Title

HELEN PARKHURST AND THE DALTON PLAN: THE LIFE AND WORK OF AN AMERICAN EDUCATOR (NEW YORK)

Date of Completion

January 1983

Keywords

Education, History of

Degree

Ph.D.

Abstract

Helen Parkhurst (1887-1973), originator of the Dalton Plan and founder of the Dalton School in New York, was internationally acclaimed and honored for her contributions to education. From the perspective of history, philosophy, and biography, this study addresses the broad question, "What is the content and significance of the educational thought of Helen Parkhurst?"^ An examination of the evolution of Parkhurst's philosophy provides valuable insights into the progressive period of American educational history. Parkhurst was Montessori's associate; she knew Kilpatrick, Burk, Washburne, Dewey, Bode, and Tyler. From 1922 to 1932, its period of greatest influence, the Dalton Plan was adopted in many countries, notably England, Japan, and Holland.^ The present obscurity of the Dalton Plan, despite its early promise, combined with the ultimate failure to count Helen Parkhurst in the mainstream of the American educational establishment, suggested certain questions as a framework for a biographical presentation of the data. What are her ideological commitments and to what extent was she original? What was the climate of the time and why were her ideas adopted first in other countries? Are her ideas still relevant; and can they be justified in the light of modern theory and research?^ The research relies extensively upon analysis and synthesis of previously unavailable, unpublished, original documentary material: Parkhurst's correspondence; fragmentary notes for her autobiography; and a manuscript about Montessori. Supplementary material includes interviews with her associates and tape-recordings from a 1970 seminar Parkhurst gave at The University of Connecticut.^ The presentation includes an exposition of the principles and practices of education on the Dalton Plan. Selected biographical episodes focus on early formative personal and intellectual influences. Details from Parkhurst's efforts on behalf of the Montessori Movement in America are also described. Parkhurst's 1924 reception in Japan provides an example of the Dalton Plan abroad. A retrospective section includes an appraisal of the Dalton Plan in its time, and as a precursor of the British "integrated day." Finally, the Dalton Plan is analyzed using some educational implications of Piaget's developmental theories.^