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Can liberal education make a comeback? The case of "relational touch" at Summerhill School

Stronach, Ian and Piper, Heather (2008) Can liberal education make a comeback? The case of "relational touch" at Summerhill School. American educational research journal, 45 (1). pp. 6-37. ISSN 0002-8312

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Abstract

This article draws on data from a single element of a larger project which focused on the issue of "touching" between education and child care professionals and children in a number of settings. This case study looks at a school once internationally renowned as the exemplar of "free" schooling. The authors consider how the school works as a community, how it impacts on its students, and how it copes with the strictures of the audit culture in relation to "risk" and "safety." The authors’ experiences led them to the realization that physical "touch" was an irrelevant focus in this school, and they developed the notion of "relational touch." Summerhill works in ways that approximate an inversion of the audit culture. The authors argue that progressive and critical conceptions of education continue to have much to learn from concrete examples like Summerhill and conclude that a revival of such values in education is long overdue.

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