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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 - from inventing “low residency” (students attend campus for around 2 weeks, then complete self-directed, purposeful projects) to never giving grades. 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.
We talk about the struggles, successes, and experiments of progressive universities, including what makes Goddard different, how we can prepare students and educators for progressive schooling, what types of students make Goddard their home, and how we can revolutionize higher education.
Dr. Bernard Bull, president of Goddard College, an advocate of alternative education and author of many books, including Missional Moonshots: Insight & Inspiration in Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning.
Dr. Kumari Patricia Younce, education program director of Goddard College, who has worked in every variety of school as an art educator, whose focus on creativity and progressive practice landed her at Goddard.
Chris McNutt: Hello, and welcome to Season 3, Episode 12 of Things Saw Apart, our podcast of 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 Fort Townsend and Seattle, Washington. Goddard is a heavily progressive school, with a variety of unique programs that you'll learn about later in this conversation. It enrolls 700 students, 30% of whom are undergraduates, and it was founded in the spirit of experiential and democratic education. Goddard emphasizes self-directed higher education programs, where learners submit their work via learning portfolios. I'm thrilled to share more about this school, but first I want to implore you to visit our Patreon page. There, you'll find a place to support this podcast, as well as find a variety of free resources that we're creating. For as little as one dollar a month, you'll know that you're keeping this endeavor afloat, and plus you'll receive our professional electronic magazine. A few of our patrons who supported this podcast are Shanna Schrader, Burton Hable, and Erin Godot. I'm humbled by your support, and I can't wait to see the experiences that we create together. You can learn more about our Patreon page, as well as find out everything that we do about the Human Restoration Project at humanrestorationproject.org, and on Twitter, at humerezpro. Today we are joined by Kamari Patricia, Director of Education, and Bernard Bull, President of Goddard College. Kamari has a background in education, working as an art teacher, teaching within museum schools, to parochial and public schools, and joining Goddard in 2006, quickly becoming the Teacher Licensure Coordinator, and now she's the Director of Education. And Bernard was hired in 2018 as President. He used to serve as a social studies teacher, and he moved into higher education, where he designed an instructional learning center. And his scholarship focuses on alternative and experiential educational models. For the last 10 years, Bernard has interviewed and observed alternative methods, which really opened his eyes to what's possible in education.
Bernard Bull: 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, no traditional courses, that students sort of co-created their curriculum and 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, I wanted to study and try to determine whether or not Hitler fit the criteria of clinical insanity. That's the way I defined it as a kid. I didn't know a lot about psychology at the time, but I researched, and 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 free rein to do it. And that was the highlight of my high school experience, but it was just one experience. So when I went to a high school, and I realized that the entire school could look that way and feel that way, that was a transformation for me. So I learned about Goddard as I started exploring experimental alternative models of education, different expressions of progressive education, and then 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 that. It's the first on many things, it's one of the first to embrace low residency progressive education, lots of other things. So I came across a book called To Know For Real, it has a lot of the original words and concepts that the first president, Tim Pitkin, shares in the book, and I was really so moved. I carried that book around with me for, I don't know how long, it must have been a year or longer had it marked up, and now I think I'm on my third copy because I wrote on it so much that I didn't have space.
CM: You heard Bernard briefly mention low residency. If you're not familiar, low residency means that for most of the semester, students aren't 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? Are there any classrooms? Are there any grades? What does it look like?
BB: Goddard was formed as a progressive education institution in the late 1930s, and this was 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 in this time of crisis in the world. There was a group, Tim Pitkin I mentioned, who had this vision of an institution that really embodied our democratic values. The learners had voice, choice, ownership, and agency, and the original vision, it was a residential campus. The learners were co-creators of the curriculum from the beginning. They sought out and identified key problems, and a key theme that's true in Dewey and understands of education is, when you start a school, you don't just build it based upon the practices and concepts and ideals of the last school. It's not built upon tradition, certainly not that 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. That's really what happened. For 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 into 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. Students could come in intensively, I think there were different experiments. Sometimes they would just come on weekends and then work remotely, 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 they get here, the learners get a chance to co-create what they learn and how they learn. I'll stop and I'll let Kumara give you the picture of what it actually looks like today.
Kumari Patricia Younce: Honestly, I would say experimentation is probably still at our roots, it's what we're all about. Really re-envisioning and affirming the role of the learner herself right in the center of the picture and really creating the curriculum and creating these courses, which you said something about classrooms. I would say that for our students in general, the world is the classroom. They come to us from all over the world and coming for these short residencies that we have essentially in 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 are community organizers and educators. So the way that the learning unfolds, it's, I would say quite unique for every individual student. I mean, I have always felt that Goddard is the model of personalized learning, that we talk 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 student peer 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 a 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, could potentially be something that required to work on if they're in say the licensure 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 experiences of that student coming both into Goddard and while they're here at Goddard. So we have students sometimes that choose to travel during their semester, if they're observing and visiting, there is schools, you know, that becomes a part of their lens that they're bringing into their work. It's so unique for every individual student. And I think what's really amazing is that, let's just say the licensure students now when they create their licensure portfolio, each one of those is a singular portrait of that student's 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.
BB: And they essentially co-create their learning plan and then they check in with the faculty member or 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 a person you care about. That's what it's like. And even the transcripts are that way. It's really beautiful narrative descriptions of learners, the learning path. And I mean, what's so neat to me is to see that when you look up Goddard on Google, Google Goddard College, you look at the pages, it's all students, students who launched new schools, who created this, they're engaged in some form of socially engaged art or something they've created there, they've designed in the world to take imaginative and responsible action on 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.
CM: So the history of Goddard and everything you're offering is really interested. And to be honest, I knew very little of Goddard 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 or leading progressive schools, we struggle to find examples of progressive universities that sort of prove 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 into traditional programs because they love what they're doing in our classrooms, but they know that the lecture halls are coming, so to speak.
KPY: The first thing that 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, they're activists in their communities, and so many times, if I'm talking with somebody who wants to learn more about Goddard, it's from one of our alumni in the world has told them about it, you know, or they see it for themselves in practice. And I think there is the history involved too, but I think our alumni are really present and doing these phenomenal things.
BB: Yeah, and I would say too that there have been times when Goddard has always been relatively small. I mean, it's never been a college over a thousand. 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. And we had an incredible long list of names of philosophers of education and theorists and futurists and others who would come to campus and talk about where we're going in the world with education and themes around social justice and other things like that. And then we'll 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 we've disengaged from that. Individual faculty and others have been engaged, but we haven't been in central, and we are now. 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 Ed Research Conference recently. Kumari has been engaged with that for a long time. That's a group of individuals, everything from unschoolers to people 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 probably the most compelling piece here. What we're not planning to do is just what's really popular, like an online space where people would just spend hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars on digital advertisements to convince people to click on this link and come here. We can't compete in that space, and 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.
CM: And does this mean that students are typically coming to Goddard from non-traditional backgrounds? Or if they are coming from traditional backgrounds, how do you sell the school to them? I mean, obviously, they are 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, do you fear that it's not going to be taken as seriously or that it's going to be seen as a lesser than elite school, quote, unquote? We face these problems all the time trying to be progressive or promote PBL in a K-12 space. What does that look like for you?
KPY: I would say possibly more than 50% have come from a traditional 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 with the traditional grades and everything. You have to understand the ages of our students are so vast from a traditional 19, 20-year-old that once 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 can have an impact in some way. I'll just give you one quick example because you mentioned that you teach for a PBL school. So like one of our local partners here, the Cabot School, a number of their teachers have graduated from our program with their master's degree and some with their licenses. Their teachers around 2009, as part of his thesis, designed the PBL program that started at that tiny little rural school, it's 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 really an amazing model in this state and the teachers who have started it and continue it have won awards for their teaching. It's really just one example.
BB: Yeah, I would say that in general, across programs, what seems to be a pattern is people who are drawn to Goddard are dreamers, difference makers, visionaries, and people who aren't interested in academic hoop-jumping. They don't want to just engage in an act of complacency and compliance and conformity with the will of some professor who claims to know it all and know exactly what they need or want in order to have the impact in the world that they want to have. This becomes a real home for people, in fact, people come for residency and they'll even greet one another saying, welcome home, because there's a sense, I hear it so often that people come here and they feel like, I found my people. So, some of the discontents, as Kumari mentioned, they had an experience that they don't want to replicate and they know, and they know either they've experienced it or they know in their mind's eye that something can be better or different, and they find this place Goddard that doesn't just say, come here, jump through our 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, in the world. It's all one thing. So, I think that's who we draw, whether they come from a legacy school model or progressive education or 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 that they're trying to make a reality in the world.
CM: 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? In 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?
KPY: I think it's really, really important that teachers be present and really form that relationship with each student, because the needs are also different 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 adapt and diversify their instruction, but more than that, they can begin to open up other avenues of learning experiences. Again, thinking of students who engage more by doing projects in a community or bringing in community advice on certain projects as expert mentors in the community. But it starts first with that relationship that the teacher needs to have with every student that they are engaging with. To say that, okay, this particular unit of instruction is designed to reach all students, that's hardly ever the case until you can get to know how to reach those individual students, what their exact needs are. And sometimes it has to do with social-emotional needs, it has to do with what's happening in their peer-to-peer relationships, what's happening, get to know the families, 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 Goddard, 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 isn't always the best fit, but typically somebody who begins to 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, they inquire and they just know that this is a perfect place for them.
BB: So how do you cultivate that 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 a 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 so the question I would pose to teachers is, if we're thinking about nurturing this, is just an invitation to really look at the school context with fresh eyes and allow ourselves to ask these questions about what does a deeply human learning environment look like and are there dehumanizing aspects to this? Now there's 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, then people find it difficult to complete otherwise easy tasks. All of a sudden they get to a stage where there's poor judgment, fatigue, difficulty managing their emotions, and then they fall asleep 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 in 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 in legacy schools are creating the intellectual and emotional equivalent of oxygen deficiency. And so it's naturally producing the kind of outcomes that I just described are the kind of result. So my invitation to teachers is to ask the question, how can I be an agent of pumping oxygen into this environment? And the way that we do that is we replace 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 wife. I've never assessed her on a basis of national standards to determine how she's performing 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 that to my friends. I don't do that to my colleagues in the workplace even, you know? And so it doesn't mean that we can necessarily leave that space, but the question is, okay, how do I pump some oxygen into that? We do that by looking at the things that are deeply, deeply human. They transcend time and ideology and culture and all sorts of things. I mean, they show up in all of these. Things like the human yearning and craving for a sense of wonder and a sense of mystery, 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. Those are all really deeply human things. So my invitation to teachers, if you want to prepare people for Goddard or for the real world in general, 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 begin to wake up to, the learners and all of us, we begin to wake up and recognize, how did we let this system become what it is? How did we let the system become driven by standards and mass production kinds of mentalities and ways of thinking?
CM: 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, et cetera. 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? This is an incredible, incredible school, and part of the reason that I came to Goddard was it was in trouble. So this is a college that was noted by the regional accreditors, 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 I think that's a really important thing to note is this is an incredible part of the higher ed 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. 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. People are used to the idea of schools with huge endowments and other things like that. So if people really care about Goddard, they're interested. I think 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. I will say this, and I have said this, we have some challenges and the future has some uncertainty over the upcoming months until we know if we can make it through this or not with the accreditors and 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 or seeking a partnership, get the word out about us, we can use any and all help that people are willing to offer.
KPY: 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, students don't have to come to a 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 student driven flavor to them that 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 we do offer both graduate degrees and the undergraduate degree too.
CM: 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.