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Why These Goals?


Alexander the Great had his Aristotle, Teddy Roosevelt his mornings on horseback, and Eleanor of Aquitaine her books, hawks, and hounds. Whether a thousand years ago, a hundred years ago, or today, all children deserve their own education, the one best suited to each of them.

The New School is dedicated to helping each child develop, in the ways that are best for him, the skills of rigorous thought, articulate expression, and a joyful engagement in life. Using the time honored methods of dialectic, developed through student inquiry, and grounded in personal responsibility, we seek to help each child develop integrally as they work towards competent adulthood and meaningful engagement in life.

The New School works toward these goals by allowing children freedom and power within the schoolís structures and community that make the meaning and effects of actions directly comprehensible and felt. Needed "lessons" are learned by direct and conscious experience of their value. In this way, each child can come to choose education rather than suffer it. When this happens, learning becomes joyful, energetic, and quick.

This idea of guidance without constrictive control is supported by the work of Lev Vygotsky, a Russian educational philosopher, psychologist, and semiotician. He developed the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development or ZPD. It was Vygotsky's belief that children learn by trying things just slightly outside their range of ability, the upper end of their ZPD, and then seeking the aid of someone more knowledgeable. The more knowledgeable other helps the child by letting the child do everything they can for themselves, only interjecting with possibilities or corrections when the child can no longer make progress with the task. Children, by observing the more knowledgeable other, by working with the expert, just as an apprentice works beside the master, learn something beyond their own ability and so progress by expanding their ZPD.

Ronda at Hawk Mountain.

This process is dependent on children recognizing that they are stymied, their desire to advance, and their asking a question. In many children's educational experience, only the first step, recognition that they are lost, is prevalent. Deanna Kuhn (The Skills of Argument, 1991) found that most educational programs teach about good thinking rather than engaging children in the activity of thinking well. Because much current educational practice focuses on subject matter determined to be important by the teacher or school and progresses by children answering rather than asking questions, what learning occurs is often superficial and more time consuming than it needs to be.

The New School follows a different course. The New School,

  • Provides a secure place and enough time for children to practice being responsible for their lives.

  • Helps children analyze reality, determine its nature, their relationship to it, and its ramifications for their thoughts and actions.

  • Allows children to observe and interact with others who are both more and less knowledgeable than themselves in order to see and engage in learning as a process practiced in a variety of ways with a variety of goals.

  • Encourages children to come up with their own questions, to devise ways to find the answers, and to get them.

In practice, children at The New School are fully engaged in their own learning. For instance, should a student decide they* want to study Biology and that, rather than working on their own, they would like a staff member to be involved in their inquiry, the first two questions the student must address are, why do they want to study Biology, and what do they mean by Biology? In the ensuing conversation between the student and staff member, the student is required to examine and articulate the studentís assumptions and objectives with someone who, being the more knowledgeable other, is intent on assisting only when truly needed in the childís work of developing their understanding of Biology and their ability to think well. This dialectical exchange which will continue through the course of the studentís inquiry is the essence of The New School.


*The third-person plural form is here used as a the third-person singular generic pronoun, since the word "student" in the School's usage denotes a group of persons as well as the condition of an individual;  see, The American Heritage Book of English Usage (1996) Sec. 18 "they with singular antecedent.".

© 1996 - November, 2016 The New School.
revised 29 Nov 2016

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The New School

P.O. Box 947, Newark, DE 19715-0947
Phone: 302-456-9838

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© 1996 - November, 2016 The New School.
Last revised 29 November 2016.