November 13, 2014

Part 6: "Stayed on Freedom": Social Movements and Re-Inventing Education

Boys from Jane Addams' Hull House who built their own clubhouse in the 1920's.
When Myles Horton was in graduate school in 1930 in Chicago, he was considering what sort of educational program could create social change.  His program required him to spend time with an organization engaged in social work.  He chose to spend time with Jane Addams at Hull House in Chicago.

This was five years before Addams death, in 1935, and one year prior to her winning the Nobel Peace Prize.  She had long since established the first kindergarten in Chicago in 1889 and the first public playground in 1893.  What was appealing to Horton about Addams and Hull House?  Professor Jon Hale wrote about it in the American Education History Journal:  

"In many ways, Addams' views reflected dominant progressive thinking. For instance, her writing indicates a belief in democracy and the importance of incorporating students' experience in education. For Addams, the 'democratic ideal demands of the school that it shall give the child's own experience a social value; that it shall teach him to direct his own activities and adjust them to those of other people' (Addams 1964, 180). While this clearly resonates with progressive thinking, Addams' commitment to alleviating social ills was of more importance for Horton. At Hull House, Addams took direct action in establishing a new social order."

While the educational efforts at Hull House were not exactly what Horton was looking for, according to Hale, "Jane Addams is significant in this analysis for she is representative of Horton's search for models of critical education that would resonate with his notion of achieving radical social change through education."

Jane Addams believed in empowerment at any age.  Hull House had a philosophy that affirmed the inherent worth and dignity of all people.  Hull House offered a myriad of classes and opportunities for people of all ages and even had its own marching band.  As a side note, the most famous alumnus of that marching band?  Benny Goodman.

Shortly after Horton's experiences at Hull House, he visited Denmark to study the Danish Folk Schools and thereafter, the Highlander Folk School was born.

However, the lineage continues further back than Addams.  Throughout her life, Jane Addams was influenced by the work and writings of Leo Tolstoy, who in 1859, founded his own school which was radically different from the traditional model of education.

As another side note, Jane Addams was aware of Gandhi's work in India and they exchanged letters.  As well, Addams' work and philosophy was also influenced by John Ruskin, the art critic, philosopher and author of "Unto This Last."  Ruskin's book on economics was instrumental in Gandhi's life as he began his campaign in South Africa and it helped him form his ideas, now known as Gandhian economics.  Gandhi also reflected on Ruskin's ideas on education in his writing, "Some Reflections on Education" from March 28, 1932.

As you can see, the connections here grow wide and deep.  Connecting the dots is challenging because the more dots I research, the more dots I find.  Both Addams and Gandhi looked to Tolstoy for inspiration for their work.  We will explore Tolstoy's work in education in Part 7.

Next: Part 7

No comments:

Post a Comment