Introduction

Teaching the Tough Stuff

“‘You can go out this morning, my dears, with Mr. Spencer,’ said the governess to her pupils, after listening with pursed-up lips to one of the philosopher’s breakfast tirades against discipline… the philosopher found himself presently in a neighbouring beech wood pinned down in a leaf-filled hollow by little demons, all legs, arms, grins and dancing dark eyes, whilst the elder and more discreet tormentors pelted him with decaying beech leaves.”1

The philosopher is Herbert Spencer; in many ways the father of progressive education. His view that children should learn naturally and that education should not be forced upon them influenced thinkers from John Dewey to A. S. Neill and led to the scene in the beech wood where his views crashed into reality.

There are still those who follow in the tradition of Spencer and seek to, “replicate in schools the natural learning one sees in children’s play and…

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