An interview with Professor Jon Showstack - ex Summerhillian

In 2010 Jon Showstack, an ex Summerhillian, made a substantial donation to the 信任. Jon is 64 years old and lives with his wife Ellen in the San Francisco Bay Area, USA. He has two adult daughters. He is a retired Professor of Medicine and Health Policy after almost 40 years at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). He currently does independent consulting as well as continuing research at UCSF.

When asked what led to him attending Summerhill and what motivated him to make a donation to the 信任, here’s what he said....

"It's a great irony of my life that I’ve spend most of it in a university. Academia as a career was about the furthest thing from my mind when I was a teenager. Similar to many others, adolescence was a very turbulent time for me. The basic cause of the turbulence is still not entirely clear to me, other than the “normal” teenage angst, 混乱, and surging hormones. I had no problem learning (from books, newspapers, 等.), but I was allergic to high school; I basically didn’t attend high school and to this day do not have a high school diploma (or a reunion to attend!)."

Fortunately, my parents were understanding and supportive. My father was a psychiatrist who had very progressive ideas about childrearing. In the early 1960s, a friend of the family recommended 尼尔’s recently published “Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing.” The book was startling on many levels, not the least of which was the similarity of 尼尔’s description of Summerhill with the “democracy” of our household. My father corresponded with 尼尔, and I ended-up spending the 1962-63 academic year at Summerhill.

One of the key elements of 尼尔’s philosophy is that children will only learn at the appropriate time and place, which might be defined as a “readiness” to learn. This was true for me in spades. My adolescent head was already too full of – who knows what – to be able to participate in, let alone concentrate on, a structured school program. I was much more interested in photography and in the world around me. I read voraciously, but could not countenance the slow structured pace of classrooms, 讲座, and weekly assignments. 直到今天, I learn much better from reading than from 讲座, and am still very visually oriented - perhaps explaining, 在某种程度上, my expertise in graphic display of complex data, a great boon to my academic career.

“My financial contribution to Summerhill is a way of supporting 尼尔’s philosophy and of helping to sustain a place where children can be children”
I point out these possible reasons that high school and I were a bad mix because I think they illustrate a probably common, but often unrecognized, set of issues faced by many children and adolescents; that is, their internal needs (cognitive, 情感, 等.) and their external circumstances (social, language, economic, 等.) simply do not match the linear requirements of structured schooling.

Not only is it important to recognise, but also to allow and promote, the idea that failure at school does not necessarily equate with an inability or reluctance to learn. Suffice it to say that 尼尔 had it right – our education systems will never be successful until they are (un)structured to allow and address the differing needs, cognitive styles, 情感 age and health, and 能力 of individual children.
Picture: From left to right, Tony Readhead, Jon Showstack and Zoe Readhead in 2004
My financial contribution to Summerhill is a way of supporting 尼尔’s philosophy and of helping to sustain a place where children can be children; where adolescence is seen as a “normal” (if often unattractive) passage; and, most importantly, 哪里需要, 能力, 欲望, and circumstances of persons (whatever their age) are recognised, 受人尊敬的, 并发表讲话.

I urge others to support 尼尔’s ideas through a contribution to the A. S. 尼尔 Summerhill 信任 and/or through other activities that help make our educational systems more responsive to children of all ages.”