Dalton education

There is increasing interest in Dalton education. For many parents, teachers and principals, the principles of this form of innovative education offer a direction to take in the further development of their schools. The origin of Dalton education lies in America. Its initiator, Helen Parkhurst, began her teaching career in rural Wisconsin more than a hundred years ago, in the autumn of 1904. She taught her students to work on assignments independently, with the freedom to plan and complete them as they saw fit, enlisting each other's help and the teacher's assistance when needed. Since then, Dalton education has evolved, but the essence of what Parkhurst intended has remained. As the popularity of Dalton education grows, so does the need for information about Parkhurst's life, her ideas, and her own teaching experiments. This biography aims to meet that need. It paints a picture of a woman who wanted to give children a voice in their work and in their own lives and succeeded in doing so through her tirelessness and powerful personality. But that drive also led to conflicts, disillusions and disappointments.


Founder Helen Parkhurst

Helen Parkhurst, (born March 7, 1887, Durand, Wis., U.S.—died June 1, 1973, New Milford, Conn.), American educator, author, and lecturer who devised the Dalton Laboratory Plan and founded the Dalton School. Parkhurst graduated from the River Falls Normal School of Wisconsin State College (1907), did graduate work at Columbia University, and studied at the universities of Rome and Munich and with Maria Montessori. Much later, she earned a master’s degree in education at Yale (1943) and became Yale’s first fellow in education. She taught briefly in Wisconsin, moved to Tacoma, Wash., in 1909, and returned to teach at Wisconsin Central State Teachers College (1913–15). After further work with Montessori in Rome, Parkhurst set up her own school in New York City in 1916.

In 1918 she drew upon an experimental plan she had developed for the high school in Dalton, Mass., and began implementing it on a contractual basis with students in her New York school. Pupils worked in “laboratory brigades” on specific assignments for which they contracted. There were no tests or examinations, and external discipline was minimal. As they worked on assignments, students submitted progress reports to teachers. Parkhurst remained headmistress of New York’s Dalton School until her retirement in 1942. Over the final three decades of her life she lectured, helped institute her plan throughout the world, wrote books, and produced radio and television shows for and about young people.