Leonard loves the word “habitat”.   He uses it to describe the conditions in a school or classroom. There are good and bad habitats. If you think of an old fashioned zoo, you will say, “Great place for people to wander around looking at animals, but a lousy habitat for the animals themselves.”  Zoos are a good example of a particular habitat that has changed as people have started to think about them in a different way: a modern zoo is nothing like a modern habitat designed zoo.

Schools are not zoos, of course, but the principle of habitat still applies.

If we think humanely about habitat in schools, we will design spaces and structures that are appropriate for the people that live in them. Intelligent design increases the likelihood that children will be happy to learn by themselves.  Intelligent management of time and communication will reduce tensions and conflict; it will allow the teacher to surrender/share some of his authority. It could even allow for freedom of choice of action in democratic community. A bit of an Athenian city-state.


If you want a school in which children file down corridors to go to uniform classes, you will design spaces, a curriculum and systems of communication that enforce this. A bit of Sparta can be created. If you don’t want that but want children to be self-directed learners in a democratic free school, you will have to change that environment.  It is not enough to just come over all nice one day and hope for the best.


Here Leonard drops a quote and adapts it to Democratic Free Schools:

A.C. Grayling: “Until the seventeenth century scarcely any thought was given to how democracy might be made possible by means of institutions and practices that would honour the right of the many to be the source of political and governmental authority in their society, while securing that arrangement against the dangers if ochlocracy or hidden oligarchy.” (Democracy and Its Crisis.)

Leonard: Until very recently scarcely any thought was given to how freedom and democracy might be made possible in Democratic Free Schools by means of school infrastructures and practices that would honour the right of the students to be a significant source of their school’s authority, while:

1. Ensuring freedom not licence
2. Ensuring against an oligarchy of the charismatic teacher
3. Ensuring against Edutainment as a Control Strategy

In other words, properly examining why Summerhill can say, ” This is a school with a very sound structure that allows it to succeed. Allows successful freedom.”

So, in The Structure of Freedom we are going to talk about why a practical, workable freedom not licence can succeed. Here are some questions that we will address:

1.The reason for thinking about the design of habitat is to “orchestrate freedom not licence”.  What do you mean by that?

2. You say that we “replace authority by habitat”.  That means that there are structures in a school that allow the children to take authority or responsibility.  What are those structures?

3. What is the overall aim?  After all, people have differing views about what constitutes a decent habitat. Some people would find Summerhill rough at the edges; it would not be a nicehabitat for them.  Designing habitat does not just mean making things nice, does it?

4. If the aim is to replace authority, we are still left with the problem of what happens when things go wrong. What happens when things go off the rails?  You have said the monster comes out of the cave: what does that mean?

5. How do you know when it is functioning well?  How can you measure whether a school is working well?