Season 3, Episode 13: Experimental Higher Education (Goddard College)
Chris McNutt 0:10
Hello, and welcome to Season 3, Episode 13 of Things Fall Apart, our podcast at the Human Restoration Project. My name is Chris McNutt, and I'm a high school digital media instructor from Ohio. In this podcast, we're speaking with Goddard College, a private college in Plainfield, Vermont with additional campuses in Port Townsend and Seattle, Washington. Goddard is a heavily progressive school with a variety of unique programs you'll learn about later in our conversation. It enrolls 700 students, 30% of whom are undergraduates. Founded in the spirit of experiential and democratic education, Goddard emphasizes self-directed higher education programs where learners submit their work via learning portfolios.
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We're joined by Kumari Patricia, Director of Education, and Bernard Bull, President, of Goddard College. Kumari has a background in education, working as an art teacher, teaching within museum schools to perochial to public schools - and joining Goddard in 2006 and quickly becoming the teacher licensure coordinator, and now is the director of education. Bernard was hired in 2018 as President, having served as a social studies teacher, eventually moving into higher education where he designed an instructional design center, His scholarship focuses on alternative and experimental education models. For the last ten years, Bernard has interviewed and observed alternative methods, opening his eyes to what's possible.
Bernard Bull 2:21
And I remember going to one of my first project based schools, and my daughter, who's now 15, was just born at the time. And I remember tearing up on the drive back to my house after seeing what was possible. And realizing that's what I want for my kids. I want this kind of model. It was a project based school completely immersive now traditional courses that students sort of co created their curriculum, their pathway each semester. And I was just so moved by it because I remember when I was a student, that I would have these great projects like I remember in high school, I took a psychology class and I was intrigued by it,
I wanted to study and try to determine whether or not hitting a Hitler fit the criteria of clinical insanity. That's the way I defined it as a kid I didn't run up know a lot about about psychologists and research my other side, I learned terms and phrases I wasn't familiar with and got into this really cool experiment that I was fascinated with. And I was given this, this free rein to do it. And that was a highlight of my high school experience. But it was just one experience. So when I went to high school, and I realized that the entire school could look that way, and feel that way. That was a transformational for me. So I learned about Goddard as I started exploring experiment, alternative models of education, different expression, expressions of progressive medications that are doing and Kilpatrick and other inspired educational models. And then I began to muse is this possible in higher ed, and that's when I started reading and learning about this incredible legacy of experimental higher ed institutions in the US and Goddard being one of the early models of Goddard?
It's the first of in on many things from the first to embrace low residency, progressive education, lots of other things. So I came across a book called to know for real as a lot of the original words and, and concepts that the first president Tim Pitkin shares in the book, that was really so moved, I carried that book around with me for I don't know how long must have been a year or longer have marked up and I think I'm gonna let third copy because I wrote on it, so I didn't have space.
Chris McNutt 4:33
You heard bird briefly mentioned low residency. If you're not familiar, low residency means that for most of the semester, students are at Campus. Goddard has an intensive eight day conference style introduction on campus. And then there's 16 weeks of independent work and self reflection with an advisor and virtual class. Students design their own methods and focus of study, and then they're supported with one on one guidance by their mentor.
It really is a fascinating program. Could you go into some detail about the history of Goddard and what this college entails? Like, are there any classrooms? Are there any grades? What does it look like?
Bernard Bull 5:02
Goddard was formed as a progressive education institution in the 1930s. And this is the time of the growth of fascism in the West, it was a time of the Great Depression, it was not the time to start something new, or maybe it was the perfect time to start something new. Right. In this time of crisis in the world. There were there was a group of 10 people I mentioned who had this vision of a institution that really embodied our democratic values. So the learners had voice choice, ownership and agency and the original vision, it was a residential campus, the learners are co creators of the curriculum from the beginning, they sought out and identify key problems and a key theme. That's true, and Dewey and understands that education is, when you start a school, you don't just build it based upon the practices and concepts and ideals of last school.
It's not built upon tradition, you serve nothing, you ignore tradition, but it's not built upon it. Instead, what replaces tradition is experience and experimentation. And this idea that we're going to build something inspired by our vision and our values and the needs in the world and the needs of the students. And so that's really what happened. And so for four decades, Goddard was a low residency program, but from the beginning had a vision for lifelong learning and serving what used to be called adult learners, sometimes we call post traditional learners, then you go ahead, you get in the 1960s. And there was an experiment. Goddard has had multiple experiments, it's been many different things, but an experiment around low residency education, so students could come in intensively, I think there are different experiments, sometimes they would just come on weekends, and then work remotely. There were then there's the version that you'll hear more about in a moment, where they'll come for eight to 10 days each semester. And when I did hear that the learners get a chance to co create, what they learned and how they learn, they'll stop and I'll live tomorrow and give you a picture of what it actually looks like today.
Bernard Bull 7:09
Honestly, I would say experimentation is probably still at our roots, you know, it's what we're all about, and really re envisioning and affirming the role of the of the learner herself right in the center of the picture, and really creating the curriculum, you know, and creating these courses, which you said something about classrooms. I mean, I would say that for our students in general, the The world is the classroom. I mean, they come to us from all over the world, and coming for these short residences that we have essentially like a week on campus, when the whole program community. Right now we have undergraduates, the undergraduate program on campus right now, in my education program that I direct, we have both undergraduates and graduate students, we have students who come to seeking a teaching license, but we also have a variety of other learners that come into, say, the education program that our community organizers and educators.
Bernard Bull 8:18
So the way the learning unfolds, it's, I would say, quite unique for every individual students. I mean, I have always felt that Goddard is the model of personalized learning, you know, that we talked about in K 12 education all the time, personalized learning plans, that this has been at the root of Goddard, historically, forever. And the dialogue that happens is really about the relationship that's formed between the faculty member, the students, here discussions that form the content of what the student is going to work on. I mean, to put it in concrete terms, the student is forming, of course contract around what they're going to work on in the particular course, this is, again, unique to maybe my education program. And that content is it could potentially be something that required to work on if they're in stay the license your program, and they're seeking a teaching license. But it's also like, it's so much more than that, because it's really about the chances of that student coming both into Goddard. And while they're here at Goddard. So we have students sometimes that she has to travel during their semester, if they're observing and visiting their his schools, you know, that becomes a part of their lens that they're bringing into their work.
Bernard Bull 9:47
It's so unique for every individual student. And I think what's really amazing is that, let's just say the licensure students, when they create their licensure portfolio, each one of those is a singular portrait of that students, past experiences present their goals of what they want to focus on, some want to move into alternative education. Others do want to teach in public schools, and really kind of change things up in public schools. And they essentially create their learning plan. And then they check in
Bernard Bull 10:21
with the faculty member of faculty members throughout the semester, after they leave, submitting packets of work getting really rich feedback. We've never used letter grades here at Goddard, it's all rich narrative feedback, very deeply human authentic, like the kind of feedback you get when you're coaching and mentoring person you care about. That's what it's like, and, and even the transcripts are that way. It's really beautiful narrative descriptions of learners. But the learning path, and I mean, what's so neat to me is to see that you look up Goddard on Google, due to Google Goddard college, you look at the page, this is all students, students who love new schools who created this, they're they're engaged in some form of socially engaged art or something that created their they designed in the world, to take image responsible action in the world. And that really flows from the curriculum, because there's no separation between that work they're doing in the world and what they're doing for the degree requirements at Goddard.
Chris McNutt 11:22
So the history of Goddard, and everything you're offering is really interested. And to be honest, I knew very little of Goddard, or before looking you all up prior to the podcast? How do students learn about your school because I know for many of us, especially those teaching at progressive schools are leading progressive schools, we struggled to find examples of progressive universities that sort of prove that these methods are good, not only for traditional higher ed, but there actually are progressive higher ed places that mirror the pedagogy that we're speaking about. And many students that I've had are worried about going international programs, because they love what they're doing in our classrooms. But they know that the lecture halls are coming, so to speak,
Kumari Patricia Younce 12:02
The first thing that I I know, it's through our graduates, I mean, our graduates in the world. I mean, like Bernard mentioned, many of them start their own schools, their activists in their communities. And so many times if I'm talking with somebody who wants to learn more about Goddard, or it's from one of one of our alumni in the world has told them about it, you know, or they see it, they see it for themselves in practice. And I think there is there's history involved, too. But I think our alumni are really present and doing these phenomenal things.
Bernard Bull 12:39
Yeah. And and I would say to that, there, there have been times when Goddard has got has always been relatively small. I mean, it's never been to college over 1000. And so word of mouth has been huge. And I would say that now we're actually in an era where your question is probably evidence of something we haven't done as well as we need to. Goddard used to be in the center of questions about the future of education. We had incredible an incredible long list of names of, of philosophers of education and theorists and futurists and others who would come to campus and talk about where we're going in a world with education and themes around social justice and other things like that. And I will say that over the last few decades, in some ways, it's been time of challenge for the college with some declining enrollments and things like that. And, and we've disengaged from that, I mean, individual faculty and others have been engaged.
But we haven't been central and we are now who we are stepping back into that we're going to be more engaged, we're going to be hosting and facilitating conversations, I did the keynote at the alternative research organization conference recently commodity has been engaged with that for a long time. That group is it that's a group of individuals, everything from unschooling to people that interested in democratic schooling and other forms of progressive education. We're going to be aggressively seeking relationships and partnerships. I'm personally as president interested in traveling, I want to go visit progressive schools around the country and start telling the story, some of my own scholarship and writing, we're really going to be launching a storytelling campaign, that's really telling the stories of our students and what they're doing in the world, and just letting people see for themselves, because that's, that's probably the most compelling piece here.
But we're not planning to do is just what's really popular, like an online space where people are just spend hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars on digital advertisements to convince people to, you know, click on this link and come here, we can't compete in that, in that space, I don't think we want to, I think we want to embrace our deeply human centered approach to education in the way that we connect with the world as well. So we're going to do it through rich dialogue, authentic conversations and telling incredible stories.
Chris McNutt 14:59
And does this one mean students are typically coming to Goddard from non traditional backgrounds? Or if they aren't coming from traditional backgrounds? How do you sell the school to them? I mean, obviously, they're applying to come. So that's the first step. But when they're just looking at the program that's so radically different than a traditional public school, you know, do you fear that it's not going to be taken as seriously or that's going to be seen as like a lesser than elite school, quote, unquote, you know, we face these problems all the time trying to be progressive or promote ppl in a K 12. space, what does that look like for you,
Kumari Patricia Younce 15:30
I would say, more than 50% have come from a traditional education or educational system moving through and not have the best experience that they come to us. And their whole call to teach is about changing the system and changing the way that they have to experience it and go through it, you know, with the traditional grades and everything, you have to understand the ages of our students are so vast from a traditional 1920 year old, that wants knows they want to become a teacher, to you know, in their 60s, I mean, the experiences that they've had, they have seen how it can be different maybe, but that they know, they know they can have an In fact, in some way.
I'll just give you one quick example, because you mentioned that you teach her ppl school. So like one of our local partners here, Cabot school, a number of their teachers have graduated from our program with their their master's degrees, some with their licenses of their teachers, around 2009, as part of his thesis designed the PBL program that started at that tiny little rural school as a K 12. School. It started in the high school, this was their music, teacher, and spread now that entire school 2019 is totally project based learning, they do a lot of community based learning a lot of service learning around Vermont. And what they needed to do over time was to convince traditional community members, that this is what learning really looks like. It's been a decade I guess. But it's, it's really an amazing model in this stage, and the teachers who have started it and continue to have one, you know, awards for their teaching. It's really just one example.
Bernard Bull 17:34
You know, I would say that, in general across programs, that whatever would seems to be a pattern is people who are drawn to Goddard are dreamers, difference makers, visionaries, and people who are interested in academic hoop jumping. They don't want to just just engage in an active complex complacency and compliance in conformity with the will of some professor who claims to know it all or no exam what they need or want, in order to have the impact in the world that they want to have. This comes a real home for people. In fact, people come for residency, and they'll even read one another saying welcome home. Because there's a sense, I hear so often that people come here and they feel like I found my people. So there's the summer the discontents as Kumari, I mentioned, they had an experience that they don't want to replicate, and they know and they know you that they've experienced it, or they know in their minds I that something can be better or different.
And they find this place Goddard that doesn't just say, Come here, jump through hoops, then you can go make a difference. Instead, they found that we're actually a place where you come and you make the difference while you're here. Because there's no separation between classroom figuratively speaking and the world, it's all one thing. So I think that's who we draw that it doesn't matter whether they come from a legacy school model, or progressive education, or where they come from all sorts of different backgrounds. But I think they all have that measure of discontent with the system, as it is, to some extent, and they have some kind of vision, they're trying to make a reality in the world.
Chris McNutt 19:08
So let's then focus for a second purely on the educational program, what does the educational program at Goddard want to promote within its educators? and other words, what values does Goddard want teachers to showcase within their classrooms, and along the same lines, what makes a student a Goddard student?
Kumari Patricia Younce 19:27
I think it's really, really important that teachers being present and really formed that relationship with each student, because the needs are also different, you know, among every high school, middle school, elementary school student. And so once you really get to know, the learning styles, and the needs of that student, then the teacher can become can adapt, you know, and diversify, you know, they're an instruction, but more than that, they can begin to open up other avenues, news of learning experiences, like, again, like thinking of students who engage more by doing projects in a community, or bringing in community advise on certain projects, you know, as expert mentors in the community. But it starts first with that relationship that, you know, the teacher needs to have with every student that they are engaging with, and you know, to say that, okay, this particular unit of instruction is designed to reach all students is that's hardly ever the case, until you can get to know how to reach those individuals, students, you know, what their exact needs are.
And sometimes, you know, it has to do with social emotional needs, you know, it has to do with what's happening in their, in their peer to peer relationships, what's happening, get to know, the families, you know, get to know, community members, that sort of thing, too. So I kind of wanted to answer that part of your question. First, I guess what I would say that students who apply to come to garner, well, I'll just say this, one of my mentors here, when I was a student, Susan Fleming said to me something that is so absolutely true, which is a student becomes a Goddard student at the time of the application. And the reason she said that is that we have multiple conversations with that interested applicant. And it's through those conversations, the very same thing, getting to know that individual, and what are their needs, I mean, sometimes a place like Goddard, or isn't always the best fit. But typically, somebody who begins to, to look look at a place like Goddard and understand how self directed it's going to be, and that a lot of the learning is going to unfold in a very unique way. Um, you know, they, they inquire, and they just know that this is, you know, a perfect, perfect place for them.
Bernard Bull 22:04
So how do you cultivate that on the on the K 12 level, to prepare people for this kind of environment and this kind of world, which is, that's the reality. I mean, the vision of Goddard was from the beginning, that democratic society depends upon people who believe that their voices and their choices matter, that they have a sense of agency, that they take ownership for what happens in their lives, their families, their community, their world. And and so the question I would pose to teachers is, if we're thinking about nurturing that this is just an invitation to really look at the school context with fresh eyes, and allow ourselves to ask these questions about what is a deeply human learning environment look like? And are there dehumanizing aspects to this? Now, there's one, one concept that I share often, which is, I'll give you a list here, I have them in a presentation that I gave recently. So I'll read this to you. It starts with subtle physiological changes unnoticed by most people, then we start to see impaired thinking and attention.
And then people find it difficult to complete otherwise easy tasks, all of a sudden, they get to a stage where they're, there's poor judgment, fatigue, difficulty managing their emotions, and then they fall asleep, or, or worse, what am I describing? And, I mean, if you hear those, in some ways, you say, well, you're describing the modern legacy classroom and many schools, but it's actually the clinical description of hypoxia or oxygen deficiency. That's what happens when our brain is lacking oxygen. And what I'd argue is our policies and practices and procedures and legacy schools are creating the intellectual and emotional acquis equivalent of oxygen deficiency. And so it's naturally producing the kind of outcomes that I just described. But the kind of result so my invitation to teachers is to is to ask the question, How can I be an agent of pumping oxygen into this into this environment?
And the way that we do that is we replaced the industrialized traits and practices of the school with deeply humanized practices. So for example, one of the priorities in K 12 education today is standardization. And that's why we love whether the standards are there. And I know that it may seem impractical for a teacher who's been trained and forced to be thinking about conforming everything to the standards. But the reality is, we don't do that in most of the aspects of our lives that we value the most, the most deeply human. I've never done that with my with my wife, I've never assessed her on a basis of national standards to determine how she's performed as a partner. I mean, you know, we just don't do that. I've not done that to my children, either. I don't do this to my friends. I don't do them to my colleagues in the workplace, either. You know, and, and so it doesn't mean that we can necessarily leave that space with questions.
Okay, how do I pump some oxygen into that we we do that by looking at the things that deeply, deeply human, they transcend time, entity, ology, and culture, and all sorts of things. I mean, they show up and all of these things like the human yearning and craving for a sense of wonder, and a sense of mystery, the sense of missed a sense of adventure, the sense that I'm on a quest, the sense of purpose, or meaning, the experience of making growth and progress towards something that I want to be or do. But those are all really deeply human things. So my invitation to teachers, if you if you want to prepare people or daughter before the real world, in general, it's it's think about how you can pump these deeply human moments into the classroom or context or environment. And the more you do that, the more people will will begin to wake up to this, the learners and all of us, we begin to wake up and recognize how did we let this system become what it is? How do we let the system become driven by standards and master production kinds of mentalities and ways of thinking,
Chris McNutt 26:03
And to close things out, and I hate to end this on a kind of a minor note, but I think it's worth bringing up that small liberal arts colleges and progressive schools in particular, especially in the northeast, are struggling to maintain enrollment for a variety of reasons, demographics, the perception, corporate interests in higher education, etc. So usually, schools would rapidly increase tuition to offset this. But Goddard is relatively cheap for a private school. It's about 16,000 to $18,000 a year. What is the current state of Goddard college? And how can people support it?
Bernard Bull 26:34
This is an incredible, incredible school. And part of the reason that I came to Goddard it was it was in trouble it. So this is a college that was noted by the regional creditors, nothing to do with academics, but concerns around its financial viability. It's a college that doesn't have a huge endowment. So we really depend upon tuition, and making sure that we're good stewards of the tuition, as you noted, we keep the tuition really low. So that makes things a little bit tricky. But, but I think that's a really important thing to notice. This is an incredible part of the higher end ecosystem, it keeps that rich diversity that's important for any ecosystem, the moment that ecosystem becomes so monocultural, you run into some problems, right. And that's true in higher ed as well.
And we are at a time in higher ed right now, where some of the same pressures that have come in K 12, are happening in higher ed, a push for certain kinds of really reductionist metrics and measures. And people are used to the idea of schools with huge endowments and other things like that. So if people really care about Goddard, or they're interested, I think one of the things is one of the ways people can express interest is if they join this community, and they contribute by paying their tuition, they're actually helping with this experiment to continue. And I will say this, and I, and I've said this, we have some challenges in the future has some uncertainty until we over the upcoming months until we know if we can make it through this or not, but the academy all if we do make it through.
And this may sound a little bit arrogant, I believe that Goddard will be known and recognized internationally as one of the most innovative schools on the planet, I really think we're going to return to that place, we just need to get through some of these immediate challenges before we can add our whole next collection of Goddard experiments. And so if people want to support the college in some way and join the college, who is seeking a partnership, getting the word out about us, we can use any and all hope that people are willing to offer.
Kumari Patricia Younce 28:28
Yeah, and we also if I could just say one thing about we also have in the education program, we now have continuing education courses on students don't have to come to residency and those are on our website now. So I would encourage teachers professionals to take a look at the selection of really unique courses. And it's still with that driven flavor to them that you know, the outcome can be unique for every student who signs up for continuing ed course. Just a little bit more structure around the topic and and we do offer both graduate degrees and the undergraduate degree to so.
Chris McNutt 29:16
Thank you again for listening to Things Fall Apart from the Human Restoration Project. I hope this conversation leaves you inspired and ready to push the progressive envelope of education. And if you have time, I'd love for you to leave us a review on iTunes, Spotify, social media, or anywhere that you see fit. If you enjoy the podcast, consider sharing it on social media. It means a lot. Let's push forward and restore humanity together.
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