Cutting Edge Advanced’s fifth module – “Learning for Life” – is about education and makes us think of what life skills should we know at school.
Every time I am faced with this issue, I recall Bertrand Russell’s experiment on childhood education he described in his outstanding “Autobiography”.
The British philosopher, mathematician and pacifist, Literature Nobel Prize (1950), decided to found and run, with his wife Dora, in 1927, an experimental school.
They didn’t want their son and daughter to be forced to follow a traditional learning by rote in a strictly academic curriculum, but didn’t find any school which satisfied their educational principles. Thinking they could have their own way in their children’s education, and that the boy and the girl would need to have other children’s company, they decided to launch into that new school, which began its activities – based on self-government and learning-by-doing – in Beacon Hill, Sussex, England, with twelve pupils.
Russell’s reference to the school in his memories makes think that the experiment was not that success, due to many mistakes they both committed regarding to financial issues, the difficulty to find teachers who acted according to the principles of the school and the fact that many children enrolled were problematic.
The school was opened for sixteen years – it closed down in 1943 – although Bertrand Russell was only during the first five years associated to it. That experience gave him material to publish “On Education” (1926) and “Education and Social Order” (1932), in which he called for an education “liberated from unthinking obedience to parental and religious authority.”
Nowadays Beacon Hill School is considered to have been, together with Summerhill School, one of the most important pioneering schools in the field of Libertarian Education. Recently researches highlight the importance of it “as an educational and social experiment, situating its history in the context of the development of progressive education and of modernist ideas about marriage and childrearing in the first half of the twentieth century”, having being a success even during its last few years.
For those who have curiosity about this issue: I’ve found a riveting paper titled “Dora and Bertrand Russell and Beacon Hill School”, by Professor Deborah S. Gorham, from the Department of History, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, which is available in: