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The Cottage School

This is a “cottage school”, an idea that had an attractive ring about it. At about the same time, there were other innovative alternatives being proposed to what was more or less standard primary education. Maria Montessori educational philosophies, for example, were introduced after 1897 and established in the U.S. in 1911, joining the earlier innovations of German theorist Friedrich Fröbel. Then there was the Waldorf system based after 1919 on the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner.

In architectural terms, I’m intrigued by the early 20th century phenomenon known as “Open Air” schools, as a response to the dangers of tuberculosis. The Amsterdam model designed by Jan Duiker and Johannes Bijvoet is perhaps the best known, but there were many less dramatic examples in the U.S. The intent was to provide smaller classrooms (fewer students to minimize communicability) with maximum access to sunlight and fresh (i.e., non-stagnant) air. The McCormick family of Chicago became great supporters of the “open air” concept after one of their children succumbed to tuberculosis.

Educational reform in the U.S. was also driven by Progressive Era philanthropy. Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck & Co., in conjunction with Booker T. Washington, built 5,000 schools in our southern states for the underfunded education of Blacks. And while there were standardized plans, such as this one-room example (at left), even Frank Lloyd Wright proposed a 1928 “Rosenwald” design which remains unbuilt, perhaps due to the Great Depression. At minimum, we should know more about this as an important instance of noblesse oblige—a concept foreign to the vast majority of the current 1%.

So the “cottage school” idea drew my attention, especially when I saw this charming example from Seward, Nebraska. I sought more information about it with gusto—until I discovered that it was and continues to be linked with the Christian “home school” movement. As a secular humanist, I find myself at odds with what I understand as American tribalism.

It’s possible that Agincourt had a “cottage school”; there was one, apparently, in Seward, Nebraska.


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