The American Montessori Revival, Part I: 20th-Century Massachusetts

Written by Kerry Ellard on February 16, 2022

The Massachusetts Montessori “Boom” of 1981

In November 1980, Massachusetts voters passed Proposition 2 ½, a statute that imposed a 2.5% ceiling on total property taxes annually, as well as a 2.5% limit on property tax increases.[1] One year later, the Boston Globe ran a Sunday feature on the “boom” in local schools affiliated with the methods of Maria Montessori, as well as progressive schools more generally. The mere presence of progressive schools in Massachusetts—and local parents’ desire for them—was portrayed as something of a wonder.[2]

The article claimed that while the first US Montessori school had not opened until 1958, two short two decades later, 4,000 such schools now existed, leading to “a war of words over authenticity and accreditation,” and “causing confusion among the Montessorian ranks.” These wars over “different interpretations of writings and educational philosophy left behind by Maria Montessori” were being exacerbated by the “phenomenal” growth of the method. “The two competing umbrella organizations [3]are suddenly overshadowed by the huge number of independent schools,” and this new trend had “undermined Montessori uniformity even more than the philosophical differences between the two major professional organizations.”[4]

The History of Montessori’s American Popularity

A Newspapers.com search turns up over 100 references to Maria Montessori in the American press from 1912-1917, ending with United States’ entry into World War I, which overshadowed much else. Excepting the year of her death (1952), when obituary notices were ubiquitous, the Newspapers.com archives do not turn up more than 100 references again until 1957. Starting in 1965, there were rarely fewer than 500 mentions of Montessori in the national press annually, and the totals spiked several times before mostly leveling off for the rest of the century around 1980.[5]

In 1980s Massachusetts, however, things were just getting started, due to the proposition-induced panic about how property tax limits would affect the quality of the state’s prized public schools going forward.

While noting that Montessori’s “maverick” methods had been denounced by American educators back in the 1910s, the Globe explained that things had changed. The national debate “over what many feel is the inadequacy of public education, and specifically here in Massachusetts, the added pressure of Proposition 2 1/2,” meant that “educational alternatives like Montessori are projected to continue expanding in the future.”[6]

An American Montessori Society (AMS) official was quoted as explaining that “There are vast differences among Montessori schools…Some are accredited, well run—others are not. A lot of them are really not equipped, don't cover the scope, curriculum, or (teacher training) requirements." She clarified that those at AMS understood that accreditation was not necessarily decisive when it came to a Montessori school’s quality: “But we are sending out pamphlets on the Basic Characteristics of a Montessori School so interested parents can use it as checklist."[7]

The direct appeal to Massachusetts’ parents’ judgment, after providing them a pamphlet with basic information to assist them, is interesting, and seems to have been a good bet. While a Harvard School of Education professor was quoted as saying that “the intellectual psychology of Montessori is extremely antiquated,” and that proponents had taken to studying and interpreting her texts “in an almost Biblical way," the new independent schools had confidently forged ahead, indifferent to critics and what the Globe referred to as “this fundamentalist feud.”[8]

“One example is the Pincushion Montessori School in Natick. Pincushion, with 48 students enrolled, grew out of another independent school in nearby Ashland, and recently has helped to open two new schools in the area. ‘We are an independent school because we don't need the extra red tape," says Headmistress Betsy Klutchman, Though all of our teachers are AMI-trained, and two of them were trained under Mario Montessori in Holland, we still don't happen to fit the exact requirements for AMI [Association Montessori Internationale] accreditation.’ ‘There are good independent schools and bad ones,’ says Kluchman. ‘The same goes for AMI or AMS.’ Kluchman adds that the AMI or AMS accreditation ‘is like any rating system: there is a lot that goes along with it that we don't get any benefit from.The lack of AMI or AMS accreditation hasn't stopped interested parents, Kluchman says. ‘Our phones have been ringing daily because of Proposition 2 1/2. People here see it (Montessori) as the closest thing to home without sending their kids to private school,’ she says. Referring to the battle between AMI and AMS, Kluchman says, ‘The argument is about the right religion. Who needs it?’”[9]

The Newspapers.com archives suggest that mentions of Montessori had always been particularly rare in the Massachusetts/New England press, likely because its long-established and much-admired educational tradition did not inspire many challenges to the status quo. But while it’s hard to know exactly what Kuchman meant by “People here see [Montessori] as the closest thing to home without sending their kids to private school,” it seems like a significant remark.

Preferring an independent school to a private school seems to have been about wanting to preserve the community funding and government structure associated with public schools, with tuition paid by parents taking the place of local property taxes paid by parents. (While all independent schools are private, not all private schools are independent; the latter are often largely supported by donors or run by a religious institution. The bias against private schools, and the desire to find “the closest thing to home,” probably relates to the idea that many private schools are not community-centric, being exclusive, out-of-the-way, or attended by students from many different communities. This would be especially true of boarding schools, and many high-quality Massachusetts private schools at this time were either exclusive boarding schools or religiously affiliated.)

But, “people here see [Montessori] as the closest thing to home” may have another meaning, a more philosophical one. Only a few years later, Massachusetts native and renowned visionary/inventor Buckminster Fuller praised Montessori in the most unmistakably Emersonian way possible. (Fuller was a descendant of Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller, mentioned in one of my earlier pieces.)

“All children are born geniuses. 9999 out of every 10,000 are swiftly, inadvertently, de-geniused by grown-ups…All those witnessing the errors of others proclaim that they (the witnesses) could have prevented those errors had they only been consulted. ‘People should not make mistakes’ they mistakenly say. Motivated entirely by love, but also by fear for the futures of the children they love, parents, in their ignorance, act as though they know all the answers and curtail the spontaneous exploratory acts of their children, lest the children make “mistakes.” But genius does its own thinking; it has confidence in its own exploratory findings, in its own intuitions, in the knowledge gained from its own mistakes. Nature has her own gestation rates for evolutionary development. The actions of parents represent the checks and balances of nature’s gestation control. Humanity can evolve healthily only at a given rate. Maria Montessori was fortunately permitted to maintain, sustain, and cultivate her innate genius. Her genius invoked her awareness of the genius inherent in all children. Her intuition and initiative inspired her to discover ways of safeguarding this genius while allaying the ignorant fears of parents.”[10]

As I have mentioned before, it seems like early 20th-century Americans who remembered 19th-century Massachusetts culture often perceived Emersonian or American Transcendentalist characteristics in Montessori’s work. For example, in a 1930s or 40s lecture about—what else?— “The Education of the Individual,” Montessori struck a particularly Emersonian tone, twice lamenting society’s production of young men without a sense of conscience or responsibility:

“Society admits into its ranks men of whom it has little knowledge and who have no conscience. The real examinations should be spiritual ones. The student should be asked to demonstrate his ability by showing the kind of work he can do. The candidates could thus prove their worth and be recognized as men of value to society. They would then have a sense of responsibility and take it as a guide for their lives...Where will they learn the things they don’t know? What guarantee can they offer the society that daily turns out men with deaf consciences – mutilated men?”[11]

Fuller’s remarks were published as the forward to a 1976 book. The book’s introduction explained that “since the 1960s, there had been “a shift away from the emphasis on laboratory techniques and animal research in the study of man.” “The discovery by biologists that we are not what we thought we were, even physically, and by physicists that all matter evolves, has ended the age-old dream that the universe and our observations of it can be reduced to precise mathematical formulas.” This “new humility toward the results of laboratory research may result in a more receptive attitude toward Montessori's approach…for, though She was a careful experimenter and keen observer, she had no expectations of reducing her contribution to irrefutable scientific theories through laboratory procedures. Her concentration on the uniqueness of man and his spontaneous development precluded any such dream.”[12]

While it turns out that there were pockets of explicitly Montessori-affiliated education in MA going back to the early 60s, there is an even earlier, if less direct, connection that bolsters my point about Fuller.[13]

Helen Parkhurst and the Dalton Plan

In the mid-2000s, when the Massachusetts press again became focused on Montessori schools, possibly related to disputes over No Child Left Behind, more interesting history started surfacing. When a local television program referred to the Berkshire Montessori School in Lenox as the first Montessori school in the country, one resident of the Berkshires wrote to a letter to a regional newspaper, complaining of the focus on Maria Montessori and the revolutionary ideas she came up with over in Rome:

“It brought to my attention that we are often more willing to accept ideas from far and wide over our own… I was a bit surprised that Helen Parkhurst was not once mentioned in this discussion of the revolution of education…Helen Parkhurst was an educator from Wisconsin brought to Dalton through an educational experiment…She worked in the "High School of Dalton’…The year was 1916. This would put the Berkshire Montessori School in Lenox, claiming to be the first in the county, a very distant second. In Dalton, Helen Parkhurst developed what she called ‘The Dalton Plan’ which called for teachers and students to 'work together toward individualized goals.’ She went on to found The Dalton School in New YorkIn southern Africa, where I first worked as a teacher, the Montessori schools were advertised as using the Dalton Method. I've seen this designation elsewhere in the world as well. Why then would the Berkshire Montessori School in Lenox choose not to make a designation or any connection with the Dalton Plan, Helen Parkhurst or the town of Dalton? Maybe the thought of a methodology originating in Rome is more marketable in Lenox. Our area has a history of national and international interest. However, if we choose to ignore this, it will eventually disappear and we will surely become indistinguishable from any other town. Celebrate our history and give credit where credit is due. Forgetting our history benefits no one.”[14]

The Dalton Plan’s Wikipedia page claims that Parkhurst was influenced by Montessori and Dewey in its creation. Presumably referring to thinkers associated with a particular strain of early 20th-century progressive educational philosophy, the page states that “their aim was to achieve a balance between a child's talent and the needs of the community.”[15] Parkhurst certainly had a deep interest in Montessori’s work, and the two women had worked together in both Italy and America.[16] However, when Parkhurst explained her philosophy in a 1922 book, she wrote, without much elaboration, that “it must be remembered that the Dalton Plan is not the Montessori System.”[17] (Parkhurst likely saw Montessori’s work as having little direct relevance to students of the age and socioeconomic background she was working with at this time.)

As for Dewey, while Parkhurst cites Democracy and Education in support of one of the Plan’s principles, the way she interprets his claim indicates that she intended to refute his approach more than signal an alliance with it (it is the only mention she makes of “Dr. John Dewey” in the book.)[18][19] In her 1922 book explaining “The Dalton Plan,” Parkhurst appeared to implicitly reject Dewey and other progressive education reformers who defined themselves against the past and/or culture.

There’s no doubt that Massachusetts history was relevant to Parkhurst’s educational doctrine. While sympathetic to many of Dewey’s general concerns, she declares that the Dalton Plan is founded on Emersonian principles, noting that the “picturesque prose” in a long passage quoted from the compilation “Emerson on Education” contains the remedies: “It shows the way, and I firmly believe the only way, to make school as attractive, and as educative as play, and ultimately to create those fearless human beings which, understood in the widest sense, is our ideal.[20] Later in the book, she includes another Emersonian passage designed to refute Dewey’s arguments in favor of what he calls “culture”.

There is such a thing as culture. We treasure it as the embodiment of our civilization and we know that the stability of our social life depends upon the majority of our young people getting at least the elements of that culture. The Dalton Plan points a way to make the process natural and spontaneous rather than forced and arbitrary. It evokes in the child a spirit of self-reliance and initiative and so starts his character building at once.”[21]

Parkhurst’s Emersonian inclinations and her affinity for adapting the New England educational tradition to a more modern and progressive world were visible even in her later life, part of which she spent as a national coordinator of Montessori schools.[22]

A closer look at Parkhurst’s 1922 book on “the Dalton Plan” suggests that she was nearly inverting the progressive education reform assumptions of the era, particularly those of American progressives. In its introduction, English education reformer and mathematician T. P. Nunn, declares that Parkhurst is trying to solve a particular problem with her experimental schools:how to secure from the vast volume of educational effort expended in schools a richer harvest of individual culture and efficiency.” He went on to remark that progressive education reformers were now sweeping the west: “Some are ‘wilder comrades,’ sworn to cut themselves off from the old tradition and everything that belongs to it.” Some English progressives who fit this description might see Parkhurst’s plan was a “miserable compromise…but to no less adventurous spirits, who would hasten slowly and keep on firm ground, the ‘Dalton Plan" offers a path of progress which may safely be taken by all who have the gifts of intelligence, devotion, and enterprise.” He concluded by noting that “boldness and originality are typical qualities of American education,” and suggested he would like to see more of these traits among English reformers.[23]

“Harvesting” individual culture and efficiency from the bureaucratic, standardized, expansive systems set up by progressives sounded like an attempt to move away from more collectivist visions.[24] Larry Cuban argues that, “the overall aim of Parkhurst and followers of the Plan was to upend the age-graded school and its lockstep manner of getting children and youth to learn,” and that “the core of the Plan was students making contracts with their teachers to study and learn content and skills.” The Plan’s failure to take off may be due to the fact that age-graded school had already become normalized: “For the few years that it was adopted in various places, that occurred. But the age-graded school ended up transforming the Plan [where it was only partially adopted]. For those scattered and few schools that adopted the entire Dalton approach, the age-graded school was altered substantially.”[25]

In other words, Parkhurst might be described as essentially scaling up Massachusetts’ “Yankee” education tradition to meet the expectations of the early 20th-century Northeast, especially in the most progressive areas.[26] Parkhurst certainly showed how such a thing might be done, introducing what might be called a new strain of ”child-centered” American progressive education, characterized by a focus on individual learning, self-reliance, and an introduction to the elements of culture on which “the stability of our social life depends”—all in an environment free from age-grading. These “stabilizing” cultural elements, as well as the exact methods used, could vary by community, but as Nunn indicated, this strain claimed to cultivate boldness and originality in its students, but did not aim to create participants in a social reform movement, of the Deweyan kind or any other.

This approach, particularly the freedom from age-grading, was not a good match for the more bureaucratic and standardization-friendly public school system that rapidly expanded in the mid-late 20th century. Once we moved past the one-room rural public schoolhouse, it could only survive in niche private or independent schools. A few decades later, the Whitby School in Connecticut provided a high-profile example of this strain of progressive education, which it described as Montessorian.

It is hard to discern from the record exactly what Parkhurst’s impact was, and why and to what extent her ideas were embraced abroad. In America, hopes for widespread adoption of the plan seem to have mostly fizzled out by 1930, after a few years of hype. But Parkhurst’s legacy, and her relationship with Maria Montessori and other education reformers like John Dewey, deserve further study.[27] In Part II, I will explore why American interest in Montessori spiked in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

1. Wikipedia contributors, "1980 Massachusetts Proposition 2½," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=1980_Massachusetts_Proposition_2%C2%BD&oldid=1058431391. This was part of the “Reagan Revolution” period in which attempts to decentralize education or radically reform education often ended up exacerbating the educational trends many of his supporters complained of. See, for example, ibid. (“Following the mandating of actual revenue reductions within the first couple of years, the effects and results of Proposition 2+1⁄2 were limited. The lack of significant changes was due in part to the state government increasing general purpose aid to municipalities, which helped them to stay away from budget shortfalls.”) See also Kerry Ellard, “Ronald Reagan’s Rhetoric: A Nation at Risk of What?, Part I,” and “Part II, https://montessorium.com/blog/ronald-reagan-s-rhetoric-a-nation-at-risk-of-what-part-ii,” Montessorium, 2021.

2. See The Boston Globe, December 29, 1981 (“Progressive schools, writes Otto Kraushaar in "Private Schools: From the Puritans to the Present,"numbered more than 10,000 at their peak in 1932 but fell out of favor through the Depression and World War II. They have emerged again in the past 15-20 years [since the early 60s] with an educational philosophy that substitutes for the formal structure of the classroom a child-centered programemphasizing ‘firsthand observation, manipulation and the needs of the individual student,’ he writes. Those ideas are currently carried out to some degree in most public and private schools. Although the schools’ tuitions are in the midrange for private schools -from $2,275 for preschool at the Children's Montessori in Ipswich to $5,900 for higher grades at Clark, enrollment at most has matched demographics in a downward trend, just now beginning to climb…”) (Emphases added.)

3. The two organizations are the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and the American Montessori Society (AMS).

4. The Boston Globe, December 29, 1981.

5. This is speculation, but the pattern of interest in Montessori may reflect a series of sociopolitical controversies, from the late 50s to the late 70s, that directly or indirectly affected schools. For example, de-segregation polices and other civil rights laws/policies, radicalism, and sociopolitical unrest, which would have leveled off around the time of the ~1980 “Reagan Revolution.” Interestingly, the first reference to “Maria Montessori” in Newspapers.com’s American press archive is in 1896, in a German-language Missouri newspaper that seems to be about a conference in Germany. Her name does not pop again until 1910, when about a dozen states ran a short human interest piece about her work, first published in the New York City press and then nationally syndicated. Of course, there was a burst of interest in relation to her 1912 visit to America.

6. The Boston Globe, December 29, 1981.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid. (Emphases added.)

10. Buckminster Fuller, “Forward,” 1975, in Mario M. Montessori, Jr., Education for Human Development, Understanding Montessori (New York: Schocken Books, 1976), https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED136940.pdf. (Emphases added.) Compare with Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” Essays, 1841, at https://archive.vcu.edu/english/engweb/transcendentalism/authors/emerson/essays/selfreliance.html.Fuller’s philosophy departed from Emerson’s in a somewhat John Dewey-esque manner, and his final line suggests that he saw Montessori’s approach as a way to synthesize the two. See also this Amazon book review.

11. Maria Montessori, “The Education of the Individual,” via The NAMTA Journal, Vol. 40, No. 2, Spring 2015, https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1077168.pdf. (Emphases added.) This appears to be a speech given by Montessori in the 1930s or 1940s, and first published as a book in 1948. It was translated into English and published in 1972’s Education and Peace. While it is unlikely to have been read in New England before then, these themes were present in others work that were readily available. In the same speech, or possibly as an annotation to the published essay derived from it, Montessori remarked “Man today pays no heed to human personality and regards human society as a colony without individuals. He knows only dependence and submissiveness, which kill personality.” She had opened with “Let us begin by attempting to clarify a few fundamental concepts. Exactly what is personality? The usual descriptions are vague, and a clear-cut distinction must be made between personality and individuality. The basic premises are not well defined, and the main problem is knowing what ought to be developed.” The assumption by many 20th century scholars that Emersonian individualism or self-reliance boils down to selfishness, anti-social tendencies, dereliction of social responsibility, or atomization overlooks the far more definitive “personality” (individualization, character, conscience, genius, creativity, intellectual and moral leadership) component that Montessori is getting at here. (Emphases added.) Compare with Emerson, “Self-Reliance” (“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events…do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself.”)

12. Paula Polk Lillard, “Introduction,” in Montessori, Education for Human Development. (Emphases added.) See also note ii, above.

13. See note 2, above, and “History of OCMS,” https://www.oldcolonymontessori.org/history. (“In 1963, [Old Colony Montessori School in Hingham, MA] was founded by a group of parents with a dream. They were dedicated to providing the unique benefits of a Montessori education to their children. By their hands, funding, hard work, and passion, they started the first Montessori school south of Boston. It was licensed as a non-profit educational corporation under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”) (Emphases added.) See also The Boston Globe, December 29, 1981. (“Notre Dame Children's Classes follow the tradition of physician Maria Montessori who started schools in Italy in 1907 for the children of the poor to 'overcome their inadequate educational background. Sister Barbara Beauchamp started the school 25 years ago [the late 1950s]. The school has a waiting list so long some parents sign their children up before birth.”)(Emphases added.) The “Notre Dame Montessori Children's Class” existed in Wenham, MA, until 2018.

14. Russell B. Sears, Letter to the Editor, Sept. 27, 2006, Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, MA). (Emphases added.)

15. Wikipedia contributors, "Dalton Plan," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dalton_Plan&oldid=1069538122. The source for this information appears to be Helen Parkhurst, Education on the Dalton Plan (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1922).

16. “Distinguished Alumni: 1960 - Helen Parkhurst,” University of Wisconsin-River Falls, https://www.uwrf.edu/Awards/Alumni/Parkhurst1960.cfm. (“Parkhurst returned to Wisconsin in 1912 to become the director of the Primary Department at UW-Stevens Point. Three years later she spent a year in Italy studying with the education pioneer, Maria Montessori. When Montessori came to the United States to lecture, Parkhurst joined her and for a time administered the Montessori schools across the nation.”) (Emphases added.)

17. Parkhurst, Education on the Dalton Plan.

18. Ibid. Parkhurst here implicitly rejects Dewey’s claim that opportunities for socialization are now so rare or diminished the in the outside world that they have to be recreated within the classroom; she indicates that her school will allow the healthy social interactions already common in community life to flourish within the classroom as well. Parkhurst’s references to Dewey and Montessori seem to have been a way to signal "I'm a progressive." She then distances herself from both. Parkhurst doesn’t disagree with Montessori, but just says she's not implementing the Montessori system, probably because she is working with older privileged American children, a very different demographic.)

19. See ibid. The introduction, by English education reformer T. P. Nunn, connects Parkhurst’s philosophy to those of both Dewey and Montessori, and concludes by saying: “Nothing need be said here about the plan itself, for Miss Parkhurst explains it with careful detail in the following chapters…It is, however, permissible to one who has the honour of introducing the book to its public, to commend the scientific temper in which it is written. Miss Parkhurst has envisaged a definite problem of great practical importance: namely, how to secure from the vast volume of educational effort expended in schools a richer harvest of individual culture and efficiency. The "Dalton Laboratory Plan" is her solution. No one recognises more clearly than she that there are others, and that her own is not final, but is susceptible of useful modification and development. When Dr. Montessori's work became known in this country, the movement towards what is somewhat barbarously called ‘auto-education’ received a remarkable impulse. Everywhere reformers are now busy opening up and exploring new ways of conducting the ancient work of education. Some are ‘wilder comrades,’ sworn to cut themselves off from the old tradition and everything that belongs to it. These may regard as a miserable compromisea scheme which does not demand even the abolition of public examinations! But to no less adventurous spirits, who would hasten slowly and keep on firm ground, the ‘Dalton Plan’ offers a path of progress which may safely be taken by all who have the gifts of intelligence, devotion, and enterprise. Boldness and originality are typical qualities of American education, and we may hope that the present close and happy association between an American teacher and the English men and women who are following her lead may also become typical…”) Later in this chapter, Parkhurst quotes Emerson for more than two full pages, then declares “It is just that experience, individual and social, which the Dalton Laboratory Plan aspires to provide within the school walls. The principles outlined in Emerson's picturesque prose are its principles. It shows the way, and I firmly believe the only way, to make school as attractive, and as educative as play, and ultimately to create those fearless human beings which, understood in the widest sense, is our ideal.” (The bolded and italicized words indicate this is an acknowledgement Dewey’s concerns and a dismissal of his approach to dealing with them.) The merely bolded words are my emphasis. The Emerson passages she quotes are from the compilation “Emerson on Education,” in The Complete Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, via https://archive.vcu.edu/english/engweb/transcendentalism/authors/emerson/essays/education.html.

20. Parkhurst, Education on the Dalton Plan. (Emphases added.)

21. Ibid. (Emphases added.)

22. In 1948, Life magazine featured Parkhurst’s new television program “Child’s World,” subtitling the article “New program airs juvenile ideas on God, Jealousy, Death.” In it, a small group of New York City children aged four to fourteen, from varied socioeconomic backgrounds, went to Parkhurst’s apartment to “examine their reasons for lying or stealing… exchange their concepts of God and death…[and] analyze race prejudice.” Maintaining “an interested but firmly impersonal attitude,” Parkhurst would introduce a discussion topic, “and each child spontaneously makes his own comments into a microphone.” Life, August 2, 1948, 79, https://books.google.com/books?id=10cEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA79#v=onepage&q&f=false. See also Abstract of Susan F. Semel, “Helen Parkhurst and the Dalton School,” in Founding Mothers and Others, January 2002, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315035576_Helen_Parkhurst_and_the_Dalton_School (“In its early years, the [Dalton] school survived because of Helen Parkhurst. Her vision and force of personality engendered great loyalty from her faculty, school parents, board of trustees, and students. Her particular strand of progressive education, which came to be known as the Dalton Plan, was adopted in places as distant as Japan. However, Helen Parkhurst, the woman, was an anomaly. Her competence as a progressive educator was unquestionable, but on a personal level she exhibited a single-minded persuasiveness, a driving ambition, and an unparalleled ability to use people to achieve her own ends. I believe that her entrepreneurial approach to education, her forceful personality, and her single-minded determination were responsible for The Dalton Plan taking root in the Children’s University School, renamed the Dalton School in 1920.”) (Emphases added.)

23. See Parkhurst, Education on the Dalton Plan. (Emphases added.) See also note xvii, above, and Mengesha Gebre-Hiwet, “Dissertation: CONTRASTING PHILOSOPHIES OF EDUCATION: NUNN AND DEWEY,” The Ohio State University, 1958, https://etd.ohiolink.edu/apexprod/rws_etd/send_file/send?accession=osu1486562415804844&disposition=inline

[24] See, for example, Mariana Petrechko, ”PECULARITIES OF INDIVIDUALISED LEARNING IN HELEN PARKHURST’S PEDAGOGICAL SYSTEM,” Drohobych Ivan Franko State Pedagogical University, SWorld, 2014, at https://www.academia.edu/26681038/PECULARITIES_OF_INDIVIDUALISED_LEARNING_IN_HELEN_PARKHURST_S_PEDAGOGICAL_SYSTEM

[25] Larry Cuban, ”Whatever Happened To the Dalton Plan?,” Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice (blog), March 26, 2021, https://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2021/03/26/whatever-happened-to-the-dalton-plan/ (”A 20th century educator much taken with the Progressive approach to schooling, she designed the Dalton Plan after World War I as a way of organizing instruction consistent with Maria Montessori’s and John Dewey’s ideas of individualizing all academic work and building school community... Deeply concerned by the grouping and lock-step movement of children and youth in American schools, Parkhurst sought to reorganize classroom work so that teachers would be able to convert traditional age-graded schools and classrooms where whole-group teaching, 55-minute periods, textbooks, and tests prevailed into laboratories where individual students contracted with their teachers to work on topics that interested them. Students then would have to make decisions on what to study when, finishing assignments, and meeting the terms of the contract to complete the teacher designed work...”) (Emphases added).

26. See note 23, above.

27. See Diana Lager, “HELEN PARKHURST AND THE DALTON PLAN: THE LIFE AND WORK OF AN AMERICAN EDUCATOR (NEW YORK),” University of Connecticut, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1983, https://www.proquest.com/openview/9be541578b92ebadcff37016bcfd246c/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y

Kerry Ellard

Kerry Ellard earned a B.S. in Communication and a B.A. in Political Science from Boston University, and a J.D. from Boston College Law School. During school and after graduation, she worked in law, education, and government. Most recently, she has worked as a tutor, independent historian, and sociological analyst. Kerry lives in Boston, where she enjoys playing with her dog and attending concerts.

Related Reads