Getting the Movie Right: Recap Notes and more 

Movies are a key concept in the series

Something that people do all the time: Behave in different ways in different places.  Changing places means changing stage and setting and script. Kids know they are not going to play football in a library or swear at grannies’.

We know what movie we are in !

One of the false things people think is that children don’t know how to do that. Or that ‘natural children’ would never act with ‘movies’ in mind. That’s nonsense. Children observe what’s going on and recognise a reasonable movie and quite quickly shift into it. It’s a natural human trait.

It’s important for student independence and community cohesion in democratic schools: the smaller and more confined the area the more movie shifts the children have to be aware of.  

Summerhill students recognise different areas and different times of day in different areas. What Bedtime ‘silence hour’ is, and when morning ‘silence hour’ ends. They know who is in control of different areas or where there is shared control. Again, this may change with day of the week or time of day. They know many movies and what is appropriate: In their own rooms, in the Woods, in the Art room, the Maths room, the Dining room ( during meals and not meals) and so on. They know the Summerhill on-site movie and the Going Downtown movie. 

Leonard’s clear idea of ‘The Movie’ came in the state school.  Once Clubhouse Democracy was working in the classroom the students would run the room with Leonard in the morning.  The children would behave in a different manner in different classes on rotary in the afternoon. Sometimes very badly.  Then return to the Clubhouse and be reasonable and run the Clubhouse again.

You sure you’re twelve ?

Students go into a good teacher and they have one script and they go into another teacher and drive him crazy. With the Clubhouse independence, more freedom, more democratic choices and and mini spaces were available. Plus democratic meetings. This is why they did morethan ‘just behave okay’ in the Clubhouse. They became ‘Clubhouse members’ with Leonard. Everyone worked together to make the ‘cube’ they were in as creative and welcome as possible. They recognized the many changing movies in the Clubhouse area and knew why they existed.

Leonard always started with the facts, so that the children knew what was actually going on in a school: “You don’t have to go to school if you don’t want to. You could refuse.But you chose to show up. However, thirty of us are ridiculously jammed together here … and we have to live together for hours every day. Is there a better way to be here ?

Leonard explained that there are, obviously,  different parts of the day with different things going on and, “When I am teaching you have to be in the teacher-student movie.” Leonard promised to kept academics to an efficient minimum in the ‘teaching’ movies. “ So you can have time to do other things. Or do nothing.”

There were often different movies running at the same time in the small classroom cube.  Some people spelling, some playing chess, some doing activities.  Each movie had to take account of the other movies going on… a multi- screen cinema might have to co-exist

No Starbucks today then.

When they were all just doing a group activity movie: “We are all going to have to get set up.  How are we going to do that?” Joining desks.  Glue guns.  Extension cords.  At the end of that the credits roll with the clean-up movie.  Finally the going home and dismiss movie. Which they often did by themselves as Leonard sat in the staff room drinking coffee.

Did kids write their own script?  “They didn’t think that way exactly.  They could invent new areas and things to do, and it followed quite naturally that we made laws in the class meeting for new stuff. Which then naturally created a mini movie environment. I could call a time out to quickly discuss something going wrong, or we discussed such things in meetings.” 

“ We were playing chess and then were interrupted by. Or we were reading and they started to eat treats and talked too much” And so on.

During a lesson movie we could let someone “out of the movie” if a person couldn’t be in it on a given day. Couldn’t concentrate or really wanted to finish some Art etc.

“ We didn’t repeat movie, movie, movie by the way. That would be dumb and boring. We rarely used the term after we had discussed what the cube was all about. We just lived in the Clubhouse and, as I said, made laws and discussed situations and obvious transitions. I’m using it for the blog to get the concept across in no uncertain terms. Please, no one go overboard on the term Movies!”


Sports people do this: using the imagination.  How am I going to shoot the hoop?

This is where you are going to be and we are going to have to do this etc … especially on excursions. It’s simply giving a heads up to a new situation … after all, the adults know already … the kids should be briefed as well.


So scene one is in a train.

For instance:  “ Okay this is gonna be pretty confusing. This is what we’ve got to do to change the place into a theatre for the afternoon. We should probably follow an order like this … everyone okay with that? Better ideas? Bill ( the chairperson) take the microphone and lead this okay? “

1, 2, 3 action and then into the set up movie.

 Don’t do stupid stuff outside the classroom

Hallway, stairs, playground.  “I’m giving you all this freedom and if you go out and boast about it then people are not going to be happy.  And if you act dumb outside the classroom people are going to say that the reason you are acting that way is because they have more freedom than other classes and so can’t control yourselves any more.”  

Sceptics would say that children need instructions.  They need the script because if you let kids invent their own they will misbehave. 

Leonard answered: “ In the state school, I did not make the big movie but I helped write scripts that worked within the master script. In the room it was obvious from what was happening and what we all wanted to achieve that the basic physical circumstances and most of the curriculum circumstances were not of our choice. So developing movies to get what we wanted out of that in the best way possible made sense to the students. Problem solving, really.” 

Now scream !

And within the constraints Leonard plus the students bent the curriculum as much as possible together:  Chose how many exercises they needed to do in maths for example. To do or not do spelling. To have homework or not. To get rid of a boring reading book and find another. Always discussing the pros and cons and exceptions for certain children.

Leonard went to the head and said, “Look this history is a waste of time it’s too detailed and they are losing all sense of what’s going on. Let me create a reduced history.” Another: “This Science book is too difficult. I’m gonna skip about in it so they enjoy the Science.” Again: “ This class is fixated and stressed on text book work they need to relax. I want to do a month long Art show with them. All morning three times a week.  Anyone who doesn’t want to can do what they want as long as they mind their own business.”

Leonard was at the school for twenty one years. The heads knew his expertise as a teacher and his ability to analyse students and their needs. The heads were always supportive and the results were positive.

Did the Clubhouse Basics work at Summerhill ?

“It worked in my Class 2- a pretty big three room area- run like a Clubhouse.  Of course at Summerhill the students had a totally free choice of coming or not to Class 2 and all lessons and activities in the Class 2 Clubhouse were optional choices.”

However you want to do the math.

Leonard offered Maths and English and some project skills lessons. There was a Class 2 timetable. The students went to senior teachers for other subjects, if they chose to. Those lessons were also on the Class 2 timetable. No timetabled lessons or activities were compulsory. The Class 2 area was set up with the resources and books etc to create a completely independent doing and learning centre for the 10 to 13 year olds. Leonard could easily wander in and out of Class 2.

“Basically, Summerhill offers many environment choices for students all day long. The Class 2 Clubhouse was one choice for up to 30 students aged 10 to about 13. Kids ran their own Class 2 meetings and divided up responsibilities in the Clubhouse.” 

Is this a key concept that we need in the Design a School?  

“Yes, because you are probably going to be in a single building.  You will have to divide the space.  In designing spaces for kids you have to think about different energies and sound levels.  Everyone needs to know that there are different activities in different spaces.  The areas have to be designed taking these factors into account. Including the spaces between areas. And within each area there may be different movies depending on the time of day. If your parents are cooking dinner in the kitchen and getting ready for dinner that’s different than playing a game of Uno with your siblings and friends around the kitchen table with popcorn in the evening.”

The understanding of movies and why is essential. 

Okay, so don’t swear when Gran arrives.

With a new school you set it up thinking as clearly as you can and set it out to the first all-new intake of inexperienced children. Once the whole school community gets a bit of group experience students can offer input. But it’s important to go slow on that, as it’s complex for new staff as well as students. Staff may see the need to make simple changes when they think it’s necessary. “Gee, that’s simply not working, let’s put the tables over there and move the bookcase in as a divider between the tables and the building area.” And so on.

Environment has profound consequences on Democratic Free Schools. You can’t throw changes to the world of random whim. If you do, you can easily end up with a lot of confusion for everyone.

After the first term and at the end of several terms actually, the school will most likely make major adjustments according to the way the spaces and their movies have worked or not. 

It will, at some point, happily click together and work. After that  fundamental changes will rarely be needed but creative ones can be more freely suggested and tried by an experienced community. The essentials being secure.

The New Soft Authority 

The whole idea is that the building itself is the curriculum.  Students know what they are doing because they understand the different areas of their own little City State. And what movies take place where and when. 

Ya we agree, let’s redo that one.

The environment and what’s in it and the understanding of movies plus the democratic meetings are the over-arching ‘cohesive soft authority of community’ that you want to emerge when the adults remove themselves from standard state school front of the room control. 

A little automatic engine running with a few natural ongoing tune-ups in meetings etc.

Democratic community in larger schools

We can’t have a larger school with one meeting to cover everyone. There are many things that have to happen as you grow.  Federal and provincial government metaphors.  It is not an anti-democratic concept.

Movies are nothing new, Charlie.

Series of scripts depending on contexts.  Day school- making change as kids move from one ‘life’ to the other:  they go home to the home script and movies, but enter their Clubhouse/ Democratic City State democracy each day and must know how to slide from one cinema to the other. 

Home and School will play different feature movies and shorts.

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