Rad Ed, Part 1

When my nephew, who's now in his for forties, was a little kid, my sister bought him a book on magic. It gave some of its history and told how to do tricks. From it he learned about Houdini, and he pledged to himself to be like him -- among other things, he learned that the legendary magician consumed neither alcohol nor drugs, and to this day my nephew is abstemious. He went looking for and read everything that was written about magic and about the Great Houdini. Today my nephew and his brother are magicians. They are also successful and very good tattoo artists. Find them at www.inklussionist.com.

Magic was not all he read about. Primarily an autodidact, he has read and read and read. And he has taken on countless activities. There are few subjects he knows nothing about and none about which he will not discourse -- being opinionated runs in the family. His prodigious education resulted from magic. Magical pedagogy, one might call it. And that's how it is and should be.

A lifetime ago, around 1964, I was a lonely teenage broncin' buck / with an English Ford instead of a pickup truck. And in a moment of loneliness on a road trip with college buddies, who were out drinking, which I didn't care for at the time, and chasing girls, which I wasn't good at, I picked up a book that was lying around the home of one of my friends' parents, where I was crashing on the couch. It was called Summerhill. I read it all.

The author, A. S. Neil, ran an English school where instead of following a curriculum, students pursued their interests with the help of the teachers. If they were interested in, say, magic, like my nephew, they'd read everything they could find on it, which would lead them to learn history (When did Houdini live? What was going on then? What was magic in ancient times? Who were witches and why were they hunted?), philosophy and theology (What is the difference between Christianity and science?), science, mathematics, and so on.

Neil believed that natural impulses like sex were healthy. Hierarchy and formality were bogus. Freedom was the greatest value, second only to and inseparable from life. And that education that suppressed these was worthless. If all this sounds familiar, it's because they are the ideals of the Enlightenment, the ones that led to revolution. And they are also the ideals of the counterculture, which was about to bloom as I read the book. Summerhill was the seed of what in the 60s would get called the Free School Movement.

Yes, yes and yes, I kept saying to myself as I read. I had found my Gospel. I was a convert. Or rather, my beliefs, buttressed by powerful emotions, had found their validation.