Education, Anarchists, and Libraries
In the early half of the 20th century, George Scott Williamson and Innes Pearse opened the Pioneer Health Centre in Britain. This institution was remarkable for two essential reasons.
Firstly, the Centre’s goal was the promotion of health in an individual through the improvement of the individual’s environment, which especially included the family. In fact, the family and the individual were considered an inseparable entity when considering physiological and psychological ills. This would prefigure the work of Dr. Murray Bowen some thirty years later, which would provide proof of the effects of an individual’s family system (Kerr & Bowen, 1988).
Secondly, the Centre focused on the creation of an environment of “non-interference,” the provision of “a rich environment in which the child would naturally develop the habit” of self-exploratory growth (Charkin, 2014, p. 417).
Free and spontaneous development (specifically for children at the Centre) was the name of the game: if the children could be given freedom to discover their own interests, they would not only work harder to master those interests, they would cultivate a larger self-discipline within their lives. The anarchist scholar Sir Herbert Read believed that this method contained the seeds for a “society of the future” (Charkin, 2014, p. 418).
This concept came at a high-water-mark for behaviorist educational models. These were ideas about learning couched in positive and negative reinforcement, ideas that deeply undervalued individual freedom as well as the effects of the environment on the learner (Booth, 2010, p. 38). For decades, theories about punishment and reward would dominate both the public imagination and actual educational systems throughout the world.
Now, by the 1930s and 40s, educational luminaries like John Dewey and Lev Vygotsky were already building a model of education far closer to what anarchism envisioned. Their approach is known as constructivism, and modern educational theory thankfully focuses more on this avenue. This has placed behaviorist methods somewhat on the back burner, though still by no means out of favor in many centers of education, let alone the public…