The historical events regarding New York City education is filled with discrimination, race-related and socio-economic segregation, strikes, and more. Schooling for many communities meant they had to fight for it. Students, parents, and so many others would strike and hold up signs, saying they want integration, and that unifying all students would be useful, productive, and rewarding (Shapiro). But at the start of the 20th century, many things began to change for the better. In New York City, choices for education expanded tremendously. Finally, the only remaining separated “colored” was shut down in the 20th century. Documents and diplomas from high school began to be an accredited and essential source for numerous jobs and positions. Women were finally able to look forward to receiving the same options for education and learning as men did. Near the middle of the 20th century, the Board of Education managed 810 schools in all of the five boroughs from their main office at Park Avenue (McCarthy).
While the education system was making positive changes, there were still some people who thought adding and making more changes to the system would be beneficial and would impact the students. One of these people was John Dewey, who was a founder of the pragmatism movement, as well as one of the important leaders of the progressive movement in education and schooling in the United States (Gouinlock). He was so influential with his theories on education, that there was a school built and named after him, called John Dewey High School. This public school was built in Brooklyn, New York, and it was formed on John Dewey’s academic ideas and theories. The school initially opened in 1969, and they started it out with just freshmen and sophomores. According to the New York Times article that was published a day after the school opened, called, “Experimental High School Is Opened in Brooklyn,” it says that, “An experimental high school opened in Brooklyn yesterday with 1,130 pupils who were given an almost free choice of courses, will receive no grades and will attend school eight hours a day” (Handler). The school started off with 1,130 freshman and sophomores, and it successfully grew two years later to include juniors and seniors to the school as well (Handler). The school’s mission, curriculum, teachers, and methods of teaching are just some of the attributes and features that started up the school, as well as maintained it all these years.
John Dewey was born on October 20, 1859 in Burlington, Vermont, and was an American philosopher, as well as a psychologist and a teacher. He started going to college when he was just fifteen years old at the University of Vermont. He studied philosophy and received his bachelor’s degree about five years later. After receiving his degree, he started working as a teacher in both an elementary school and a high school. A few years later, he attended John Hopkins University, where he was able to obtain his Ph.D. degree.
As previously mentioned, Dewey was also known to be a contributor to a very well-known movement known as pragmatism. This movement focuses mainly on people who insist that a belief or theory can be authentic if it works sufficiently and adequately. This means that people, who for the most part focus on thinking and proceeding to do something with a hands-on approach, instead of relying on and using conceptual and theoretical ideas, are pragmatic.
Dewey’s ideas and perspective, as well as his proposals to teaching and education in general, were informative and still remain significant to the present-day teaching and the education system. One thing Dewey is probably most known for is his participation in “progressive education.” This perspective on education and schooling is one that focuses mainly on learning and studying things by actually doing them. From his point of view, he strongly thought that as human beings, we must be able to learn in a practical way and with a more experimental and a direct hands-on approach. From his educational and teaching perspective, this method involves students having to connect with their surroundings and atmosphere for them to be capable to learn (John Dewey on Education: Impact & Theory).
Not only did Dewey think this would only benefit students; he strongly believed that the same principles applied for educators and that they, along with the students, should be able to learn together. The way he looked at a school classroom was with great democratic principles. This significantly and heavily encouraged anyone who wanted to learn to have fair, unbiased, and equal opinions and views. Dewey’s thoughts on education were mainly focused on children. His “child-centered” proposition for education really stressed the importance of studying and learning specifically on the necessities of the children. With his view, children are supposed to be able to search all of their surroundings (John Dewey on Education: Impact & Theory).
Another idea and principle Dewey believed in was “interdisciplinary curriculum.” What this is, is it’s a program of studies with a priority on joining numerous topics together. This enables learners to weave their way inside and outside of classrooms, helping them find their particular interests and hobbies, and letting them create their own trail for gaining and implementing their understanding. He believes that with this circumstance, the instructor should be noticing all of the specific interests of the learners, and then help them to grow and evolve, as well as help them establish problem-solving skills (John Dewey on Education: Impact & Theory).
Last but not least, while Dewey strongly felt that the attention of the children was extremely critical for creating the academic setting, he stressed the significance of the instructor in creating that setting as well. His point was that without the management of a devoted, educated and attentive instructor, the learner’s education would be non-existent. From his view, we see how Dewey was very well into the idea that life and education were closely related and connected. He thought that by considering education as a part of one’s life rather than planning for it, learners would adapt to the idea of becoming self-reliant, problem-solving, and creative people (John Dewey on Education: Impact & Theory).
The first couple of years that John Dewey High School has been opened has been a great success, and students have really come to like it. According to a New York Times article called, “Brooklyn’s Dewey H.S. Is More Like a College,” the author writes that, “There is something strange going on at John Dewey High School in Brooklyn… The strange flung is the students. It seems they like it there” (Quindlen). He described how he saw the students really getting accustomed to the school and the studies. He went on to interview some of the students to ask them more about their daily schooling, and what they like about school. One student said that he thought “It’s like college because you can go outside, do what you want, take what you want” (Quindlen). Another student mentioned how she liked the school mainly because of one of her elective classes, called “Auto Shop.” The way the school was set up when it just opened, was that they had an unmanaged individualistic schooling strategy, also known as the “4-1” program, which allowed the students to work once per week on school time. But as several years went by, the program was not as good as it was when the school was first opened. The budget crisis at the time affected this program a little while after the school was opened, and this came with a few consequences. The usual time schedule for school, which went on from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M., had to be reduced to three days a week instead of five. This meant that there were more school learners per class (Quindlen).
Some more disadvantage that were due because of this budget crisis was that many classes were taken out of the usual curriculum. For example, the Anthropology courses were cut off, their ceramics class was also taken out of the curriculum, and last but not least, there wasn’t a sufficient amount of tools to provide to students who wanted to take a fencing class (Quindlen). While the school was taking a hard hit from this budget crisis a couple of years after they opened the school, they initially had more resources when they began. An example of this would include the marine biology program. This program got their money from the National Science Foundation. Another example would be the Law Institute and the Science Institute, who also received money from sources, some of which include judges, doctors, and lawyers who allowed students from Dewey High School to participate in work with them (Quindlen).
The school tried to incorporate a college environment, as well as making sure students were able to individually make choices of their own, as the principal of the school at the time, Mr. Levine, stated (Quindlen). He went on to say that students who focused on art, for example, were able to take most courses pertaining to the subject. These classes would include, “painting, drawing, jewelry‐making, environmental design, sculpture, printmaking, photography” (Quindlen). This really let the student have a range of choices to choose from and to see what they are more interested in doing, just like a typical college curriculum would include.
The main ideas behind the experimental school were very simple. The first was to let students to study and learn at their own individual pace. The second was to offer students control and authority for creating their own syllabus and schedules, and to be able to complete their courses (Montgomery). Since there were technically five semesters, or “cycles” during their school year, and a big part of the regular school day was committed to individualistic study, learners were given the choice to take classes during their independent study period with something called the Dewey Independent Study Kits. An Independent study is a different approach to learning. During the independent or individual study, a learner is managed and led by the instructor, but the learner does not take regular courses with other learners most days. In this approach to learning, the learner would learn and study individually. This allowed the students to complete more classes and fulfill more requisites in order to advance and graduate high school quicker and sooner (Quindlen). A lot of students who were ready to graduate and were in their last year of high school chose not to leave the school. The reason for this being that they were still able to participate in school activities, as well as take more courses. According to the article, it says that “about 15 percent of Dewey students graduate before they have finished a full four years of high school” (Quindlen). That means that students were able to leave before even reaching their senior year, whether a year early or a semester early, and get into colleges sooner. One of the students who was interviewed for this article, named Alice Fernandes, has said that she originally wanted to go to another school, primarily for the arts, but a teacher let her know about John Dewey High School and so she attended it instead of her first choice. She said that, “the art courses are really good. And I really like the independent study time” (Quindlen). The individual study time seemed to really be working for the school’s curriculum. Many other students found it very convenient. The principal has also agreed and said that the study program was a big part of the school and it was the main focus of the school (Quindlen). Even if students chose to sit and talk during that time, that was the student’s choice. This way, the student’s were able to use this time however they wanted, taking courses or doing their own thing, and this seemed like the best curriculum for the school.
The way the teachers were chosen was pretty simple as well. The principal was given the choice to choose about half of the teachers, and the other half were picked based on the teacher’s standing and position. The teachers were even paid more, solely because the school’s typical day ran for about an hour more than other standard schools (Montgomery). Another difference between the teachers at this high school, was that they were usually younger than teachers found in other conventional institutions. The principal at the time was only 39 years old, and was considered to be the youngest high school principal in the New York City education system (Montgomery).
The school also included clubs as if they were regular courses. They were made to be part of the school day. Clubs were generally tailored to students’ specific appeals or their individual studies, and they were added into their schedule like their regular courses. The principal acknowledged that while “200 of the school’s 2000 students do not appear to be succeeding in the experiment, about 1,100 are taking extra courses through the independent study program” (Montgomery). This shows that a majority of the students were succeeding in their studies and that the layout of the curriculum worked for them.
Parents of the students mostly seemed to like the experimental school but many were worried about how their kids who were graduating would be accepted into colleges since the school had a different grading system. But the principal has mentioned that their unique grading scale would not affect the student’s chances of getting into college (Montgomery). The grades that were given in the high school were, “M for mastery, MC for mastery with, condition, MI for mastery in an Independent study course and R for reterition” (Montgomery). Students who got MC or R were supposed to take the class again and were given descriptive explanations of how they did in the class. These descriptions were made in order to show future instructors how to continue teaching their course (Montgomery).
As previously mentioned, we can see how this high school was more like a “college high school.” This other option of learning was very beneficial for many learners. A research article called, “The College High School: An Educational Alternative,” published in 1973, talks about how this high school was a prime example of “new schools with educational programs that seek to provide a totally new environment—including computer programming, study areas, individualized study programs, longer school days, and greater student freedom” (Golden 32-33). With this type of learning, students were really the ones in charge of their education.
Education is really different for everybody. Every person is able to learn differently. John Dewey High School implemented an alternative to standard and conventional schooling and started a “college high school” layout. The purpose was to have students be able to go at their own pace and to get accustomed and adapt to the college environment. A majority of students found this to be extremely helpful and this curriculum worked very well for them. Many were also able to graduate earlier, meaning some people were able to finish high school in just two years with how the curriculum was set up. By adopting the independent study program, students were able to have a sense of responsibility when it came to choosing how to spend their time wisely, as well as choosing what courses to take and how to set up their schedule. The school was so successful with their methods of learning that the Board of Education started to come up with plans to make more schools have the same curriculum and layout as the John Dewey High School. This high school may not have been for everyone, but it sure helped many get on the right track to kickstart their education and future studies.