Arthurdale, the first New Deal resettlement community instituted by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had the unique opportunity of becoming a part of a specialized educational experience in curriculum planning and implementation primarily during the years of 1934-1938. With support from the government that was provided in part from Eleanor Roosevelt and other contributors, the Arthurdale schools participated in an educational plan based on the pedagogical philosophies of John Dewey known as "progressive education." Aiding in the design and management of the curriculum was Elsie Clapp, a former graduate assistant of Dewey's from Columbia University. When the experience originally took place within the Arthurdale schools, very little research and experimentation had been conducted on Dewey's approach within the context of a small, rural community. Most of his ideologies had been developed within the confines of his New York lab schools, and the Arthurdale experiment was a first effort to apply his tenets to a rural community on a large scale.
The primary objective of this study was to examine the effects of this curriculum many years after it had occurred through the reflections of those that had been part of this project, and to identify those areas of curriculum and instruction that had impacted the participants significantly in terms of lifelong educational experiences.
The curriculum at the Arthurdale schools was based on the educational philosophies of John Dewey and was seen by some as a successful attempt in school reform. Elsie Ripley Clapp, the first principal at the Arthurdale schools, attempted to relate conscious educational experiences to a system of democratic values known as the pedagogy of "social consciousness." Clapp's organization of two schools, the Roger Clark Ballard Memorial School in Kentucky and the Arthurdale community Schools in Arthurdale, West Virginia, endeavored to bring to fruition Clapp's interpretation of John Dewey's tenets of "creative democracy" in education (Stack, 1995). These projects operated from the following three philosophic assumptions:
* A democratic philosophy of life must dominate all of the activities constituting the curriculum and other phases of the school program.
* Democracy and freedom result from one's own initiative and resourcefulness.
* Individual differences must be respected (Irwin, 1985).
The Arthurdale schools were praised as a progressive community school that fostered the success of community cooperation (Parker, 1992). According to Skilbeck (1970), John Dewey's curriculum theory of "progressive education" and educational "social consciousness" were based on the following criteria:
(1) the interests and learning capacities of the individual child
(2) the child's life history and experience
(3) a generalized, scientific method of inquiry
(4) different types of subject matter
(5) social context
(6) democratic values.
Although Dewey believed that the focus of the curriculum should be on the individualized powers of the child, he also felt that these needs should be coordinated with the needs of the community to achieve some "social end" (Kliebard, 1970). To accomplish this, Dewey suggested that the curriculum should develop critical thinking and reflective inquiry skills through basic social activities or occupational work. He also maintained that the school subjects should be related by thematic topics, or "integrated," to provide for a more holistic and thorough learning of the child (Dewey, 1915).
The purpose of this study was to gain information on those educational philosophies and strategies that were implemented in the Arthurdale Community Schools during the years 1934-1938 after the participants that were involved in this curriculum plan had many years to reflect on their experiences within the school.
An interview design was employed in an oral history approach that was used to gain reflective responses that were then transcribed, coded, and stratified to identify general categories and patterns that were pertinent to refining those interpretations. This study was IRB approved with the participants consenting to the use of their given names, their personal information, and for the use of audiotaping.
The following questions were focused on during the interview process:
(1) Tell me about your school experience while enrolled in the Arthurdale schools.
(2) What are some special activities that you remember participating in while in school?
(3) What was involved in the progressive approach that was used in the schools at that time?
(4) Tell me about the school rules and the disciplinary methods that were used if you can recall them.
(5) What kinds of lessons did the teachers use?
(6) Was the school effective educationally using this approach? Why or why not?
A coding system for categorizing responses was used which was based on segments of the interview that focused on the keywords: administrators, activities, discipline, lessons/class, effectiveness, approach/philosophy, teachers, community and Roosevelts. A constant comparative approach to generate themes was used that involved analyzing data, formulating categories, recognizing patterns, making preliminary interpretations, and constantly refining those interpretations throughout the study.
The subjects for this case study consisted of the following six participants who were present within the Arthurdale schools during the years 1934-1938:
1. Lucille--a former English and Social Studies teacher who taught at Arthurdale High School during the years 1936-1938.
2. Joseph--a former student in the Arthurdale schools who graduated from Arthurdale High School in 1936 and had attended from its opening in 1934.
3. Annabelle--a former student in the Arthurdale schools who graduated from Arthurdale High School in 1938 and had attended from its opening in 1934.
4. Jetty--a former student in the Arthurdale schools who graduated from Arthurdale High School in 1939 and had attended from its opening in 1934.
5. James--a former student in the Arthurdale schools who graduated from Arthurdale High School in 1939 and had attended from 1937.
6. Pauline--a former student in the Arthurdale schools who graduated from Arthurdale High School in 1939 and had attended from 1938.
From the data obtained through the audio taped interviews, these findings were found to be present within the subjects' reflective voices from the Arthurdale schools whom attended during the experience in progressive education that had occurred during the years 1934-1938.
The Progressive Curriculum and Philosophical Approach
For the first two years of the Arthurdale Community Schools' progressive approach, John Dewey was on the School Board, and it was said that Elsie Ripley Clapp frequently consulted with him on decisions and policy-making. Although it was stated that Dewey was present in Arthurdale on at least one occasion, no record can be found to validate that visit except for oral accounts. Annabelle remembered Dewey's visitations, "There's a lot of times that he came in, and it wasn't public knowledge. You didn't read it in the paper or anything. Mrs. Roosevelt did influence people to come and see what was going on".
Lucille, a teacher who arrived at Arthurdale High School directly from being schooled at West Virginia University and upon the departure of Elsie Clapp in 1936, described the curriculum approach that was used in the schools under E. Grant Nine, the new principal, "We had been schooled in John Dewey's philosophy of education. To learn by doing. In other words, John Dewey's philosophy was to present a problem and then to integrate all of your various subjects in solving the problem."
Upon inquiry into the nature of the procedures when integrating the curriculum, Lucille stated that the teachers would discover student interests through a general consensus then report these in teacher meetings. After discussing these interest items, the plan would be approved by the principal, "then you would report how you did it." She explained that the teachers were closely supervised and that on-going, daily diaries were read by the school principals, Elsie Clapp and Grant Nine. This procedure helped to keep communications clear between the teachers and administrators, "We had a lot of conferences with Mr. Nine, our principal. We wrote everything we did almost and handed that in every week. We reported on every class."
Several of the students also recalled their impressions of the "integrated" curriculum of the Arthurdale schools and Annabelle gave an example of a lesson, "Our math teacher and our shop teacher got together and decided we should make transits and survey the area that they were going to put the new highway in. And this was fun because in our science class we also made the transit and the leg length of the transit. So it was a combination of the three classes just to do that project. And then in our literature class we studied Columbus and then we also had chorus and we learned ballads and that kind of song--so those two worked together and we did a lot of that outside when weather permitted so that we could shout as loud as we needed and not disturb anyone."
An atmosphere of "choice" found within the Arthurdale schools may have also added to less traditional behaviors on the part of the students, particularly the females. Annabelle remembered that she took three years of shop, electrical wiring, mechanics and woodworking that was the backs on the nature of the program, many of the residents were very satisfied with the results that were achieved through pro-choice of many females. Jetty relayed that at that time, females taking gym was highly unusual, "Girls taking physical education and taking a shower, you know, that was different."
Others may have found the emphasis on vocational education a bit limiting. Jim stated, "I understand their approach, don't get me wrong. I think their approach was that we would probably remain in the vicinity and these things would be of benefit to us for an occupation." Many of the Arthurdale students went on to become professionals, and some encountered difficulties in gaining admittance into higher education because Arthurdale High School was not accredited during the progressive years. Elsie Clapp had made an arrangement with the president of West Virginia University that Arthurdale students could be admitted despite this fact, but other institutions made the Arthurdale students take extra classes. Some of the students stated that they were unaware of this arrangement at the time and were unpleasantly surprised when they discovered that the state had not acknowledged their curriculum even though it as being supervised by members of the presidential staff.
Joe described the organization of the high school that evidently had no grade separation for possibly the first two years, "I was in a class with Mr. Ipcar. He had Social Studies, I guess it was. Anyhow, we had to write an essay or something. I wrote an essay about how none of the high school students knew what grade they were in--Freshman, Sophomore, Junior or Senior."
Another feature of the curriculum was a greater variety and diversity of the classes offered there that sometimes strayed from traditionalism. Jetty stated, "I thought the variety of classes that was offered was special. It opened up a broader spectrum to me. There were other subjects and here's a little taste of this one and this one and this one. Now you choose. Hands-on did help." Others, such as Jim, possibly found the curriculum classes too diversified at times. He stated, "The emphasis was on things that could be used immediately. For instance, shop was heavy. I don't think we had any math. I wouldn't have taken rock-gardening if I would have had a choice."
Although others do remember math classes, some students may have been unaware that there was an "academic" track and a "commercial" track involved in class choices, particularly for late-coming students to the program such as Jim, who did not arrive into the community until 1937.
Some of the students also discussed that they were unaware that their education was any different from other schools and that many who attended may have been unaware of the philosophy of John Dewey as the curricular concepts were not discussed with the students. Annabelle stated, "Actually, I just don't think we were interested in finding that out. We were happy with what we were doing." Joe also explained, "Mrs. Roosevelt had a meeting with the homesteaders to see if they were agreeable to have that kind of education, and everybody agreed. But after it was all set up and everybody started to school, some families pulled their kids out and sent them down to Masontown (the adjoining town) because they didn't care for the idea, and they were some of the leaders in the community too."
Yet, despite possible communication set- the nature of the program, many of the gressive education. Annabelle stated, "Now, we had a few people that said we weren't learning anything, but we did learn because it wasn't the conventional type of schooling. And it was things that we could use after school was over, after high school." Jetty added, "I believe that they understood that some of us needed a different type of education, not structured as other schools. Because if you bring a lot of children from the places that we come from, we were not fortunate enough to have some of the greater things for education or even the parents to teach the children. Other children had the advantage, I believe."
Lessons and Activities
The lessons and classroom activities within the Arthurdale schools were sometimes a combination of both seatwork and hands-on activities. Annabelle described the atmosphere of the school during the progressive education years, "It was an exciting time in my life. We enjoyed our classes and never really wanted to be absent because we were afraid we'd miss out on something exciting that was going on. We did have textbooks for part of our classes, but most of it was hands-on experience. I know of times where we waded snow almost to our waist to go to school. We didn't always know what we were going to do in our classes the next day because maybe that day you decided to stay home was a day they decided to have a play. You would lose out on part of the planning, and you didn't want to do that because we were always part of the planning for activities."
Many of the students described the plays and Christmas pageants that usually occurred once a month in Arthurdale wherein not only students but teachers, parents and other community members would participate. This was also an era in which few of the residents even had radios to entertain themselves so the plays brought a sense of artistry and enjoyment to the community. Joe explained his experience, "I wasn't a very good actor, but I enjoyed it. Yeah, I sure did, because I was a shy fellow when I was growing up. That was one out, I guess." Several plays were mentioned that were produced by the students such as Captain of the Pinafore, Sweet Molly from Pike, and the first Christmas Pageant in which the costumes were supplied from Mrs. Roosevelt's wealthy friends from a New York theatre.
Another frequently mentioned activity was the participation on the basketball team, an activity that involved many of the students. The gym at the Arthurdale Community Center was said to be the largest floor-space in Preston County (West Virginia) so many competing teams would arrive. Besides being on the team, Joe, whose family owned a second-hand car, was frequently a driver of the players to games, "I could remember going down 92 to Newberg and the road was not paved then. It had rained and so we got stuck. We had to get out and push the car. Yeah."
Within class, Joe stated that, although at times there were paperwork assignments, in many instances, group decisions were made on the creation of projects and assignments by the students. He described a teacher's method of accomplishing this, "He would give you a theme or whatever you want to call it, okay? What we gonna work on, what we gonna talk about? What we gonna act on? What we gonna say? Then the students would give their ideas of what to put into it, see? Then we put all, took out, put up, took out some of the ideas, put in some ideas, put it all together and then that was it."
Other lessons and class activities that the students remember include tie-dying in art class, lessons in the social graces, the printing of community newsletters, developing photographs in the darkroom, landscaping rock gardens, tumbling and climbing in physical education, botany, sewing, weaving, pottery and various kinds of shop classes ranging from wood-working to electrical wiring. Several of the students, such as Pauline, mentioned the training they received in typing and shorthand classes.
Teachers and Administrators
In describing the first school principal, Elsie Clapp, several of the students commented on her positive administrative qualities in not only organizing the school but many of the affairs of the community. Annabelle explained, "She was a disciplinarian. There is no doubt about it. She knew what she wanted done and she knew how to accomplish it. She wasn't just a school principal. She was really an overseer of the whole community--activity wise. This was her baby. And she was interested in not just the one's in school, but the one's too young at home and the one's that thought they had gone as far as they needed to go and were just hanging around." When Annabelle skipped school on one occasion, she was sent to Miss Clapp's home, where the administrator "made you realize that she was your friend, and she was here to help us." Joe described Elsie Clapp as "tall and husky--she wore a band across her head and she would go too. She wasn't a young lady either." He also said she was "strict," and on one occasion when some of the boys had gone to an adjoining town to visit a woman known as Mammy Four Eyes. "She used to sell homemade brew, see? So Miss Clapp got wind of it, see? She went down there and told them to get on home. That's the truth." Jim described E. Grant Nine, the school principal from 1936-1938, "I think we always felt that he was an important minister. I don't know if he had any ministerial training or not, but he was a good man. He was a sincere man. He wasn't outgoing however--he was pretty well an introvert so you didn't get to know him that well really." Jetty also described him, "He was a wonderful person. He was in his office all the time and if a kid got sent to the office, well, he'd give him a little talk. He come out in the lunchroom sometimes when we were eating lunch. Not pushy, but always a smile on his face and willing to talk if you wanted to ask him a question."
From the Arthurdale student descriptions, it seems that, for the most part, discipline problems at the Arthurdale schools were almost nonexistent. Jim explained, "I think their selective system of choosing the people that came to Arthurdale probably got a good grade of people. We just naturally got along together. I don't remember too much high school discipline because I don't think it was needed. There was one situation. It was the history teacher, Mr. Wilson, wanted to discipline one of the boys, and the boy was trying to unscrew one of the table legs because he was going to use it on the teacher. It frightened most of us, I think, because something like that would happen right in our midst."
The Influence of the Roosevelts
The influence and the support of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt may have added substantially to the success of the Arthurdale schools and this first experiment of the homestead community. Arthurdale was said to be Mrs. Roosevelt's favorite social project, and she and the president made every effort to provide the community with all of the extra funds that were necessary for its growth, including eliciting funds from wealthy contributors. Annabelle reflected, "She came every month, sometimes even oftener. No one knew she was coming most of the time. She'd just appear, and have a friend go with her and just take off for Arthurdale or wherever she wanted to go. She was quite a familiar figure in our area, and she brought many, many people to observe and to see what we were learning and what we were doing." At times, Mrs. Roosevelt would enter the classroom with observers and proceed to view the activities. Joe stated, "She came to school in the classes, I was in with Mr. Ipcar. And I forget what we were studying, economics or something like that, and we'd been talking about it before and he wanted to know "Why do we have money?" I knew the answer, and I was stumblin', "Why do we have money?" I finally got the answer out."
Besides visiting Arthurdale frequently where she was notorious for square dancing to the Virginia Reel on Saturday nights at the town Community Center, for several years, Eleanor Roosevelt invited each graduating class to the White House for lunch where the class of 1938 did a square dance on the White House lawn. For approximately twelve years, she was the commencement speaker at Arthurdale High School and handed out the graduation certificates. Franklin Roosevelt was the commencement speaker for the graduating class of 1938 while he was still president, giving a national address over the radio from Arthurdale. Eleanor Roosevelt also took a personal interest in getting the graduates jobs in Washington, D.C. Jim stated, "I was the gopher boy at the Arthurdale Inn during her visits. I fired the furnace and washed the dishes and killed the chickens for her for lunches and so forth. As a matter of fact, she got me a job in Washington--later. I spent three years working there, and each year they would remember us and invite us to the White House to eat." The specialized treatment from the President Roosevelt and First Lady from being their favorite "community project" may have greatly added to the successes that were achieved in the initial flourishment of Arthurdale.
The Arthurdale Community
The Arthurdale schools were a centralized focal point for the Arthurdale community in which many group gatherings and activities took place such as community theatrics, dances and craft making. Joe stated, "See, here we didn't have any school buses, we had to walk to school or anywhere we wanted to go. And the roads weren't paved in here. So that's part of the reason too probably so much was going on in the community, because you couldn't get out of the community that easy." Annabelle continued, "In school, all parents were welcome to come and watch what we were doing. They were involved at night, not every night, say one or two nights a week maybe in activities we were learning in school like the Virginia Reel and things like that that we were taught, and they also came and participated. We were encouraged to do many projects that involved our parents and other members of the community." Joe added, "All the kids were very congenial, and nobody was an outsider, and that's the same way with the people that came here. 'Cause they all came from awful surroundings, terrible surroundings. I mean, terrible living conditions."
Lucille described the role of the teacher within the Arthurdale community. "You had to live in the community. We did something in the community almost every night. It was either a woman's club or a square dance or something up at the weaving room or something you participated in. You participated in all the community activities. You were just sort of a part of a family. I did something in the community every night. It wasn't just a day job."
The Effectiveness of the Progressive Curriculum
For the most part, the subjects interviewed felt that the progressive curriculum used in the Arthurdale schools had been "beneficial" to them as Pauline attested. Joe reflected, "Well, for me, I think it was the thing for me, because I was so backward and never asked questions or anything like that, see? This way we all worked together. If we wrote a play, everybody would give their idea, what to put in it."
Jetty stated, "I grasped a larger feel for the subjects than I would in a more structured school. It opened up a broader spectrum to me. Once you are introduced to a subject, you could go to the library yourself if you had the initiative."
Annabelle added, "It made you more of a motivated person. It gave me a sense of knowing that I could do something. Here--I felt secure. I felt that there was a tomorrow. And it was one that I would enjoy."
Yet, despite the successes of the Arthurdale schools during these years, the curriculum gradually became that of the traditional one that was typical of most of the schools in Preston County, West Virginia. Many of the residents were unaware of the reasons for curriculum decisions that were made, and according to several of the subjects did not wish to be "different" than the school systems in neighboring counties. Besides this, the excess funding that was contributed by the Roosevelts could not continue in the long-term, and there were state accreditation difficulties.
Joe may have said it best in describing the high spirits and hopeful attitudes of those students who were involved in the progressive curriculum during those initial years of the Arthurdale Community Project, "All the kids were very congenial, and we always used to go to different places. We used to go to Tiger Dam down Grafton, a carload of us, you know, up at Cooper's Rock before they put the roads in. And we used to have a lot of fun. Oh, we used to go to these different joints around, like where they had a jukebox and dance to the jukebox. It only took a nickel."
The findings from this study suggest that, for many of the subjects, the progressive education curriculum at the Arthurdale schools during the years 1934-1938 was highly successful in the integrated, project-oriented approach that was taken, and its progressive curriculum benefited those students who were a part of this plan. Several of the participants stated that the experience had changed them innately and, in the long-term, had enabled them to become more confident and involved in life-long learning processes.
Several factors may have contributed to the gradual replacement of the progressive curriculum with more traditional approaches. The changing of administrators, the lack of communication with the community on educational matters, lack of initial funds, difficulties with accreditation, a community desire for "normalness," and the influx of new residents who were not original homesteaders all may have contributed to the replacement of progressive paradigm to a traditional curriculum. At that time, the term "progressive" also became unpopular and was associated with the concept of socialism, far-removed from Dewey's philosophy of education that involved primarily a democratic approach.
Yet, the conditions for success at the Arthurdale Community Schools were near to ideal in many areas and suggest that the theories of John Dewey can still be highly successful in the classroom if procedures are implemented properly. The small student numbers in the classes, extra funding, highly-credentialed administrators and educators and the tremendous support from parents, community, and from the First Family allowed the Arthurdale schools to be remembered with gratitude and appreciation for the excellent learning strategies that were passed along and remembered by students over sixty years later.
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Kliebard, H.(1987). The Struggle for the American Curriculum; 1893-1958. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Parker, F. (1991) "Arthurdale (WV), Its Community School, And Director Elsie Ripley Clapp (1879-1965): First New Deal Subsistence Homestead Program (1933-48)." Report: ERIC Reproduction Service: 342 718.
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Stack, S. (1995) "Elsie Ripley Clapp And Progressive Education." From A New Deal for America: Proceedings from a National Conference on New Deal Communities. Arthurdale, WV: Arthurdale Heritage, Inc.
MARY WUENSTEL, ED.D. Duquesne University 186 Plymouth Street, #1 Pittsburgh, PA 15211…