John and Dorothy Paull - Nature Tables and Pocket Museums: from the Leicestershire classroom to the Mountain View Center for Environmental Education, Colorado.
Paper presented at the ISCHE, Berlin, August 2018.
Catherine Burke, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, UK.
This paper is part of a wider research initiative which is tracing the travel of ideas, practices and people from Leicestershire infant and primary schools to and from the USA during the 1960s and 70s. It takes as a starting point a drawing of a 1969 Leicestershire primary classroom detailing precisely the site of furniture, material objects, display boards, water sources, ‘growing things’ live animals, book racks and floorspace. The drawing, executed as a birds-eye view, has been reconstructed by the teacher who had inhabited that space from memory and with reference to a 1972 publication detailing an approach to environmental education that found its way to influence teacher development in the United States.
This publication was entitled Yesterday I Found , funded by the Ford Foundation and published by the Mountain View Center for Environmental Education, Boulder Colorado. The paper argues that the impact of this period of experimentation and exchange reached far beyond those decades of intense activity and travel and that the material conditions of the classroom as recalled from a teacher’s point of view can aid in demonstrating that continuity.
The English infant and primary schools of the immediate post-war decades can be compared with the schools of Reggio Emilia in northern Italy or Finland today with regard to the scale and frequency of international interest and visits. In what Roland Barth has termed the ‘testimonial period’ of the early 1960s, commentators vividly described changes in the education of young children which were, it was believed, almost impossible to capture and communicate on paper: you needed to be there and see with your own eyes. A critical factor in this experience was to acknowledge the significance of changes made in the material conditions and arrangements of people, place and things. As relatively few people could actually make the trip, photographic images and documentary film came to play a very important role in communicating to a wider audience the features and characteristics of English infant and primary education. But also, as this paper intends to demonstrate, lengthy periods of substantial travel and the commitment of English teachers and advisors to provide workshops and related developmental activities for teachers in the USA were vital elements in the transfer of knowledge in these years. The material features of the layout and purposeful design of school spaces were observed, recorded and remarked upon by those visitors eager to capture and communicate the excitement of changes taking place in the everyday relationship between pupils, teachers and objects in English schools. At the end of the 1960s two publications drew attention to this pedagogical triad capturing through different disciplinary lenses, a similar theoretical perspective. These were Peter Prangnell’s The Friendly Object (HER, 1969) and David Hawkins ‘I- Thou - It’ (1967). These papers will assist us in framing the discussion about nature tables and pocket museums in the Leicestershire primary classroom of the same period.
We know that certain schools for young children, on both sides of the Atlantic, attracted national and international interest during the 1940s and in the immediate post war years.
Examples include, Impington College Cambridgeshire; Crow Island, Winnetka, USA; Eveline Lowe, London. However, the 1960s and early 1970s saw a steady stream of visitors to English infant and primary schools from Europe, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand and, increasingly, the USA. Diane Ravitch has remarked ‘ The near-evangelistic appeal of ‘open education’ created a boom in transatlantic travel; by 1969 study teams from 20 different American cities made the pilgrimage to England to learn first hand about informal education’. These generated further visits of teachers, advisers, journalists, film makers and administrators. Certain regions of England, led by progressive directors of education, were drawn to the attention of the visitors by the central government Ministry of Education. Infant and primary schools in Oxfordshire, the West Riding of Yorkshire and Leicestershire were particularly sought out. The latter authority, Leicestershire, seems to have been most active in forming lasting relationships and exchanges between British and American educationalists. An important aspect of this phenomenon, that this paper seeks to illuminate, was the creation of personal networks of individual teachers and advisers who, as Lydia Smith has observed, knew and visited each other.
This paper has its roots in one that I presented at the History of Education Society UK conference in November 2017. There, recognising the significance of the 50 years anniversary of the publication of the Plowden Report, I explored in some detail the context of Joseph Featherstone’s articles published in 1967 and 68 recording his impressions of English infant and primary schools. His detailed description of Westfield Infant school at Hinkley, Leicestershire led me to visit that school 50 years on where, with the assistance of the present head teacher, I examined the school’s log books for records of American visitors during the 1960s and 70s. Through that excercise I became aware of the extensive interest, travel and long-term study tours and workshops involving Leicestershire advisers and USA educationalists. A small part of what I discovered meets the theme of this conference and special interest group researching histories of objects, senses and the material world of schooling.
Dorothy and John Paull
Two Leicestershire teachers central to the present paper are Dorothy and John Paull.
John Paull, originally from Cornwall, trained at the City of Leicester Teacher Training College and became a primary school teacher, and, later, became primary adviser for science education in all of Leicestershire’s 325 primary schools. John Paull was a natural scientist and keen collector of stones, fossils, shells and in his approach to teaching encouraged the collection and curation of tiny natural objects for display in what he called ‘pocket museums’. His wife Dorothy, originally from Yorkshire, came into teaching as an unqualified supply infant and nursery school assistant, initially encouraged by Sir Alec Clegg, at the time CEO for the WRY. She also trained at Leicester where she met and later married John Paull. In the mid 1960s, John Paull’s classroom teaching style attracted visitors from near and afar. Quickly promoted to the new role as science advisor to all of Leicestershire’s schools, John established the first Science education field study centre for primary schools in the country in a former one-teacher school in the village of Foxton, Leicestershire, and his methods of engaging teachers with the natural environment local to them was brought to the attention of American visitors to the Authority by Leicestershire primary adviser, Bill Browse. Recalling these years, Paull remarked,
‘my classroom became a visiting spot for teachers from America. They came to see progressive schools at work and came to my classroom to observe how I effectively integrated science, mathematics, reading and writing’.
Similarly, when I became an advisor, I left the classroom, started visiting loads of schools, and set up Foxton FS Center as a base for day workshops with teachers. Many visitors from far away came to my regular hands-on activity workshop, which led to many invitations to visit America..
One of these visitors was the physicist and philosopher David Hawkins, professor of the philosophy of science at Boulder University, Colorado who had previously worked on the Manhattan project. Hawkins spent the year of 1964 in England visiting classrooms, especially John Paull’s, to see for himself what he had heard to be so remarkable. He returned in 1967 and his wife Frances spent time working in a nursery school in the North East of England. Following this, at his invitation, John and Dorothy Paull spent three weeks in the summer of 1968 in Vermont running workshops for teachers in schools on Title 3 funding established by Lyndon Johnson to address areas of poverty.
The following year they gave up their summer vacation to the professional development of American teachers, first at Montpelier in Vermont for a further three weeks, followed by two weeks at the EDC in Boston. On both occasions, David and Frances Hawkins participated and it was at this time that the idea of setting up a Centre for Environmental Education was hatched. Diane Ravitch explains Hawkins’ enthusiasm for progressive education as partly a result of his wife Frances’s teaching career in 1930s California and connecting with John Paull.
But it was Dorothy’s classroom which was recorded in detail in a conscious effort to counter the false assumption developing in America, as a side effect of the enthusiasm for ‘open education’, that the teacher’s role was minimal in supporting children’s learning. Yesterday I Found . . . documented Dorothy’s practice in her classroom during the autumn term of 1969 at Anstey Latimer primary school, Leicestershire. YIF was written by the Paulls with an introduction by Anthony (Tony) Kallet and published by the University of Colorado where the previous year, the Paulls had helped Kallet and David and Frances Hawkins establish the Mountain View Center for Environmental Education. New Zealander Elwyn Richardson was also among the founders. The Center was designed to provide an advisory service for teachers throughout the USA who wished to enrich their classrooms in various ways using the natural environment.To promote their work among teachers in the USA, they published a periodical called Outlook, three times a year (1971- 1986) edited by Kallet.
The material detail of how Dorothy had designed her classroom over two years working with the same group of mixed age pupils was described by John Paull in Yesterday I found…..
‘The painted brick walls of Dorothy’s classroom were covered with constantly changing displays of paintings, block-prints, tie-and-dye, collage, embroidery and samples of the children’s writing. The shelves around the room were used to display rocks, shells and other collections. Magazines, maps, mobiles and unfinished pieces of children’s work hung down from lengths of rope which were strung from wall to wall, about six feet above the floor, looking for all the world like clotheslines. At any time a child could reach up and take a magazine or map from the clothespin that held it. . . . In addition to the many animal cages around the room, there was a large terrarium and insect house, . . .containers sprouting grass seed, cress and a variety of plants, an ironing board and a large metal tub for dying fabrics. Magnifying glasses and miscellaneous science equipment occupied shelves around the room.’ (YIF, 1972: 18-19).
Dorothy recalls how the publication was developed. On 1st October, 1969, Tony Kallet, teacher, artist, musician, set out to record how a teacher interacted with the class. ‘He used two SLR cameras hung around his neck taking one picture every 30 seconds, following me with the two Primary advisors observing and making notes. Later we made a taped commentary to accompany the slides for talks to teachers at Heads' meeting.
Kallet, who had taught at the progressive Shady Hill school in Cambridge Massachusetts first visited Leicestershire in 1963 and stayed on for nine years as part of the Leicestershire education advisory service. He was an energetic and enthusiastic promoter of ‘open learning’ and after returning to the USA devoted his energies to teacher development very much in the style of informal learning established by the more progressive English regions.
The Mountain View Centre for Environmental Education (MVC) was funded for the first five years by the Ford Foundation. One of the requirements of the founders was that a publication emerge from the work. YIF was the response. Inspired by what he had seen as best practice in English schools, David Hawkins had secured funding to open the center and invited John and Dorothy Paull to spend a year helping to establish its philosophy and identity providing workshops for teachers. A further requirement was to work with a minority group. This resulted in expeditions to work alongside the Sioux of Pine Ridge S. Dakota, sharing knowledge and expertise with Native Americans regarding children's learning and development.
David Hawkins was a scientist and a philosopher married to an elementary school teacher. Having left the Manhattan project, he devoted the remainder of his career to the educational development of teachers particularly of very young children. During the 1960s and 70s Hawkins produced a series of influential papers and one that touches on the interests of this interest group is ‘I-Thou-It’. The paper was based on a talk that Hawkins gave on April 3rd, 1967 at the Primary Teachers’ Residential Course, Loughborough, Leicestershire.
In ‘I-Thou-It’ Hawkins outlines the role played by objects of mutual interest and learning from the point of view of the pupil and the teacher in a balanced relationship. He sought to revise the well recognised key relationship between teacher and taught to invite attention to be paid to the third element in the triangle: objects, things, and ideas. Hawkins drew from past and present in promoting these ideas: the past experience of his wife Frances who had taught in progressive settings in 1930s California and from his present observations of informal methods found among some English teachers he had observed.
Stones as ‘It’
Dorothy and John Paull were keen collectors of stones and fossils. John Paull devotes a large part of his autobiography (Through my eyes: on becoming a teacher) to exposing the fascination of small stones for children and encouraging the same fascination in teachers and other adults. YIF describes how children in Dorothy’s class became fascinated by the beauty and interest of stones, particularly after the Hawkins purchased a stone polisher for their use. But most delightful is Tony Kallet’s recording of Stewart Mason’s experience with stones on the occasion of the opening of the MVC.
‘I was lucky enough to accompany a party led by John Paull which went to Caribou, and there almost on the roof of the world we set out in a massive gang to
collect rock specimens. I followed in the wake with bent head not knowing
what I was looking for, but picking up one stone after another only to dis-
card. What a helluva lot of stone, billions and billions of them. Each one
was different and beautiful. . . as each minute went by I became slightly more aware of scents, colors, sounds, things moving. . . But there was so much else. The whole riotous field of benevolent color was pulsating with life. Bees of many varieties, cicadas galore - hey, here's one sitting on my sleeve. And down below a small herd of Herefords with two little ones was slowly munching its way up the valley.
And in the middle distance those three receding mountain ridges were ever getting bluer in the midday sun.
What a memorable morning.’
Bones, Shells and Pocket Museums
YIF describes how with the engagement of the teacher in collecting, curating and creating an environment whereby learning occurred through genuine interest and research, the tiniest of objects could become launchpads for sustained interest. There is a section of the book describing one child’s fascination and sustained research about bones and the display of bones can be seen in Dorothy’s plan as well as in photographic documentation in the publication. A display of shells can also be located in Dorothy’s plan of her classroom and in YIF the Paulls devote a chapter to work in the classroom with shells. Later, Shells were one theme taken up by the Paulls in the 1980s when they wrote a series of Ladybird books, including Nature Takes Shape which was published in 1980.
‘The Friendly Object’ and ‘I-Thou -It’
Peter Prangnell, an English architect trained at the AA in London, was one among a loose network of radically minded European and American designers who became influenced by the revolutionary climate of the late 1960s which manifested in student action as well as a range of critical literature. ‘The Friendly Object’ was the title of an essay produced by Prangnell for a 1969 collection of radical reflections on the possibilities offered by thinking critically about the relationship between architecture and education. The essay written in Toronto demonstrates an awareness of the latest efforts by English architects to transform the experience of education by challenging the hegemony of the classroom but mostly Prangnell, rare for an architect, considers the active role of objects in the educational process. Reflecting on this in considering the question of how schools might be, Prangnell declared ‘A school should be a marvellous receptacle , a marvellous volume or place between marvellously friendly objects, responding to - even initiating - unexpected uses that develop from the work in hand. The objects . . . must have a latent potential for exploitation matching the potential of exploring children.’
In defining the MVC's interpretation of the idea of environmental education, ‘I - Thou- it’, explored the essential relationships supporting learning via the teacher, the pupil and the object.
In the recollected drawing of Dorothy Paull’s classroom in 1969, we can see many 'friendly objects'. We can imagine the activities such arrangements of furniture and things were designed to support and sustain.
The pupil is envisaged by means of these material arrangements as a collector, maker and curator as well as a learner.
‘Making pedagogical spaces of enchantment’
What the Paulls as teachers, Hawkins as scientist and philosopher and Prangnell as architect understood was an essential characteristic of childhood that expressed itself in the act of collecting and making their mark on things. As adults, teachers often needed reminding of this impulse in the very young in order that they might work with it. In his book, The Informed Vision (1974), Hawkins made connections between the aesthetic (the visually pleasing) environment and engagement arguing that “classrooms that are aesthetically dreary places are ones where children are bored”. He contrasted these with “British infant classrooms in which children’s murals, calligraphy and illustrated reports on scientific enquiries decorate walls ... while found materials collected by children - shells, intriguing stones, moss and toadstools - line shelves and tables.”
But as YIF sought to demonstrate, the availability of material objects from nature would never suffice without the skilled intervention of the teacher and especially powerful was the teacher’s disposition as learner alongside the child.
Lydia Smith has reflected on the many ways that this period was important in the history of American education. One of these was its importance in the professional lives of teachers and administrators of the experience of challenging and renewing practice. The research carried out for this paper has illustrated the part played by natural objects and small things ( live and inanimate) in developing theories of informal education. The material arrangement of the classroom was observed in the ‘testimonial’ stage of American interest in the English infant and primary school to be a vital component which you needed to see for yourself in order to fully appreciate the workings of the school. Analysis of the demise of progressive education on both sides of the Atlantic has tended to report from a policy perspective. However, it is important to acknowledge how sustained these practices, principles and values were in the further lives of individuals who were caught up in these travel and transference activities in the past. The Paulls parted in 1985 but each maintained strong friendships with the Hawkins and Tony Kallet until the end of their lives. Initially they returned to England to teaching, teacher professional development and writing. Dorothy immediately took on the role of Acting Teacher Leader at Blaby Teachers Centre, Leicestershire, before becoming head teacher at Sheepy Magna primary school where, at both center and school, she encouraged the same principles and practices as described in YIF. Later she taught at Battling Brook school where the arrangements of space have recently been drawn from memory.
In 1973, John Paull returned to teaching and took part in the making of an award winning film, featuring six Leicestershire schools, “What did you learn in school today?” The film, which demonstrates the full interpretation of environmental education, was the UK entry in the documentary section of the Chicago Film Festival and was selected by the Federation of British Film Societies as one of the outstanding documentaries of 1972.
Together, John and Dorothy produced a series of children’s books about science education for Ladybird.
Later, After 17 years of headship (Headteacher at Ibstock for 6 years, 11 years at Loughborough), writing award-winning science programs for schools television, John Paull was invited in 1996 to set up an alternative teacher education program in Denver, USA. Under the auspices of the University of Colorado, in Denver, he ran a very innovative program whose focus was to recreate the classroom/teaching model of the 1960s.
He retired from the very successful program in 2011.
Today, John Paull lives in New Mexico and continues to write and run workshops about science education using his appreciation of the curation of small objects gleaned from the local environment, contained inside ‘pocket museums’.
Finally, American historian of education William Wraga has identified a strain of condescension toward progressive education in history of education scholarship in the US, which has often resulted in what he calls misrepresentations of the historical record’.
This paper suggests that detailed documentation of personal histories of teachers caught up in sustained progressive networks rooted in a particular understanding of the importance of the natural and local environment in encouraging rich learning among young people and their teachers is necessary to counter that condescension.