Sunday, February 1, 2015

Chapter 44 - On The Road: Part 6 - An Educational Experiment

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

Korzybski left Barstow at the end of February. He did not have great expectations for Kendig’s chances of making any significant change at the school. He considered the atmosphere in Kansas City too hidebound and parochial to keep her from ‘breaking her head’. But over the next few years he would stay in close contact and do what he could to help her.

Kendig hired two new staff members. The new English teacher Sarah Michie, with a PhD in English philology and linguistics, began to implement a year-long program for the eighth grade that Kendig had wanted to get started. Dona Worral Brown—who had a Masters degree in English language and linguistics—became Kendig’s administrative assistant. As described in an article she later wrote for The Modern Language Journal, Dr. Michie’s work at Barstow did not appear especially korzybskian.(16) She left after a year to take a university post. Mrs. Brown, who had become much interested in general semantics, took over her position at Barstow.

Kendig wanted to reform the teaching at all grade levels. As she said in a 1940 talk on “New Approaches to Education”, given before a group of Vasser alumnae:
At Barstow I was convinced of the harm done by the ‘old’ verbalistic education, and equally convinced of the actually maladjustive tendencies of the ‘new’ progressive education, centered on the student’s own experience without supplying him with a system and method of evaluating his own experience in the light of the socio-cultural-scientific race experience. In applying General Semantics in our developmentally organized program, I found a satisfactory blending of the best features of the ‘old’ discipline and the ‘new’ experiential progressive education.” (17) 

Initially she and Mrs. Brown worked on remedial programs for individual students and in teacher training. All teachers were asked to study Science and Sanity and Korzybski returned to Barstow in mid-October of 1935 to give a five-week-long seminar to the faculty (three evening lectures per week plus private conferences with each teacher). Mrs. Brown, who had been studying general semantics with Kendig, considered this a benefit. But many of the other teachers didn’t respond very well, as she described many years later:
Korzybski had come to give a “short” seminar and stayed and stayed. The situation was certainly ‘caviar to the general’ of Kansas City. The good people were already suffering from the shock of the new. The faculty was in rebellion. They didn’t want to ‘waste time’ on Korzybski’s lectures and on reading Science and Sanity. Furthermore, the parents were baffled by the cachet of Marjorie Mercer Kendig. She was a beautiful and intelligent woman, but one who didn’t fit into their image of a schoolmarm. (18)
Kendig (behind desk) at The Barstow School 
At the end of 1935 at an AAAS meeting in St. Louis also attended by Korzybski, Kendig presented a paper to a joint psychology and education session describing her overall approach and initial efforts at Barstow. The paper, entitled “Language Re-Orientation of High School Curriculum and Scientific Control of Neuro-Linguistic Mechanisms for Better Mental Health and Scholastic Achievement”, also described further plans for the yearlong program for the eighth grade, which she wanted to become the school’s basic high school and college preparatory course. After replacing Dr. Michie in 1936, Mrs. Brown began implementing this more korzybskian program. (She reported on some of her procedures and results in a paper presented at the 1941 Second American Congress on General Semantics.) (19) She also began an elective course for juniors and seniors, and College Board training classes—all based on general semantics.

Case reports and class records of all students from the eighth grade and above were kept and updated frequently. Students also took semi-annual standardized tests given through the Educational Records Bureau, which the school had joined when Kendig became head. Barstow students could thus be compared “with 1,500 other individuals at the same grade level, and [the] class performance with performances in 145 other private schools.” When they began testing in 1934, Barstow placed as “the lowest school in the lowest quartile.” Within four years, the school score had climbed to “the bottom of the top percentile”. (20) Test results included remarkable increases in many students’ I.Q. scores, which led Kendig to later write and publish a paper questioning the fixedness of I.Q. (21) 

Despite her observed and measurable success with students, by the fall of 1937 Kendig’s time at Barstow had come to an end. As Dona Brown reported:
...The board of trustees decided that there must be a change at the top. The school was losing money and was not the kind of harmonious place in which learning and the arts could flourish. Kendig was kept on as educational advisor in absentia for one year. The new principal, I think, tried to make our program work. (Kendig, at least, gave her the benefit of the doubt.) But eventually it was the end of the line for me and the entire faculty. She tried the next year with an entirely new set of teachers, but she failed miserably [with carrying on Kendig’s program]...The whole experiment was over and the issue closed.  
Many years later, after Korzybski had died, Kendig asked me if I thought our program at the school had taken off. My answer was “yes” and “no.” We simply did not have the resources and the financial support that such a program needed to make it fly. Or perhaps we tried to do too much in too short a time. (22) 
In a short 1983 biography written after Kendig’s death, Charlotte Schuchardt Read summarized Kendig’s experiment at Barstow School thusly: “It was an ambitious, brave attempt, unequalled before or since then. In later years other teachers have dreamed of such a possibility, but no one else has so far attempted such a far-reaching re-orientation of an entire school.”(23)

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
16. “A New General Language Curriculum for the Eighth Grade”, The Modern Language Journal, Vol. XXII, No. 5 (February, 1938): pp. 343–346. AKDA 2.894–895. 

17. Kendig. “New Approach To Education Outlined Before Vassar Alumnae”, Press Release, April 1940. AKDA, IGS Scrapbook 1.188–189; Kendig’s March 1937 address to the Barstow School community, “This Living Barstow (reprinted in General Semantics Bulletin 50) provides a good overview of Kendig’s educational vision for the school. 

18. Dona Brown 1983, p. 36.

19. Dona W. Brown 1943. “The Use of General Semantics in Teaching the Language Skills in the Eighth Grade”, in M. Kendig, ed., Papers from the Second American Congress on General Semantics, pp. 524–527. 

20. Kendig, “General Semantics 1961: Historical Perspectives, Trends and Criticisms”, Unpublished paper. IGS Archives. 

21. Kendig, “On The Nature And Constancy of The I.Q”. Educational Method, Vol. XIX, January, 1940, No. 4. IGS Archives. 

22. Dona Brown 1983, pp. 36–37. 

23. Charlotte Schuchardt Read, “Marjorie Mercer Kendig Gates: A Biographical Sketch”. General Semantics Bulletin 53, 1983. p. 51.

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