NUMBER 1124 • 29 JANUARY • FREEDOM — NOT LICENCE
How can one distinguish between freedom and license? My publisher in the U. S. A. implores me to write a whole book in explanation of these terms, saying, "You must, for so many American parents who have read Summerhill feel guilty about the strict way they have treated their child, and then tell their child that from now on he is free. The result is usually a spoiled brat, for the parents have scant notion of what freedom is. They do not realize that freedom is a give and take-freedom for parents as well as freedom for the child. As I understand it, freedom does not mean that the child can do everything he wants to do, nor have everything he wants to have."
Yes, that simply stated, is the crux of the matter. Freedom, over-extended, turns into license.
I define license as interfering with another's freedom. For example, in my school a child is free to go to lessons or stay away from lessons because that is his own affair, but he is not free to play a trumpet when others want to study or sleep.
When I was in America, I would have an occasion, now and then, to visit a professor or a doctor. When I arrived his wife and children might be in the room. The children remained and monopolized the conversation. When an American visitor came to visit me at Summerhill today, three children were in my room. "Come on, kids." I said, "buzz off. I want to talk to this visitor." And off they went without a murmur.
Of course, the principle would have applied the other way around, too. My pupils have often told me to clear out when they wanted privacy - when rehearsing a play, for example.
Every child is selfish - Me first! Parents must appreciate and accept that stage for what it is; at the same time, they must refuse to give junior the license to do everything he wants to do. A proper answer is "Yes, Bobby, you may use my car tools to fix your bike, but you have got to put the tools back in the car trunk when you are finished with them." That answer may spell discipline to you - maybe it is discipline - but for me it is just life's give and take.
How can children develop self-control if f they are never restrained from doing whatever they want to do? is a question I am often asked. But who ever advocated a child's always doing what he wants to do? I certainly never did. Junior can decide what he doesn't want to do. For example, study Latin. But he is not free to choose to play cops and robbers in father's car.
What is the true definition of self-control? Is it just good manners, like curbing your profanities when you are golfing with the Baptist minister? No, in my opinion self control means the ability to think of other people, to respect the rights of other people.
No self-controlled man ever sits down with others and helps himself to half the salad in the salad howl. According to anecdote, Frank Harris once boasted that he had dined at the best houses in London, "Yes, Frank," said Oscar Wilde, "once!"
In my book Summerhill, I pointed out that "It is this distinction between freedom and license that many parents cannot grasp. In the disciplined home, the children have no rights. In the spoiled home, they have all the rights. The proper home is one in which children and adults have equal rights."
Neill, A.S. Freedom – not licence. New York: Hart, Introduction.