Dalton School, Dalton Plan, Dalton Education (author P.A. van der Ploeg, published in: SAGE: Encyclopedia of Educational Theory and Philosophy 2014)
The American teacher Helen Parkhurst (1886-1973) developed at the beginning of the twentieth century the Dalton Plan to reform the then current pedagogics and the then usual manner of classroom management. She wanted to break the teacher-centered lockstep teaching. During her first experiment, which she implemented in a small elementary school as a young teacher in 1904, she noticed that when students are given freedom for self-direction and self-pacing and to help one another, their motivation increases considerably and they learn a lot more. In a later experiment in 1911 and 1912 Parkhurst re-organized the education in a large school for nine to fourteen year-olds. Instead of each grade, each subject was appointed its own teacher and its own classroom. The subject teachers made assignments: they converted the subject matter for each grade into learning assignments. In this way, learning became the students’ own work; they could carry out their work independently, work at their own pace and plan their work themselves. The classroom turned into a laboratory, a place where students are working, furnished and equipped as work spaces, tailored to meet the requirements of specific subjects. Useful and attractive learning materials, instruments and reference books were put within the students’ reach. The benches were replaced by large tables to facilitate co-operation and group instruction. This second experiment formed the basis for the next experiments, those in Dalton and New York, from 1919 onwards. The only addition was the use of graphs, charts enabling students to keep track of their of their own progress in each subject. From now on it was called the Dalton Plan. In 1921 en 1922 Parkhurst explained the theory of the Dalton Plan in a series of articles published in “The Times Educational Supplement” and in her book “Education on the Dalton Plan”. It can be reconstructed as follows. The Dalton Plan is an “efficiency measure”: “a simple and economic reorganization of the school” (Parkhurst, 1922, 46). Lockstep teaching is not efficient, because: it is the teacher who does all the work. The Dalton Plan “creates conditions which enable … the learner to learn” (34). Learning is the same as experience: “Experience is the best and indeed the only real teacher” (152). The school has to provide for sufficient experience. This cannot be achieved by keeping students as passive recipients, separating them from one another, holding them in one place, requiring them to remain silent, making them learn lessons by heart and subjecting them to whole class recitation. We can provide for experience through the “liberation of the pupil” and the “socialization of the school” (46). In the Dalton Plan, freedom is the opportunity to do the schoolwork oneself, to organize it oneself (how where and when) and to carry it out at one’s own pace, particularly to do it undisturbed and to work with commitment and concentration. Self-activity brings about experience. Something similar applies in the Dalton Plan to interaction and co-operation. When students are permitted to interact and work freely with one another and with teachers, in varying groups, in varied locations, with varied resources and materials, they come into contact with one another, the teachers, the subject matter and
the learning materials in different ways. This means more experience and consequently more learning. In the nineteentwenties and nineteenthirties, Dalton education was spread throughout the world. There is no certainty regarding the exact numbers of Dalton schools, but there was Dalton education in America, Australia, England, Germany, the Netherlands, the Soviet Union, India, China and Japan. Particularly in the Netherlands, China and Japan, Dalton education has remained in existence. In recent years there has been a revival of international interest. It crops up again, for instance, in England, Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Netherlands is the country with the highest density of Dalton schools. At the moment (2013) there are four hundred; most of them elementary schools. Comprising five percent of all elementary schools, Dalton education is by far the largest educational reform movement in the Netherlands. And, contrary to Montessori, Jena Plan and Waldorf education, it is steadily on the increase. The only Dalton school in the USA, is the school that Helen Parkhurst founded herself in 1919, and which she was subsequently to direct for more than twenty years: the Dalton School in New York. It is a renowned school. But today its fame is not due to its origins as an experiment in progressive education: the Dalton School is one of the most expensive private schools in New York. Piet van der Ploeg
Further reading: H. Besuden (1955). Helen Parkhursts Dalton–Plan in den Vereinigten Staaten. Oldenburg, Germany: R. Sussman. E. Dewey (1922). The Dalton Laboratory Plan. New York: E.P. Dutton & Company. D. Lager (1983). Helen Parkhurst and the Dalton Plan: The Life and Work of an American Educator. The University of Connecticut (Diss.). D. Luke (undated). Champion of Children (Typoscript). H. Parkhurst (1921). The Dalton Plan. Times Educational Supplement, July 2, July 9, July 16, July 23, July 30, August 6. H. Parkhurst (1922). Education on the Dalton Plan. New York: E.P. Dutton & Company. P.A. van der Ploeg (2013). The Dalton Plan: recycling in the guise of innovation. Paedagogica Historica 49, 314-329. P.A. van der Ploeg (2014). The Dalton Plan: Origines and Theory of Dalton education. Deventer, Netherlands: Saxion Dalton University Press. P.A. van der Ploeg (2014). The salient history of Dalton education in the Netherlands. History of Education, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0046760X.2014.887792.
S. Popp (1999). Der Dalton Plan in Theorie und Praxis. Innsbruck/Wien, Austria: Studienverlag. S.F. Semel (1922). The Daltonschool. The Transformation of a Progressive School. New York: Peter Lang.