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Marietta Louise Johnson: an educator who believed in the growth of body, mind and spirit

Twisted and yanked here and there by pressures from all sides, crisis ridden consumer society has us it its mortal grip and even dares to contaminate the education of our children—leading us to overlook our own essence and to fall into the claws of a system seeking obedient servants.

More than a century ago, in the midst of the industrial revolution, U.S. educator Marietta Louise Johnson developed an educational philosophy stemming from the importance of play, which marked a hallmark but which was highly resisted by the academic status quo: "Play should be spontaneous, the expression of an inner necessity. The inner necessity is profound and far reaching."

Born on October 8, 1864 in Minnesota, U.S.A. Marietta believed that in education there were no failures. The only requirement asked of students was attendance at class, punctuality and a sincere effort. She opened the Organic School at Fairhope. The school grew rapidly and subsequently she wrote many articles expressing her educational vision.

“What is necessary for the spirit?” she asked. “Joy in the work—a genuine desire to do it; work which enlists every part of the organism. All half-hearted work is insincere and we develop dishonesty in the child when we try to develop “will power” by arbitrary requirements. True education is ORGANIC—that is, it develops, strengthens and improves the body, makes the mind more intelligent, and the spirit sweeter, in fact perfects the organism.”

In a 1923 brochure entitled “...from The World Tomorrow” she outlines a clearly divergent view of education:

 “Society has been so accustomed to seeing the process of industry shaped to conform to certain standars in the interest of business efficiency, that it naturally attempts to adopt similar methods in dealing with its educational problems. This, of course, is the easier method—to standardize. To make models and moulds of that model and thereafter turn out products on a wholesale basis has been profitable in our economic world of things; why should not a similar plan be successful in the realm of education?”

 She provides the following stimulating answer to her own question:

 “If education means the growth of body, mind and spirit, the development of initiative, intellectual honesty, openmindedness, freedom of thought, fearlessness, physical and moral courage, then our educational programs cannot be built aroundthe mould idea.”

 One essential idea which dominated the thinking of Marietta had to do with the importance of play. Today in progressive educational institutions the use of theatre in the learning process, but a century ago few thought of theeatrical art as an educational tool.

 “Dramatics are a great means of education,” wrote Marietta, “and are used by all groups. Emphasis (in dramatics) should always be placed upon the effect of the performance on the children, and not upon the perfection of the production. Children should enjoy the rehearsals and there should never be any strain or exhaustion in giving the play. There is no greater socializing experience than that found in dramatics of the right sort.”

 Technology and specialization have launched modern society onto a hectic and ever faster spiral of renovation. But where does that leave the body? We think not only with the frontal lobes in our brain. Challenging physical activities stimulate the brain to discover new ways of doing things; laughter sets free creative energy; imagining the life of a character and resolving his or her problems gives us new social insights. Marietta’s ideas were amasingly advanced and continue to be amasingly apt educational.approaches.  

Jaquematepress contacted Louise Imm-Cooper, long dedicated to the advancement of education and social issues in the U.S., for her views on Marietta. 

--How did you become interested in Marietta Johnson and "organic education?"

     Throughout my career as a public school teacher and community educator, I made use of a teaching style known as "The Project Method."  In researching different uses of this method, I discovered reference was frequently made to Marietta Johnson and the School of Organic Education in Fairhope, Alabama.  Her work and ideas fascinated me since they were similar to my own ideals of what educating children should be like.  And further, I strongly believe, like Marietta, that "education is life, life is education!" (John Dewey, founder of progressive education in America)

 --In the light of your investigations concerning Marietta's educational ideas, where do you think the educational system in the U.S. is now headed.

     Well, presently, the public school system is guided by the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.  This act requires states to administer periodic testing of student achievement  in the basic areas of reading and mathematics.  School districts that fail to meet the standards set by the state and NCLB face the risk of losing funding and are categorized as "failing schools."  Many of the "failing schools" are located in areas of either high population concentration or ones that are economically struggling. Schools that had the greatest obstacles to overcome in order  to increase their achievement levels were originally targeted to receive more assistance. However, since time limits were set by governmental regulations on when certain student achievement levels were to be met- by 2011 a large percentage of schools were labeled as "failing." The result of this plan, is that many schools are now focusing their energies on responding to the testing instead of implementing a broader inclusive curriculum of arts and humanities- the cornerstone of the Organic School curriculum. The key factor of Ms. Johnson's ideas, addressing the varying developmental levels of individual students, is greatly limited by excluding the arts and humanities.

 --Do you see a connection between the "standardization" of education and the push of the consumer society to penetrate the minds of students, buyers, and the general public?

     The "standardization" of education, really aims at creating a workforce designed to meet the wants and needs as projected by those who control and guide the business community. In general, our society has become more of consumer society and less and less a society that produces the goods and services it needs.  It's difficult to ascertain what workforce is envisioned  beyond  limited  service  and technological communities that now exist. As for the consumption of goods, that is driven by the ever expanding mass media that is constantly pushing the population to purchase, purchase, purchase.  And although the stated purpose of NCLB was to ensure that children in deprived areas receive an education, therefore more career opportunities in the future, equal to more affluent areas, the "supposed choice" supplied to parents to leave "failing neighborhood schools" and enter their child(ren) in private schools along with current economic conditions further erodes funds for public schools, by diverting tax monies to the private institutions.

 --What kind of response have you received to your "theatralizaions" of Marietta's life and work?

      Very positive reactions have come my way, especially from those who are carefully critiquing the current trends in public education.  Several supporters are from college education departments who propose a reexamination of how and why we are educating our children and what purpose public education and all education serves.  Marietta's ideas and work, when presented with honesty and enthusiasm challenges the thinking of those already in and those entering the teaching profession.  Students will remark how they want their career in the classroom to provide their students with days full of learning that is both joyful and where where "work" is regarded as "play!" This desire is helping to create a new benchmark in education.

 -- Are there any movements afoot to renovate education in the U.S. using a more humanistic approach or play?

      Yes, there are.  In the city in which I live, despite the fact that many of the individual schools are labeled as "failing", programs in the arts and humanities still occupy a portion of the curriculum.  Poetry, drama, music and an emphasis on challenging the children to develop critical thinking is pursued in a variety of ways.  In other areas throughout the country there are also teachers and administrators who continue to "blaze a different trail" not focused on testing...and with good results!!  One such school is in Roxbury, MASS. where the principal has replaced security guards and used the monies to expand the theater, musical and visual arts programs in a school that was troubled by violence and a failing school label. The result has been a transformed school where children's needs are met and joy in learning thrives!  Parent groups, also, have challenged the idea of "standardizing" education for all as developmentally inappropriate and not in accordance with the many variables that effect how individuals learn.  There is hope!!




Viernes, 26 de Abril de 2013 16:07 alfredo #. Revista (Magazine)

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