"We learned very little": Miriam Gross, aged 11, at Dartington Hall
Dartington Hall school was one of a handful of experimental, co-educational schools founded before the Second World War. It was situated in Devon, in the beautiful thousand-acre estate which had been bought in 1925 by a philanthropic couple-a Yorkshireman and an American heiress. One of their objectives was to build a school in which children would be free from the restrictions and constraints of the educational system which prevailed at the time.
Betrand Russell, Aldous Huxley, Sean O'Casey, G.E. Moore, among well-known "free thinkers", sent their children there; Freud's grandchildren, Lucian and Clement, were pupils.
The school's "progressive" ideals were inspired by the American philosopher John Dewey, and involved a wholly unorthodox approach to how children should learn and how teachers should teach. Education, according to this view, was not about one person who knows more than another passing on that knowledge; rather, it was about encouraging children to discover things for themselves. They should be allowed to follow their own interests in their own way and at their own pace; expecting pupils to memorise facts or learn anything by rote was regarded as oppressive.
During the eight years I spent at Dartington these ideas were still regarded by most people as, at best, absurdly utopian or, at worst, hopelessly cranky; later, in the Sixties, many of them were adopted, with disastrous results, in state schools throughout England.
I was sent there in 1948, when I was ten, not because my parents were "progressive" but because most other boarding schools at the time didn't accept pupils who couldn't speak English. Until that time I had lived in Jerusalem, speaking German to my family and Hebrew at school. Naturally, I had a hard time at first, particularly as my parents were living abroad; but perhaps not as hard as it would have been at a conventional boarding school.
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