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Dalton: Educational principles

The educational principles of Dalton are built upon the ideas of American educator Helen Parkhurst (1886 – 1973). As a schoolchild, Parkhurst found it difficult and discouraging to continuously sit still and listen, practice and repeat lessons. As she grew older, she discovered that this approach had dampened her eagerness to learn, so when she became a primary school teacher in 1905, she chose a different approach.

Effective teaching

This novel approach was actually born out of necessity: it was impossible to teach effectively at a one-teacher school whilst staying within the prescribed methods; her school included approximately forty students of different ages and levels! Parkhurst developed a simple yet ingenious solution—she set the prescribed provisions of the school schedule aside and asked the children to choose their own lessons from the available learning material; in essence, she invited the students to develop their own learning program. Thus, the student and teacher form a collaboration in which the student motivates him/herself to reach the chosen learning goal within a fixed amount of time. For her part, the teacher promises to help the student as needed.

Three pillars

The philosophical basis is supported by three pillars (which are also democratic values):

Responsibility for one’s own learning process
For Parkhurst, there was no separation between education and growing, between the transfer of knowledge and the transfer of culture, between building character and building a conscience. She envisioned a school in which children learn while maintaining their core values, by making the students responsible for their own learning process. This system facilitates both intellectual growth and the development of a strong individual with qualities that we all need to be valuable members of society. In giving her students key experiences at school, Parkhurst was preparing her students for society.

Independent children become independent adults
The goal of the Dalton education system is to prepare children to become adults who can think and act independently. Therefore, it is important for children and youngsters to learn how to collect information, estimate things based on their real value, and make correct choices. Every child learns these principles at a different pace, and the Dalton education system takes these differences into account.

Every child is entitled to the best opportunities to develop and grow. That’s why students usually work independently in Dalton schools, and the teacher is always watchful of what the student needs in order to learn a specific lesson. The teacher’s role is to guide and coach the student, while the initiative remains in the student’s hands as much as possible.

Cooperation: Respect for others
To participate in society as an adult, one must learn to cooperate with others, and we cannot always choose with whom we must cooperate. Therefore, Dalton schools devote considerable attention to playing and working in (small) groups. In addition to working with students from the same class, students also work with other age groups. In this way, the students learn to listen to one another and to have respect for each other. Above all, everyone is responsible for his/herself and his/her surroundings.