• U.S.

Education: Trend

3 minute read

“Blank Chocolate Manufacturing Co. held its monthly policy meeting last week. Present were its president, stenographers, chocolate mixers, office boys, each with one vote. Up rose an employe committee chairman to report. ‘After careful study,’ said he, ‘your committee recommends that the size of our nickel candy bar be doubled.’ After long discussion Blank Co.’s policy-makers approved the recommendation by a majority vote and sent it to the board of directors.”

If any U. S. business were run in this fashion it might be deemed revolutionary. Yet that is the system under which Denver’s public schools have been run for a year.

Originator of this remarkable experiment in democracy is cool, grey-haired Alexander Stoddard, 49, famed as chairman of the N. E. A.’s potent Educational Policies Commission. Nebraska-born, he taught in country schools, was superintendent in Bronxville and Schenectady, N. Y. and Providence, R. I. before he went to Denver last year under a five-year contract at $12,500 a year.

In U. S. school systems the superintendent is an autocrat. But many have insisted that if U. S. schools are to produce democrats, they must be democratic in administration. Superintendent Alexander Stoddard had scarcely been introduced to his Denver staff before he took the boldest step toward that theory. He organized a Policies Council with principals, teachers, clerks, even janitors as members. Teacher representatives, elected by their fellows, numbered a majority. To decide major policies, 100 votes of the Council’s 175 and the Board of Education’s approval were necessary. Dr. Stoddard had one vote, no veto power.

This group formed committees to sift out proposals, which might be made by any one of Denver’s 1,700 school employes. They met in a high-school library the first Monday of each month to debate how Denver’s schools should be run. Soon they were studying how much homework Denver pupils ought to have, how big classes should be, when teachers should retire.

Most sweeping new policy adopted by the Policies Council was a project called “utilization of community resources.” Under this plan textbooks will be replaced by project guides, and 50,000 pupils are to make daily trips to factories, department stores, libraries, police stations, Government offices. Rockefeller General Education Board, in one of its rare gifts to public schools, contributed $5,000 to this project.

Most cheering outcome to Superintendent Stoddard is a new enthusiasm and alertness among Denver’s teachers.

Superintendent Stoddard has only one more year at Denver. Combing the nation to fill one of the biggest jobs in the U. S., Philadelphia recently tapped him to be its superintendent. Denver agreed to release him from his contract only if he would stay another year. When he goes to Philadelphia next fall Superintendent Stoddard hopes to establish a similar council there. Says he: “It marks a trend.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com