A DOMINIE’S LOG — A S Neill

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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.

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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.

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