The Dalton Plan: recycling in the guise of innovation

van der Ploeg, P., 1-Jun-2013, In : Paedagogica Historica. 49, 3, p. 314-329 16 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Dalton education is the largest educational reform movement in the Netherlands. Around eighty years ago it spread throughout the world; Dalton education was found in the USA, England, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, the Soviet Union, India, China and Japan. Today there is a revival of interest in England and Germany. We examine the origins of Dalton education by comparing the work of its founder Helen Parkhurst (1886-1973) with developments in American education towards the end of the nineteenth century. From 1870 onwards, in numerous American cities, there were experiments with alternatives for lockstep teaching, including experiments with individualised instruction, individual assignments, differentiation, self-direction, self-pacing, freedom, tutor learning and co-operation. In part, these innovations stemmed from methods that were already customary prior to the dissemination of lockstep teaching - methods which, at the onset of the twentieth century, were actually still common in rural one-room schools. The Dalton Plan proves to be not very original. Parkhurst recycled various ideas and methods which had already been developed and tried out in the preceding decades. Her pretension of having introduced something new and authentic is implausible. That raises two questions: how to explain the discrepancy between the image Parkhurst presents of her own work and the image derived from historical comparison, and how to explain the popularity of the Dalton Plan in the 1920s, given that it was not unique or particularly innovative.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)314-329
Number of pages16
JournalPaedagogica Historica
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1-Jun-2013


  • Dalton Plan, Parkhurst, progressive education, reform education

ID: 5882814