Progressive Education in Gary, Indiana

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by klblankenship
Last updated 6 years ago

Social Studies
American History

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Progressive Education in Gary, Indiana


"Work-Study-Play"When William Wirt was appointed Superintendent of the Gary, IN schools, he recognized that the students' need for socialization and learning of practical life skills, as working families in urban areas could often no longer fill this role. Thus, he initiated the "work-study-play" plan to try and fill this plurality of needs. Schools were divided into "platoons", with one platoon of students occupying the academic classroom, while the other platoons utilized other facilities on the school's campus, including recreational areas, as well as workshops and studios dedicated to physical education, art, dramatics, vocational skills, etc. This diversification allowed students to practice a variety of skills and acquire, not only academic learning, but pragmatic and artistic skills as well. There was a high importance placed on physical activity and play, with up to half of students' school time spent in play, especially in the elementary school grades. Wirt introduced the use of playrooms, gymnasiums, pools, etc. as we know it today, recognized the important connection between a healthy body and a healthy mind.

At the turn of the century, industrialization brought families to the cities, and the family, church, and community were bumped from the role of primary educators and socializers for their children. The role fell to the public schools, and "progressive" educators sought ways to replace the traditional academic-focused classes with more balanced and diverse curriculum. A trailblazer in this regard was William Wirt, superintendent of schools in Gary, Indiana. A disciple of educational reformer John Dewey, Wirt created the "work-study-play" model of education, focusing on academics, but giving equal or greater importance to fostering practical, artistic, and social skills, in an attempt to educate "the whole child."

John Dewey ' William WirtWith a growing population in newly urbanized Gary, Indiana, and many children in this booming city in need of a comprehensive education, progressive reformers appointed William Wirt as Superintendent of schools. Wirt was a student of philosopher and reformer John Dewey, and he incorporated many of Dewey's ideas into the Gary Plan. Dewey advocated for a child-centered education, focusing on educating the "whole child," rather than only the mind. He argued that if schools function as a community, rather than only a segment of one, they would produce a more productive and harmonious society as a whole. Wirt adopted this philosophy in his "work-study-play" plan for the Gary schools. His plan placed as much importance on physical activity, play, and life and vocational skills as it did on academics, striving to produce in its pupils this sense of service and community that Dewey envisioned.

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To Think About:What elements of schools today are like or unlike the Gary Plan?In the ways they differ, have we improved or degenerated?What drawbacks would keep schools from implemented this plan today?


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