Authoritarian Schooling: A Catalogue of Damage compiled by David Gribble








Why have I created this website?

For twenty years or more I have been visiting schools and other places of education described as democratic or progressive or free or child-centred and finding a huge variety that seemed to me to be excellent. I have written about these places in two books, Real Education, Varieties of Freedom, which describes eighteen schools in eight different countries, and Lifelines, which I wrote to counter the argument that democratic education was only suitable for the wealthy, liberal, middle class.

Lifelines describes places of education for children as far from the wealthy, liberal middle class as I could find, including street children in Delhi and abused, orphaned or abandoned children in Thailand. The book ends with this paragraph:

Children from secure backgrounds will manage somehow under almost any system. The children for whom non-authoritarian education matters most are the deprived, the down-trodden, the deserted and the desperate. For the rich, such education is suitable; for the poor, it is essential.

Some of the places I visited had no lessons but many rules and others had many lessons but no rules, some were governed entirely by meetings of students and staff and others were owned by benevolent dictators, at some the staff offered courses and at others there were no courses unless the students specifically requested them, some were financed by charity or central government, and others charged fees. It was only recently that I saw that although there was no single word to describe all these organisations, there was a single word to describe the type of education they were reacting against, and that word was 'authoritarian.'

I decided to write a book about the damage done by authoritarian education, drawing on my own and other people's experiences at school, books by John Holt, Alice Miller, Jürg Jegge, W. B. Curry and others, and adding sections on staff-pupil conflict, punishment, the ignorance of politicians and a score of other topics. I had already spent plenty of time on the defence of a democratic approach, the approach that traditionalists wrongly dismiss as an impractical daydream, but now I wanted to go into the attack.

I assembled just over forty short essays of two or three pages which followed no pattern and failed to develop any consecutive argument. It did not make a sensible book, but at last I realised that all this material would make an ideal website. It would not matter that it was not consecutive, because visitors to the site could dodge about from one topic to another just as they wished.

This is it.

David Gribble