interfere with him,” said the official; “every workman who had a grudge against him would try to get him put off the managership,”

“Lord!” I cried, “for a representative of Labour you seem to have a poor opinion of the democracy you speak for! If that is your attitude to your fellow-workmen I quite understand your modest demands for Labour. If the rank and file of the Trade Unions can’t rise higher than squabbling about whether a manager should be sacked or not, the Trade Unions had better content themselves with the programme their leaders have arranged for them. They had better concentrate their attention on trifles like a Minimum Wage or an Old Age Pension.”

A disturbing thought comes to me to-night. Democracy means rule by the majority…. and the majority is always wrong. The only comfort I can find lies in the thought that the majority of to-day represents the opinions of the minority of yesterday. Democracy will always be twenty years behind its time.”