UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The New School, 1962-1977 Rothstein, Harley S.


The New School was an alternative progressive school founded by a group of Vancouver parents in 1962. They were dissatisfied with what they knew of the public school system and desired a “child-centred” education to encourage their children in exploration of the social world, of the arts, and of critical thinking. They were influenced by progressive ideas including those of John Dewey and A. S. Neill. They were participatory egalitarians and created a parent co-operative administrative structure. School fees were determined by a sliding scale based on family income. Parents controlled all school decisions and contributed a great deal of time and money to the project. The school evolved through three distinct periods during its fifteen year history, each closely aligned to social and ideological developments in North America. The original progressivism gave way to "free school" practices by 1967 when the school came to be influenced by the counter-culture of the late 1960s. By 1973 the school's clientele shifted to become more marginal and less middle class and to include large numbers of special needs children. The school adopted amore "therapeutic" and more openly political curriculum which remained in place until the school closed in 1977. The parents never agreed on a uniform educational direction or an effective decision making style. They argued constantly, particularly over supervision and evaluation of teachers, and teaching styles varied widely from year to year. In 1968 the teachers took over the school running it as a teacher co-operative until 1977. The school community was a kind of extended family for many participants. The political and social agenda of the adults took precedence over educational considerations throughout the life of the school. Students were encouraged to pursue their interests in a non-competitive manner. Many former students claim that the New School helped them develop problem solving, critical thinking, and verbal skills and to learn from the community. Many have followed career paths in the creative arts. However, many students also did not acquire basic academic skills. Most students from the 1968-77 period went on to alternative secondary schools and few attended university. The school ultimately failed because parents and teachers did not develop a clear enough idea of the kind of education they were offering and why. All they had in common was dissatisfaction with public schools and, more generally, with society. The school lacked a strong professional foundation as unqualified parents directed many functions. Later, any pretention to professionalism was discarded and few teachers had certificates after 1973. The lack of attention to academic skills caused the professional families to leave, weakening the school’s financial base and reducing its clientele to single mothers on welfare and to parents of children with learning and emotional problems. By the mid-1970s many parents wanting moderate alternatives could find them in the public school system. These factors help to show why the New School ceased operation.

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