Learning in the Circle: Applying American Indian Ways To Improving Education in Contemporary Mainstream America

Stephen M. Sachs

Section 1: Introduction: The Educational Needs of a Participatory Society And the Problems of Mainstream Education

Education is crucial in any society, all the more so in a democracy. It provides the cultural basis for living well, including for decent social interaction, with a proper politics and a well working economy. Education is more than formal education. It begins with child rearing and extends throughout life. Indeed, one can say that life is education. But in a post-modern society, formal education is extremely important.

Mainstream education in the United States has been in turmoil for many years, and clearly has not been serving many of its students well, though there have long been some excellent examples of broadly successful education in the U.S. that are quite consistent with American Indian ways and values. The problems begin with the fact that too much of U.S. mainstream schooling teaches all students the same way, failing to understand that each person is unique and that different persons learn differently, with different learning styles requiring different teaching methods. Indeed the mainstream approach has often been to treat students primarily as empty receptacles in to which must be poured cultural values, information and techniques. There has been an emphasis upon rote memorization, with insufficient opportunities for active creativity, participation in learning, and development of deep thoughtfulness, understanding and critical thinking. 1 Along these lines, critics have complained that American education is too often overly concerned with control - rather than growth of the person. It is hierarchical, bureaucratic and based upon "right answers" as presented by the teacher and the text. Students regularly do not have the opportunity to question the correctness of assertions. Thus, even if a teacher's assertion is correct, students do not have the opportunity to understand what is involved, and thus why, and how it is correct, and what the real meaning is. This most often is necessary to apply knowledge appropriately. Teaching this way creates a separation between book learning (or the class room) and the world. Similarly, there are complaints that mainstream education tends to be overly competitive in arriving at the "right answer." This undercuts cooperation that leads to better understanding and deeper learning, as well as fostering caring and more supportive human relations.

To put in other terms, most mainstream education fails to assist in the development of the whole person. 2 Following a general trend in western society, which has been slowly changing for over 100 years, there has been a tendency for schools to stress intellect over intuition, sensing and feeling, with focus on basic knowledge and skills in English, mathematics and history, plus some science, and, with some notable exceptions, at the expense of the arts. Teaching has tended to focus on the left brain over the right, when human beings are whole brained, and many are right brain dominant. The combination of the above tendencies has made school boring for some brighter students, difficult and tedious for many, contributing to low achievement and high drop out rates.

Related to the problem of hierarchy, there have been continual complaints that funding for, and the quality of education, are often unequal in the United States, with lower economic and less favored groups having worse educational opportunity. In a nation that claims to foster equality of opportunity, this contributing to higher drop out rates and lower achievement for young people in those groups. 3 Indeed, conditions in some low income minority schools have been reported as appalling.

Moreover, the top down passive learning approach is inconsistent with the needs of representative democracy in the United States, much less what is required for a fully participatory society. The initiators of the public school system, though urging it in terms of democracy, established it primarily in terms of the factory assembly line, and the perceived needs of business,

did not think of the public school as a self governing community of free men. Teaching remained in their thought as an act of indoctrination by authority, learning a submission in the correct, the desirable ancient "liberal arts." 4

A major problem with this was pointed out by Harold Rugg,

Instead of constituting an informed thinking citizenry, cognizant of public questions and critically observant of the acts of their elected representatives, the youths turned out from our schools are merely fit subjects for systematic propaganda.5

All of these problems became worse in the early Twenty-First Century. By then there was an increasing focus on just teaching the basics of reading and arithmetic, increased with the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act, with a heavy emphasis on multiple choice exam testing, forcing many teachers to teach the tests rather than students needs. An ongoing move in many places to privatize education through the establishment of charter schools, has been reducing the resources and conditions at many public schools. The great recession and the privatization movement cut education as well as other budgets. All of this contributed to cutting back on creative activity such as the arts, while civics and practical life skills and knowledge have become rarely taught. Further, even in the best conventional schools and among students who obtain good grades there have been serious stress related problems have been reported from the pressures to do well in a narrowly focused system of “learning.” This led one school district superintendent to call for a holistic, “whole child” approach to schooling that respects “social-emotional development” and “deep and meaningful learning” over academics alone. 6  

In addition, the tendency of traditional western thought to focus one at a time on narrow concerns, in a reductionist thinking, fragments knowledge and understanding, at the higher education level, shattering universities into multiversities of too often disconnected disciplines. The development of the computer and the internet have achieved a small part of their capacity to connect people and fields of knowledge. The larger result has been further fragmentation moving the intellectual focus of too many people away from knowledge, to information, rather than to wisdom, of which first information and next knowledge should be building blocks. All of this has been met by resistance, adding to a variety of already existing movements for education reform, and alternative approaches to education, some of which have Native American roots, as is developed below.

Learning from Indigenous Education

American Indian, and more broadly, Indigenous, approaches to education from upbringing through life provide a far better basis for the development of people from birth to death, both in existing U.S. semi-democratic society and in a fully participatory nation. American Indians begin with respect for the spirit of each person. Each child, is unique, and is born with the potential of positive qualities that parents, grand parents, and other adults in the community need to facilitate developing well in the child's own terms. The ultimate aim is empowering the child to become who s/he uniquely is, with good character, as a fine member of family and society. Upbringing and education are not centered on control, but rather aim to free the person to become his/her best, both within and in a social context. To achieve this, guidance must also be provided to protect the child from physical, psychological and spiritual dangers, and from falling into negative ways. 7  

Each person is understood to be multi-dimensional, with many aspects to develop in coming to understand and function well in a complex world. Since each person is born in but one place in the circle of life, with its own way of seeing, to live well one must do what one can to come to understand all the places: all the view points on life in general, and on any question in particular. When this holistic approach to life and issues is achieved, the result is a much more inclusive, comprehensive and nuanced understanding than is normally achieved in standard western thinking. Indeed, traditional Indian thinking and decision making functions at a much higher level of complexity, than does most mainstream western thinking and deciding, because the Indigenous approach is to include all the related factors over time, and all the interests and concerns involved in any situation or issue. 8  

This requires a holistic process of learning in which the teacher is primarily a guide and facilitator, guiding the student in learning, while providing protection from dangers of various kinds. This is primarily an experiential process. While some information needs to be provided and learned by memory, most learning takes place participatively, by doing. Over all, this engages the whole brain as the learning process extends to all realms of activity from the physical to the spiritual, which traditionally are viewed as interconnected aspects of the whole of life. It also involves all the ways humans perceive and process information (in Jungian terms, through intellect, feeling, intuition and sensing). Achievement in the process of doing tends to be self-rewarding, but traditionally, progress is praised. This is especially so for major achievements. The Lakota, for example, like a great many tribes, would hold a feast in honor of a young boy who had achieved his first kill in a hunt, with giveaway in his name to less well off people in the village. This would often include his sharing some of the game he had brought in, as well as his father giving away a horse. In addition, there were rights of passage, ending with ceremonies, marking the attainment of a young person to the next stage in life. Some of these are still enacted, such as the Apache puberty ritual for a girl becoming a woman. 9  

Honoring, and preserving honor, out of respect, were very important. If someone, including a young person, did something improper, the first step was not to admonish them, but to engage them with a question, usually so they could see the error for themselves, or explain themselves without being accused if the perception of their being in error was incorrect. Thus, the dignity of the person was preserved. For example, at evening song practices outdoors on the Southern Ute Reservation a fire was usually lit as the evening became cool. Author Stephen Sachs was present at an early practice when two young people started a fire when it was still warm. An elder asked, "Why did you start that fire?"  

Similarly, if it was thought that some one was engaged in improper behavior, a story might be told illustrating that such behavior was wrong. Indeed, telling of stories was an important way of teaching, particularly of moral values, as well as of history and passing on important information. In oral societies, the repeated telling of tales, joining in singing songs and attending and playing a role in dances and rituals, provided essential learning - memorizing from experience - through observing and doing. Since the learning was in the context of its application, how to apply knowledge was abundantly clear, If indirect methods of correction - leading a person to correct themselves - were not effective, then more direct admonishment would take place, and after that, if needed, punishment.  

Being a careful observer was a value that was taught. This developed good perception of the environment and ongoing events, as well as enhancing the development of self, and - along with achievement through learning by doing - self-confidence. Since observation was stressed, and achievement and living according to the major values was honored, those who achieved and lived admirably - elders (who were not just older, but lived admirably) were highly respected role models. Elders did supplement participatory learning and teaching through storytelling at appropriate moments; by exhorting people to act properly; and pointing out when something needed to be done. As, for example, author Stephen Sachs often experienced elders exhorting dancers and the people to act in a good way between the rounds or songs of Lakota and Ute Sun Dances, and if someone fell or had difficulty, elders would call out "help her".  

One aspect of this in Native societies, where honor and shame were important, is that public opinion was a very important director and restrainer of behavior. Moreover, since everyone in a community was considered related, with responsibilities to everyone else (and everyone to them), the whole community, and particularly all adults, played a role in guiding a child, and overseeing their behavior. This is something that has been considerably reduced in the fragmentation of life in much of the contemporary United States, but would be likely to take place in a highly participatory community with close interrelationships. 10

Because young people observed, and as they became old enough, participated in all aspects of life, over time they learned the ways of the community. This included learning inclusive participatory decision making through regularly observing it and then taking part in it. Overall, the duel emphasis on the individual, being one's own person, while identifying with the community and caring for everyone in it, tended to develop people as strong individuals standing up for their own principles and perceptions, whose values and behavior were communal. Thus as good citizens in a participatory society, they said what they thought in public discussions, with a focus on what was good for the community and its members.

Child Rearing in a Participatory Society

The basic principles of Indigenous education and human development are applicable to contemporary society, and for building participatory relations, if adjustments are made for differences in culture and the developing conditions of current life. In bringing up children, parents, and other guides and teachers, need to relate with a child appropriately for her or his stage of development. This can be undertaken, for example, following Erick Erikson's theory of stages of human child development, completed in the 1950s, from observing Oglala Lakota and Yurok child rearing practices, or consistent with Piaget's independently formulated stages of human development. 11 In general children need to be treated respectfully, and lovingly, emphasizing positive rewards in the course of encouraging them to develop all their faculties, according to their own individual nature, while socializing them to be family and later community members, interacting well with others. Compassionate correction is necessary. When the child is old enough, this can be undertaken first through engagement, to determine his or her state of mind and perceptions, while empowering the young person to think for her/his self what is right. If that is not enough, then direct instruction with explanation to develop the child's understanding likely is necessary. Appropriate punishment, when warranted, should be the last option. All of this needs to be clear and consistent.  

Generally, the child needs to be encouraged to develop their observational, intellectual, intuitional, emotional, creative and physical abilities in an enjoyable way, making learning something s/he enjoy and want to do. This needs to be accomplished with as wide a variety of positive experiences for doing so as practical - as fits the child at that time - with protection from what would be harmful to them in general or at their stage of development. Children do need to learn to observe and listen both externally and internally, which in themselves are relatively passive activities. But when the child itself, or with encouragement or guidance, follows up on them, they become experiential and participatory. The extent to which learning can be participatory, generally is, the better.  

Also, more and more as the child develops, it is important for his or her stage of development, and relative to who and where s/he is as an individual, to enhance her/his seeing connections, understanding as many aspects of a situation or issue as possible. The child needs to learn to take everything relevant, and the views of everyone concerned, into account. Sometimes it is good to do this interactively in a group, for example asking each child or person how they see or feel about a situation or event. Sometimes it is good to have the child use contemplation, such as, "how would you feel if you were in this situation," or "if you were an electron in an atom with the following properties. how would you behave." Some learning has to come through instruction, but the more that can be discovered through thought or positive experience, the better. Also, some things, like arithmetic tables need to be memorized, but this can be enjoyable, perhaps as a game. And, as with other things, in the course of learning arithmetic one can learn how and why it functions. Indeed, the more one can go beyond the "what" in learning, to the "how" and "why" - as well as the when in application (which is part of the "why") - the better. This takes the person beyond knowing some relatively isolated information, to knowledge which is practical. It allows him or her to function in the world, while encouraging movement toward wisdom: holistic understanding of how to act and live well.

The upbringing of a child needs to aim at his/her developing into a whole person capable, humbly confident, and happy, as an individual and self directed person, who is also a caring, competent and humbly confident member of community. The child needs to become accomplished in functioning in a variety of contexts and at various levels. For in the contemporary world, most people interact in a variety of social contexts, and at various levels from friendship and family, though neighborhood and municipality to nation and the world. There is a need to enhance the development of the inner person in her or his own terms, to come to know who s/he is, and what his/her values are. While learning and adjusting to new learning, the young person needs to develop the strength to live by those evolving values, and to be confident in what s/he can do. S/he needs to discover his/her limits and have the humility (which is also a strength and kind of confidence) to ask and to learn. At the same time, a person needs to come to be, and enjoy being, a social person - with the values and abilities to be a caring and effective community member.  

In a participatory society, this means experiencing participation and learning to participate in a good way. Over time this requires, first caring about others and their views and concerns, being a good accurate and empathetic listener. One needs to hear what others are saying, be able to take it into account, and be supportive of others. This includes making appropriate responses at the right moment, such as "I understand you (whether or not one agrees, which is a different question)." Second, being participatory means having the strength and integrity to express one’s views, at the appropriate moments, to do so clearly, and to do so diplomatically to enhance participation by all in reaching mutual decisions. Thirdly, since in a fully participatory discussion, all are equal and equally concerned participants, everyone needs to learn to be able to help facilitate the dialogue, to suggest redirecting it when the discussion is stuck or off track; to calm it down - and perhaps help mutual understanding - if the discussion gets too heated; and in various ways to help support the process of participatory decision making.

To develop a participatory society it is best if education for participation begins at home, that families are participatory, discussing how they feel about things and deciding together what to do. Children can learn to be good participators, first, by observing it, then by beginning to participate, initially asking how they feel about, something, and as they become more mature having an increasing say in more and more matters. This can be built upon by running schools as democratic communities.

Schools in a Participatory Society

Formal institutions of education play an essential role in all modern and postmodern societies, though they are only a part of life long learning that pervades every moment of living. Doing what is appropriate at each level of schooling, and for each person, following North American Indigenous Principles, what is generally required is child needs centered supportive facilitation, providing protection and guidance to assist the young person's development by inspiring them, and expanding them through as wide a variety of positive experiences as practical. Education, with the proper timing for the individual's development as an effective, caring member of intersecting communities, needs to develop the whole person - in Jung-Myers-Briggs terms - facilitating development of all the ways of perceiving and processing information, to develop knowledge and abilities-skills broadly, aimed at the unfolding of wisdom. This requires depth, as well as breadth, so at the proper times, appropriate for the person, specialized undertakings are necessary, as well as broad scope encompassing the general knowledge and skills to succeed well as an effective citizen, participant in economic life and fellow human being. One needs to learn to see issues from all sides, and be able to analyze and problem solve well in various fields - having enjoyably gained the basic tools (e.g. reading, writing, math, computer literacy, research ability..., as well as human skills in empathy, communication, collaboration,...). Creativity needs encouragement and opportunity as an art, whether in music, dance, literature, painting... the other creative and performing arts, or in math, science - physical or social - philosophy etc. Education ought not to be considered in a vacuum, but within the context of the interlinking communities in which one lives and needs to become a good citizen participant, from the family, school, various immediate groups; through the neighborhood and municipality, through the state or province; across the region to encompass the Nation and its neighbors and then the world. And indeed, since human beings are part of nature, to encompass our relatives and relationships at every level to include an opportunity to find one's connection with the physical environment, the universe and all there is. Thus education is an inner as well as an outer process of enhanced unfolding.

Section 2: Examples of American Indian Principles in Contemporary Education: The Putney School

There are a number of good examples of the principles of Indigenous American education being applied with excellent results in the United States and elsewhere. One of these movements, that of progressive education, has direct American Indian roots, as its founder, John Dewey was part of a tradition of the American philosophy of pragmatism, that developed from interaction of Europeans and later European Americans with Indians, beginning with first contact. 12  

John Dewey advocated a progressive education, providing the maximum variety of positive experiences practical in order to develop the full potential and creativity of each young person. Dewey's approach to education was inherently democratic, not only for the best evolvement of each individual, but also as a vehicle for producing the best citizens as a firm base of democratic society. In 1906 Dewey wrote of one of the school systems he had inspired: 13  

Gary Public Schools do not teach civics out of a text book. Pupils learn civics by helping to take care of their own school building, by making rules for their own conduct in the halls and on the play grounds, by going into the public library, and listening to the stories of what Gary is doing as told by the people who are doing it. They learn by a mock campaign, with parties, primaries, booths and ballots for election of their own student council. Pupils who have made the furniture and the cement walks with their own hands, and who know how much it costs, are slow to destroy walks or furniture nor are they going to be very easily fooled as to the value they get in services and improvements when they themselves are tax payers.

A particularly strong application of Dewey's principles for democratic education is the Putney School, a private coeducational high school which has been operating on West Hill above the town of Putney, Vermont since 1936. Putney is a boarding school with day students commuting from their homes in the area. 14 The size of student body has always been limited so that the school could function as a face to face community, with individuated learning and close student-teacher-staff relations. The size of the student body has varied slightly over time. In 1956, when author Stephen Sachs graduated from Putney, there were just over 180 students. In 1992, when Sachs undertook updated research on the school, the number was 153 students, 41 of whom were day students. In more recent years the student body has expanded slightly, with 215, of whom 45 were day students, in 2014, The student teacher ration was then 5:1, with classes averaging 11 students.

With the assistance of an extensive scholarship program the school has attempted to draw students from as wide a variety of backgrounds as possible. 15 For some years there have been a sufficient number of foreign students, usually around a dozen, so that Putney offers courses in English as a second language. Indeed, diversity has been a core principle of Putney since its beginning, as the school web site states,

“To combat prejudices caused by differences in economic, political, racial, and religious backgrounds; to strive for a world outlook, putting oneself in others’ places no matter how far away or how remote.”
- Carmelita Hinton, Fundamental Principles of The Putney School, 1954

The Putney School embraces and encourages awareness, understanding, and appreciation for the expression of diverse experiences. These principles are embedded in the mission and fundamental principles of the school; and we live them in every aspect of school life and programs--in admissions and hiring, in the academic and residential curriculum, and in the moral development and interpersonal relationships of all members of our community.

Putney is committed to educating all members of the community to be active citizens in a multicultural and pluralistic world. This is not a new idea here but a longstanding commitment by the school community. We have three African-American members of the Board of Trustees, all of whom are Putney alumni, and many alumni of color have chosen to send their children here. At Putney, we strive to make all students feel welcomed, comfortable, and included in every aspect of the school culture, and we offer effective support services on campus to affirm and ensure the safety, dignity, and welfare of every individual and group on campus. We support and encourage free expression of a student's own identity in the larger community mix. We offer opportunities for community members to explore cultural differences and commonalities through respectful and civil discussion and reflection in assemblies and presentations as well as through off-campus social events, leadership workshops, and overseas school trips.

The student Diversity Committee and Diversity Committee of the Board ensure that the school promotes diversity through its program and hiring, recognizing that a diverse faculty and staff is crucial to the success of the school and the fullest possible education of its students. Putney was one of the first boarding schools in the Northeast to enroll students of color. Our tradition of active, principled social and political engagement placed the school in the forefront of the drive for social justice in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s.

One example of that engagement for social justice that was already taking place on Sachs arrival at Putney in 1953 - prior to Brown vs. Board of Education - were between terms integrated road trips to the segregated south, including examination of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and a stop at the politically and racially progressive Highlander Folk School. Students who went on the journey noted that when they stopped at segregated gas stations, they would not buy anything unless everyone was permitted to use the "white" restroom - which the gas station owners would usually allow, rather than lose the business. Another of these educational journeys undertaken in collaboration with the Putney School’s close neighbor, the Antioch College graduate education program at Glen Maples, examined conditions and some progressive developments in Porto Rico. A student who had participated in both study tours, and later worked for UNESCO, commented in a Putney Alumni E-mail discussion, in late 2015, in which Stephen Sachs was a participant, commented,

That (Glen Maples) trip was a major contributor to my spending most of my career working to help promote projects in the developing countries.

For me, the two Glen Maples trips (Puerto Rico + TVA) turned out to be more than just flirts with reality; they were real dips into it. Just as Putney itself was very much "learning by doing" and in order to learn to want to DO MORE rather than just passing exams and getting good marks.

That's why Freshman Year at Harvard - with exams and marks galore - drove me to want to take a year off and TRAVEL somewhere by DOING something.

Core Principles

In founding and directing the school until 1955, Carmelita Hinton had many goals which remain central to Putney today. First among them has been developing complete individuals who are conscious citizens of multiple communities. As Mrs. Hinton wrote in a prospectus in 1945.16

Underlying these varied aims is the most important aim of all, the one of reaching the inner spirit of the boys and girls, and teaching them to live up to their finest potentialities; we try to have them realize that their attitude towards others is what matters most. Are they interested merely in themselves, adding to their own lives, or are they seeing themselves as part of a community: the school, the town, the United States, the World? Are they going to help pull civilization up or be unmindful of its disintegration? At Putney we are not only discussing these things: we are trying to work them out in our everyday existence.

The Putney website adds,

Fundamental Beliefs

The school's philosophy initiated in 1935 and distilled into eight fundamental beliefs by Putney's founder, progressive educator Carmelita Hinton, reads on the Putney web site as follows:

To work not for marks, badges, honors, but to discover truth and to grow in knowledge of the universe and in the understanding of men, to treasure the hard stretching of oneself, to render service.

To learn to appreciate and participate in the creative arts where man gives expression to his struggle for communication of his inner life and for beauty, and to grant these arts great prestige.

To believe in manual labor, be glad to do one's share of it and proud of the skills learned in the doing.

To play just as wholeheartedly as one works, but watching out a bit for the competitive angle, remembering that play is for recreation and an increased joy in living.

To want to lend a hand to the community at large, not to live in an "ivory tower."

To combat prejudices caused by differences in economic, political, racial, and religious backgrounds; to strive for a world outlook, putting oneself in others' places, no matter how far away or how remote.

To have old and young work together in a true comradeship relation, stressing the community and its need for the cooperation of all.

To wish to live adventurously though not recklessly, willing to take risks, if need be, for moral growth, so that one definitely progresses along the long slow road toward achieving a civilization worthy of the name.

- Carmelita Hinton, 1954

Mission Statement

Adopted June 8, 1997

The Putney School stands for a way of life. Putney is committed to developing each student's full intellectual, artistic and physical potential. Putney students are encouraged to challenge themselves intellectually, to pursue rigorous learning for its own sake, to actively participate in and appreciate the arts, to contribute meaningfully to the work program that sustains the school community and the farm on which it is located, to engage in vigorous athletics, and to develop a social consciousness and world view that will provide the foundation for life-long moral and intellectual growth.

The core of the Putney experience is citizenship based upon students being given a wide variety of opportunities to participate in their own development and in the development of the community. They can even create many of their own options. But once a choice is made, students are expected to follow through. The freedom to choose is linked to a duty to participate, for without concrete development there is no realization of personal potential or practical work. This principle of positive freedom permeates every aspect of life at Putney, contributing to making the Putney experience a many-faceted whole. Structurally, it makes sense here to consider that experience under the topics of community governance, academic program, semi-academic and other activities, the physical side of life-work and sports, and space for individual spirit.

The specifics of the Putney system have evolved continually over the years, through an ongoing dialogue about how to develop the school within the context of the experience of doing it. By the 1950s, however, when author Stephen Sachs attended Putney, many of the major outlines of program and structure had become generally settled, so that they are much the same today as they were at that time. The outline of Putney operations set forth here is based upon Sachs experience as a student from 1953-56 and as a very interested alumnus since then who has attempted to keep up with changes in school operations and life.

Governance

Putney is above all a participatory community of warm relations based upon mutual respect. The tone is set in informal, concerned relations among faculty, staff, and students. In the Putney culture, faculty and staff are mentors providing friendly help and guidance to students who are full participants in their own development and in the life of the community. Each student is provided with a faculty counselor with whom s/he can discuss concerns and problems, and each new student is welcomed by a student counselor who provides support during the newcomer's first weeks in the community. A week of orientation at which experienced students play a major part in welcoming their new colleagues takes place prior to the opening of school each fall. Relations among students tend to be open, mutually supportive and equalitarian: accepting of each individual for her/his own uniqueness. There are overlapping groups of friends throughout the student body, but rarely (if ever) cliques.

Everyday affairs at Putney are governed by a mostly elected School Council of student, faculty and staff representatives. The Council has evolved over time. The primary change since the 1950s is that the number of students has increased from being a larger group than either faculty or staff to constituting an absolute majority. Voting on the Council, however, has always been on a basis of each individual's view of the issues and never on the basis of one constituency versus another.

The School Council meets regularly in open sessions at which visitors may speak, but not vote. Whenever there is a major issue, prior to the council taking action on the question, it is discussed at the assembly of the whole school, which takes place on several weekday mornings. By the 1990s, community-wide consideration of issues had expanded by the institution of discussions going back and forth between general sessions and small group dialogues facilitated by students in the school's Leadership Program.

The operation of the School Council, with its authority to decide important every day questions with the involvement of the whole community, plays an important role in establishing and maintaining the participatory culture in the community. The head of the school has the power to veto council actions, but at least as of 1960, this power had never been exercised. The head of the school has an extremely important leadership role in community affairs and in setting the general tone of community living, however it is a role of leadership and facilitation, not dominance.

Education in democratic leadership is a core aspect of life at Putney, and is so stated, including on the Putney web site,

Our students do not get taught leadership in a classroom, but rather must practice it and learn it by experience. They run work crews, lead dorms, sit on faculty committees and the Board of Trustees, and debate how to run a community in which individual freedoms must mesh with responsibility to the group. There are nearly fifty leadership positions in which students are responsible for getting work done with other student labor, or in which students are part of the decision-making processes which make the community run. Every student must participate in work that is vital to the school.

Students have opportunities to participate in numerous areas of community decision-making. The elected Student Heads of School set the tone for the school community; upholding the “Fundamental Principles” and the core expectations described in the Student Handbook (integrity, respect, participation and stewardship). They run the student council and lead assemblies.  

The Standards Committee, which decides cases of violation of standards of behavior, in the 1950s included three faculty members and two students elected by the community. Nominations of the faculty candidates were made by the faculty while the student nominees were chosen by the community council. More recently the number of students on the committee has been increased as part of the general expansion of student participation in governance. By 1992, the committee consisted of three students elected by the School Council, one faculty or staff member elected by faculty and staff, and one faculty or staff member appointed by the head of the school who served as chairman. When disciplinary cases are heard, which was rare during the three years Sachs attended Putney, the student's counselor is part of the committee, which acts as a counseling body attempting to assist the offender in improving their behavior and attitude. Some punishment is often included in the decision of the committee, with the offender participating in deciding what needs to be done. But punishment is always considered as instrumental for the student's development and never as an end.

Other opportunities for a student governance role include students in each dormitory annually electing a dorm head who serves on the Dormitory Committee, making general policy for dormitories, and working closely with the student/adult dorm heads and the dean of students to help implement and maintain the systems that ensure a safe, fun and educational residential life program. The Work Committee oversees the entire work program and directly manages the student work crew leaders, elected by their work teams. The committee provides a setting in which young adults can further their understanding of the relationships between work, sustainability and community. Each work team in the work job program elects a crew head. The International Ambassadors are a group of domestic and international students dedicated to supporting all new international students during orientation and throughout the year. They help bridge the gap between cultures and provide opportunities for the entire community to benefit from cross-cultural experiences. Particularly important is student input into academic affairs.

Officially in the 1950s, academic matters were decided by a Faculty Academic Committee. Students had (and currently exercise) real influence, however, as they were asked their opinion about such questions as how teaching might be improved and what courses were offered. By 1992, the committee consisted of the elected student Academic Committee Chairman, five students chosen by the School Council, two members of the Faculty Curriculum Committee and the Academic Dean. As of 2015, the committee was discussing curricular changes, approving courses, and reviewing proposals for project weeks and independent student work.

Two students also are elected to the Board of Directors as full voting members, and serve on some of its committees. They bring their understanding and expertise as current members of the student body to bear on discussions ranging from building plans to investment policy. Admission Committee members help to shape the future of the school by reviewing student applications for the upcoming school year and making admission decisions. These seniors read each applicant’s file, meet with the Admission Committee weekly, publish weekly student blog posts and play a spirited, professional role in sharing the school with prospective families. The Diversity Committee works to educate the school community about the political, social and social justice issues which arise in a pluralistic society, and to support students for whom life in Vermont may be radically outside their previous experience. Day Student Representatives work closely with the Dean of Student’s office to ensure the needs of the day student population are being met. They are also mentors and a vital resource to the day students and their families.

Sustainability is a core Putney principle that is involved in every part of the Putney program, including in academic course work. The community strives to be as environmentally and economically sustainable in all that it does. Its solar powered field house was the first energy neutral school building in the United States. The Sustainability Squad works on projects to improve campus environmental performance, and lead trips off campus to conferences and rallies. Related to that, and the important role of Putneyites being involved with their environment, realizing they are part of nature, The Putney Outdoor Program encompasses afternoon activities, weekend trips, and the longstanding tradition of all-school trips called Long Fall. Most of these are hiking, kayaking, etc. in the woods and countryside, so that students have considerable time, "in nature," in addition to just living, being, and being involved in out door activity on a 1000 acre farm with a great deal of woodland. Two student leaders co-manage the outdoor program with a faculty member, planning and leading trips during the year. In addition, the cabin program is a unique element of the Putney program, demanding a high degree of leadership, responsibility and trust. A few students who are deemed sufficiently responsible can live on their own without an in cabin faculty member in one of several cabins that are completely off the grid, with wood stoves and solar panels. Overall, the Putney the approach to relating with the environment goes beyond the concept of "place based education," which since the 1990s has been used to refer to using local ecosystems and social issues in creating a curriculum. It encompasses seeing the land and what is built upon it as an educational force in itself. 17 Ultimately, as traditional Native people understand, there no separation between oneself and one's environment.

Thus, students have been serving on almost all of the functional committees in the community since at least the 1990s, including the Advisory Council, advising the head of the school, and the Health Committee. Around 1990, a Student Union was formed to organize optional activities that take place on weekends. In 2015, the Student Union was led by the Student Heads of Weekend Activities.  

Academic Program

"Academics" are an essential part of what Putney does, but are only one aspect of the curriculum. As is posted on the school web site,

We regard the curriculum as everything we do here, and therefore eschew the word ‘extra-curricular’. The four pillars of the school, vigorous academics, the work program, the arts, and physical activity, all combine and intertwine to create students who understand what it takes to get things done. One of the hallmarks of Putney is our transparency to our students and our willingness to engage them in the running of the school. We allow and often require our students to struggle with the real dilemmas of crafting a community in which rights and responsibilities balance. Much of a student’s life at Putney is experiential education, and they enjoy both independence and responsibility.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The other aspect of our student focus, is our dedication to each individual. We are a small community with a 5:1 student-faculty ratio; there is no “back row” at Putney, and students have unrivalled access to the talented, diverse faculty. Twice a year, students engage in Project Weeks, periods in which students engage in independent, mentored processes of inquiry. By designing and executing these projects, students develop organizational skills, and learn to apply what they have learned.

Every student takes art at least twice a week in the Evening Arts program, which offers everything from Afro-Cuban Drumming to Metalworking to Digital Photography. They are also required to be physically active, by joining a team sport or activity like yoga, mountain biking or alpine skiing.

The heart of democratic education at Putney is in the classroom. The academic emphasis is upon developing each student's ability to question, to think critically, understanding all sides of each issue, and to be creative. A great deal of class time is given to discussion and considering issues from all points of view. Classes are small enough and long enough to allow opportunity for teachers to meet individually with students, while the rest of the class works independently, as well as to provide adequate time for lecture, discussion and other formats (e.g. labs, individual presentations and group projects).

Several times during the year time is set aside for each student to pursue an extensive, independent project that they develop under the guidance of a faculty member of their choice. In order to encourage students to learn for the sake of learning, and to act for reasons of conscience rather than to receive rewards, in the 1950s, and later, students were not told their grades (unless they were not achieving college certifying work, or were flunking, or receiving an unsatisfactory rating for effort), but students are continually given quick and extensive feedback and counseling about their work through oral discussion with the instructor and in written comments and reports that are tailored to assist each individual in developing according to their own potential.

By the 1990s there was a great deal of discussion at the school about the policy of not telling students their grades. While many continued to support the policy as a means of encouraging studying for its own sake and supporting collaborative rather than competitive relations, others felt that because it matters what one's grades are, in terms of getting into college, that students should know immediately what grades they are getting. In terms of gaining information about the quality of his work, author Stephen Sachs found that he had more detailed information as to instructors' views of the work, and how it might be improved, with the detailed reports and comments, but no grades, at Putney, than he received with graded work as a freshman at the University of Virginia in 1956, even in very small honors classes. He also found that when a college admissions officer told him his Putney grades, in the course of estimating the applicant's chance of being admitted, that he pretty well knew what those grades were. As the admissions officer mentioned a course the applicant guessed his grades and then found that he was very close, and most often exactly correct, in knowing how he had been rated. In those days Putney students never were told any of their grades.  

Today, to help with college counseling, beginning in the spring of junior year students and parents are told over-ali class grades, but not the grades for individual pieces of work.

This pedagogy encourages independent questioning and thinking to such an extent, that by his third year at Putney Sachs found that if a teacher asked a question with an obvious answer he thought that the apparent answer must be too simple, and that something more profound must be intended.

The school also offers off-campus programs led by Putney faculty with deep local experience, and are designed so that students live and study immersed in local cultures with opportunities to learn language experientially. As learning a language and gaining cultural fluency through immersion-based programs are very much a part of the ethos of progressive education, students are encouraged to apply for a trimester abroad. It’s a transformative experience that positively contributes to their development as global citizens, as feedback from students, reported in "Doing Something Right," in the Putney Post, spring 2016, indicates. Putney offers trimesters abroad in Mexico, Nicaragua, China, England, and France, as well as access to the Network of Complimentary Schools, a two-week exchange with one of many schools across the country.  

With its emphasis on student needs oriented learning, focusing on the development of each individual within the context of community, significant support is given to students, including in advising.

At the core of the Putney experience are the strong relationships that form between students and teachers. On a campus as open and interactive as ours, connections between students and teachers are constant and familial, with faculty taking on a range of mentoring roles as classroom teachers, coaches, Dorm Heads, farm workers, and activity sponsors. Most of our faculty and some staff are also advisors, working closely with five or six students to help them (and their families) navigate through the trials and triumphs of life at Putney. The advisor-advisee relationship is perhaps the most important at Putney, often lasting far beyond a student’s time at the school.

Advisors and advisees meet regularly, often daily, sometimes just casually to check in at lunch or assembly, sometimes with a more focused agenda during our weekly advisory block. As the primary link between the school and the family, advisors are quick to call or write home with updates, and also write semester-end letters in December and June, and meet with families during Family Weekend twice a year.

Although we sometimes make perfect matches from the start, students do not generally stay with the same advisor for their entire tenure at Putney. After an initial period at school, students are encouraged to approach teachers with whom they feel they can learn and grow most from and to establish an advisory relationship with them. As students and alumni alike will tell you, the advisor-student relationships at Putney are real, substantive, and lasting. (From the Putney web site)

The Center for Teaching and Learning provides significant student services.

The Putney School recognizes that all students learn differently. We have students with a variety of learning styles in every classroom and we do not treat those with diagnosed learning differences as “other.”

Located in the center of campus, the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) serves as a resource for all students who want to maximize their learning. The CTL offers structured and comprehensive academic support in the form of executive function coaching, study skills instruction, and content area tutorials. In addition, the CTL provides all students with the opportunity to meet with tutors during drop-in hours and in the evenings during our supervised study labs.

Using a strength-based approach, our program helps students to develop the tools, self-awareness, and advocacy skills necessary to become confident, active, and independent learners. The director of the CTL is available for consultation with parents, students, and faculty. Families who would like to enroll their students in our tutorial program may make arrangements with the director. (From the Putney web site).

Since preparing students to undertake significant research, which they carry out in many of their individual projects, is a major goal of Putney education, Bibliographic instruction and library skills, including ability in searching the internet intelligently, are integrated into the curriculum. Much of the computer and internet learning takes place at the Instructional Technology Center (ITC), located next to the library. The ITC serves as a central site for teachers and students to learn new technologies and to improve their skills on the programs they already use as well as to obtain help from the IT staff. The center provides the equipment and facilities so that students can create with and incorporate technology into an assignment. Beyond the ITC there are a wide variety of technologies available from video production equipment, digital video cameras, digital still cameras, MIDI controllers and music composition applications, ProTools based digital recording equipment, scanners, photocopiers and network color and black and white printers. The computers in the ITC have a variety of software titles suited for video production, web page design, graphics, digital photography, video conferencing, and desktop publishing.

Putney provides a comprehensive college counseling program, formally beginning in the 11th grade, to match students with institutions of higher learning that fit their interests, career goals and skills, and to prepare them for the application process. Over 60 Colleges and universities visit the school to meet with individual students. In addition, workshops are offered such as: Financial Aid & Scholarship Workshop – Fall Parent Weekend, let by the Hampshire College Financial Aid Director; Senior College Essay Weekend (October), in which students have personalized writing feedback from Putney faculty; Optional October college fair trip to Northfield Mount Hermon School, MA; and Optional May field trip to Colleges That Change Lives college event/fair, Boston.

Semi-Academic and Other Activities

The academic program is supplemented by a wide variety of activities from which students may choose, many of which are offered Monday through Friday evenings by faculty and staff and their spouses as part of the evening activities program. These include such things as a current events discussion group, an applied physics activity building electronic items and doing experiments, putting out the school's literary magazine and newspaper, learning Chinese cooking and reading and discussing poetry and literature. Foremost among these activities, and a prominent portion of the academic program as well, are the arts. These include theatre, dance, painting and drawing, ceramics, sculpture, and above all, music.

Music pervades the Putney experience. In a very important sense music provides an important element of the harmony of the community. For many years the whole school joined in singing each Friday evening. Later, with the increase in the number of day students, singing was moved to Thursday morning so that the entire community, including faculty and staff, could take part. While there are always a few students who complain that they do not like this, in part because it is a required activity, the vast majority have always enjoyed and been inspired by making very fine music together. The madrigal group and the orchestra, which meet as evening activities, perform several times a year including at the major events at the end of each of the three terms in which everyone has an opportunity to join in some of the singing. In addition, four times a year students organize a Saturday evening coffee house featuring student art work and performances by student musicians.

Among the major events of the year are two festivals when parents and alumni are invited to join in the activity of the community. Each October there is a Harvest Festival with booths and displays, contests, a pageant, an evening square dance, and, of course, music. Graduation includes performances and community singing as well as a speaker. Parents are also invited to the school to sit in on classes and other activities two days each fall and spring.

In addition, contact with nature is important to the school's program. Each fall and spring a few days are set aside for a variety of hiking, canoeing, biking and horseback riding trips. In the winter a day is set aside to go skiing. About once a year there is a surprise, "drop holiday." Often the purpose is for a day of outdoor activity such as hiking or skiing.

Important regular events are the Monday, Wednesday, Friday morning assemblies (the faculty meet each Tuesday morning). The assemblies are used for many purposes. They provide an opportunity for announcements, as do meal times, and are often used as forums for discussion of community issues. For example, on one occasion in 1956, the editors of the newspaper asked the community's advice as to whether to continue to produce a daily one-page summary of world and local news with a short weekly supplement of commentary, or shift to putting out a weekly featuring more extensive analysis and commentary. Current national and world events are discussed fairly frequently, often led by students who have researched the issues. Sometimes presentations are made, or films shown, presenting two sides of a question as an opening for discussion. In addition students often report on their projects and experiences as morning assemblies provide an opportunity for community sharing.

Each Saturday evening offers an optional event open to everyone in the community. Often this is an outside speaker, presentation or performance. About once a month there is a community square dance. Once a year there is a social dance including, a dinner at which faculty replace students in working in the kitchen and waiting on tables.

In addition to the events, there are community projects, which are open to student participation both during the year and over vacations. During the mid-fifties this included a study tour of the South by an integrated group. More recently it has featured putting on a conference on the environment.

The Physical Side of Life: Work and Sports

Full participation in a community involves both the opportunity to be involved in decision-making and the sharing in the carrying out of the work of the community, so that deciding and carrying out of program are intimately linked. Deciding in the abstract lacks the involvement with concrete reality to make for a fully meaningful experience and opportunity for learning. Doing work without a say in its governance may teach skills, but induces subservience rather than citizenship. In addition, the Putney web site states,

The Work Program provides a setting in which young adults can further their understanding of the relationships among work, home and community life. It offers the opportunity for physical growth as well as meaningful participation in the work necessary to sustain a community. It teaches adolescents the importance of sustained effort by providing physical work in a structured educational setting. In doing so it integrates intellectual and physical labor, thus helping to educate the whole child. The result of participation is empowerment. Students learn how to do fundamental human activities that form the foundation of life and the living of it. The objectives of the Work Program are:

To teach students about the value of physical work.

To instill a sense of self-reliance and the importance of providing for oneself. To foster a sense of pride and dignity in work well done and in making a meaningful contribution to the community as a whole.

To instill a sense of caring for our place and the environment in which we live.

To provide an alternative setting in which adults can mentor students.

To teach self-discipline and responsibility toward others through assignment to a variety of jobs.

To provide instruction in practical life skills: how to manage time and work on a schedule, call in sick, take direction, resolve problems in the work place, work together with others toward a common goal.

To provide instruction in specific job skills, i.e. carpentry, cooking, farming, forestry.

To use the campus as a laboratory in which the students strengthen their understanding of classroom material by application in a real-life setting.

Throughout their stay at Putney, all students must satisfy six work distribution requirements:

Lunch job

Dinner waiting

Barn crew

Dish crew

General substitute

An afternoon job in one of the land-use activities (garden, farm, woods, sugaring, landscaping, trail maintenance, etc.)

Students take an active role in assigning and supervising work at The Putney School. This student Work Committee consists of seven students (each covering a particular area).

Work jobs and sports take place for about two hours each weekday afternoon. The amount of time spent on work jobs or sports depends on each students choice. Students must take part in a work job at least once a year and are assigned to a crew on the basis of their statements of preference by the Work Committee. Work jobs have included such things as maintenance of buildings and grounds, helping build a new dorm, cutting and maintaining hiking and cross country ski trails, and farm work. The school provides much of its own food through its farm, particularly milk, cheese, butter and ice cream (through its student-run dairy barn) and organically-grown vegetables and wheat for its high quality bread. The school also has horses and offers some riding.  

A recent development is the Community Outreach Program in which students work in nursing homes and shelters in nearby municipalities. One day each fall and spring the entire school spends the whole day on community work projects. This includes an annual Charitable Work Day, as the Putney web site stated as of June 16, 2017, "the Putney School's way of contributing to the global community by donating our labor towards a cause." The 2016, Charitable Work Day was in support of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program. Students offered their labor in the community at $9.60 an hour with the proceeds of over $10,000 going to the program. In addition to supporting a worthy cause, the experience helped students learn about the economic side of public service.

The job programs teach respect for all kinds of work, cooperation and mutual support. One piece of outreach to the surrounding communities, educational rather than service learning oriented, was in place by the 1950's. Students attended annual town meetings to observe local democracy in action. Students often discussed their experiences at the various meetings. As they usually went to different meetings each year, they often asked those who had attended where they had gone the proceeding year, what had occurred as follow up on some issue of interest.

Putney offers a variety of sports, including both intramurals and competitions with other schools. In the 50s each student was expected, normally, to engage in at least one team sport a year, in large part because this teaches collaboration with others working for a goal. Today taking part in sports is optional, the emphasis being on outdoor exercise and cooperation whether that be through work jobs or sports. Putney has no school songs, cheers or boosters to support sports. The emphasis is on each player giving and developing their best and on team work. During Sachs' tenure at the school he noted that because of the emphasis on collaboration, Putney baseball teams often beat clubs that were individually (player by player) somewhat better and that had more time to practice. Putney is renowned for its ski program, which for years was lead by math teacher and former Olympic cross-country skier John Caldwell. Caldwell has played a major role in the development of cross-country skiing in the United States and Putney annually hosts a major amateur cross-country skiing competition.

The Putney Experience

The overall impact of the Putney experience is profound for most students. Only a few students become unhappy with it, and may decide to go elsewhere. In general, Putney education tends to do very well in developing academic, artistic and other capabilities of each student But more importantly, it tends to develop the inner-strength and appreciation of life for each participant while encouraging a concern for others, individually and socially. In terms of the character of citizens in a democratic society, the Putney way tends to develop people who are insightful, thoughtful and willing and able to express themselves in public dialogue. They tend to have the capability and independence to express their own views, while having the respect for, and understanding of, others to address themselves to common concerns and to act collaboratively. Also, the deep thoughtfulness and questioning of assumptions that is learned, is a bar against being swayed by propaganda, or by advertising that attempts to create artificial demands, regardless of their personal, social and environmental value. The kind of education that Putney provides tends to make active, thoughtful, caring and knowledgeable citizens, and careful, environmentally oriented, participants in economic life.

Putney education does a great deal to enhance and catalyze the positive development of young people to the extent that major transformations are not unusual. Sachs recalls one new student from a wealthy family who arrived obviously insecure and defensive. He felt that he had to show off to get attention, making a point of stamping his name often, drawing two lines through the "S" of his middle initial to form a"$." That did not last long. Within a very few weeks he felt sufficiently at home to relax and found his own path of development within the flow of the community. Another student at first was quite rebellious, bordering on being anti-social. In time he became one of the leaders of the community and was elected president of the student body.

Stephen Sachs commented,  

For me, coming to Putney provided a remarkable inducement to development. I came to Putney from a "good" suburban high school where I felt quite alienated, performed marginally, and found only a few niches in which to grow creatively. Life at Putney drew me out almost immediately and the quality of my work in virtually every area of my life improved markedly. I found innumerable opportunities to expand joyously, many of which were helpful to the community. A day dream while working on a project at the end of my first term lead to a transformation of the school paper from a once-a-term review into a daily newspaper. A newcomer and a sophomore, I was amazed to be asked by the staff to become the editor just because I had proposed the idea. While it took me years to become fully accepting of myself, Putney quickly made me feel at home as a unique participant in a community, and, in the process, rapidly accelerated the unfolding of my being.

The strength of the Putney experience is seen clearly in the lives of the school's graduates, a remarkable number of whom have been engaged in successful careers involving the betterment of humanity. Perhaps the best known is national and international affairs writer Jonathan Shell ('61), author of seven books including, The Fate of the Earth, a 1982 discussion of the nuclear predicament. He wrote a column for New York Newsday and authored pieces in the New Yorker for two decades. Numerous others could be mentioned, and, to be sure, at least some of these people would have achieved remarkable careers of public service no matter where they attended high school. But it appears likely that in most cases Putney has contributed significantly to their ability and commitment to strive for the betterment of humanity.

It would seem that the Putney School provides an exceptional education for personal development and citizenship in the best tradition of John Dewey, and is an excellent application of American Indian values. For the most part it educates the whole person as a strong individual within the context of being a member of overlapping communities. The one criticism that some advocates of holistic education might have is that it could offer more on the spiritual (as opposed to religious) side. 18 The human spirit of each student is certainly developed, particularly with the emphasis on creativity - individual and collective - including in the arts. Especially the strong role of music can be exceedingly uplifting and deepening. Time in the out of doors - including in the woods - provides some space for inner reflection, and the free time on weekends can be used for this purpose if one chooses. But it might be helpful to the program, and the students, in the midst of all the activity, to add some more direct work in meditation and inner development.  

While some of Putney's program is peculiar to its location, history and the fact that it is a boarding school, in principle, there is nothing in its program that can not be applied to public and private day-schools regardless of location. Dewey's success with democratic education Gary Indiana public schools supports this assertion, as do some of the other examples below, though they are not as holistic as Putney. Many other examples show the broad applicability of the holistic education approach - if properly adopted for the circumstances and people involved - including those discussed in Ron Miller, What Are Schools For?

Section 3: The Instance of East Harlem Public Schools

The case of East Harlem Public Schools, New York City School District 4, shows the effectiveness of child centered education, the importance of schools having a strong and positive relationship with their community, and that democracy in education not only involves student participation, but requires participatory administration and good team work, just as does any other organization to run effectively. 19  

East Harlem in the early 1970's was one of the poorest neighborhoods in the United States, and this has continued, so that in the 1990's, 35% of the population was on public assistance. Not surprisingly, the schools in its school district ranked among the worst in the nation, and on test scores were lowest, 32 of 32, among New York City school districts. Only 15% of the students in the district read at grade level. Physically the schools were dilapidated. They were over crowded, suffering violence, as gangs pervaded the area. Teachers found the school chaotic and struggled just to keep classes orderly.

In 1974, efforts began which transformed the East Harlem school district into one of the best performing in the country. It began with an action out of desperation. Then District Superintendent Anthony Alvarado, John Falco an assistant principal and several teachers decided they had to get the significant number of "trouble makers" out of the classrooms so the other young people could learn. Since they could not expel these "incorrigible, recalcitrant, aggressive kids," 20 they established The Bridge School, an alternative junior high school for them, headed by Michael Friedman. Because making this school work seemed extremely difficult and problematic, the superintendent told Principal Friedman that as long as he could achieve positive results with the school, the Bridge School would be freed from the usual rules and requirements and would receive extra resources. Friedman took a child needs oriented approach, including providing mentoring and counseling, and offering more personalized learning opportunities. Teachers were freed from the usual top down administrative bureaucracy and operated in teams. The Bridge School quickly began to function well, and student interest in learning went up, accompanied by greatly increased student performance.  

The initial success of the bridge school led to the launching of two additional alternative schools that year, which also succeeded. That was followed by proposals by teachers for additional alternative schools: The East Harlem Career Academy, The Academy of Environmental Sciences, The Isaac Newton School of Science and Mathematics, and a traditional school whose students wore uniforms. With the alternative schools operating with successful results, parents began demanding that their students be admitted. With little or any improvement in the regular schools, the successful alternative schools could not meet the strong demand. So, the entire district was transformed into set of alternative schools.

Soon there were 50 "schools", actually education programs, meeting in 30 buildings. There were different kinds of schools to meet parents demands. These included a wide variety of possibilities from which parents and students could choose, traditional schools, those with open classrooms, schools with mentor programs, with heavy tutoring, or with reading for those behind grade levels, or advanced schools for gifted students. Specialized schools had such foci as computer skills and photography, and even a school operated in conjunction with the Big Apple Circus, as well as in science or art. To keep the learning experience personal, and the school functioning well, each school was limited to no more than 300 students. Parents had choice as to where to send their children. If there was demand for attendance at a school that would take it above 300 students, a new school of the same type was formed. If a school became too small, it would be closed and its teachers would transfer to another school that needed them. Thus, there was competition in the system that encouraged teachers to make their program work. But the competition was friendly, as no teachers would be fired because their school lost students or closed.

The schools were run by teams of teachers with input from parents, whose support the school needed. Parent participation and support of their children in learning has long been found to be a major factor in student and school success. 21 Teachers supported and learned from each other both within and among teams and schools. It was found, as is usual with well working participatory work teams, that the teaching teams held their members to high standards, achieving better quality control from mutual support, peer pressure, and the synergy arising from group discussion and decision making, than can normally be achieved from evaluations and top down supervision. John Falco commented that teachers who did not perform well "fall by the wayside on their own, because of the peer pressure that's put upon them within their own collegial group. If you have one rotten apple in the bunch, it impacts the others. They put the pressure on. Those teachers see themselves; they come to me. They say, 'I can't make it here.' Many of them choose to go elsewhere or to leave the system." 22  

In contrast, numerous teachers who had been burned out in the old, chaotic, bureaucratic schools, switched over and thrived in the new system, which was challenging and rewarding, with incentives to succeed. This was in part because to draw students and do well each school had to have a clear mission and a largely achievable set of goals. This was one of the factors in the success of the Putney School, and is generally a major factor in the success of high performing organizations. 23  

In addition, while in East Harlem there was not the student participation in running the school that existed in early Twentieth Century Gary, IN public schools or at Putney, there was a twofold empowerment, at a lower level. First, the supported child centered education gave students who had been struggling, or failing, in the old system a chance to succeed, and from that to gain confidence, enjoying school and the learning process. Meanwhile, more gifted or capable young people who had been bored or frustrated by the cookie cutter approach and chaos of the regular schools, found enjoyable opportunities to learn at accelerated rates, or in specialized programs that fit them. Second, students had the ability to choose their school, and to change schools if they wished. Often it was the parents who officially made the choice, but as parents frequently listen to their children in such matters, especially if there is a direct relationship to their child's performance, the student's were quite regularly involved in the decision, giving them power and ownership. If going to a particular school was their choice and they did well and enjoyed it, it was their school.

And a great many students did do well in the alternative East Harlem middle school system. For instance, reading scores soared from the 15% of young people reading at grade level under the old system in 1973, to 64% under the alternative approach in 1988. By that time New York State testing rated 75% of eighth graders as competent writers. Similarly, the number of East Harlem middle school graduates who were accepted by New York City's four elite high schools (including Brooklyn Technical and Bronx Science) rose from an average of 10 a year, in the mid 1970s, to 139 - 10% of District 4's middle school graduates - in 1987. This was double the acceptance rate for the City's middle schools over all. Meanwhile, 180 East Harlem graduates were accepted at second tier city high schools. 36 went to highly rated private high schools, such as Andover and the Hill school. Over all, more than a quarter of District 4's graduates went on to outstanding high schools which only a very few gained acceptance to prior to the district's transformation. Moreover, close to 1000 of the district's 14,000 students in 1987 came, by special request, from outside the district. Superintendent Falco noted, "On any given day, I receive at least four or five calls from parents requesting admission from outside the district. I just have to turn them away," Finally, District 4's alternative schooling success was not momentary, but lasted for many years, transcending a change in superintendents.

Section 4: Escuela Nueva - the Cross Cultural Relevance of Holistic Education

Child centered learning and participatory education are not culturally limited, but are applicable globally, though each application must be appropriately adapted to its particular and changing situation. There are many examples of such applications in countries outside the United States, some of which have lead to reforms in North America. 24 A particularly interesting example are the 20,000 Escuelas Nueva schools in Colombia, which have spread to 16 other countries. 25  

Escuela Nueva is an educational model designed in Colombia by Vicky Colbert, Beryl Levinger, and Óscar Mogollón, in 1975, to improve the quality, relevance and effectiveness of the schools in the country. To do so, the founders attempted to apply what research had shown to be the most effective educational methods. There has long been a great deal of evidence from the United States that students do well when they are encouraged to think for themselves and collaborate with one another. This was again confirmed in a 2014 report by the American Institutes for Research, Study of Deeper Learning: Opportunities and Outcomes, which concluded that students who attended so-called deeper learning high schools — which emphasize understanding, not just memorizing, academic content; applying that understanding to novel problems and situations; and developing interpersonal skills and self-control — recorded higher test scores on standardized tests in mathematics and English; were more likely to enroll in a four year college; and exhibited "higher levels of collaborative skills, academic engagement, motivation to learn and self-efficacy compared with their counterparts in comparison schools." 26 Thus. participatory education was a foundation of the Escuela Nueva model.

The program was initially aimed at rural multi-grade schools in low population areas where one or two teachers simultaneously teach all grades. The Escuela Nueva model has since been applied in a variety of other settings. By the 1980s it was changing the country's rural education, and in 2015 encompassed 20,000 schools in rural Colombia, and a smaller number elsewhere, in twelve other South and Central American Countries, Vietnam, East Timor, Uganda and the Philippines.

The Principles of Escuela Nueva

Escueal Nueva is intended to transform conventional schools and approaches to learning, shifting the educational method from teacher centered to child focused. The teacher is transformed from the authoritative transmitter of knowledge to being a facilitator of student learning, a mentor and a guide for students, and coordinator within the school and between the school and the community. The educational process is changed from an emphasis on passive learning, with much effort on memorization, to "cooperative, constructive, personalized and active learning." 27

The model has four interrelated components: the curriculum and classroom, community, training, and management, which are addressed simultaneously and holistically.

Each component has strategies and elements that promote:

Active, participatory, and cooperative learning that is focused on the student.

A curriculum that is relevant to the daily lives of students.

A calendar and evaluation system that allows for flexible promotion.

A stronger and closer relationship between the school and the community.

An emphasis on developing democratic values and encouraging civic participation.

Effective and experiential training for teachers.

A new role for the teacher; from transmitter of facts to facilitator of learning.

A new "textbook" or learning guide that encourages permanent dialogue and interaction.

Through active and participatory learning, the Escuela Nueva model promotes, among others:

The ability to apply knowledge to new situations.

Cognitive skills, learning to think.

Increased self-esteem.

Democratic, cooperation and solidarity attitudes and behaviors.

Teamwork and cooperation—students work in small groups actively  

dialoguing and interacting.

Self-paced, self-directed learning.

Equal opportunities for boys and girls to participate.

Entrepreneurial and leadership skills 28

The Curricular component involves a socially and culturally relevant curriculum, flexibly applied according to the particulars of the school and community, through the vehicle of active, cooperative and participatory learning. The components key elements are the learning guides, learning corners and student government. The learning guides are dialoguing textbooks designed to promote child-to-child collaboration and teamwork. They help create a dynamic where students are continually learning with, and helping, each other as they dialogue among themselves and with the teacher. The guides provide a basis for stimulating the development of critical thinking, especially creative problem solving - individually and collectively. The guides facilitate the advancement of students from one level to another at their own pace -"flexible promotion" - while serving as a planning tool for the teacher. In addition, the learning guides motivate student use of the classroom libraries and learning corners, while encouraging the application of learnings with their families and community, integrating them into the leaning process. Because the guides provide questions to which students find their own answers, they give high value to the school and the local culture.

Participation in active student government and its committees empower students to practice democracy, learning democratic attitudes and behaviors. As students decide important issues together, thoughtfully solving practical problems, peaceful interaction is promoted, while enhancing social and emotional development.

The training component involves prior and ongoing teacher education using the same active, participatory methods that they work with in the classroom. The main objective is to prepare teachers to "guide, facilitate, give feedback and evaluate the learning process of their students, shifting his/her role from transmitter of facts to leader and manager of a process of social construction of knowledge (learning)." 29 Teachers coming to Escuela Nueva participate in effective, practical, in-service learning. They also observe the process by visiting demonstration schools and classrooms. Teacher education continues on the job, as teachers periodically join in microcenters of teacher learning circles, coming together to interact, discuss, exchange ideas and experiences, and reflect on their practice.

The community component of Escuela Nueva facilitates the active participation of the family and the community in school life, for mutual support. This is achieved through collaboration among teachers, children, parents and members of the local community, and in inviting active community participation in school activities. The learning guides link the curriculum and the particular lessons through practical applications at home and in the community. Moreover, understanding and valuing the local culture is incorporated into daily school activities.

The administrative component functions to advise and support teachers and coordinate and empower operations, rather than exercising strict supervision and control of the school. The result has been new, positive attitudes toward the educational process, encouraging administrators to take ownership in their role and catalyzing them to take greater responsibility for producing results.

Escuela Nueva in Practice

David L Kirp described the operation of a small Escueal Nueva school he visited in rural Colombia, with about 30 students aged 5-13.  

In most schools, students sit in rows facing the teacher, who does most of the talking. But these students are grouped at tables, each corresponding to a grade level. The hum of conversation fills the room. After tackling an assignment on their own, the students review one another’s work. If a child is struggling, the others pitch in to help.  

During my visit to one of these schools, second graders were writing short stories, and fifth graders were testing whether the color of light affects its brightness when seen through water. The teacher moved among the groups, leaning over shoulders, reading and commenting on their work. In one corner of the classroom were items, brought to school by the kids, that will be incorporated in their lessons. The students have planted a sizable garden, and the vegetables and fruits they raise are used as staples at mealtime, often prepared according to their parents’ recipes.  

. . . . . . . . . . . .

In the schools, students elected by their peers shoulder a host of responsibilities. In a school I visited in a poor neighborhood here in the city of Armenia, the student council meticulously planned a day set aside to promote peace; operated a radio station; and turned an empty classroom into a quiet space for reading and recharging. I was there last Halloween, when students put on a costume contest for their pets. 30

In rural Colombia teachers do not undergo a great deal of education or teacher training, yet because of how the system works, with what preparation the Fundacion Escuela Nueva can provide them, the schools function very well. Many teachers have come to Escuela Nueva from traditionally run schools. Their Escuela Nueva training gives them a start, but they have not always internalized the approach when they begin teaching. Often, in those instances, it is the experienced students who teach them how to apply the method. 31

Evidence of the Success of Escueal Nueva

The results have been spectacular, drop out rates and the percentage of students having to repeat classes are lower, especially because, students having difficulties are assisted by their teammates. Academic achievements have been spectacular, making Colombia the only country in the world in which rural schools perform better than urban schools, except in a very few cities, as students at Escuela Nueva schools have out performed students at conventional schools. Strong positive results have also been found concerning student self-esteem, democratic behaviors, solidarity and cooperation. Similarly, Escuela Nueva students relate more peacefully with others. There is also significant evidence that young women achieve as well as young men in multiple dimensions.

A number of studies have shown the efficacy of the Escuela Nueva model that can be accessed through the Escuela Nueva Fundacion web site. Among them, in 1998 UNESCO reported that following Cuba, Colombia provided the best education in Latin America to students in rural areas. In 1989, the World Bank declared that the Escuela Nueva model was one of the three most successful innovations that had impacted public policy world wide, and a 1992 World Bank study found that the Escuela Nueva approach of learning by doing, rather than being endlessly drilled for national exams — generally outperformed their better-off peers in traditional schools. In 2000, the United Nations development report declared that the Escuela Neueva model was one of the three greatest achievements in Columbian history. Other studies found that the parents of Escuela Nueva students apply corporal punishment less often than is the norm in their culture; are more likely to let their youngsters spend time at play or on homework, rather than making them work when they’re not in school; and more likely, along with their children, to become engaged in their communities. 32  

Developing Participatory Education

Ernesto Schiefelbein, rector of the Autonomous University of Chile, who evaluated the schools in Colombia, noted that “Unesco reported the successful diffusion of Escuela Nueva in 20,000 Colombian schools with poorly trained teachers.” He said, “As far as I know, there is no other example of massive educational improvement in a democratic developing country.” 33 The spread of Escuela Nueva outside of Colombia was largely undertaken by governments, which is one way educational transformation can take place. Where governments are quite democratic, if there is sufficient public demand, participatory education may well result. But the extent to which such development will occur in undemocratic regimes is problematic.

In East Harlem, after the success of the first three alternative programs, the system was transformed as a result of strong pressure form parents. In Indianapolis, IN, a quite promising process for improvement of the public schools was initiated at the behest of a new school superintendent with the support of a leading nonprofit organization, the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, an organization of leading business leaders.

Section 5: The Promise and Problems of Indianapolis School Reform

The Indianapolis Public School District was one of many school districts in the United States that attempted to undertake school reform in the 1990s, that offers a promising model, if certain key improvements are made. 34 In early 1990, a new Superintendent came to the Indianapolis Public School District (IPS), which had 48,000 students. He began holding public meetings to ascertain public perceptions of IPS, finding there was wide dissatisfaction with many of the schools. This was in part because 40% of students were dropping out, 18% during their senior year in high school. Hoping to turn complaints into positive action he lead the school district into hiring an outside consultant, Cambridge Management Group, to assist IPS in a reform process.

The consultants collaborated with IPS personnel in designing a process to analyze problems in the school system and propose changes, and trained the IPS personnel involved to facilitate the team process involving administrators, parents, teachers, students, and community members. Some of the "community members" were invited, generally because of their expertise, and others volunteered. Community members were brought into the project largely theough broad advertising, though no attempt was made to make the community participants broadly representative of the community, which is a necessity to insure good participatory democratic process. However, there is no evidence that this skewed the process in this case. It is critical that the entire setting up of a process of this kind, including the choosing of steering committee members, be representative.

In November 1990, a four day retreat was held with a 35 member steering committee, facilitated by trained staff from Cambridge Management Group. After dialoguing at length, the steering committee decided by consensus on a statement of basic beliefs about people, a mission statement for the process, a set of strategic parameters, a set of objectives, and a list of 13 strategies for change and improvement. In principle (without a detailed review of the retreat), this appears to be quite good participatory strategic planning process.  

The belief statement proclaimed, "We believe: Higher expectations yield higher results. It takes a whole community to raise a child. All people have inherent worth and value. Everyone can learn! Examples are the most powerful way people learn values, There is no limit to the excellence people can achieve. Spiritual and/or ethical values are essential for shaping character. Understanding, appreciating and celebrating cultural diversity enriches our common culture. Accountability is crucial to human effectiveness whether it is individual or institutional." The mission statement set forth, "The mission of the Indianapolis Public schools is that all students graduate with a passion and joy for lifelong learning and a superior foundation of knowledge, skills and personal values for a quality life, successful employment, and entry into higher education by transforming its educational services in partnership with our diverse, multicultural and urban community." The four objectives targeted 1997 for achieving: "1) 100% graduation from IPS with all graduates entering a postsecondary education/training program or a vocation within six months. 2) All students participating in interdependent, community-school activities. 3) All IPS students demonstrating a passion for learning. 4) All students graduating with competencies and values essential to making informed decisions relevant to their lives."

The Strategic parameters were a set of limits beyond which IPS would not go: "1) We will not initiate any programs or services which does not contribute to our mission. 2) We will not hire any person who does not contribute to our mission. 3) We will not allow conventional thinking to interfere with the serious considerations of new ideas."

In order to accomplish the objectives, the strategies for "transformation" of the Indianapolis Public Schools were established as follows: "1) We will identify the competencies and values essential to all IPS students and infuse them throughout the curriculum. 2) We will energize and integrate all aspects of our diverse community into full support of the mission and objectives. 3) We will establish and maintain an environment that respects and values the unique circumstances that surround race, gender, socio­economic status and other special needs. 4) We will structure IPS so that IPS will meet the objectives to fulfill the mission. 5) We will develop a system that fosters consensus, and nurtures and rewards innovation and excellence. 6) We will form alliances with public and private human service agencies to better serve students who are at-risk and in need. 7) We will extend the environs of the school to include the community. 8) We will establish a network of community based activities designed to develop a student's character and appreciation of human values. 9) We will establish a program of outreach to all IPS graduates designed to determine their status and to evaluate our success. 10) We will develop opportunities for all students to enroll in programs and schools of their choicewithin IPS. 11) We will establish and continually improve an environment that creates trust, mutual respect and professionalism. 12) We will develop innovative learning experiences designed to create passion and joy for learning. 13) We will implement shared decision-making throughout the organization."

Directly following the retreat the Strategic Planning Committee and IPS staff began advertising and networking to open the process to the community and its personnel, plus a few students, throughout IPS. An "action team" coordinated by two co-leaders, trained by Cambridge Management, was set up to develop concrete proposals for implementing each of the strategies. In January, 1992, following a general meeting to explain the process to the more than 360 people participating in twelve teams - one for each of the first 12 strategies - the teams began their work. The teams were given wide latitude in interpreting what their strategy involved, but were limited to coming up with proposals to apply that strategy originally, as worded. The teams met approximately once a week until the beginning of May. The team leaders regularly opened sessions with an ice breaking exercise that brought focus to the particular problem of the session. Team meetings went back and forth between general discussions and work in small groups. All decisions were made by consensus. The teams developed their plans through a series of stages: developing a basic approach to their problem based upon an agreed upon set of values, undertaking research to expand their knowledge and to obtain a wide rang of views of the issues, and developing a specific set of prioritized proposals, "action plans," accompanied by estimates of costs and benefits. Throughout the process team leaders met periodically with the steering committee, while the internal facilitator circulated among the teams, visiting almost all of the teams at least once. In late May team leaders presented the action plans to the Strategic Planning Steering Committee.

The vast majority of the proposed plans were accepted by the steering committee which attached recommendation for implementation during either the first and second years or the last three of the five year transformation process. The few action plans not accepted, were rejected or modified because they were found not to meet all the criteria for strategic change. Teams 3 (respect for race, gender, socio-economic and other special needs) and 4 (to restructure IPS) were asked to continue working on plan development over the summer. which they did. Their action plans were then considered and approved by the Strategic Planning Steering Committee. During the summer IPS made some administrative changes in preparation for implementing the approved action plans with the idea of beginning implementation in the fall (1992).

Team 13, to design action plans to implement shared decision-making throughout the organization, to be coordinated by the IPS Superintendent and the Indianapolis Education Association, lEA did not meet because IPS and the teachers union were engaged in protracted contract negotiations. lEA declined to be involved in any part of the process until agreement was reached on a new contract, fewer teachers were involved in the process than otherwise would have been the case. Team 13 was to begin meeting as soon as a new contract was negotiated and approved.  

The quality of the process among the teams generally was quite good, with the exception of team 3 (respect for race, gender...) and team 4 (IPS Structure), though to different degrees every team experienced some difficult moments, as is generally the case in this kind of group process. The opening exercises usually were helpful in initiating discussion that included much openness and sharing, and cooperative team spirit generally prevailed. With good facilitating the process normally unfolded quite well, without much frustration, despite the fact that most team members felt that it would have been helpful to have another month to complete the work. For example, members of team 12 (Passion and Joy in Learning) only found frustration, being under time pressure near the end of the process. In beginning to tum their findings into concrete proposals. But once the team members began to see how they wanted to do this, the process returned to its normal smooth flow.

The initial processes of developing consensus on basic ideas and approaches and creating a list of categories to include in the planning all moved ahead quite collaboratively with the assistance of fine facilitating. Even with limited time, the various sub groups found that they could design and carry out meaningful and helpful research, largely through some (unscientific) surveys of representatives of all the accessible groups that could be identified that might provide useful perspectives on the issues (e.g. IPS students and former students enrolled in a lower level class at an area university, teachers, parents and university educators).

The two working groups that experienced difficulty with the process, Team 3 (respect for race, gender...) and Team 4 (IPS Structure) got into difficulty because they did not completely follow the process guidelines, particularly the requirement that decisions be made by consensus. In the case of team 3 the depth of concern that a number of its participants felt about racial problems in IPS made it difficult for them to get beyond venting their feelings and move to problem solving and planning by the whole group together in the limited time available. With more time, and good facilitation, this might have been overcome.

Over all, though it had a few flaws, the IPS process was a good example of what can be done in the way of participatory strategic planning, providing that it has a strong representative base, with the participants representative of the concerned community with its diverse concerns and interests. Moreover, there must be responsibility to the community to see that what has been decided is implemented, or if the community is unhappy with the result, amended in a democratic process. It was the lack of accountability to the community - and the participants in the process - on implementation that was the fatal flaw in the Indianapolis school transformation process. After all that work, the IPS Superintendent only put into practice the proposals of one Action team, #10 to provide school and program choice to students within IPS, something the superintendent had favored before the process began. He left IPS not long after the conclusion of the process with no action on any of the other plans. The new superintendent, who came to IPS from outside Indianapolis, and had no part in the process, had her own set of initiatives and did nothing to build on what so many people had been involved in doing. Had most of what had been decided been put into effect, which included plans for continued community-school system dialoguing, it would have encouraged and empowered community members to be further involved, not only in the schools, but elsewhere in civil and community affairs - as successful participation encourages more participation. Instead, the failure to follow up was a discouragement.

Section 6: Education for Participatory Democracy and Economy

One of the main goals in establishing Escuela Nueva in rural Colombia was to provide the necessary educational base and background for development, economically and politically. The kinds of participatory education at Putney and Escuela Nueva are essential to successful participatory democracy. While the values and skills of participation can be learned later - as they have in the process of developing quite a large number of participatory work teams 35 - they are better learned early, especially for building a participatory culture. Participation, though it needs facilitation and guidance in the learning process, is best learned through participation. Continued participation deepens and reinforces learning.  

Beyond the teaching of participation, and democratic process, with the values and skills involved, in itself, other skills and knowledge are necessary to realize democracy in practice. Particularly important is knowing how to find out what is occurring in society, and the world, and how to find needed information including alternative views on issues and alternative solutions. Thus learning how to do research is essential, today in libraries, on the internet, and otherwise from people directly and indirectly. Thus Putney's emphasis on learning by doing research, and on learning computer skills and competence in searching on the internet (including how to determine what are good and reliable sources on the web, as anyone can put up a web site), are essential skills for democratic participation, as well as for participating in the economy, and for living more generally.  

In addition, it is necessary to know what ongoing issues are, and their background, as well as how political, economic and related systems function. So substantive learning about civics (government, economics and society), history, geography, and the social sciences, and in a technical age with environmental problems: the physical science, is essential. In all these areas, as well as in everything else, learning needs to be appropriate, thoughtful, participatory, and experiential, at each person's level. This also includes, both for good citizenship and personal competence in society, knowing how business, and personal economics function. Thus one needs to understanding credit and financial services, to be able to make good financial decisions, as well as to participate intelligently in public policy discussion about them.  

Also, in addition to being able to reason well and to problem solve, seeking out and choosing competently among alternatives, it is important to know how people can be - and are - manipulated, in order not to be fooled by propaganda and advertising. Indeed if enough people understand how manipulative advertising can be, and today often is, it will become ineffective in creating artificial needs just to make sales. Then, assisted by appropriate regulation to insure honesty and transparency, advertising would mostly serve its legitimate function of providing information. This, combined with environmental knowledge, would make it much easier to develop a sustainable quality of life, rather than a consumption oriented, culture and way of living.

Experience in the arts, and knowing about them, is also important, though more indirect. It teaches creativity, which is necessary for success in any endeavor, is spiritually and emotionally up lifting, and together with the humanities, teaches much about life and human understanding, which is important for citizenship, good social relations, and living well as a whole person.

The physical side of life has its role also, for there is no separation between mind and body. Research shows that being physically active, healthy in body, and in good physical shape, increase mental ability. 36 Moreover, there is a kinetic side of learning, and an element in participatory learning is physical. Achieving with physical skills can be deeply rewarding and empowering. All of the performing arts have a physical aspect, while performing sports and a good deal of physical work well is an art. Further, physical activity in work or sports offer opportunities for learning team work and collaboration, indeed, a whole set of personal and social virtues.

Connecting the School and Society

A major factor in making education relevant is connecting the school to the community, and at times larger society. This has been a major aspect of Escuela Nuevo, and to a lesser extent at the Putney School through service learning and occasional visits to community events. The reverse can also be undertaken, with the school acting as a community center that includes student participation in the onsite community events.  

An interesting example is the teaching of Rafe Edwards at Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles, portrayed in the film The Hobart Shakespeareans. 37 Edwards teaches mostly immigrant children and rigorously teaches them English, mathematics, geography, literature, and history. History is made alive through cross-country trips to learn it first-hand. Moreover, for some students the hallmark of his classes, putting on a full length Shakespearean play at the end of each semester, by teaching students about people, and dealing with life, was quite practical. This has been particularly the case for some students from abusive homes who have gleaned better how to deal with domestic difficulties through the drama experience.

Another aspect of connecting the school to the community for students not going directly to college after high school is linking in class learning to apprenticeships in businesses, non-profit organizations and government. This takes John Dewey’s inclusion of work in education, as at early Twentieth Century Garry Public Schools and the Putney School, one step further. 38 For many years, some schools in the United States have followed the German model of having students not immediately bound for college engage during some school time in apprenticeships where they participate in hands on, on the job learning, in the course of work that may lead to a job if both the student and employer wish that. At the same time, in some classes, such as mathematics, students learn relevantly, by having the lessons involve learning that is applicable to their apprenticeships, often doing exercises and problem solving that is directly related to the work of the apprenticeship.

Section 7: Improving Higher Education

Almost all of what is helpful in improving and democratizing schools is also relevant in improving higher education, if one adapts, as is always important, for the level, abilities, needs and circumstances of the students. (Conversely, most of the improvements discussed here in higher education, can be appropriately adapted to K-12 schools).

To begin with, the hierarchical structure of universities, in many cases with an emphasis on professors imparting knowledge through lecturing to students sitting in rows facing the professor, combined with grading based largely upon multiple choice and short answer tests, have tended to put an emphasis on the authority of the expert who has the right answers, which to varying degrees, depending on the style of the instructor (some of whom have employed Socratic, or other forms of, dialoguing to various degrees) discourage the creative thinking of each student to thoroughly think the issues through for themselves, with the benefit of dialogue with the other students and the instructor. 39 In addition, increasingly fragmented specialization has turned “universities” into multiversities, in which students often have difficulty understanding that, and how, knowledge in one area is connected to other areas. This gives student a fractured view of the world, while contributing to the making of narrow policies that have many unfortunate side effects, especially relating to the environment. A number of effective approaches have been taken to this problem for many years, which are now accelerating as the importance of interdisciplinary approaches and understanding has been gaining energy in the United States and elsewhere.

One long standing approach is the broad great books curriculum, a hall mark of Saint Johns College Liberal Arts Program, that has students reading classic writings in many fields and thoughtfully discussing the issues, to provide a student a thought provoking holistic view of learning, at least from a western perspective. 40 Author Stephen Sachs experienced a version of this approach in a two year honors program at the University of Virginia, 1n 1956-58, in which students took part in dialogues with faculty members raising deep questions over readings of classic works, in Greek philosophy and other writings; in classics of social, political and economic thought and philosophy; in leading historical works of mathematics and science; and in a sampling of great works of western literature. The emphasis of class discussions was to think deeply about the issues, and to come to one’s own conclusions after probing discussion. Sachs found this fostered creative thinking about life, in all its aspects, while tying together as an interrelated whole what he was studying in his other courses, from mathematics and chemistry, across English and Spanish, to history, political science and economics.

Similarly, Sachs noted while a graduate student at the University of Chicago, 1960-65, that the undergraduate liberal arts program for the first two years there offered thought provoking integrative dialoguing courses introducing various broad fields including social sciences and physical sciences. The introductory physical science course included students repeating important experiments in the history of science to gain an experiential knowledge of the history they were reading about.

Teaching political science at IUPUI (Indian University Perdue University Indianapolis) from 1969-2002, Sachs engaged with other faculty members in a number of projects to make learning thought provoking, experiential, holistic, and in some cases related to the community. Sachs first method was to emphasize discussion, though some lecture was necessary, when practical by having students sit in a circle, with the aim of analyzing and thinking through issues. This involved learning problem solving, often on a group basis, as opposed to students simply expressing unanalyzed and unsupported opinions, or jumping directly from the statement of a problem to a proposed solution without undertaking an analysis of the problem and then generating likely alternative approaches to solving them, which were then analyzed to find the best solution. Grading was primarily on the basis of take home or in class essays, presentations and participatory exercises, and research papers, plus some credit for class participation, with the emphasis on students reaching their own conclusions (except in certain exercises where they had to argue one view) based on thorough reasoning.

One of the approaches developed with other faculty members was to use simulations to increase student involvement with the subject matter. The simulations were of two types, role playing and multiplayer games. 41 One example of a role playing simulation was a U.S. Supreme Court simulation – similar to law school moot court exercises – in constitutional law classes. Each student would participate in two simulations involving fictitious cases designed to illuminate and promote thinking on the main issues in the major aspects of the course. In one simulation students would be members of a team of lawyers researching and preparing arguments, which they presented before the Supreme Court, whose members would ask them questions. In the second case, the students were the supreme court judges hearing the arguments, asking the lawyers questions, delivering short oral opinions, and a written opinion which could be individual or collective. In all their roles in the simulation, students were graded for their coverage of the issues and reasoning to support their assertions or conclusions, with credit for creativity. As lawyers they were required to make the best argument they could for their side of the case. As judges, they could take any position, or set of positions on the issues, they wished. Following each simulation there would be an open discussion of the issues in the simulation, including any important points the simulation participants might have missed. A similar approach was used in classes involving issues of public policy, such a public administration class on decision making and the carrying out of policy in the executive branch of the U.S. government, and courses on public policy in such areas as the environment and crime, There, students, acting as interest group representatives, once argued their side of a major policy question before a congressional committee, and once were a member of a committee hearing the arguments, asking questions, and individually or collectively writing a majority or minority committee report.

A number of us on the faculty formed the Interdisciplinary Committee on simulation that developed a number of games to give students experience in major aspects of courses. Two of these were used in Introduction to American Politics. The first was a simulation of one house of Congress plus the President (it being assumed, because of time constraints, that the other house would act in the same manner as the house being played, which could be either the Senate or the House). The student roles in the game were first, members of Congress working to be reelected. Their reelection depended on how they voted in committee and on the floor of the chamber compared with the views of citizens in their districts. Interest groups in the game could purchase publicity campaigns, and the President could make speeches, that could change public opinion on the bills and possible amendments. Also effecting the reelection of members of Congress according to final public opinion in their district was what did and did not pass congress, and after the President signed the bill, or his veto was overridden, became law. In addition, members of Congress gained or lost votes according to how much money they had in their campaign funds given them by lobbyists of the various interest groups, and the impact on the particular voting population in their state or district of statements of support or opposition by the interest groups. Second was the President wanting to be reelected on much the same basis as members of Congress. Third were the members of interest groups with various amounts of money to donate to candidates campaign funds or buy publicity campaigns, and varying amounts of public influence from their supporting or opposing the reelection of the President or members of Congress. The game took the students through a shortened version of a session of their house of congress, with each of the major procedures, involved. As this was before the age of computers, after the completion of the session students homework was to calculate from the various tables how many votes they had gained and lost (subject to the instructors review, a “vote recount”), and reporting the election results on the blackboard at the beginning of the next class. Thus through a complex but easy to play game, in which students were informed of the games limitations as a reflection of reality, students learned more fully of what they had been reading of the processes of Congress, in a short and fun game.  

The second learning game, Gerrymander, was a simulation of a state legislature redistricting itself after a census indicated a population shift, in which students aim was to get themselves reelected, their party to have as many seats in the legislature as possible. A new legislative district map needed to be agreed on before class ended, or all would lose in the uncertainty of what a federal court might decide. These games were pre-computer, and with computers a great deal more can be done in the way of individual and group learning simulation games in all fields, including the sciences.

Perhaps the most interesting leaning game we worked with was The North Atlantic Game, developed by Sachs while at Indiana South Bend (IUSB) in 1969 (revised in 1971) for a class on international politics, but also applied in a high school class by a teacher who had worked with it in a simulation workshop for teachers. 42 The simulation involved teams of students running the foreign affairs (including trade, military development, deployment, and possible action) of nations stretching from the Rocky Mountains to the Urals in the late 1960’s period of the Cold War. The game mirrored the actual world situation with a simple economy, which could be expanded by internal investment and foreign trade, but required fuel to run (as did the military), while military development (creating armed forces and weapons development) and maintenance of forces, and any military action, had to be paid for. The game included the simulated world powers having the ability to create and deploy atomic weapons, and of a number of other nations to invest to do so over time. After a few runs, the class was expanded from three hours a week to four, with a one hour lab for the simulation, in order to allow sufficient time for the simulation without reducing the class time for discussion of major issues in international affairs. The game was complex enough to be reasonably realistic for the students to apply and experiment with the main principles of international, and related internal, affairs (including the domestic consequences of international actions), but simple enough to be understood and played in the pre-computer age.

Students, very much enjoyed and became highly involved in the game, to the extent that even two years later, former simulators passing each other in the hall greeted each other, “Hello Germany,” Hello France.” As post game session discussions showed, the game was much more than recreation. Students learned a good deal from the experience that added to, and gave depth, to what they had read and discussed in class. Perhaps the most striking experience came on the same day the class discussed problems of arms control. The three major nuclear powers in the game had agreed to put “all” of their nuclear weapons under joint control, so they could not be used with out all three nations consent. But because each had secretly held back a sizable stock of nuclear missiles, none of them had suggested the inspection program that the rules allowed. On that day, each of the nations pulled out their atomic reserve threatening what they thought were nuclear disarmed other nations, only to find they had all done the same. That sudden situation came very close to bringing on a nuclear war which would have destroyed the three main powers, and greatly harmed all the other nations with nuclear fall out, but some quick diplomacy, which also involved some of the other countries, barely prevented the simulated disaster. We could not have had a better introduction for discussing arms control.

Bringing The Case Into the Class Room: One Up on Simulation

As useful learning devices as simulations are, one can do even better with direct relevant involvement of students with the community. This can be done on a small scale by bringing local experts in to discuss actual experience in the community with topics being considered in class. In an IUPUI course on crime policy, for example, among several speakers brought in was a local police officer involved in initiating and carrying out community policing, which the class was then studying. The officer discussed both the problems the department had in establishing the program, and some major successes when it was properly instituted.

A public administration course on anti-poverty programs, in the midst of the U.S. War on Poverty in the early 1970s, went much further in effectively connecting the community and the classroom, through focusing on ongoing cases involving the local Community Action Program Against Poverty as it related to one of the city’s low income communities and its community organization. 43 The course was team taught by a political science professor, who in choosing the course reading, and as a resource person, provided broad background on the issues, and by a community organizer working with the neighborhood organization, who had good relations with people on all sides of issues impacting the neighborhood, and was able to bring them in to discuss their views with the class. Some students were able to attend relevant community events and report back to the class. By the third year of the course, a number of community members had begun taking the class in order to gain more perspective on how they might better succeed in achieving the community organization’s objectives. At that time, the community organization was in the process of obtaining a health clinic, so several students volunteered to help paint it. The new clinic needed a receptionist knowledgeable about medical problems, and an allied health student in the class, in need of a job, took the position. Thus, the relationship between the university and the community through the class provided a very fine and rewarding learning experience for the students to the benefit of the community.

Linking to the Community to Promote Holistic Learning

IUPUI was birthed as a particularly fractured multiversity, in 1969, because the rapid pace of the merger of Indiana University and Perdue University programs in Indianapolis did not allow time and opportunity to develop unifying links between the 26 separate schools, with the School of Liberal Arts, separate from the School of Science, which included the psychology department. Thus a number of School of Liberal Art faculty from several departments were concerned about creating a more integrated and holistic understanding for students, 44 The group decided to develop an experimental course, Introduction To Thinking in the Liberal Arts, that would be taught by one faculty member, bringing in members of various departments at appropriate times to introduce students to the approaches and methods of all the humanities and social science disciplines in an integrated manner. If the course was successful, It was to be proposed as a required Liberal Arts course at the freshman level. The plan for the first run of the course was developed as a study of a neighborhood near the IUPUI campus, that students would visit and learn to view from the perspectives, and via the methods, of all of the School of Liberal Arts disciplines. The course received initial approval, with one of the its initiators, a professor in the history department, chosen to be the course coordinator on the first run. The structure of the University and the school prevented that from occurring, however, because all budgeting was by departments, and with money tight, the history department decided that it could not give the instructor released time for what it agreed was a worth while undertaking. Thus, it was not until well into the 1990’s that a significant amount of integrative work began to enter the curriculum,

By that time, a growing concern had developed in academia nationally, that steps needed to be taken to overcome the fragmentation of knowledge in its compartmentalization in the academic structure to provide students with a more holistic understanding. Thus. the IUPUI Executive Dean initiated a number of interschool discussions that led to a minimal set of core required courses that all IUPUI schools were encouraged to include in their undergraduate course requirements, and a joint decision by the School of Science and the School of Liberal Arts to develop sets of entry level and senior level required classes that would include both the physical sciences and the social sciences and humanities. To make these classes a reality, the university provided separate budgeting. Thus it is clear that to fully develop holistic participatory education, the structure of educational institutions also has to change.

Broader Evidence that Student Participation Increases Learning

There is now a good deal of evidence from studies at universities that, consistent with Indigenous views on experiential learning, active participation by students with the material being studied increases learning. This includes examples from the physical sciences.  

At the University of California in 2014, the chemistry department tried running two different versions of its introductory chemistry course. 45 The traditional class had hundreds of students quietly hearing a lecture for 80 minutes, with just a few questions asked by students. Most students took notes, while a few slept. In the alternative class, the instructor fired questions at students and asked them to explain their answers, and expand on them. Every few minutes she broke the class into small groups to solve problems. Since any student might be asked a question at any time, there was pressure to do the assigned reading before class. Consistent with other research, students found the alternative participatory class more stimulating and learned more than in the traditional lecture course.

An earlier comparison of two versions of an introductory physics course showed not only the increased student appreciation of a class and greater leaning by greatly increasing student participation in the class, but also the value of engaging students’ imagination, in this case with guided meditation. This is more effective because it makes the learning process more whole brain, and less primarily left brained or primarily intellectual. In the more standard physics course, lecture was supported by very good audio visual presentation. This included charts showing the movements of electrons around the nucleolus of an atom. In the alternative class, in addition to the lecture and the audio visuals, the instructor employed guided imagination meditations to more actively and holistically involve the students with the material. For example, in the study of atomic physics, students were asked to close their eyes and imagine how they would behave if they were an electron with certain properties. Tests demonstrated that students in the alternative guided imagination class attained a deeper understanding of the concepts and had a better short and long run retention of the factual material. 46

Section 8: Life Long Education

By nature, education – learning – is a life long process. This is not only true for human beings, but of all life; for living beings are by nature adaptive – creative – to changing circumstances. For people to live well, to have deeply meaningful lives, they need to learn continually, and as Native people recognized, those who do that well over time obtain wisdom.

Continual learning beyond formal education is especially important for participatory politics and economics. As situations change and new knowledge becomes known, people need not only additional information – or old information that was not previously known to them – but understanding in order to live well, and adapt to events, in all aspects of their lives. This is especially the case for decision making. Thus ongoing public education is essential for well working participatory democracy. A good deal of learning will take place directly from the discussion and experience which is at the heart of participatory processes. Moreover, the participatory person, educated to think deeply and question will insist upon self-education, and co-education through dialoguing with others. But there is also a need for conscious civic education by government, non-governmental organizations, the media, and fellow citizens. This needs to be in the form of thoughtful and thought provoking presentation – often through dialoguing or otherwise presenting the various aspects and views of issues – and not as propaganda. In a participatory society with participatory citizens, however, pure propaganda is usually not effective, for people will question it, turning initial assertion into discussion. This is not to say that some exhortation is not needed, on moral, health, or safety issues, such as campaigns to discourage smoking, or not to drive while drinking. American Indian elders certainly certainly exhorted their fellow tribespersons to act properly, But, in tribal society, and in any participatory society, exhortation is engaged in not on the basis of hierarchical authority, but among equally valued fellow citizens. It is normally undertaken after long discussion, on a basis of reasonable consensus, and if it is not, it is, and ought to be, open to question.

An interesting event in the way of civic education leading to more participation was occurring in the United States in the summer of 2015. 47 As a result of the popularity of a growing body of scientific study indicating that experience and not objects bring about the most happiness, many people, especially those in their twenties and thirties, were buying things less, and spending more on experiences, such as out of town vacations, gym memberships and meals with friends.

As of March 2018, some significant movement toward more holistic and participatory education was in progress in the United States and elsewhere. While the instructive developments of many years at the East Harlem Public School are no longer continuing, the Putney School has become a major player in a revitalized progressive education movement, and has inspired the establishment of a number of private schools and at least one major public school program. 48 Meanwhile, IDEA: Institute for Democratic Education in America is engaged in a number of education reform projects across the U.S., while Democracy in Education was publishing its Volume 27, with readers around the world, in fall 2017. 49 At a winter 2018 meeting, two education faculty members from The University of South Carolina Upstate, shared with author Stephen Sachs that numerous public schools, disenchanted with what has been required by recent federal programs, have begun to adopt aspects of Dewey's progressive education. 50 They have done so because they, and others, have found these approaches work, although in a great many instances they are unaware of their origins in John Dewy and other progressives, or of their older American Indian roots.

What makes progressive and other indigenous oriented education particularly relevant is that a great deal of recent and current research indicates that it is the best way to undertake learning. Escuela Nueva, which has been spreading rapidly across Latin America and Africa, was founded on the basis of this research, as is discussed above.

Overall, good holistic democratic education in institutions of learning and beyond is essential for well working participatory society, and for living well. Conversely, participatory society and culture provide and encourage a high level of holistic participatory education.

End Notes

1. Ron Miller, What Are Schools For?: Holistic Education in American Culture, 3rd edition (Brandon, VT: Holistic Education Press, 1997). pp. 96, 178-180,  

2. This is the general thrust of Miller, What Are Schools For?, but several sections focus on this concern more particularly, including pp. 195-209.

3. LaDonna Harris, Mentor and Editor; Stephen M. Sachs and Barbara Morris, General Authors; Deborah Esquibel Hunt, Gregory A. Cajete. Bejamin Broome, Phyllis M. Gagnier, and Jonodev Chaudhuri, Contributing Editors, Recreating the Circle: The Renewal of American Indian Self-Determination (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2011), Ch. 2 and 5, Section 2; Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities : Children in America's Schools (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 1991), and The Shame of the Nation : The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America (New York: Random House, 2005).

4. Horace M. Kallen, The Education of Free Men (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1949), p 129, as quoted in Miller, What Are Schools For?, p. 145.

5. Miller, What Are Schools For?, p. 145, quoting Peter F. Carbone, The Social and Educational Thought of Harold Rugg (Durham: Duke University Press, 1977).

6. On the No Child Left Behind Act see, for example: “No Child Left Behind: Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA),” U.S. Department of Education, http://www2.ed.gov/nclb/landing.jhtml, accessed October 11, 2015; Deborah Meier, George Wood, Eds., Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act Is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools (Boston: Beacon Press, 2004); “American Schools in Crisis? Debating No Child Left Behind,” NOW, October 17, 2003, http://www.pbs.org/now/society/nclb.html; Alfie Kohn, The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools (Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2000); Elizabeth A. Harris, "20% of New York State Students Opted Out of Standardized Tests This Year," The New York Times, August 12, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/13/nyregion/new-york-state-students-standardized-tests.html?ref=todayspaper&_r=0; and Harris, Sachs and Morris, Recreating the Circle, pp. 62, 144, 328, 376, and 402 n131. On budget cuts in education, for example, see: U.S. Department of Education Budget History, www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/history/index.html, with detailed tables showing the budget history of the U.S. Department of Education from FY 1980 to the FY 2016, accessed October 11, 2015; Rebecca Klein, “Education Budget Cuts: This Is What A School Funding Crisis Sounds Like,” HuffingtonPost.com , April 18, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/education-budget-cuts/ ; Nicholas Johnson, Phil Oliff and Erica Williams, “An Update on State Budget Cuts: At Least 46 States Have Imposed Cuts That Hurt Vulnerable Residents and the Economy,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, February 9, 2011, http://www.cbpp.org/research/an-update-on-state-budget-cuts; and Jeanne Sahadi, “Spending cuts to education and nutrition will hurt kids,” CNN Money, September 9, 2014, http://money.cnn.com/2014/09/19/news/economy/federal-spending-on-children/index.html. On charter schools and the movement to privatize public education, for example, see: “Charter School Movement Turns 20, Amid Criticism And Success Stories,” Huffington Post, July 12, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/07/public-charter-school-mov_n_1865151.html; “History of the Charter School Movement,” DC Watch, March 2000, http://www.dcwatch.com/lwvdc/lwv0003c.htm; and Claudio Sanchez, “From A Single Charter School, A Movement Grows,” August 31, 2014, http://www.npr.org/2012/09/02/160409742/from-a-single-charter-school-a-movement-grows .

On the issue of too much stress in the current approach to education, Kyle Spencer, “New Jersey School District Eases Pressure on Students, Baring an Ethnic Divide,” The New York Times, December 25, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/26/nyregion/reforms-to-ease-students-stress-divide-a-new-jersey-school-district.html?ref=todayspaper, reported, “This fall, David Aderhold, the superintendent of a high-achieving school district near Princeton, N.J., sent parents an alarming 16-page letter.

The school district, he said, was facing a crisis. Its students were overburdened and stressed out, juggling too much work and too many demands.

In the previous school year, 120 middle and high school students were recommended for mental health assessments; 40 were hospitalized. And on a survey administered by the district, students wrote things like, ‘I hate going to school,’ and ‘Coming out of 12 years in this district, I have learned one thing: that a grade, a percentage or even a point is to be valued over anything else.’

With his letter, Dr. Aderhold inserted West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District into a national discussion about the intense focus on achievement at elite schools, and whether it has gone too far.

At follow-up meetings, he urged parents to join him in advocating a holistic, ‘whole child’ approach to schooling that respects ‘social-emotional development’ and ‘deep and meaningful learning’ over academics alone. The alternative, he suggested, was to face the prospect of becoming another Palo Alto, Calif., where outsize stress on teenage students is believed to have contributed to two clusters of suicides in the last six years.”

7. Harris, Sachs and Morris, Recreating the Circle, Ch. 1, Section 2 and Ch. 5, Section 2; in Daniel R. Wildcat. “Indigenizing Education: Playing to Our Strengths,” in Vine Deloria, Jr,, and Daniel Wildcat, Power and Place: Indian Education in America (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2001), pp. 12-19. Stephen M. Sachs, “Remembering the Traditional Meaning and Role of Kinship In American Indian Societies, To Overcome Problems of Favoritism In Contemporary Tribal Government,” Proceedings of the 2011 Western Social Science Association Meeting, American Indian Studies Section, in Indigenous Policy, Vol. 22, No. 2, Fall 2011; and Stephen M. Sachs, "Honoring the Circle: The Impact of American Indian Tradition on Western Political Thought and Society," Proceedings of the 2013 Western Social Science Association Meeting, American Indian Studies Section, in Indigenous Policy, Vol. 24, No. 2, Fall 2013, Section I.

8. The greater complexity and inclusiveness of Indian thinking and approaches to problems is shown in the discussion of the application of the Indigenous Leadership Interactive System (ILIS) in Harris, Sachs and Morris, Recreating the Circle , Ch. 4, Part 1, with direct comments about the greater complexity on pp. 247 and 248, and 274 n50 and n51.

9. On Apache ways of upbringing and rites of passage, including the Women's Puberty Rite, see James L. Haley, Apaches: A History and Cultural Portrait (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), pp. 130-141; and Michael Melody, The Apache (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989), Ch. 3.

10. Reflecting the change away from community concern for the behavior of its children, in the 1970s and 1980s, Stephen Sachs asked several older people in different U.S. cities he visited how life had changed since they were young. Consistently, a central part of the answer was that when they were young, if they did something wrong, a neighbor would often see it and tell their parents, who would confront them, and often punish them about it. But the elders said this did not happen regularly anymore.

11. From the work of Jean Piaget, for example see, The child's conception of physical causality (London: Kegan Paul, 1930); To understand is to invent: The future of education (New York: Grossman Publishers, 1973; Six psychological studies (New York: Random House, 1967); Science of education and the psychology of the child (New York: Orion Press, 1970); Intellectual evolution from adolescence to adulthood (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1977); and The Equilibration of Cognitive Structures: The Central Problem of Intellectual Development (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985). On Erick Erikson's developing his theory of stages of human child development, completed in the 1950s, from observing Oglala Lakota and Yurok child rearing practices, see: Emory Dean Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield, Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World: 15,000 Years of Inventions and Innovations ( New York: Facts on File Library of American History , 2001), p. 100-101; and Robert Coles, Erik H. Erikson: The Growth of His Work (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1970).

12. Scott L. Pratt, Native Pragmatism: Rethinking the Roots of American Philosophy (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,2002) .

13. John Dewey, Schools for Tomorrow (Boston: Heath, 1906) p. 199.

14. Author Stephen Sachs was a student at Putney from 1953-56, and his experience there is the core of the discussion of Putney. Sachs has remained interested in the school, and undertook research in 1991-92 for an article, "The Putney School: John Dewey is Alive and Well in Southern Vermont," Democracy and Education, Spring 1992. The discussion of Putney here us an update of that article with additional research in fall 2015 and spring 2016. Many thanks are due to Alison McRae (a member of the Putney School Board of Trustees) at the Putney Alumni office for updated information as of January, 1992. The Putney School website contains a great deal of information about the school, and was one of the research sources: http://www.putneyschool.org. Thus this discussion of Putney focuses on three periods, 1953-56, 1991-92, and 2014-16. For more details, contact the Putney School, 418 Houghton Brook Road, Putney, VT 05346-8675, (802) 387-5566.

Looking beyond the 2014-16 period, the Putney Post, Spring 2016, and discussions by author Stephen Sachs with Putney staff in June 2016, reflected the school's continuing innovativeness in seeking to improve its operation and better achieve its goals. As Don Cuerdon, "Moving from 'Chair Time' to Competency in Defining Putney Graduates," Putney Post, Spring 2016, noted, since early in public education in the U.S., under the Carnegie Unit System, requirements for graduation had been established according to the time spent on certain topics or activities, leaving competencies developed by students as the variable. Putney was now seeking to develop a viable policy to "standardize what kids learn, and let time be the variable:" (p. 16) to set minimum graduation requirements based on competencies actually attained, rather than on time spent engaged on a topic, with testing on occasion, that might not accurately assess competency. The new academic program, planned to be launched in 2017, would increase student ownership of their academic work, providing greater flexibility to meet the divergent needs of different students.

15. In 1991-92, 42% percent, and in 2015, 43%, of the students received at least some scholarship assistance including a reduction in fees for faculty children. Diversity is not as great as the school would wish, largely for two reasons: first, the limited size of the school's endowment and other sources of financial aid money to cover the tuition, which in 2015 covered about 70% of the cost of a Putney education. At that time, full tuition was $52,900 a year for boarding students and $32,800 for day students. Second, the high academic standards have made it difficult for some potentially interested students from minority backgrounds and disadvantaged education to be able to qualify academically. Thus the Putney student body, compared to the United States as a whole, is over representative of higher income and better education backgrounds. That, plus its ability to have small classes and a low student to faculty ratio, contributes to its success. However, the success of John Dewey's democratic education in Gary Public schools in the early Twentieth Century attests to the viability of applying the principles that Putney follows in less advantaged settings. Further evidence of this is given in Miller, What Are Schools For?.

16. Quoted in Jan Emlen, "Pulling Civilization Up: A Sampling of Putney's World Caretakers," Putney Post, Summer, 1991, p. 5.  

17. Head of the Putney School, Emily Jones, "Place/Architecture/Education," Putney Post, No. 133, fall 2016. Jones discusses that what is put on the land becomes a part of it, effecting the land and everything on and in it, including the people.

The Cabin Program, and the cabins, are mentioned on the Putney web site. Details were provided by Putney Development Associate Brian Cohen, in an E-mail response, November 13, 2017, to a question about the program from Stephen Sachs.

18, Miller, What Are Schools For?, in discussing Dewey and some other educators in Ch. 6, comments that to be fully holistic and developmental of the student, more needs to be done in the spiritual aspect, which Dewey and these others do not address directly in their educational theory.  

19. The discussion of East Harlem public schools is based on information and analysis in David Osborne andTed Gaebler, Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the Public Sector (New York: Plume Books, 1993), pp. 5-8, 17-18, 93, 95-96, 100-101, 103-104, 107, 113, 148-149, 169, 267, 271, and 290, and in Hedrick Smith, Rethinking America (Random House, 1995), Ch. 6. That proper participatory management increases the performance of organizations by every measure, in comparison with hierarchically managed organizations, is discussed in Reinventing Government, especially in Chapter 9.

20. Osborne and Gabler, Reinventing Government, p. 6.

21. On the importance of parent participation and support for their children learning successfully at school see, Research Spotlight on Parental Involvement in Education: NEA Reviews of the Research on Best Practices in Education, http://www.nea.org/tools/17360.htm, accessed November 27, 2015; Parental Involvement Improves Student Achievement: When Parents Are Involved In Their Children’s Education At Home, They Do Better In School. And When Parents Are Involved In School, Children Go Farther In School—And The Schools They Go To Are Better, OEA: Ohio Education Association, http://www.ohea.org/parental-involvement, accessed November 27, 2015; and “Parental Involvement Strongly Impacts Student Achievement,” Science Daily, May 28, 2008, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080527123852.htm.

22, Osborne and Gabler, Reinventing Government, p. 271.

23. Ibid., Ch. 4, with direct reference to East Harlem schools on p. 113.

24. Miller, What Are Schools For? discusses a number of educational movements from abroad that have been applied in the United States.

25. See, David L Kirp. "Make School a Democracy," The New York Times, February 28, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/01/opinion/sunday/make-school-a-democracy.html?ref=todayspaper; and Fundacion Escuela Nueva: Volvamos a la Gente, http://www.escuelanueva.org/portal/en/escuela-nueva-model.html, accessed 10/18/15. the web site includes links to a number of evaluations, some of them comparative, of Escuela Nueva schools.

26. American Institutes for Research, Study of Deeper Learning: Opportunities and Outcomes, September 24, 2014, http://www.air.org/project/study-deeper-learning-opportunities-and-outcomes.

27. "Theory of Change," Fundacion Escuela Nueva: Volvamos a la Gente, http://www.escuelanueva.org/portal/en/escuela-nueva-model.html.

28, Ibid.

29. "Components," Fundacion Escuela Nueva: Volvamos a la Gente, http://www.escuelanueva.org/portal/en/escuela-nueva-model.html.

30. Kirp. "Make School a Democracy."

31. Ibid .

32. Ibid.

33. Ibid.

34. Stephen Sachs, Joseph Farah and Richard Frisbie, "Large Systems Non Violent Change in U.S. Public Schools: The View from Indianapolis," Organization Development Journal, Vol. 12, No. 4, Winter 1994. Stephen Sachs was a participant in the process, and witnessed some of the related events during and after this article was written that are included here in the discussion of attempted change at IPS. The Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee web site is at: http://indygipc.org.

35. For example, see John Simmons and William Mares, Working Together (New York: Albert A. Knopf, 1983); and Dave Francis and Don Young, Improving Work Groups: A Practical Manuel for Team Building (San Diego: University Associates, Inc. 1979).

36. For example, see Gretchen Reynolds, “Brawn and Brains,” The New York Times, November 18, 2015 5:40 am, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/18/brawn-and-brains/?ref=todayspaper&_r=0.

37. The Hobart Shakespeareans, produced by, and available from PBS: http://www.pbs.org/pov/hobart/, where one can watch the trailer. Thanks to Janet Jordan of Albuquerque for information about the film and the school.

38. Hedrick Smith, Rethinking America (Random House, 1995), Part Two; and Nelson D. Schwatz, "Where Factory Apprenticeship Is Latest Model From Germany," The New York Times, November 30, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/01/business/where-factory-apprenticeship-is-latest-model-from-germany.html?ref=us (and print edition December 1, 2013, pp. 1-30).  

39. The extent to which institutions of higher learning have employed the top down imparting of knowledge model have varied according to the traditions of the institution, the academic field, sometimes the academic department, and the teacher or instructor. Professional schools, for example, while they may employ lectures, also include practical, often apprenticeship work, as with student nurses and teachers. Vocational schools usually have a strong hands on participatory element in having students learn through doing. Also, though class room relations might vary, some fields are by nature more participatory as they inherently involve learning by doing, such as in painting and sculpting (as opposed to art appreciation, which may, but usually does not, involve the students trying out the artistic techniques of masters or schools). Certainly, many colleges and universities, to varying degrees, have used dialoguing methods, as, for example has St. Johns Liberal Arts program, mentioned below. As a student and a professor at several institutions, Stephen Sachs noted that some departments took a uniform view to at least some testing, which influenced the method of instruction, and others did not, while individual instructors varied in their styles of teaching, and the kinds of relations they encouraged in their classes.  

40. “Learning at St. John’s: A Liberal Arts Education,” Saint John’s College, http://www.sjc.edu/academic-programs/, accessed November 27, 2015.

41. For more on learning simulations, with discussion of some of the simulations referred to here, see, Stephen Sachs, "The Uses and Limits of Simulation in Teaching Social Sciences and History,” Social Studies, Vol X, No. 2, 1973.

42. Harvey A. Hurst, “Penn Students Would Rather Play ‘The Game’ Than Eat,” The Indiana Teacher, Winter, 1969.

43. Stephen M. Sachs, “Bringing the Case into the Class Room: or One Up on Simulation,” Social Science Record, Vo; X, No. 2, 1973.

44. Author Stephen Sachs was involved in both the earlier and later IUPUI discussions reported here on developing bridging courses to make undergraduate education more holistic.

45. Richard Perez-Pena, “Colleges Reinvent Classes to Keep More Students in Science,” The New York Times, December 26, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/27/us/college-science-classes-failure-rates-soar-go-back-to-drawing-board.html?ref=todayspaper  

46. Brian D. Lane, “Visualization in the Managerial Decision Making Process” (Williams Bay, WI, 15 th Organization Development Information Exchange, 1985). See also, David Meir, “Whole Brain Accelerated Learning” (Williams Bay, WI, 15 th Organization Development Information Exchange, 1985). Both papers were briefly reported on in Stephen M. Sachs, “Education for Workplace and Economic Democracy” (Boston: International Conference on the Politics of Economic Democracy, International Sociology Association, Research Group 10, 1987).

47. Hiroko Tabuchi, "Stores Suffer From a Shift of Behavior in Buyers," The New York Times, August 13, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/14/business/economy/stores-suffer-from-a-shift-of-behavior-in-buyers.html . Perhaps a mixed blessing, the surveys cited in this article also showed smart phone sales were also up. These are certainly experiential, and a communication device. Moreover, their access to the internet expands access to information and ideas which is helpful for participatory democracy, But, studies also show that too many in the U.S. and elsewhere are too often replacing actual with virtual experience, including texting rather than having direct face to face interaction (For example, see Kids Health from Nemours, 2013, http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/family/tv_affects_child.html; and Ravichandran, Padma and Brandel France de Bravo, MPH, “Young Children and Screen Time (Television, DVDs, Computer).” National Research Center for Women and Families, http://center4research.org/child-teen-health/early-childhood-development/young-children-and-screen-time-television-dvds-computer/, 2012.

48. Emily Jones, "Letter from the Head of the School," The Putney Post, Fall 2017, p. 25; and Brian D. Cohen, "Progressive Threads: Putney's Legacy Through the Schools It Inspired," The Putney Post, Fall 2017, pp. 14-18.

49. IDEA: Institute for Democratic Education in America, http://www.democraticeducation.org/index.php/democratic-education/, accessed March 14, 2018; and the journal, Democracy in Education, https://democracyeducationjournal.org/home/.

50. This included Jim Charles, Associate Dean of the School of Education at USC-Upstate, who can be contacted at: jcharles@uscupstate.edu.

Refbacks

  • There are currently no refbacks.