The Ecole D'Humanite
The school my wife attended long time ago is still there !
The Ecole d'Humanite is an international coeducational boarding school located in
the village of Goldern, Hasliberg, in the Swiss Alps. One hundred and fifty
students from over a dozen countries live and study together in a cooperative
Classes are taught in both English and German and students concentrate on no
more than three subjects at one time in the morning hours. They progress rapidly
in small groups, learning to study in depth. To counterbalance this intensive
academic program, they devote their afternoons to art and music, and crafts,
selecting from some sixty possible courses. Emphasis is placed on increasing
independence. Students learn to plan their own study program, to determine the
most effective learning methods for themselves, and to organize their schedule to
include both study time and social and recreational activities.
The school stresses humanistic values and responsible community living. Students
dress informally, live together with teachers in the friendly atmosphere of the
"families", and share in the responsability for daily chores and upkeep -shovelling
snow , washing dishes, cleaning classrooms. This life style in spectacular natural
surroundings far from the onslaught of television, advertising and constant appeals
to consumerism, helps students to be creative and to develop in their own way.
While this is a school with a demanding academic program, it is also a living
community whose members are constantly striving to balance the needs of the
individuals on the one hand with those of the group on the other. Students take
charge of such important tasks as organizing job rotation and managing committees
which run the library, entertainment programs, the fire brigade and the like. Some
are active in the student council and some are involved in working out disciplinary
problems that arise. All are encouraged to voice their opinions freely but at the
same time to respect the rights and opinions of others. Everyone, from the
youngest to the oldest, partecipates in weekly community meetings which are
chaired by a student. All speakers are recognized equally during the discussions
and, while decisions are not always made in this large group, the sessions
provides a chance for everyone to be heard.
The Ecole offers a wide range of experiences and challenges for young people to
grow on. Rooming with someone from a different culture can, for example, be an
enlightening experience. So can mountain-climbing or potato-peeling. The process
of living together is a constant reminder that there are many sides to every question
and problems must be patiently worked through if solutions are to be found that are
satisfactory to all concerned. The search for cooperation is at the center of the
All new students are assigned to family groups which are comprised of two faculty members and about eight boys and girls. Each family lives together in one of the school houses and eats together in the common dining room. Wednesday evening is Family Evening and they spend it together as a group - playing games, cooking a meal, working on a project, or just talking.
Teachers take particular interest in the students in their family.They are concerned with their total development on a day-to-day basis and assume such parental roles as supervising bedtimes, planing birthday celebrations, and offering counsel when problems arise. After their first two terms, students are able to choose the family and the house they wish to live in.
These family groups foster more open relationships among young people and between staff and students. Living in a mixed group including both sexes and various cultures helps everyone to see beyond the stereotypes and to appreciate individual differences. The mixture of older and younger children is also an important aspect of the family atmosphere. Older ones may be counted on to help with waxing a pair of skis or translating a sentence. The younger ones in turn offer an exuberance which is equally important to the community spirit. Even infants and toddlers (faculty children) are a part of the community, often sitting on a favorite lap during school meeting or singing hour.
A typical day in the school is full of activity.Students and teachers are involved with classes, sports, chores, crafts and meetings from early morning until bedtime. Nevertheless, it is also important that each person find time to go for a leisurely walk, to sit and read, or just to be alone. Quiet times are scheduled into the school day after lunch and in the evening and some students who prefer a more secluded life can choose a family living in one of the smaller houses in the village; others seem to thrive right in the center of things.
A basic college preparatory program is offered in English. In addition, from the time they arrive, English-speaking students are expected to take German until they become proficient in the language.The first term is usually devoted to German, English and mathematics. Later they can take other courses offered in English and as soon as they can understand German they will be able to choose from an even wider range of subjects.
College Entrance: Each year the school prepares a group of students for entrance to American and British universities. A major feature of their preparation is learning to do independent projects. Those in their last two years of high school regularly write a major research paper on a subject of their own choosing in order to learn the techniques of note-taking, outlining and footnoting as well as to get practice in the self-discipline of long-term independent study.
The school has an extensive English library which provides good source material for most class projects. Those who need more specialized materials may borrow them by mail from the Swiss library system. Students preparing for the College Board tests generally find the course plan system well suited to their needs. The English program in the fall term places special emphasis on vocabulary and writing skills in preparation for the SATs. The school has been an official testing center of the Educational Testing Service since 1959. Students generally take the SATs twice, in December of their last two years. Naturally, most students select German for one of their achievement tests and do very well on it (Average score 710)
American colleges seem interested in accepting students who have had a thorough U.S. high school education combined with the experience of living abroad. Graduates in recent years have gone to such American colleges as Middlebury, Pomona, Wellesley and Yale and to the universities of Birgmingham and Newcastle in England.
The primary language of the school is German, but the academic program
is offered in both German and English. The programs are not separate but
interlocking and students are free to choose courses offered in either one,
depending on their language ability. Each year some bilingual courses are
offered as well. In these classes srudents may read and write in either
language while participating in bilingual discussions with students from
different backgrounds. Students may prepare for European or American
universities or other types of occupational and professional training.
Most of those in the English program prepare for the American college
The school year is broken down into course periods which are about six weeks
in length. During the course period, a student takes the same three courses
every day from Monday through Saturday.
Usually two or more course periods
are required for subjects such as geometry
or beginning German.
The single course period can be used effectively for spcialized courses
like the Geology of the Hasliberg or Practice in Expository Writing.
All students select their own courses with the help of faculty advisors.
Those who wish to concentrate in a particular area are free to do so as
long as university requirements and career plans are taken into
consideration. Older students occasionally elect to work independently if
they have proved their ability to work on their own and have designed a
project that meets with faculty approval.
Classes are small with rarely more than eight students. The student-teacher
ratio of 5 : 1 allows highly individualized instruction and requires the
active participation of each class member. Pupils are grouped according to
ability and interest rather than by age categories. Class periods which are
60-75 minutes long leave time for varied approaches to the subject matter.
There is no one prescribed teaching method in the school; teachers and
students are encouraged to use whatever methods are most effective for a
particular class. Some faculty members participate in a special training
program in the use of Theme-Centered Interaction in the classroom under the
supervision of Dr.Ruth C. Cohn, founder of this humanistic system for
furthering efficient and cooperative group work which corresponds closely to
the educational philosophy of the school. Dr. Cohn has been Consultant in
Residence since 1974.
Reports:Neither grades nor final examinations are given, though quizzes and
papers are common; students do not pass or fail in the traditional sense.
Instead, teachers communicate regularly with the students about their work
and evaluate each one’s performance at the end of every course period in a
special “blue book”. Students keep records of their own progress by writing
in their “olive-green books”. These self-educations are essential if young
people are to learn to see their education as primarily their responsibility
rather than that of their parents or teachers. They also learn that
progress is the result of an effort which they themselves exert, and not a
gift (in the form of a grade) from the teacher.
Parents of new pupils receive a full report on their child’s academic
workand social adjustment at the end of the first term, based on the blue
book entries and staff conference. When the student leaves, a detailed
final report and transcript are sentto the parents. If there should be a
special need at any time, an interim report can be requested.
Physical fittness is stressed without undue emphasis on competitive sports. Swimming, running,
hiking, dance, gymnastics and kajaking are some of the activities offered. Basketball, volleyball and soccer are the most popular team sports.
Skiing makes winter the most important season for many sports enthusiasts. For them the school is ideally situated near a cable car station. Students may go skiing whenever they have no other commitments, and the afternoon schedule is adjusted to make this possible six days a week. Accomplished skiers may ski the mountain and there are places for beginners to practice all around the school. Once a week, in good weather, classes may be cancelled for the morning or afternoon while the whole school goes skiing. Ski hikes are sometimes organized, enabling groups to ski slopes which are not served by lifts. Cross country skiing is also offered.
Hikes: Being among the renowned Bernese mountains inspires a lot of hiking. Several day and week-end hikes take place during the year and the entire school divides into groups which go off for a 3-day hike in the fall term and a 6-day hike in the spring. These longer excursions give students the chance to see other parts of Switzerland or neighboring sections of France and Italy.
The Afternoon Programs - Other Activities
The time between rest hour and supper is reserved for courses in art, music, theater, crafts and sports. Each student sets up a balanced program of from six to eight course hours per week. Most classes meet one afternoon a week for one to three hours and continue for the whole trimester.
Arts and Craft: The emphasis on the arts is one of the most distinctive aspects of the school. Everyone is encouraged to explore a variety of means and creative self-expression.They may pick courses from an exstensive range of choices. Traditional art courses include pen and ink, printmaking, mechanical drawing and watercolor. Textile courses run the gamut from carding, spinning and weaving to sewing, knitting and batik. The school has workshops for ceramics, woodworking, metal work and photography. At the end of each term there is a display of finished work. Any student wishing to create a portfolio for admission to an art school will be given ample opportunity and assistance.
Dance: Folkdancing is particularly popular; students can learn dances from many different cultures, from the Balkans to the United States. Dance classes are offered at all levels and the most advanced can join a special demonstration group which performs on occasion for the school and in various Swiss towns. Folk dance evenings open to everyone are a regular event, alternating with popular dancing on Saturday evenings. Ballet, classical ballroom, and modern dance are usually offered as well.
Theater: Visitors to the school are always impressed by the quality of the theatrical performances. Each year there are several major productions in English and in German, and occasionally one in French. English-speakers may participate in any of these plays; they provide good opportunities to work on language skills. The major English production each year is a full-length Shakespeare play which involves about 30 students in acting , lighting, costumes, music and sets.
In addition to these productions there are less formsl plays as well. Students may choose to direct works themselves or to write their own plays. Sometimes a group will organize a circus; sometimes a travelling troupe will be formed to go “on the road” during the six-day hike. An interested student can participate in several productions each year.
Music: Many students bring their instruments. Lessons in violin, piano, recorder and guitar are offered regularly. Instrumental groups such as string quartets, bands, brass and woodwind groups are formed from time to time.individual music students and ensemble groups arrange recitals for the end of term. Courses in music theory and appreciation are also available.
The tradition of singing together once a week gives everyone a chance to learn songs from the various countries represented in the school and provides an added stimulus to language learning. The school choir, consisting of staff and students, gives regular concerts, the highpoint being a performance of Christmas music in the 17th century church of Meiringen.
As in other aspects of the school program, active participation is stressed. In keeping with this goal, students are not permitted to have radios or tape recorders in their rooms. They do have opportunities to listen to their favorite music, but not at all times, or as a background to study.
Paul Geheeb was born in 1870 in the Eastern part of Germany. His university studies included philosophy, theology and medicine.While studying he worked with poor children of Berlin and actively supportrd a number of liberal causes, including women’s rights and the protest against anti-Semitism. He became interested in the progressive education movement and worked in various experimental schools. While co-director of Wickersdorf he met Edith Cassirer (born 1885), the daughter of a prominent Berlin family, who had managed to free herself from the restrictions placed on well brought-up young ladies of the time and become active in social work and education. They were married in 1909.
With financial support from Edith’s father, Max Cassirer, The Geheebs were able to design and build their ideal school in 1910, the Odenwaldschule in Hessen. Very radical for its day, this coeducational boarding school involved student in new forms of learning: selecting their courses, evaluating their own progress, setting up rules for the community, cleaning the buildings, spending as much time on athletic, artistic and socially significant activities as in the classroom. The Odenwaldschule was widely recognized as a successful experiment in the progressive education movement and it continued to thrive for more than twenty years under the Geheebs’ direction.
During the Nazi era, however, they emigrated to Switzerland rather than compromise their educational principles. Help from loyal friends enabled them to make a new beginning and the Ecole d’Humanité was founded in Versoix near Geneva in 1934. But the war years were extremely difficult and the school, consisting mainly of refugee children, was forced to move several times. Finally, in 1946, it was moved to its present location on the Hasliberg in the Bernese Oberland. During the l950’s normal conditions and financial stability gradually returned. While the philosophy and traditiond of the Odenwaldschule remained, the Ecole d’Humanité also retained the international character it had acquired during the war years. Today there are students from Africa, Asia and Latin America as well as from the United States and Europe.
After Paul Geheeb’s death in 1961, Armin and Natalie Luethi-Peterson (Swiss and American respectively) continued to run the school as directors, until the time of her death in 1982 together with Edith Geheeb, till l995 when they abdicated in favour of a new leadership team, actually composed by five personalities of the teachers’ staff.
The school has grown steadily to its current size of 150 students, and the phisical plant has grown as well. The biggest of the three original buildings is still in use, but sixteen more houses and apartments have been added to provide living space, classrooms, libraries and workshops for the expanding community.
While there is a readiness to examine and adopt new ideas and methods in the school, there is also a strong sense of its past. Principles of the educational reform movement of the beginning of the century have been maintained in an unbroken tradition - “learn by doing”, social responsibility, partnership as opposed to hierarchy, cooperation rather than competition, the education of the whole person, a life style characterized by awareness of nature, a wholesome diet, and abstinence from nicotine and alcohol. Some concepts which educators today are just beginning to explore, such as grouping by ability rather than by age and the abolition of marks, have been successfully practiced in the Ecole d'Humanité for decades. Change takes place here, but within the stable framework of these basic ideas.
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