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RADICAL THEN, RADICAL NOW: Care and Education in Communities

On Nov 9th 2013, Hilfield Friary celebrated the centenary of the Little Commonwealth, in our buildings at Hilfield from 1913 – 18, and Homer Lane, its charismatic leader with educational ideas almost more radical today than 100 years ago, with a group of leading practitioners, academics, writers and thinkers reflecting on the future of residential therapeutic child care and education, organised by Craig Fees of The Child Care History Network. 35 visitors came, among them several from Scotland, 3 Mennonites coming from Ireland just for the day, and 3 teachers from the Kinokuni Children’s village in Japan.

The Little Commonwealth Court Book (thanks to the Earl of Sandwich and the Dorset History Centre), in which the citizens listed their misdemeanours and the discipline they imposed upon themselves.  The smaller book is the visitor’s book with the signatures of the suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst   and Lord Baden Powell.

The Little Commonwealth Court Book (thanks to the Earl of Sandwich and the Dorset History Centre), in which the citizens listed their misdemeanours and the discipline they imposed upon themselves. The smaller book is the visitor’s book with the signatures of the suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst and Lord Baden Powell.

Judith Stinton (in the centre), author of A Dorset Utopia, leading a tour of the Little Commonwealth buildings.

Judith Stinton (in the centre), author of A Dorset Utopia, leading a tour of the Little Commonwealth buildings.

Judith telling us about the pump house, one of the first buildings to be built.

Judith telling us about the pump house, one of the first buildings to be built.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Fielding, Emeritus Professor of Education and author of Radical Education and the Common School – a democratic alternative (2012) spoke on “Self-government, shared responsibility and the possibility of radical democratic education”.

Albert Lamb, children’s book author, spoke on “The Rescue of Childhood: Homer Lane and A.S. Neill”. Neill was heavily influenced by Lane and founded Summerhill School, at which Albert Lamb was both a pupil and teacher.

Dr Craig Fees organised the conference in our newly refurbished recreation room, formerly the Little Commonwealth schoolroom

Dr Craig Fees organised the conference in our newly refurbished recreation room, formerly the Little Commonwealth schoolroom

Brother Philip Bartholomew, SSF told us how the small school Fr Owen started at Hilfield in WWII, using some of Lane’s ideas, led to the founding of St. Francis School, Hooke.

Charles Sharpe, a psychotherapist, spoke on “Freedom cannot be given. It is taken by children and demands the privilege of conscious wrong-doing.” Has Homer Lane’s thesis space to be accommodated in the 21st century?

After lunch, Br Vincent led us in dedicating a centenary celebration oak tree.

Emily Charkin, a PhD student in the history and philosophy of radical education, showed slides to illustrate her talk “Building and Learning: Exploring the fundamentals of radical education and child care”. Children building their own schools can learn more than being in an expensive purpose built flagship school.

John Diamond, CEO of the Mulberry Bush organisation, gave a paper  entitled “The children of the dangerous and perishing classes” to explore why a lived experience of communal living with emotionally troubled children offers a model of authentic shared responsibility.

David Gribble of the International Democratic Education Network and founder of the Sands School in Devon, in his talk “Similar ideas in dissimilar settings”, told us about democratic schools in Japan and India

David Lane, Chair of CCHN, summed up the day – “Gathering thoughts for the Future: CCHN’s next five years”

Some delegates not only wanted to see and learn about the Little Commonwealth and the community we have here today, but also spent the night before the conference in the buildings that Lane, helped by the child citizens, built, Veronica (now Juniper House) and Bracken (now Bernard House)

The tour outside Bernard House

The tour outside Bernard House

Full details of the conference will be on www.cchn.org.uk in due course.