A small town in southern Alabama seems like an unlikely spot for one of the Progressive Education movement's shining experiments, but then Fairhope is unlike any community in the South, founded by idealists and dreamers back in 1894. Here in 1907, Marietta Johnson founded her School of Organic Education, which she operated successfully until her death in 1938. While the school itself still exists, the golden age was under Johnson's watch, and this museum tells us much about this remarkable woman, who spoke around the world about the need for "education without failure" and where "physical and emotional development are just as revered as cognitive development." Located on the campus of Faulkner State College in the School's original Bell Building, you have to kind of know where it is -- located in the BACK of the Bell Building on School Street. Besides artifacts, photos of the era (one taken by John Dewey himself, who was a big fan), and samples of student work, Maggie, the museum director, is so bubbly and enthusiastic you begin to get a sense of the joy and excitement that must have been at the heart of Johnson's philosophy and school. When my educator cousin and I finally figured out where it was and when it was open, we were, quite literally, embraced by Maggie. Make sure to see the ten-minute video on the School. Open only between 2:00 and 4:00 Monday to Friday or by appointment, it is well worth a visit. While there, pick up a copy of Johnson's collected writings, Organic Education: Teaching Without Failure. In this age of computer-driven classrooms and high-stakes testing, her ideas are refreshing and compelling.
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