An Experimental School

A Study Of A Possible Renewal Of Public Education

The Twin Parks School - C.S. 234 and C.S. 129, The Bronx, N.Y.


As I collected and prepared the writings which form this book I realized that they are an offering to everyone interested in education, for at least these reasons:

·      They give evidence that there has been and perhaps there still is at least one Experimental School in the United States.

·      They will confirm that a complex, decisive educational adventure can be set up, started and pursued by a relatively small number of educators who are determined to do something and clear about what they engage in.

They will be testimony to the possibility of getting things done quickly which ordinarily would require lengthy processes and red tape. Indeed, so many hurdles were removed because the proposal was attractive to many people in all sorts of positions who wanted to see such a school in operation and learn what was possible from it, that in only four months the school was under way.

The plan for the book was dictated by the desire to serve as many readers as possible and to offer enough documentation to assist those who might wish to undertake a project related to the one that made it possible to have a public school as an Experimental School in New York City. Of the whole story of this educational experiment certain of the parts are interesting in themselves and have an appeal for educators with specialized needs — administrators, researchers, people interested in bilingual education or in eradicating illiteracy in their schools.

Part I, The Birth of an Institution, will let people know how such a project can be nurtured and brought into being. It should be of special interest to superintendents and school boards.

Part II describes seminars, one for the training of teachers and one for the professors who observed the project. It should interest teachers of teachers as well as teachers of children.

Part III contains the reports of some of the consultants from Educational Solutions who worked in the school. When it is seen that so few people could contribute so much in a short time, the economy of this way of working becomes evident.

Part IV (Appendices) contains all of the proposals and documents related to the funding and approval of the project, as well as papers written by me and others on various occasions in response to challenges we met while working at the school. It seems important to remind readers that such writings were not theoretical, but were a way of working by responding to problems on the spot with all of the resources we could muster.

Our thanks to all those who made the Twin Parks School into a most exciting experiment and made it possible for so many educators to learn so much in such a short time.


When over many years as an educator I asked the question, “How can we really bring about change in education?” different answers came my way. At a given time the answer was what it was because of the school system I was contemplating, or because of the level of my understanding of the question, or because of which problem had been solved since I last considered it.

The present answer took almost 36 years to emerge. Over the years I have come to see:

1    that only if I could manage to express an answer in terms of perception and action would anyone reach it; ideas in verbal terms lead to confusion and soon become political issues,

2   that demonstrations, not lectures, convince people,

3 that when one is moved one can act and justify the action inwardly,

4   that people’s own interest is the prime mover in their lives and that change follows the perception that one’s best interest is best served by that change,

5    that a too narrow solution cannot be acceptable to enough people to produce a noticeable change and a too vague solution, though accepted by many is not effective, but that a precise formulation of a specific meeting of a well-grasped broad challenge could bring together enough people to be sufficiently sure of the consequences of the change to want it and work for it.

6   that such a position would be available if we learned how technically to subordinate teaching to learning in specific fields like mathematics, reading, spelling, etc.,

7   that to subordinate teaching to learning in any field meant we must produce a shift in emphasis from knowledge and memorization to knowing, the process of learning, which would place the focus of teaching where it belonged, on the powers of students rather than on the body of information one wished them to assimilate,

8   that once the effectiveness of the subordination is known in any one area no one would refuse to apply it in other areas if technically feasible,

9 that soon the people who benefit from the techniques of the subordination want to know why they are effective and thus are ready to know just what is the nature of those mental powers they see at work in their charges,

10 that however demanding this shift from knowledge to knowing, from memorization to structuring, people seem to need to understand more deeply where the springs of knowing are,

11 at that stage they may find the obvious: that only awareness is educable in man and that the baby and the very young child in each of us knew it and used this awareness spontaneously in all the learning which remains with us all through life. That means that the best teacher every one of us had was himself, and,

12 that the only true education is self-education.

To remain in contact with one’s awareness — though the birthright of every child — becomes the privilege of only a few as we grow in an environment where our energies are demanded for activities which do not let us keep that contact. To maintain from babyhood the contact with one’s powers, the subordination of teaching to learning is a workable tool. But for educators to make awareness the privilege of each of us at any age we need to understand that they must have a new awareness of their own which allows them to have criteria for what is human in each of us.

Since to live is to consume time and the wise ones among us are those who have exchanged the given time for the “most valuable” experiences, we are confronted with the question who is to define these most valuable experiences. If we decide to leave the definition up to each of us we may run away from an educator’s duty. By taking it upon ourselves we may equally trespass. But by noting the qualities of the spontaneous use of time by each person of whatever age, we may become what somebody is doing with himself at any moment and at the same time take the learner beyond what he might live in the normal course of life in the street or at home.

Because we subordinate teaching to learning we do not risk losing what children do with themselves all the time and are ready for, and, also because we want to go beyond chance opportunities we recognize the place of the responsibility of the grown-ups in education. We humanize education by not letting preconceived ends affect the relationship between grownups and children, essentially a person-to-person relationship lived from day-to-day.

The demands on teachers of this humanization of education are great in the beginning, for most teachers are more interested in their own lives and ideas and at first find it very hard to look at people in a different phase of life as having vital jobs to perform. Until one opens one’s eyes the concerns and activities of children do not seem vital, but once one’s eyes are opened, the lives of others become qualitatively as rich and interesting as one’s own; for now it is clear that the change of time into experience is a continuous process that goes on from the start of life up to the end, for most.

The humanization of education begins to be realized when teachers, seeing man’s conquest of knowledge as the work of his awareness, express every learning in terms of awareness. This places the responsibility of learning squarely on the students who will be the authorities for knowing when skills have become a part of themselves and whether or not they can use them. The teacher’s responsibilities no longer rest in the transmission of knowledge, but are those of a challenger who offers an invitation to people he knows have some equipment, to extend their awarenesses of it by being involved in certain activities he chooses to bring to them, activities that would not come their way otherwise.

Awareness of the whole content of the universe involves awareness of awareness. Educators must reach this awareness so they can be independent of authorities and theories and meet each person and each opportunity singularly. Unless there is a glimpse of what awareness of the awareness is, the humanization of education remains a slogan.

No one can pretend to be aware of awareness. One must own the power if he wants to use it. It follows then that a school aiming at humanizing education will show only as much proof of its work as it actually achieves and will be unable to use a show window to fool anyone.

Since to my knowledge there was no place on earth where it was possible to learn about humanizing education, where educators could learn by themselves making their own mistakes and without pretense to infused knowledge or omniscience, I thought that the concept of an “Experimental School” could be the answer.

Francis Bacon almost 400 years ago clearly saw that to meet the unknown one must give it a chance to strike one’s awareness. An experiment is a deliberate move of a person towards letting the unknown be met. After the experiment one can say, “this goes like that.”

In recent times, however, experiments had come to be looked upon as ways to test the correctness of hunches. In education, experiments were means for eliminating one opinion after another, as inadequate in their simplicity, for the meeting of demands of such a complex activity. An experimental school was likely to be an ad hoc materialization of the ideas and ideals of specific people wanting to justify their vision.

To put education among the sciences, i.e., the activities of men who want to know, there was one way: open a true experimental school, with no interest in proving anything (except incidentally, if warranted), devoted to the daily study of the daily problems arising in it.

In January, 1971, I submitted to the U.S. Office of Education, “Experimental Schools” section, a paper (see Appendix 1) in which readers will see that it is possible to define an experimental school as one would a laboratory in any established science. In March, the Superintendent of District 12 in New York City called a meeting at her office in the Bronx to consider how myself and Educational Solutions, Inc. could be involved in making the Twin Parks School, a new school not yet opened, into a public school where some desirable things (early reading, for example) might happen. I told Dr. Gaines I was not interested in proving again and again that my solutions to some educational problems (math, reading, foreign languages) worked, but that I was deeply interested in showing that a public school could become a place where education could be improved because teachers were more aware of children’s powers and of their own. I offered to submit to her a proposal, which would state what such an educational experiment might be (see Appendix 3).

The course of the development of this project is a story in itself. Readers will find it in Part I, The Birth of an Institution.

As soon as it was established that Educational Solutions’ proposal was acceptable to the Community School Board of District 12, I turned to the Bureau of Personnel Development (as it was then called) of the U.S. Office of Education to suggest that the opportunity be taken to see to it that whatever there was to learn at the first experimental school in the world be learned. One way to do this was to arrange for 28 education and liberal arts college professors to study what would happen at the school through the year and report to the nation.

The Office of Education was quick to seize the opportunity and to fund the City University of New York through its Educational Research Department, under Dean Rosner, to do a job that was consonant with the established rules of research in education and with the demands of the new project.

After a few meetings in May and June at C.U.N.Y. with Dr. Rosner, Dr. Weiner and some of their associates, I proposed to assist in the recruitment of the observers by writing a document I called “The Phenomenon of a School” (see Appendix 4).

In my proposals to the district, I asked for an intensive seminar of five weeks to be held with the staff during the summer preceding the opening of the school. Considered essential by all, it took place after the usual complicated administrative procedures associated with Title I fundings. This seminar was attended by a number of observers from the C.U.N.Y. seminar and may also be reported upon in their publication. The report appears in Part II.

I had also asked in my proposals that there be a top administrator who could be relieved of all chores of running the school and be devoted to the maintenance of the spirit in all quarters. I was glad to report to the Community School Board that Mrs. Dellora Hercules, the principal of C.S. 133 in Harlem, had agreed to move from that most successful elementary school to the Twin Parks School and use her many gifts so that the Experimental School might be truly experimental. The School Board appointed her “Project Director,” leaving to all concerned the definition of her duties. Ms. Hercules invited some of her staff at C.S. 133 to apply for transfer to positions open at the new school. Three of the twenty-four teachers at C.S. 133 got transfers from District 5 to District 12, one non-tenured teacher also applied. I recommended two other names, so that in all seven people who had some contact with me and my work became part of the large new staff of the Twin Parks School.

To maintain some of the features of the Experimental School as I conceived of it, I did not take part in the selection of the principals and their assistants; nor in the interviewing of those who responded to the ad placed in April 5th and 12th, 1971, in the New York Times (nor in the writing of the ad); nor in the choice of the kind of materials to be used in the school (furniture in the libraries and labs, art and music rooms), nor for instruction; nor in deciding whether tests should be given and which; nor in the number of students in classes nor the schedule, etc. This school had to be run as all other schools in the city by its personnel and if I had a role, it was to see to it that we learned all the lessons that could be learned, and to advise those concerned of what we saw.

Educational Solutions became the consultant firm having made certain requests which were then accepted by the School Board. Since this represented on our part a decision to alter the usual structure of the school staff, it must be spelled out. The New York City schools have developed over the years a number of programs to meet the challenges of schools. One is the practice of having guidance counselors. With guidance counselors in schools teachers get used to neglecting a part of their function that is concerned with understanding problem students, by sending them to the counselors who usually treat them outside the classroom. Because in the subordination of teaching to learning it is possible to work with each individual as a person, we had to eliminate this easy way out of challenges that consisted in sending difficult students to a non-teaching teacher. I asked for the option to try to see if the teachers could manage a public school without reference to counselors, leaving open a correction of this option if the experience demanded it.

To sum up, let me put in relief the significant events which form the basis of this study:

·      A Community School in the Bronx guided by a Superintendent with a clear vision of the direction in which public education should move to meet its challenges, decided to change an as yet unopened elementary school into an Experimental School and hire as consultants Educational Solutions, Inc. to assist in the first steps.

·      A number of civil servants at the U.S. Office of Education understood the importance of such an event on the national scene and managed to fund, in spite of the squeeze and the lateness of the proposal, a professorial seminar. This seminar would report to the nation on the first attempt to educate educators by learning from mistakes in such a way as to take education from a state of routine to a state of awareness.

·      A number of teachers who were acceptable to any school in the city in terms of ordinary qualifications, and only prepared by what happened to them in the five-week summer seminar, took upon themselves to learn to work with the powers of their pupils rather than stick to their prejudices and preconceptions.

·      Administrators gave up much of what is usually considered to be their privilege in power and prestige, to become facilitators at every moment in the myriads of circumstances found in a working school and to lead the experiment with care and trepidation since the unknown was confronted more often than the known.

A consultant firm while deeply involved in all aspects of the school, remained scrupulously within the terms of a hands-off relationship to the people in the school and what they intended to do, so as to make the Experimental School teach its own lessons and not simply prove whether so and so is right or wrong.

Part I

The Birth Of An Institution

A new school opens everyday, perhaps every hour, but how many people know all that goes into the process of bringing one into being? The story I am going to tell here is the human side of the birth of C.S. 234-129, a public school in the Bronx, New York City. There is an architectural and engineering story to tell, but I shall leave the telling of it to others. At the time I entered the scene, it had already been decided to erect a two-school educational complex of a certain design on a certain site in the Bronx.

This is the story of people and institutions and their interplay in the birth of a school, a human adventure.

On February 18th, 1971, Dr. Edythe Gaines, Community Superintendent of District 12, called me on the phone and asked whether I would be interested in being associated with an elementary school in her district. She hoped I might do there something similar to what we at Educational Solutions had been doing for three years in C.S. 133M in Harlem.

My contacts with Dr. Gaines had been indirect. A year earlier she had visited C.S. 133 where we were working with teachers in the use of Words in Color and Gattegno Mathematics, and she expressed interest in what she saw. She had seen two television programs in which I was involved, the last one a few days before she called me. On one occasion she was present at a workshop that the New York City Board of Education had arranged for the benefit of the newly elected Community School Board members. I was on one of the panels and instead of lecturing, I involved the people present in an exercise with their hands leading to some mathematical awareness. Dr. Gaines on that occasion had enjoyed the variety.

When we met to talk things over, I told Dr. Gaines that I was not interested in indefinitely repeating the kind of work we had already done in public schools, but that if there were a chance of linking the opening of the school (known then in the District as the Twin Parks School or as C.S. 129) with something new that had come my way a month earlier, both our interests might be met. I said that I would submit an outline of what I saw as a project that might interest all of us.

In December 1970, Dr. Robert Binswanger was brought from the Harvard School of Education where he was a Dean, to the United States Office of Education to direct Experimental Schools, an office in whose work President Nixon was personally interested. Dr. Binswanger had been Chairman of the Board of Schools for the Future, the organization that persuaded me in 1965 to leave my new residence in Switzerland and come to live in the United States. In January, I was invited to a meeting in New York City where the Experimental Schools project was explained by Dr. Binswanger. I asked him whether I could submit a paper to him to contribute to his definition of an experiment in education. I must have seemed naive, as I was the only person at the meeting who was not a politician or concerned with money or power matters. This theoretical paper was written and sent and followed by another.

This paper (see Appendix 1) served to introduce Dr. Gaines and her colleagues to my thinking. A paper written later for Dr. Gaines (see Appendix 3) shows how the encounter of a request with a general preparation can produce a concrete proposal.

From mid-March it became clear that the involvement of Educational Solutions, Inc. with District 12 was irreversible from our part.

Negotiation of a contract for a project involving the New York City public schools had not been part of my experience and I had everything to learn. I believe that the Community School Board of District 12 also had to come to understand what it meant to talk of having the first Experimental School ever in their district. In my naiveté I trusted that what was going on in my mind was what the many people involved in the negotiations had in theirs. In fact, there were many steps we would have to go through from the moment the gentlemen’s agreement that bound the District 12 Board and Educational Solutions in this project was made, to the moment we could do the work legally and be in business.

Informal transactions are so easy. I preferred them, but they did not make matters advance. I deliberately kept myself in my place: that of a resident alien here to serve education and not involved in the politics that clearly entered into every stage of the process leading to an official contract requiring public funds and the support of a number of agencies, many established solely for political reasons.

On a number of occasions my sight met the truth, but I preferred to continue as if indeed an Experimental School in the Bronx, as I saw it, was the most important thing in life, and in the world, and that soon everyone would know it. Did such a Don Quixotic attitude endear me to the various politicians I was meeting? Did it change itself into an Open Sesame? The appearance and perhaps the fact, was that at all stages of the preparation the outsider, the foreigner I was, received support from those involved.

In March, at a meeting in Dr. Gaines’ office, she expressed the view that much of what happens in any school depends on who is its principal and that her function as superintendent was to find the best person available and then let that person choose the staff she or he wanted. She asked for suggestions.

Knowing that my contacts with New York City schools were few, I suggested with trepidation, Mrs. Dellora Hercules, a person I admired for the work she was doing as principal of C.S. 133M, and who I suspected might be interested. Dr. Gaines expressed enthusiasm about the choice as well as some doubt that we would succeed in moving Mrs. Hercules to leave a job which was satisfying to her in so many ways. I asked for permission to introduce the idea to Mrs. Hercules, and Dr. Gaines agreed.

Mrs. Hercules had first been introduced to my work in 1963, when she observed me giving a demonstration lesson on reading with Words in Color in a public school in Manhattan. She was attracted at that time to what she saw, but it was five years before she was able to open her school to my approaches to reading and mathematics.

P.S. 133M was part of the 201 Complex at that time, and a focus for students and innovators in education. Through the enthusiasm of David Outerbridge, then an administrator of the Center for Urban Education, a Title III project, it was made possible for my work to be introduced to P.S. 133. Mr. Outerbridge had noticed the effects of my work with teachers on his children who were pupils at the Day School in New York City, where my colleagues and I had worked.

In August 1968, I led a seminar of twelve P.S. 133 teachers. When they returned to school in the fall, Mrs. Hercules found some of them so deeply changed that she became certain we had something significant to offer. It was not until December 5th, 1968, that I visited P.S. 133 for the first time. From then on and throughout the following year my colleagues and I at Schools for the Future (later of Educational Solutions, Inc.) gave seminars to teachers, paraprofessionals and parents, and lessons to children throughout the school in English and Mathematics. Mrs. Hercules had during this period become very familiar with the way in which we worked in a variety of circumstances.

When I visited C.S. 133 to present Mrs. Hercules with the opportunity offered by the new experimental school, I was aware that it might appear that I was suggesting that we deprive the city of one good school in order to gain another. I told Mrs. Hercules that I would understand if she said no to the offer, but that it should come after a serious study of the situation. If she was really indispensable to C.S. 133, that meant that the experiment in her school had not been one which relied on the efforts of the teachers as they were and on the students. If she had done her work well, C.S. 133 could, no doubt, continue to flourish without her.

Moreover, the new school would offer her opportunities to put her experience to the test and to serve a much larger community of students. Mrs. Hercules admired Dr. Gaines, and felt she could work with her at least as well as she had worked with the 201 Complex Administrators, in the service of education in the so-called ghetto. Friends and relatives consulted, agreed that for her to go to the Experimental School as project director would bring invaluable experience and would also put her experience to work for a valuable cause. Dr. Gaines talked to Mrs. Hercules and the interview with the Community Board was a total success when it took place.

In my proposal (see Appendix 3) I asked for a principal who would oversee the experiment and inspire the school but would not have the usual administrative chores of principals. To grant this meant that two principals would be appointed for the two sections of C.S. 129 (which later became C.S. 129 and C.S. 234). Mr. Walter Edge, already a principal in a school in Yonkers, was proposed by Dr. Gaines for C.S. 129 and accepted by the Board.

For C.S. 234 a number of people were interviewed by the Board. I was present during the meeting. Mr. Peter Negroni, already with District 12 as assistant principal at the Bilingual School 211X, was selected as the most suitable of the candidates as he impressed everybody with his competence, manner, background and promise.

Mrs. Hercules and Mr. Edge now had two jobs and at once found that the new school demanded a lot of their attention. Fortunately, Mr. Negroni, who knew all the ropes of the administration in his district, and Mr. Eddie Rubin, who had been entrusted by Dr. Gaines to use his experience in city schools to help solve the many problems of the new school made things much easier.

Mr. Rubin had a number of meetings with me over the three months from April to July when he returned to the job he was on before he had been called in on this new project.

On April 5th, 1971 an ad appeared in the New York Times linking the Twin Parks School with my educational conceptions and practice. A slightly different version (i.e., corrected) appeared on the following Sunday.

Both were noted by many readers who knew me and told me that they thought I had made it! At last they said, a school in New York City was going to show in broad daylight what had been happening for years here and there but could only be seen by the initiated.

This was certainly not my way of thinking about the experiment, for I knew that what I had to offer would be proved by others, in this case by the teachers at C.S. 129 — those who would apply for the jobs offered in the ad. They were unknown to all.

The ad announced a link between the school and myself, but it was still at the informal level. Would we be able to resolve all the problems on our path? Weeks later I was still asking Dr. Gaines: “How do I know that we shall be working together?” This was a strange question to Dr. Gaines who knew that there were n steps to be taken successively, the last one finally sealing the contract, but each one necessary before the next one could be taken. Hence, the first step was the most important, and it had been taken. The Community Board invited me to one of their executive meetings one evening and everyone seemed to agree with Dr. Gaines and was prepared to made C.S. 129 into an Experimental School in my sense.

The next time I was invited to an Executive Board meeting was when Mrs. Hercules was interviewed as the project director and Mr. Edge as a principal.

In April, an administrator of District 12 was asked by Dr. Gaines to arrange for Educational Solutions to give an intensive course in Spanish by the Silent Way to District 12 personnel. They wanted to learn Spanish for the purpose of increasing the communication between themselves and the Spanish speaking members of the community they served. I taught that course, assisted by my colleague from Buenos Aires, Miss Maria del Carmen Gagliardo. Those who participated expressed in many different ways what this way of teaching meant for them well beyond Spanish and even language learning (see page 15a). Dr. Gaines and Mrs. Edith Smith, a Community School Board member, were now certain that they wanted these methods in the new school at least, and felt more confident that C.S. 129 would be successful.

On many occasions since then Dr. Gaines and Mrs. Smith have referred to the experience of that Spanish course as an illustration of what Educational Solutions could do for the city schools.

When in May, at the public meeting of the Community School Board, Mrs. Hercules, Mr. Edge, Mr. Negroni and I were introduced to those attending, it was clear that we had come to a new stage of the project. The superintendent wanted the Experimental School and the School Board after close examination of the proposals found that such a school would be in the interest of the community it represented and offered its support. This position was upheld at the public meeting, even by those who could have opposed it.

From then on it became necessary to work out the proposals according to the rules and regulations of the City, the state and the Federal laws. The City Board of Education would pass a resolution for what the Community School Board wanted only if the proposals were passed by Albany and Title I.

Community School Boards were new in the city and there were too many details for the Community School Board staff not to stumble on, and that meant re-writing and re-submitting. Our own organization was also inexperienced at that time.

The 1971-72 contract for the school year had to wait till the end of the summer to be submitted to Albany because the summer Title I projects were being submitted first. Some proposals were being sent in after projects had already started. So we were verbally assured that the fall project would be accepted, if the one concerning the training of the teachers during the five-week summer seminar was.

Only faith kept everybody going. It was my plan to approach the Office of Education and see if I could interest people in a seminar which would study the new Experimental School. Originally, I had envisioned a graduate student seminar, twenty-eight people who would observe the school and write doctoral theses using material from their observations. Then, talking at Yale with Professor Seymour Sarason, I was made aware that a professorial seminar would better serve my purposes. It would be a report to the nation from outside observers, stating exactly what could be learned from a true Experimental School and how it could be applied to help public education.

Dr. Donald Bigelow, who was working in the field of personnel development at the Office of Education, was kind enough to come to the Washington meeting, though he was still on a leave of absence, writing a book on teacher education. To him and others, I described how teacher education might be served if a professorial seminar made up of twenty-eight professors on sabbatical from leading universities might be made available full time to look very closely at what would be happening at the Twin Parks School. I asked whether this seminar could be supported by funds from some project at the Office of Education.

The lateness of the proposal to the Office of Education forced a re-formulation of the strategy. All the professors should be based in New York, since finding lodging for twenty-eight outsiders would have been then a feat; and they would not be asked to be full-time observers, since this would have meant paying the salaries of twenty-eight top people, an amount of money not to be found during a period of squeeze.

The solution adopted by the Office of Education after intensive consultations was that the Teacher Education Department of the City University of New York would apply for a grant to the Office of Education to run a professorial seminar. This would be comprised of twenty-eight professors of the City University (which trains the vast majority of the people teaching in New York City public schools), and would be associated with the Twin Parks School.

I met Dean Rosner; then on two or three later occasions he and I met with some of his colleagues and graduate assistants. Dr. Weiner, who drafted the proposal as a research project, was present and we remained in contact until the end of the school year, as the professorial seminar met almost every Wednesday evening in a conference room adjacent to his office at the Graduate Research Center of C.U.N.Y.

Dr. Weiner received two papers from me (see Appendices 4 and 5), one to inform those who had to recruit professors for the seminar and one for these professors expressing what I thought there would be to look at in the school.

The professors’ seminar is described in Part II of this book.

During May and June, I worked to bring together the people who would be the Educational Solutions teachers of teachers at the new school in District 12. I knew that much would depend on these choices, and accordingly I invited to join this team those people who I thought would have the most to offer in a new, Experimental School.

Miss Katherine Mitchell, who had been on our staff for two years, would concentrate on reading and mathematics in the primary grades. Miss Maria Gagliardo, who had for two years been involved in our work in teaching languages, would assist in the bilingual and Spanish aspect of the school.

Dr. Enid Friedman, whom Professor Sarason recommended to me, had been his associate at Yale. Since we had asked that there be no guidance counselors at the school until need was felt for them, Dr. Friedman, a psychologist, would be able to make observations on the progress of the school from the behavioral point of view. She would join our staff in June, and spend the months of the summer attending all our seminars and workshops in order to prepare herself as an Educational Solutions teacher of teachers.

Two other choices of mine for the team at first accepted and later were unable to be with us. Mrs. Elenita McDowell, an old friend of mine, had done remarkable things at a small private school she ran in Harlem. I knew her understanding of how a school can use a city as its premises would contribute much to our work, and I was sorry that she could not be with us, although she did give us one day a week as a consultant on trips. The other person was Miss Helena Webb, who had studied on a double scholarship at Harvard and M.I.T. and then worked in Philadelphia for two years. I had met her at a seminar I gave in Cambridge in 1969 and she later attended another seminar of mine in New York City.

I had to continue my search for people who could serve the needs of the school as teachers of teachers and who had had experience in areas we wanted to know more about. Mr. Ian Spence (now Dr.) was a specialist in precision teaching and highly recommended by Professor Ogden Lindsley. Caroline Mirthes, author of Don’t you hear me talking to you was recommended by Ronald Gross and seemed to know how to bring people who had not written before to write about themselves and their environment.

We completed our contingent with Mr. Everard Barrett, who had been a math coordinator in Ocean-Hill Brownsville and who taught math at New York State University in Old West-bury, N.Y. He agreed to be with us for one day a week. We held in reserve other members of our staff who could be available for variable periods according to need: Zulie Catir and Caroline Chinlund for math, Rosalyn Bennett and Cecilia Perrault for the bilingual side, Ghislaine Graf as observer in a few classes.

The school was to be open. That did not mean it was to be an “open school” in the sense that that label refers to the idea brought from Leicestershire (England) and transformed in so many unrecognizable ways. It meant simply that each teacher or class would be ready to be seen at work at any moment by administrators, consultants, other teachers, the professors who would be observing on behalf of the Office of Education, and also visitors accepted by the administration. In this way it was thought, nothing that went on in the school would fail to be part of the experiment.

It was planned that having visitors would be an everyday phenomenon at the new school. We would invite many top researchers in education to come for the purpose of testing the Twin Parks School in a way that was different from what standardized tests could do. We felt that the way to influence public opinion was through the reports of responsible and competent people. Indeed, figures on tables rarely move anybody, and so many highly respected people in the field were to be invited, among them Professor Ogden Lindsley, Professor Seymour Sarason, Dr. Don Bigelow, and Dr. B. Frank Brown. Hopefully, their reports would indicate any small or large changes in educational practice which had been brought about between the birth of the Twin Parks School and the first anniversary of the summer workshop.

Unfortunately, in the course of the year few such people actually visited the school. Of those mentioned above, only Professor Lindsley came. Twice on one visit to New York from Kansas City, he spent time at the school to assess the precision of the teaching we were capable of generating with our techniques and materials.

The departure of Dr. Gaines for a new position as head of the Learning Cooperative of the City Board of Education meant that she was not able to continue her inspiring work with the Twin Parks School past the date of its opening in September.

The construction of the school building was under way, but it would not be completed before a date that continuously changed according to unforeseen circumstances. The school had no playground except a small area which, from the equipment already installed there, seemed clearly intended for kindergarten. There were to be 2,000 students in a plant which was planned as a school with cubicles for the oral transmission of knowledge. This had long since been decided; no one had any say in the matter now. The construction firm would not allow visits to the site because of the danger of accidents, so it became necessary to visit a Manhattan elementary school that had been built according to the same plans. There we learned of the defects of the plant from educators who thought differently from us about the use of schools.

Indeed some things were learned and became warnings:

1    It was possible to so separate the two spaces which housed the K-2 and 3-6 groups as to forget they were part of one plant. Only the auditorium belonged to both sections and there was conflict over the scheduling of time for its use.

2   Some features of the construction were incentives to whoever wanted to break in and pick up what no one could really protect; one library was particularly vulnerable.

3   However much light could filter through the bay windows, the school was built so as to force one type of education: the traditional one in which teachers control students.

On that visit Mrs. Smith of the Community School Board accompanied Mr. Rubin and the three administrators, and I went along to learn what we could. I was, however, determined to accept the plant as a given for the Experimental School. The human element struck me and prepared me to watch whether a lesson would be learned from this visit, or whether at the Twin Parks School the existence of two principals would generate rivalry and isolation. Separate entrances and lunchrooms, a door that can be open or closed may have no weight or be decisive. I wanted to see what would happen in “our” school.

One day District 12 got word that Albany had rejected the original proposal of the School Board for the summer seminar. It became clear that new directives had been issued to the Albany Title I personnel but had not reached the offices of the Community School Boards. The funds could only be available if the training fell within the requirements that no basic subject should be considered (reading and math were thus excluded) and that learning labs and their uses should be the object of the training.

For weeks the preparation of the seminar had been going on in a quite different direction. One hundred teachers had been selected from among the 300 applicants who responded to the ad and had been screened by a number of examiners of the applications. I read all 300 applications, but did not discuss them with the two principals and the project director. Only once I sat in the background at the interviewing of about twenty applicants.

By this time I had met two more members of the supervisory staff. One of the candidates for the principalship of C.S. 234 had been offered a job as assistant-principal for that school. Mrs. Meryl Natelli had been with Mrs. Hercules at C.S. 133M, and had participated in some of my seminars for the staff of that school. I was pleased to see her on the staff of the new school. Mr. Edge had introduced me on that day to Mrs. Frances Barry who was to be one of his assistants.

Late in June, when I was in Europe, all the applicants who were acceptable to the district, in particular because they could be hired according to the city regulations, and those who were still possibilities were invited to a meeting which was a warming up session for the coming summer seminar.

The vast majority of the applicants had neither heard of me nor of C.S. 133M, but were attracted by the ad and many believed they were coming to a school with an “open corridor” program. Mrs. Natelli encouraged everybody to come to the summer seminar even at the cost of changing present summer plans.

Only one person was unable to take the seminar; another came three out of the five weeks, taking off two weeks in the middle to attend a course elsewhere.

The criteria, bilingual and bicultural, in the ad did not seem to stop people with only one language from applying. Only five people knew Spanish well, and so the bilingual characteristic of the school had to be abandoned at least for the beginning of the academic year, although beginning Spanish was taught at the summer seminar.

In my mind the summer seminar, lasting five weeks and demanding an intensity rarely maintained in summer schools for teachers, was to be sufficient to jolt people out of their restricting educational habits. I therefore asked only for this time in which to do that job. The year of work in the school was to tell us whether it would be enough time for everybody.

Although the summer seminar is part of the story of the birth of a new institution it will be told in the next part of this book.

We are telling a story of institutions and the people in them, in so far as they make human events happen, or only transform events in order to maintain themselves as institutions. The significance of this story seems to be that it shows how much “the will of society” can be directed by the will of people.

Because I was a foreigner, a relative newcomer to this country, I was able to bypass a variety of involvements with society’s agencies and concentrate on reaching a few individuals who knew what they were about. As a consequence, the birth of the institution described in this book looks less like the result of the coming together of wills to accomplish something definite than of wills to yield so that something which had never existed before might come into being: an Experimental School where everyone can learn — students, parents and educators.

When we do not know what is required to attain a certain end we look for existing answers and these answers are kept in places known to those who look after them and who find themselves because of this, holding power. What they have on their shelves or in their desk drawers only gains value when someone asks for them, otherwise they remain pieces of paper or drawings. It is the fragmentation of bureaucracy that makes bureaucrats important people at certain moments, those moments when something comes to their desk and depends on their action to proceed further.

When it is clear what the end should be, the various elements of the chain of actions are integrated and none is overlooked as incidental. In the case of the Experimental School the end was the beginning and people at all stages and levels were essential parts of the implementation. Society as a whole never showed its tail. It was as if it did not exist. In fact, it did not exist in my mind for it had no place whatever in the project. At no moment was it necessary explicitly to think either of the needs of society, or the demands of society, or the regulation by society. Instead it was always: “How does one meet this challenge?” or “What does so and so need to do to remove these obstacles?”

Society has no will. People have. Hence, to get things going we go to people and things happen. Such a simple acquaintance with reality is at the basis of the birth of this institution.

The so-called “revolutionaries” work in this way because they look at things from a turned-around point of view; they see them differently, but no less normally or naturally than the others. Clearly the revolution represented by the birth of this experimental school is in the statement that “to change schools you only need to make the people working inside them change.”

The change we were after was neither intellectual nor social competence as so many reformers asked from the time of Comenius. It was simply the two-fold change that could occur when anybody “opened his eyes and saw how competent children are as learners” and that games are what children engage in seriously more than in anything else. The job of changing, therefore, was to open one’s eyes, learn about learning by watching children play, and offer students games that make sense to them and lead to mastery of the activities behind scholastic skills. This is functional teaching. This is the subordination of teaching to learning.

A new institution has been born with the Experimental School of the Bronx, a human institution, deliberately dynamic more an organism than an organization. In all organisms all parts are integrated and watch each other, one taking over functions that another can no longer perform.

Thus, watchfulness and immediate feedback were deliberately made part of the plan for life at the school, so that people could be kept informed and able to act.

A human institution working as an organism aiming at growth in awareness for all is, in summary, what was set about by all the wills that made the Experimental School be.

For the full text, contact us.

First published in the United States of America in 1973. Reprinted in 2009.

Copyright © 1973 – 2009 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

Author: Caleb Gattegno
All rights reserved

ISBN 978-0-87825-022-6

Sima Gandhi