In 1912, Park School started revolution


October 12, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

On an unseasonably cool September morning 90 years ago, 59 excited boys and girls who had arrived by streetcar and foot anxiously raced up the stairway leading into Baltimore's newest private school.

Park School, which opened its doors on Sept. 30, 1912, was located in the former Orem Mansion on Auchentoroly Terrace. The striking four-story building with bay windows faced Druid Hill Park, from which the new school took its name.

The school, whose founding represented both an educational and social revolution, has quietly observed its anniversary from its present campus on Old Court Road in Brooklandville.

Early in the last century, James Van Sickle, superintendent of Baltimore's public schools, embraced the progressive educational philosophy of John Dewey, a professor of philosophy at Columbia University, and its application in Baltimore schools was not without controversy.

"By 1911, Dewey's influence had caused a shockwave in Baltimore: School Superintendent James Van Sickle was a leading curricular reformer in the city's public schools," wrote Jean Thompson Sharpless in her book, The Park School of Baltimore, The First Seventy-Five Years, published in 1988.

"His innovations included kindergartens, playgrounds, manual training and cooking classes. He established strict procedures for the selection and adoption of textbooks, promoted professionalization of teachers and administrators, and introduced a system of supervising teachers. He also recommended curricular reforms based on the needs of the child," she wrote.

Van Sickle's overhauling of the school system was opposed by many veteran educators and eventually became a factor in that year's mayoral campaign.

Several members of Baltimore's Board of School Commissioners who supported Van Sickle were eventually removed by Mayor James Preston, while two others resigned in protest.

Several of those former commission members - Dr. Hans Froelicher, Eli Frank, Gen. Lawrason Riggs - were joined by Eli Oppenheim, Louis H. Levin, Siegmund Sonneborn, Judge John C. Rose and Dr. William H. Maltbie in discussing a new school for Baltimore that reflected progressive educational and social philosophies.

Out of those discussions held during the winter of 1912 emerged Park School, largely shaped by Froelicher's stunning vision.

"In the school I had in mind ... the pupils were to learn because they were interested, because they loved their work, because they loved the school, because they were inspired by the highest type of teacher, because they saw the reason of things," said Froelicher.

"I was convinced ... that pupils educated in this type of school would meet the exigencies of college entrance examinations as incidental to the general course, not as ends in themselves. ... In addition they would be infinitely more self-dependent, alert, informed; they would be intellects eager for knowing and doing," he said.

Froelicher, a professor at Goucher College, declined the headmastership of the new school but was an influential member of its board from 1912 until 1929.

Park School, according to a Sun article, was founded "free of religious discrimination, enrollment quotas and the despotic formalism of private school education," which was then a ruling factor in the daily life of Baltimore's private school world.

It was Froelicher's goal that the school not produce "rubber stamp students" who were to be "guided by the fundamental thought that [their] best work could be accomplished without the customary insistence upon deadly routine for its own sake, upon coercion, repression, penalties and rewards.

"The teacher was expected to be a co-learner, friend, adviser of the pupils, and ... by creating a vital and stirring interest in the subject to be learned by relating the individual subject to the whole of the curriculum, the best educational results would be realized with the greatest amount of happiness for both pupil and teacher," The Sun said.

Froelicher "wanted school to be different, to be a leader in educational theory and practice, to avoid turning out what he called `social and intellectual snobs' - but rather children with `an exalted consciousness of their personality, physically, spiritually and intellectually,' " said The Sun.

So successful was the new school that by 1917, it had outgrown its original location and moved to a group of eclectic Spanish-American looking buildings in the 3000 block of Liberty Heights Ave.

In 1932, Froelicher's son, Hans Froelicher Jr., was named headmaster, and continued his father's educational vision.

At his retirement in 1956, he defined the school's progressive tradition in an interview with The Sun.

"Essentially, `progressive' meant teaching children not by rote or compulsion but by creating the educational climate that made them want to learn. ... It meant teaching with all the available scientific knowledge of what causes learning to take place," he said.

" `Learning by doing' has become an educational cliche, but it is nonetheless the way to describe the Park School's methods as conceived by Hans Froelicher the elder, and carried out by the son," observed The Sun.

Since 1959, the school, whose educational mission still reflects the views of its founders, has been located on a 100-acre campus in Brooklandville. Its current enrollment is 875.

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