Rewiring the System

My Creative Family: The Parkway Experiment, March 23, 1970

Posted in Uncategorized by rewiringangel on January 19, 2010
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John Bremer Hired Me Face To Face!
In one of the most memorable mornings of my life, he turned me into a person ready to use my creativity in a safe and proper system.  When I came out first in the Philadelphia teacher testing the year I graduated from college I got to teach.  I was given the plumb position at the Premier High School for Girls. The school housed the best teachers and student body who had to be tested to have more than one hundred fifteen IQ or higher. I tried to get a class to make woven wire sculpture that became such great art that the De Young Museum has an entire wing devoted to the woven wirework of one woman.

In Phila back in the day, I was considered a danger to the true and real education of art. The Head of Art Education of the entire school system came to my classroom and gave me instruction on how to teach poster making for a bank contest.  When I tried to use mumbo jumbo from Cosmopolitan about a process to get the man of your dreams after you get a few strands of his hair.  What fun! The class was in total attention to the art part of the project of journaling and pictures in the journal of the person, process, and goal.

Then I had the class go out on a short walk to the grassy tree space separating the girls from the boys’ high school to collect the fallen dead branches. We brought them back into the classroom to construct sculptures. The girls worked in three groups to form ideas, design, and build the structure that would boldly express peace through beauty.   This last collection of twigs was the school boards last blast of creative sawdust! I was terminated.

The girls had made beautiful jewelry from the copper wire and wonderful shapes confining space in new ways but the PSFS, (Philadelphia Saving Fund Society), poster contest was what the institutional education mass preparation for McJob, demanded.

The first son of my mother’s younger brother was a principal of a Philadelphia Elementary School.  My cousin, Edward Hutkin, knew the newly risen principal chosen for the Parkway Program.

That is how I came to meet Dr. Bremer.  My cousins’ friend wanted to hire me right on the spot but could not until I met Dr. Bremer. He had to OK me first.  I had to present myself, allow his insight to measure, and weigh my ability to carry out his dream. Would I be relaxed enough in my creative poise to teach, see, and serve young interested minds and hearts?

We went for a walk in the warm late summer to get a coffee after he saw I had potential and he talked.

He charged into my life to rescue me from the talons of the mediocre mass education canary.  I got a book budget and a pigeonhole where I would get my Board of Education mail and monetary remuneration.  Somewhere I have an identification card with my sparkling eyes on the mark and ready to open the window to infinite dimensions for the students.

He talked to me about his work at the Saint Mary’s College in the Education Department.  John Bremer was a shining light in the human family. Everything he did was to do the best for the most.

John Bremer rightly thought that great education at an early age would do more for the human family than any funding college scholarship. Boy, did he have trouble finding a city that would even listen to his ideas. He got funding from the Ford Foundation and found the City Of Brotherly Love. (It would be wonderful if I could get funding for my current work!)

The federal Department of Education followed me around for a few days to see how and what I taught.  They did a complete scan of both teachers and the students’ class progress. The Federal Department of Education wanted to check the relationships between the children, the teachers. and the material.

Woo Woo, all those years ago I was given a commendation as the best teacher they had visited that entire year.  Somewhere on a sun hat I have the little pin.  I was told that I listened to each individual and responded with grace and integrity.  How could John Bremer know I would perform at that level?

I am blessed to have lived in Philadelphia at the right time to affect the students who had the good fortune to attend all the Parkway Program sites.

Some of my students managed to find me using the internet.  It is incredibly dynamic silver strand of web we have here and are able to use today.  I am delighted to see how wonderfully they all grew into amazing creative beings in their own lives.   I look forward to making more connections with all the students in all the parts of the Parkway Program.

One of the students sent me this TIME Magazine Article from 1970.   So many stories come t mind that I am ready  to share.  It is the ghost I see!

The most interesting high school in the U.S. today does not have a classroom it can call its own.

But every week, some 30 to 40 school administrators come to Philadelphia to examine the Parkway Program high school.

The program began only a year ago as an effort on the part of Philadelphia’s board of education to deal with overcrowding in the city’s high schools. Someone suggested setting up a school that would use such cultural facilities as museums and libraries for classrooms. Since many of them are located on tree-shaded Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the project was forthwith dubbed the Parkway Program. To run it, the board hired John Bremer, a 42-year-old British educator who had been head of a community-controlled school district in New York.

On Location. Bremer briskly set about expanding the program far beyond its original blueprint. He established an auto-mechanics class in an auto-repair shop, a leatherworking class in a leather shop, a journalism course at the offices of the Evening Bulletin, and dozens of others that are taught on location.

In most cases, the specialized courses are taught by the professionals themselves. A physician gives the course in health services. A printer teaches printing, a jeweler gem cutting, an art historian a course in art history. And all of the professionals volunteer their services. As a result, the school’s catalogue bulges with some 250 offerings. Philadelphias downtown area has literally become the school’s campus, with students making their way from class to class by bus, subway or on foot.

More important in Bremer’s eyes, he has reorganized the entire administration of a public high school. He has split the school into three self-governing units and set up a weekly “town meeting” for each unit between students and faculties. Together, they discuss the curriculum, the students proposing to teachers what they want to know, the teachers explaining to students what they need to know. Classes often mix ages, with ninth-grade students, for example, being challenged by mingling with high school seniors. No marks are given. Instead, teachers write an evaluation of each student’s work. For the most part, attendance is not compulsory. Informality and responsibility are emphasized. Students can smoke in class, call teachers by their first names, and utter four-letter words without inhibition.

The enthusiastic teachers, selected from a flock of applicants, are mostly under 30, frequently wear jeans and long hair. The experimental cast of Bremer’s program has also drawn a good number of student interns from a variety of colleges. Along with the regular staff, the interns have brought the student-faculty ratio to less than 8 to 1 and the average class size to 15.

“The dignity and the importance of the learner become paramount,” says Bremer proudly. Explains Robert Johnson, a chubby 14-year-old black student: “In my old school, I was often afraid to ask a question, because I thought the teacher would think it was stupid. Here I’m never afraid to speak my mind.”

Parkway is not as unstructured as it may seem. Students must attend a two-hour tutorial twice a week, where teachers and students in groups of up to 15 meet for individual consultation and general togetherness. All the courses necessary for gaining a high school diploma and college admission are offered. But even these may be given in a unique form. A social studies course, for instance, may be a seminar on the Viet Nam War, taught by staffers from the American Friends Service Committee.

Of the 10,000 applicants for Parkway, the 500 students now enrolled were selected from all over the city. Most are middleclass, about half are black, and IQs range from 74 to 140.

Marvelously Economical. It is too early to tell if Parkway students are well prepared for college, but it is already clear that given Parkway’s style of freedom, many high school students not only mature faster but also learn more. Though many were behavioral problems in their previous schools, discipline problems have proved minimal, and the school has no hard-drug problem. There have been no racial incidents, though blacks and whites tend to keep apart.

“Up till now we’ve had the notion that the classroom is the only place where learning can take place,” says Ford Foundation Official Mario Fantini. “The Parkway Program utterly rejects that notion; it breaks down the dichotomy between living and learning.” Furthermore, he points out, Parkway is marvelously economical. A school for 500 pupils costs some $1,000,000 to build. Parkway’s capital costs were practically nil. The most impressive praise of all is that Parkway already has at least one imitator. Chicago last month began its own peripatetic school. Kansas City, San Francisco, Hartford and Washington may follow suit.

Read more:,9171,943213-1,00.html#ixzz0d2NvNzsc


2 Responses to 'My Creative Family: The Parkway Experiment, March 23, 1970'

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  1. […] Follow this link: My Creative Family: The Parkway Experiment, Mar 23, 1970 … […]

  2. JuDonn said,


    I stumbled upon your blog and am very interested in your experience with the Parkway Program. I’m currently conducting a research project on the Parkway Program and have a few questions to ask! I’m also working as an advisor at a project-based learning school much like the Parkway Program here in Philadelphia. If you have the time and would like to share some of your knowledge and insight with me, it would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks in advance!


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