Participants in the Arthurdale Community Schools' Experiment in Progressive Education from the Years 1934-1938 Recount Their Experiences

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

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.

LITERATURE REVIEW

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).

METHODOLOGY

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. …