Thursday, May 15, 2014

Summerhill: The misery of a great Leftist fantasy

Mikey Cuddihy is now 60 years old and a successful artist and teacher. Yet the pain of childhood loss suffuses this memoir as if the traumatic events happened just last year.

She was born into a large and wealthy Irish-American family, who enjoyed a luxurious life. But her beautiful actress mother became an alcoholic, given to lashing out at her five children. 

When Mikey was four, her parents divorced and her father gained custody of the children. His second wife once stood one of her stepsons under a freezing shower because he was naughty. Such random cruelty seems to have marked the Cuddihy children’s family life.

A year later their father crashed his car and was killed. Mikey and her siblings went to live with their mother, who by then was remarried, had a baby and had controlled her drinking. Then, just four years later,  their mother crashed her beaten-up old car and died in hospital.

Their Uncle Tom announced that they were all going to England. The elder brother and sister were being sent to a school in Scotland, while Mikey and her brothers Sean and Chris were being packed off to that famously bohemian Suffolk boarding school, Summerhill.

A.S. Neill founded Summerhill in 1921, firmly believing that schools ought to be progressive ‘democratic communities’, run by means of  student meetings and with no requirement to attend lessons. Teenagers ‘in a relationship’ were allowed to sleep together, while the smallest children (‘the Tinies’) ran wild.

There is something unbearably poignant about her flat description of the conditions: ‘My  new family consists of 60 kids and a few adults, mostly foreign, all displaced. Trying to figure out how to live in Neill’s self-constructed, child-centred universe.’

Mikey joins other girls in a bleak dormitory to sleep on ancient Army bunks and talk about their absent families each night, in the dark.

This was the early 1960s and these poor children were ‘part of the new wave of spoilt brats whose counter-cultural, media mogul parents’ had a particular idea of freedom. That is, freedom to dump their children in an anarchic setting where the library consisted of ancient Enid Blyton books and children could choose to play all day.

There was a disturbing incident when Mikey’s teenage brother Sean had ‘done something’ to a little girl, and was sent away to join Deedee and Bob in Scotland. Nobody explained to Mikey what happened. Did he rape the child? It remains unclear, but what is horrifyingly obvious is  that Neill was unable or unwilling to treat the incident with the gravity it merited.

Mikey grew up (this part is as vividly told as the Summerhill years) to become an artist and a mother, witnessed Sean’s increasingly disturbed behaviour — and experienced, through closeness to all her siblings, that supportive family love which can overcome layers of dysfunction.

The ironies within this compulsively readable account of Sixties child-rearing are many. The ‘happiness’ of the title is clearly debatable, and yet the plight of the orphaned family — victims of thoughtless, selfish adults — is recounted with a commendable lack of emotion.


Now halal sneaks into British schools: Parents angered by move by councils to ban pork sausages and bacon and replace them with ritually-slaughtered meat

Hundreds of schools have banned pork – sausages and bacon – and switched to halal only meat for meals even where Muslims are in the minority.

Many families of other faiths and none have been angered and upset by the move which has often been done by schools and councils with little or no consultation.

At least two dinner ladies have been sacked in the last year after serving non-halal food to Muslim students by accident.

By contrast, dinner ladies in hundreds of schools are expected to serve halal meat to primary and secondary school age pupils every day of the week whether they are Muslim or not.

The driving force appears to be cost because it is far easier and cheaper to have a single source of halal meat for everyone, rather than having to provide a segregated menu.

In most cases the halal meat served in schools will come from animals that have been pre-stunned before slaughter, which welfare experts say is the minimum required to minimise suffering.

The concern among non-Muslim parents is that it is not clear which schools are using halal only meat. Separately, a move to halal only meat means children have no choice but to eat it or switch to a vegetarian option.

This is a particular worry for the Sikh community who refuse to eat halal meat on religious grounds.

A spokesman for the Sikh Council UK said: ‘We are concerned that many schools, councils and other public sector bodies and their caterers are effectively allowed to deceive the public by providing halal meat without declaring it as such.

‘Public sector bodies have a duty to the entire community and should be accommodating for all needs without fear or favour.’

He said: ‘Everybody has a right to purchase and consume food in accordance with their religious or other beliefs and food should be clearly labelled to allow individuals to make an informed choice.

‘All foodstuffs using or containing halal meat and any derived products from halal meat should be clearly labelled as halal. Certified halal meat products should be provided and be available for the benefit of the Muslim community where required.

‘All consumers should have the confidence that foodstuffs that are not labelled as halal are in fact halal free. It should be a duty of trading standard officers to enforce effective and clear labelling on all food.’

In March, parents in Rotherham condemned a school’s decision to ban all pork products from the menu and replace other meats with halal versions.

The change means pupils aged 3-11 at Brinsworth Manor Infant and Junior Schools in Rotherham - which Ofsted identifies as having only a small number of pupils from minority ethnic groups - will no longer be able to enjoy sausages, bacon or ham.

Parents at both schools, which share a site, were told of the decision in a letter from Rotherham Council’s catering officer, who wrote that there had been ‘minor adjustments’ to the lunch menu.

Although just 20 per cent of the school’s 600 pupils are Muslim the menu changes were reportedly brought in to make the school more inclusive.

A mother with an 11-year-old girl at the school, who asked not to be named for fear of being branded racist, said: ‘At home I pay more for organic and free range food. I am a Christian but I don’t do it because of that, it’s more for the respect of how animals are killed.

‘The way the animals are slaughtered for halal meat is a religious killing and I don’t feel it should be in schools.

‘My daughter has been anxious about the change as she has concerns about if it is humane killing. I believe in animal welfare rights and standards of meat production that halal does not follow.’

The change in policy was agreed by the head teacher and governors as part of a policy to make the meals more inclusive.

This same scenario is understood to have been played out in hundreds of schools across the country over the past five years.

While schools are going to extraordinary lengths to protect the interests of Muslim pupils, there is no such support for others who may not want to eat halal for various reasons.

Dinner lady Alison Waldock, aged 51, was fired for gross misconduct last year from a Cambridge school after she mistakenly gave non-halal food to a seven year-old girl.

The girl’s parents complained with the result she lost her job after 11 years with the catering company involved.

In February last year, it emerged that a dinner lady at a multi-faith school in Moseley, Birmingham, was sacked after she accidentally served non-Halal meat to Muslims. Moseley School has a policy of serving halal-only meat to all 1,400 students, regardless of their faith.

The change to halal seems to have been encouraged and organised by local councils, however the Local Government Association, which speaks for them, denied responsibility. It said each school has responsibility for a decision on whether or not to switch to halal only meat.


Anger of British mother who has to home school her daughter after NINE different schools rejected the four-year-old

She probably lives in a "good" area.   There is great competition to get kids into the schools of such areas so some people lose out

A mother has been left furious after being forced to home school her four-year-old daughter who was was rejected from nine schools in her local area.

Estelle Perrons should have started term last September but now faces an uncertain future because no school in her catchment area has enough space to take her.

Her mother Emily Perrons, 26, had set her sights on St Mary’s Primary School, the same primary school her other two daughters Elizabeth, ten, and Eve, eight, go to.

However, after being told there was no room, the single mum was forced to look elsewhere. The search has continued without success for the past eight months.

Miss Perrons, who doesn’t drive, said Nottingham City Council told her the nearest school that will take her daughter is six miles away in Clifton.

But as the mum-of-three has to walk her other children the two miles to their school she is being forced to home school Estelle as it is 'physically impossible to be in two places at once.'

Yesterday Miss Perrons, from Sherwood, in Nottingham, fumed: 'It is ridiculous, I am now facing the option that my daughter might not go to any school.

'She is going to nursery for three mornings a week but she is the oldest there as she is nearly five and the nursery is saying they can’t cater for her much longer.

'Now I just want her in any school I can physically get to. I have appealed all nine schools’ decisions but it is looking unlikely.

'It would have been nice for her to be with her sisters as I don’t want them split up but that doesn’t seem like an option.

'I was working at Argos before I had children and I just want any job now.  'If I can’t get Estelle into school I won’t be able to get a job and the government will make me go on Job Seeker’s Allowance.

'I don’t want to claim benefits, I want to work. It is not my fault there are not enough school places.  'We are already walking four miles a day and if we do get the bus a family ticket is £9. To get to Clifton as well would mean spending nearly £20 a day just on bus fares.

'All I want is for Estelle to be in school and get an education.

'I have started looking to see if we can move because I think that will have to be the last resort.'

Geraldine Kelly, head teacher at St Mary’s, in the Sherwood area of Nottingham said they faced a difficult task at having to turn down places for children.

She said: 'We are popular because we get results and are rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. It is difficult but we have to turn down some parents.'

Councillor David Mellen, portfolio holder for children’s services for Nottingham City Council, has pledged that a place will be found at every school.

He said: 'We are working very hard to offer every child a place as quickly as possible.'


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