I’m the product of a rigid, top-down education system in England, where the headmaster routinely caned students for real or perceived misbehavior, and my teachers rarely, if ever, sought my ideas or opinions. So when I got my first teaching job in a fourth-grade class, I was determined to bring some humanity and warmth into the classroom and to listen closely to my students. The first time a parent thanked me for helping her child believe in himself, I couldn’t speak past the lump in my throat.
My vision for a school was, in many ways, grounded in that first year in the classroom. Twenty years later, in 1989, when I started The New School, my mantra was “love and freedom.” Parents were drawn to the fledgling New School because they’d heard this was the place where their children would be loved and encouraged to be their best selves.
Central to my vision was a sense of ownership on everyone’s part: teachers would be encouraged to design classes around their passions, asking big questions that had no simple answers, requiring students to devise creative solutions backed by evidence obtained through intensive study and informed dialogue. Teachers and students would interact as colleagues, forming close relationships built on mutual respect. I saw a community of deep thinkers and hard workers engaged in joyful collaboration.
Having taught elementary through high school classes and run schools for twenty years, it was clear to me that students had many different ways of looking at and engaging with their world. When I read Howard Gardner’s book, Frames of Mind, outlining his theory of multiple intelligences, I knew not only that I had found a kindred spirit, but that acknowledging the complexity of intelligence was crucial to a successful education.
I’ll admit it took a certain amount of blind faith and courage to go this direction, particularly in a culture where standardized testing and competition are the norm. Our teachers and staff find the atmosphere at The New School somewhat addictive—they want to be a part of this, and to build on what we’ve started. As a lifetime member of the board, I will be on hand to work with teachers and staff, and help guide the school’s continued growth.
I’m proud of how The New School has evolved over the past thirty years, and I have tremendous confidence that my successor, Steve Roushakes, will hold to my original vision for the school. Our students leave us having begun to explore the power of their minds and gained the skills to own their education—and, by extension—take charge of their lives. We can, and should, continue to expand our programs and technology, to experiment, innovate and lead. But I believe the heart and soul of The New School experience will always be the love and freedom that allows our students to become their best selves.