“It’s Not About The Money”: Why did so many ‘Progressive Schools’ of the 1920s close down?

On Saturday I presented at the Research & Creative Activities Forum here at the University of Missouri. It’s a competitive forum for graduate students to present their research and the whole day was mind-blowing. Quite unusually I was presenting a history paper and so was in the ‘Humanities & Literature’ group so felt massively out of depth but enjoyed learning about a gamut of research running from the origin of the word ‘Cajun’ through to the death of French Revolutionaries in the 19th century.

My paper presented a counter to the argument that lack of money was the main reason why schools opened by English progressives in the 1920s had mostly closed by the 1950s. Having trawled through the archives of the schools’ leaders, and analysing a variety of biography and autobiographies, I am of the opinion that the leaders used the schools to develop their careers and/or their personal (often romantic) relationships. Over time the reality of the schools, particularly the financial difficulties but also issues with student behaviour and staff recruitment, meant the leaders were no longer getting what they sought from the school.

Where schools did manage to stay open through troubled time they generally did so because the leader of the school only had one identity – they were a teacher – and they were usually fairly indifferent towards their familial relationships. (In this presentation AS Neill is used as the exemplar of just such a person).

The aim is to get the journal article for this research completed in the next month and then hopefully I will be able to share the full piece once published.

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