The School That Was
NOTE: This is the introduction to Gunter Nabel's "A Fight For Human Rights - Documents of The Stockbridge School."
Ordering information for this volume, which everyone should own, will be available on this site as soon as possible.
Most institutions die because they have failed to achieve their purpose.
Some out live their usefulness and fight to continue a marginal existence. A
few die because they have been so successful. And so it was with the
Founded in the fall of 1949 at Interlaken, in the Berkshire Mountains of
Western Massachusetts, the Stockbridge School set out to challenge some of
the basic premises of American education, indeed, of American society. As a
private boarding school for adolescents the maverick institution found
itself in an unlikely spot amid the prim conservatism of the New England
hills. But its departure from accepted policy and practice was not merely a
desire to be different. Rather, it reflected the deeply held convictions
of its founder, Hans Maeder, a 39 year old German political refugee. From
the time he was a student leader as a teenager until he came to Interlaken,
he had been working with young people and developing his own conception of
the proper learning environment for adolescents.
The school he founded was completely interracial, at a time when other
"liberal" boarding schools were proud of their token one or two Blacks and
Jews. The 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, which
mandated desegregation of the public schools "with all deliberate speed" was
still five years in the future and a decade and a half would pass before the
Civil Rights Movement seared the conscience of the nation.
Stockbridge was coeducational at a time when housing adolescent boys and
girls under the same roof was considered scandalous by many. Nearly a
quarter of a century would pass before economic necessity made coeducation
fashionable among New England boarding schools.
The school was dedicated to "education for world understanding" and set out
to prove that students of every color, creed, and culture could live and
learn and work together in harmony, and in the process learn much from each
other. It enrolled students from all over the world while the fledging
United Nations was still taking its first halting steps toward international
It was an experimental school that believed there were always better ways to
stimulate learning by the young, and the search for those ways was constant.
Nothing was sacred merely because it came from the past, nor was past
practice rejected merely because it was old. The objective was a pragmatic
one: to find what worked best under existing circumstances with the people
at hand. Structure and discipline were both firm and flexible, and despite
the school's innovative thrust, strong emphasis was placed on traditional
The Stockbridge School died in the fall of 1976. Why? Enrollment had risen
rapidly from the original 16 students to more than 150 in the late 1960s.
Both parents and students were devoted to the school and it was widely known
and admired in international circles, though it was never completely
accepted by other New England boarding schools. Those who were close to the
school offer a number of explanations. Most of them are not unique to
The 1970s were not kind to most private boarding schools. Enrollments were
dropping in the wake of egalitarian spirit of the 1960s. The "flower
children" were not attracted by the elitist reputation of private boarding
schools. One unofficial estimate has it that private schools, both day and
boarding, were closing at the rate of one a day during the early 1970s. And
one Stockbridge graduate remembers that "every school in the area that I
played soccer against in the 1950s closed in the 1970s. It wasn't just
More important, perhaps, is the fact that Hans retired in the spring of 1971
to care for his seriously ill wife. The driving force behind the school was
gone. Hans was a man of great charm, tremendous energy, and total dedication
to the school he had created. It was he who raised the funds for
scholarships and special projects. It was Hans and his vision of what
education for adolescents should be that attracted devoted parents. It was
Hans' warmth and understanding of young people that made it possible to
recruit students from around the world. One boy who had had a disastrous
experience at a prestigious private day school, talked with Hans, enrolled
at Stockbridge, and had an enormously successful career there. When his
mother was asked recently about Hans' role at the school, she said simply:
"Hans was all."
Since Hans dominated the school so completely it is possible that no
successor could follow him completely. Certainly none did. Hans attracted
many strong, independent teachers who invested much of themselves in the
school. They sometimes fought with Hans and resented his dominance. But they
needed him at the helm, he had to be there. A successful successor as
headmaster would have had to be as strong a personality as Hans himself, and
would have had to have his own clear vision of the direction the school
should take. Several attempts were made to groom a successor, but with no
Another view of the reasons for Stockbridge's demise accepts the many
factors that contributed, but goes beyond them. Benjamin Barber, a 1956
graduate who, after college and graduate school, remained close to Hans and
the school and served for many years as vice chairman of the Board of
Trustees until the school closed, does not grieve for the passing of
Stockbridge. "As a political scientist looking at institutional history, "
he says today, "I believe that special mission institutions, which is what
Stockbridge was, have a natural life cycle. I don't believe they can, by
definition, be made permanent, be institutionalized. If the ideas on which
they are based are of a critical nature, if they challenge society, as
Stockbridge did, then they have a natural life span. If a special mission
institution attempts to prolong its life cycle, it loses its vitality, its
creativity, its sense of purpose. Stockbridge challenged American education
successfully for 20 years, until the rest of society caught up with it. It
had an influence in secondary school circles out of all proportion to its
size. Then its mission was over. That ultimately is the story of
Stockbridge. During those years it mattered. The challenge it presented to
American education was terribly important. By the 1970's it was no longer
needed. Society had caught up with it. Hans had been proven right, his
vision had been vindicated. "
Hans Karl Maeder was born in Hamburg, Germany on December 29, 1909, the
third child in a well to do middle class family. His father was an
authoritarian man, a passionate nationalist and anti-Semite who taught his
children to revere the Kaiser, to accept without question the superiority of
the German race, and to believe that neighboring nations hated Germany and
were bent on her destruction. The post World War I years were hard on the
family and in the 1930s Hans' father responded eagerly to Hitler's
nationalistic message and became an ardent Nazi.
Meanwhile Hans, in his teens, met a teacher and friend who opened a new
world to him, who introduced him to books that had been forbidden and who l
encouraged him to question the supernationalism of "Deutschland uber alles".
On summer hiking trips to Denmark and Sweden he met open and freedom loving
youths of other nations and began to develop his own commitment to democracy
and international understanding. This led to bitter conflict with his father
and when he was 18 he left home. He had refused to go into business, as his
father wished, and had decided that he would become a teacher.
In the years that followed Hans became active in the anti Nazi underground
and in 1933 had to flee Germany to avoid arrest. He went to Denmark where he
continued his studies and remained active in the underground. In 1937 the
Danish authorities, hoping to avoid conflict with Germany, forced him to
leave the country and subsequently he was pursued across four continents by
the Gestapo and Nazi sympathizers. But everywhere he went he found
opportunities to observe and work with young people, in Kenya, in Singapore,
in the Philippines, and finally in Hawaii, where he was interred as an enemy
alien on December 8, 1941.
Released in the U.S. on February 23,1943, he set out immediately for New
York where he found a room at the YMCA. Through the YMCA he was hired by the
Civilian Defense Organization to open a store front youth center in an
endangered area" where the threat of youthful delinquency was serious. He
received $20 a week from Civilian Defense and a free room from the YMCA. His
work was so successful that the following September he was appointed
director of Boys' work in the eastern district of the YMCA and the United
Neighborhood Houses on Marcy Avenue and Broadway in Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, Hans had been making new friends and reestablishing contact with
old ones. Among them were Max and Gertrud Bondy, whom he had known in
Germany where they ran a private boarding school. With the advent of Hitler,
they had moved their school to Switzerland and, subsequently, to the United
States. They invited Hans to join their faculty and in September 1944 he
moved to the Windsor Mountain School in Lenox, Massachusetts, in the heart
of the Berkshires.
At Windsor Mountain Hans was immediately aware of how few Jews and no Blacks
there were in the student body. When he asked why this should be so, the
Bondys told him that they didn't feel secure enough yet "to buck the
system". The system? Hans set out with characteristic energy to find out
what New England prep schools were doing about integration. What he found
was the quota system which allowed each school to have its token minority
students. "l was disturbed by this, "he says, "because l was in a democratic
country and I felt something was wrong." He had discovered that the reality
of American democracy in 1944 was less perfect than he had imagined.
During Christmas vacation he was introduced to Alice Keliher, director of
the Walden School, a private day school in New York City. At Walden he found
"total integration, a wonderful climate, the kind of environment in which I
really wanted to teach". He was invited back for a second day and Director
Keliher asked him whether he would like to join the staff. The German
teacher was leaving at the end of the year and Hans was invited to take her
place. He accepted and joined the faculty in September 1945. He taught
German and the History of Language, and to fill out his program he was asked
to be the shop teacher as well.
Hans was not a skilled shop teacher ; "all thumbs" is the way he describes
himself but the assignment offered him other opportunities. The school had
been given a residential property in Ossining, New York, about 40 miles
north of New York City, on which the house had burned, but the barn
remained. Hans started spending weekends there with some of his students
converting the barn into a country weekend retreat for the city kids at
The Ossining project was typical of Hans' approach to his students. During
the winter he took groups of 12 to 18 students to the Adirondacks or New
Hampshire for skiing weekends. Again, he claims that he wasn't a skilled
skier, but he could teach them the rudiments of the sport and if they became
interested they could take lessons from professional teachers. More
important to Hans than the skills acquired, however, was "the opportunity to
know more about my students. I always felt that I understood them better
when I lived with them. I knew them in the classroom, but working with them
in Ossining or going on trips with them I learned much more about them what
they were thinking, how they responded to things, what they feared and what
gave them Joy. I think knowing my students better made me a better teacher.
Life at Walden School was good. Both the faculty and the student body were
fully integrated, the concept of the school the openness, the mutual respect
of students and teachers, the emphasis on learning without academic rigidity
were extraordinarily appealing. But Hans soon "began to get itchy. I began
to realize that life in the city was not completely fulfilling. I wanted
contact with the country. I realized, too, that a day school where students
come for six or seven hours and then go home to another environment and
other friends and interests cannot be completely successful. The Ossining
project and the weekend skiing trips helped, but they didn't include all my
students. So I began thinking about an integrated, coeducational boarding
school Where I could develop my ideas about helping students to become
citizens of the world. "
In the spring of 1947, in his second year at Walden, Hans resigned his
position as of the end of the school year and started looking for an estate
where he could start his own school. Typically, he had formed a committee of
prominent New Yorkers, including Mario Pei. He found an estate in Nyack, New
York, a few miles south of Ossining and on the other side of the Hudson
River, but negotiations fell through when the owner discovered that Hans did
not have cash in hand and needed time to raise the money. Hans went back to
Walden and asked for his job back.
Early in his second year at Walden one of Hans' students, David Gordon, was
having a little trouble with his studies and Hans told the boy that he
wanted to talk with his mother at the October parents' meeting. Hans met and
talked with Mrs. Gordon and made a single notation on the report form of the
conference: "Must see more of the mother."
Walden School is located at 88th Street and Central Park West. Hans knew that
Mrs. Gordon lived across Central Park on East 84th Street, so he offered to
drive her home after the meeting. She agreed, and as Hans tells it:
"We drove over to East 84th. She got out of the car and l walked her to the
door. When I came back a friend who was with me asked, 'Who is she?' Oh, I
said, that's David Gordon's mother, Ruth. She is going to be my wife.
'What,' said my friend, 'does she know it? ' 'No,' I told him, 'but l do. I
knew that as soon as I met her.' "
Ruth Gordon had been widowed a year and a half earlier, and left with a 12
year old son. She was a city girl who loved the arts and worked as a play
agent for the Music Corporation of America. A friend describes her as "a
small, square, pink blond lady with a marvelous husky voice. She was a warm,
loving, giving, crazy lady. Just a loving person."
Hans courted Ruth with fervor, but she was deeply involved in the theater,
the music scene, and the social life of the city. Retiring to the country to
found a school did not attract her. But the ardent Hans did. After they had
known each other for about six months, they set their wedding day for May
Meanwhile, Alice Keliher, director of the Walden School, who was also a
professor of education at New York University, wanted to retire. However,
the faculty was badly split over the personality of the man proposed to be
her successor. Suddenly, in a staff meeting on May 28th, Dr. Keliher
suggested that the faculty elect Hans as director. "I was totally unprepared
for this," Hans says. "But you know l am planning to start my own school, "
he reminded Dr. Keliher. "Yes, but you are not starting it this year. Would
you take over for at least a year?"
Hans wanted to hear what the faculty had to say. After lengthy discussion
all but two members of the faculty voted in his favor. The following day
Hans was installed as director of the Walden School, was married to Ruth
Gordon, and became step father to David, whom he adopted as soon as
During the summer Hans and Ruth and David combed the hills of Western
Massachusetts looking for a site for their school. Finally, in November they
found the Dan R. Hanna estate in Interlaken, a few miles north of
Stockbridge and just across a small lake from Tanglewood, home of the famed
Berkshire Summer Music Festival. The setting was magnificent: 1,100 acres of
meadow and forest sweeping up the side of West Stockbridge Mountain. Against
the mountain backdrop stood a gracious old mansion of 3 5 rooms and at a
distance behind the house was "the largest barn in New England", a storybook
structure of gables and turrets, built of oak and stone, which housed horse
stalls, space for carriages and, among other things, an indoor riding track.
"This", he announced, "is where we will have our school. "
His friends, who had joined in the search, were aghast. The estate had been
deserted for a decade and a half. For all their beauty, the mansion and the
barn were mere shells. The foundation of the house was crumbling below and
the roof leaked above. Vandal had broken the windows and neighbors had
"borrowed" most of the plumbing fixtures that were not broken. The sweeping
lawns were grown up to brush and the formal gardens were an unpruned jungle.
But the stately old mansion gave evidence of the grandeur that had been, and
gave promise of what might be. The price was $ 60 000. The family's total
bank account of $ 500 bought an option on the property.
At the beginning of each school year, the faculty at Walden returned about
two weeks before the beginning of the term to get everything organized
before classes began. Berta Rantz, who was director of the high school when
Hans was hired in the spring of 1945, and who later became Hans' assistant
director at Stockbridge, tells how Hans took over as director in the fall of
1947 at Walden. "Each day he took a faculty member to lunch for two hours.
He asked questions and he listened. He let you pour out your enthusiasms and
your frustrations, he encouraged you to talk about your field of teaching
and what you hoped to accomplish in the coming year. He really did his
homework. That's how he learned what Walden was all about. "
Walden School had been split over the next director, and it was essential to
mend this split, and that he set out to do. Again an outside psychologist
was introduced, who successfully began working with the individual staff
members who were against Hans Maeder. He was controversial because he had
refused to join the Teachers Union, which had a decided left leaning, and
Hans Maeder was not yet an American Citizen. A part of the faculty denounced
him for being a ""Martinet" as he demanded that students from the first
grade on be taught to read. If they were found to be deficient, an able
remedial teacher, Naomi Aronson, was asked to work with such children.
Walden being a cooperative school where parents, teachers and a Board of
Trustees worked in unison and where the major supervision was in the hands
of a teacher executive committee, often was not able to come to definite
decisions. For instance, it took the school several years to institute a
Teacher Pension Plan, because too many voices wanted to be heard. Hans
Maeder forced the issue and a plan was adopted.
Basic changes in this school that had functioned since 1915, were not
instituted during Hans Maeder's two years stay as the director.
Hans is a determined man and a resourceful one. What might appear to be
insurmountable obstacles to most men, he sees merely as hurdles to be taken
stride. With the help of friends he put together a complicated deal for the
purchase of the Hanna estate. The real estate agent who had first introduced
them to the property offered to buy 200 acres of lake front property for $
25 000, three cottages that had housed the estate's staff were sold for $22,
000, and an agreement with a local lumber company to cut timber on the
mountain brought in another $5,000. With $ 12,000 borrowed from friends,
Hans completed the purchase on July 1, 1948.
One incident that occurred before the purchase of the estate was completed
tells a great deal about the man, his forthrightness, his realism which
balances his daring, and his ability to inspire the confidence of
"Before we bought the property", Hans recalls, "I wanted to be sure that the
town fathers of Stockbridge would allow me to have a school there. I knew
that the Manna estate had been one of the showplaces of the area and l was
sure the town fathers would not be all that keen on having it turned into a
boarding school. Besides, they had done their homework and had looked me up
in Porter Sargent's guide to private schools. They knew that I was director
of the Walden School in New York which the guide described as 'a progressive
day school with a predominantly Jewish student body'. And all those good
conservative New Englanders were very frightened.
"I received notice of a hearing at which the town fathers would have a
chance to question me about the school I was going to found. I went, as
directed, and found that the crucial question was 'What kind of students are
you going to have?' 'Students who want to learn' I told them. 'Yes, of
course, but are you planning to have Jewish students, Negro students?' 'Yes,
if they apply and want to come and learn. 'At that point l could see the
chill set in. The whole feeling of the meeting shifted away from me. They
weren't going to have any of this.
"Fortunately, I had made friends in Stockbridge with a truly remarkable man,
Anson Phelps Stokes, former head of the Yale Divinity School, and later
Canon of the Washington Cathedral. Over the preceding months we had talked
many times about the school l hoped to found. He had become very interested
and so had come to the hearing.
"At the point where I thought all was lost, Canon Stokes stood up and said:
'Gentlemen, I have talked a great deal with Mr. Maeder about the school he
wants to start, and I like his ideas. I think that Mr. Maeder will run a
really good Christian school. '
"Well, Canon Stokes was highly respected in the community and within minutes
I had permission to start my school But I was aghast because he had said I
would run a Christian school. The next morning I went to him and said:
'Canon Stokes, I hope I haven't misrepresented the kind of school I am going
to run. I am not going to have a Christian school, I am going to have a
humanitarian school. ' 'But Mr. Maeder', he said, 'that is a Christian
school. You didn't misrepresent your ideas."'
As vacation approached at Walden in the spring of 1948, a number of students
approached Hans, as they had in the past, and asked what he was going to do
during the summer. He told them that he was going to the Berkshires to
repair the old house where he was going to have a school."We'll come with
you," they announced. "But I can't pay you." "We'll pay our own way. "
Suddenly Hans had a crew of 25 youngsters eager to set to work on the old
house. He hired a cook and another adult to help supervise the crew, bought
50 surplus army cots and an equal number of orange crates that were
covered with paper for storing personal effects. Ruth went to a friend in
the textile business and got 200 yards of cotton material to curtain the
innumerable windows, bought furniture at the Salvation Army and Goodwill
Industries to meet their basic needs, and they borrowed some furniture from
the Walden School so that they would have an attractive living room when
friends came to visit and to work.
By the end of the summer they had managed to arrest the progressive decay.
But water still poured through the roof whenever it rained. There were
hundreds of cardboard boxes abandoned in the attic and during the summer
when it rained everybody raced up the stairs to put boxes under the leaks to
sop up the water. At the end of the summer Hans pledged his entire annual
salary of $ 5 000 for the following year at Walden to have a new roof put
on. For the next year Hans and Ruth lived on her salary at MCA. The great
house had been retrieved, but much remained to be done.
Weekends during the following year were devoted to fixing up the interior of
the house repairing broken plaster, painting walls and ceilings, finding
more suitable furnishings, and repairing the two ancient coal furnaces that
had been installed in 1900.
Hans and Ruth had many friends whom they invited to spend a "relaxing"
weekend in the country. There Ruth would feed them sumptuously and then put
them to work scraping an old bureau, painting a newly acquired chair,
mending a battered wall or paint a dingy ceiling.
During the summer of 1949, Hans ran a summer work camp for 57 adolescents
who provided a valuable work crew as well as some money for the coming
academic year. In succeeding years the summer work camp became a fixture at
Stockbridge, providing both willing hands to maintain the large property and
substantial funds to help put the school on a sound financial basis. The
summer camp was run on exactly the same principles as the school, the only
difference being that morning work details replaced classes.
The Stockbridge School opened on September 22,1949, with six faculty members
and 16 students. The student body included Ruth's son, David, two children
of faculty members, and 13 others. Before the great house the flag of the
fledgling United Nations flew proudly above the stars and stripes,
proclaiming to the world the new school's twin commitments to democratic
principles and world understanding.
Studies were offered in grades seven through 11 there was no senior class
the first year. In 1952 the early grades were dropped and subsequently
enrollment was limited to grades nine through 12. The student body nearly
doubled in size to 30 students in 1950, doubled again to more than 60 by
1953, and continued to grow steadily to a top of 150 in the late 1960s.
During the early years the entire school was housed in the great house, boys
in one wing, girls in another, with faculty apartments as well. Classes were
held in the living room, library, and in a large sun room which was divided
into two classrooms. As the school grew in size it expanded into the second
floor of the big barn which was divided into a boy's dormitory, classrooms,
and apartments for the faculty.
The daily schedule was structured, but left students with considerable
freedom. Hans rose at six a.m., read, listened to music and checked the
dormitories. When the students got up at 6:30 they first cleaned themselves
and their own room. Then they joined the work crew to which they had been
assigned for that week and went to the kitchen for KP duty or turned to
cleaning the classrooms and common rooms. A belief that young people should
learn to take responsibility for caring for themselves and for their
environment was central to the Stockbridge concept. Breakfast was served at
After breakfast, about eight o'clock, students on KP stayed to clean up and
set the tables for lunch. All other students and faculty assembled in the
big living room for "Morning Music", 20 minutes of classical music.
Individuals could sit wherever they pleased on the floor, on the great
staircase, on chairs, sofas, or window sills. There was no discussion of the
music, no commentary. Occasionally the music teacher would say: "We're going
to hear a lot of Beethoven this week ", or "This is something from Mozart. "
The music was put on in absolute silence. It was a period of quiet
contemplation during which each person could think his own thoughts and
prepare for the day ahead. After the music was over there was a moment of
silence, then Hans would stand up and the bustle of the day would begin.
Classes ran from 8:30 to 10 :30, followed by a half hour break when students
had milk and crackers and the faculty met over coffee in a kind of mini
staff meeting to talk over what had happened the day before or earlier that
morning. Classes convened again from 11 o'clock to one. Lunch was served at
1:15, followed by a free period for students until 2:30.
On some days there would be afternoon classes, on other days organized
sports: basketball, soccer, track, soft ball, tennis, and winter sports in
season. About 4:30 another break for juice or a snack. Then until 6:30
students were involved in activities such as art, music, dance, theater,
shop, printing and the like. All sports were coeducational except soccer,
and neither sports nor activities were considered extracurricular.
Everything at Stockbridge, from learning to care for oneself and one's
environment to dancing and soft ball were considered part of the curriculum,
and all students were expected to participate.
Dinner was served at 6:30 or seven o'clock, after which students went to
their rooms to study. Students who were falling behind in their work were
supervised during study hours, and quiet was strictly enforced for all. Bed
time was ten o'clock for the younger students, 11 o'clock for the older
On Wednesday afternoon the monotony of campus existence was broken by a
"library trip" to nearby Lenox where students had two hours or more to
themselves. Former students are unanimous in failing to remember anyone ever
actually patronizing the town's public library, but the name of the weekly
trip suggested a legitimate reason for getting away from the school.
On Saturday the day started as usual, but at Morning Music students could
bring their own records and make their own selections, usually jazz in the
early years and rock music later when it became popular. The morning was
spent in more extensive cleaning and maintenance work than time allowed
during the week. In the afternoon students were taken to Pittsfield, a small
city about 12 miles from the school where, as one former student recalls,
"we were let loose on the town." On Sunday transportation was provided for
any students who wanted to attend religious services, but there were no
required religious exercises.
Life at Stockbridge was extraordinarily informal for a New England boarding
school. Both students and faculty were allowed to dress as they pleased but
clean, and comfort took precedence over formality. Teachers, including Hans,
were almost always addressed by their first names a practice much more
common in the 1 960s and 70s than it was in the 1 940s and 50s. The door to
Hans' office, just inside the entrance to the great house, was almost
invariably open with Hans clearly in view of passersby. And students felt
free to walk through that door to ask a question, lodge a complaint, to
share their joys and sorrows, their fears and frustrations with the man in
But a very few formal rituals were invariably observed which provided a
sense of order in an otherwise rather freewheeling environment. At dinner in
the evening jackets and ties were required for the boys and dresses for the
girls. (Slacks were approved for the girls during the later years.) At all
meals the entire group waited in the living room until everyone had
assembled. Then they entered the dining room together and stood still until
Hans pulled out his chair and seated himself. When the meal was finished,
all waited, as at Morning Music, for Hans to rise and then left the dining
Ask Hans to expound his philosophy of education and that most articulate of
men becomes tongue tied. Yet he has devoted his life, often at peril to
himself, to promote international understanding and his conviction runs deep
that only through learning to respect those who are different respect their
differentness can we some day insure human dignity and freedom for all.
"Tolerance", he says, " is not enough. In tolerance there is a kind of
condescension. I fought against having Stockbridge called a 'tolerant
school'. Respect for each other. That's really what I was after."
But Hans has never been an educational theorist. He is the quintessential
pragmatist whose philosophy can be discerned only through the institution he
John Tishman is a long time friend who taught briefly at the Walden School
with Hans before joining his family's construction business. He helped in
the search for Stockbridge and during the early years when Ruth remained at
her job in New York, he drove her to Stockbridge and back on weekends. He
says: "Hans' philosophy was more a philosophy of life than a philosophy of
education. He had a very adventurous early life that took him all over the
world during the Nazi years and his own experience fostered his faith in
international understanding. So he fashioned his school more as a social
structure than as a standard academic institution. I don't think he ever
addressed himself to the regular academic subjects. We never discussed
pedagogy. He just took for granted his students would have to be taught
English and history and foreign languages and math and science. You get
qualified teachers and they will take care of that. Hans was more interested
in bringing together a very diverse group of individuals who would get
something from each other. I don't think he ever focused on education in
terms of subject matter. "
It seems clear that John Tishman is right. Hans was motivated by a powerful
vision of the school he was determined to create, a vision that grew out of
his own experience. It was not a blueprint, a set of carefully organized
plans designed to be followed from page one to page 100. It was a broad,
flexible conception which would provide an institutional structure within
which an experimental attitude and creative teachers could flourish.
Stockbridge was to be a school in which all the participants, students and
teachers alike, had to invest something of themselves. Its focus was not
primarily academic, "prepping" students for the Ivy League, although it did
produce its share of Ivy Leaguers. It was a vision of a learning community
in which adolescents could grow in understanding and respect for each other,
no matter how different they might be in race and culture.
Five years before the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Brown vs.
Board of Education which declared segregated public schools illegal,
Stockbridge was to be interracial both in student body and in faculty. It
was to be coeducational at a time when coed boarding schools were virtually
unheard of. It was to be international with students and faculty from every
continent, with close ties to the United Nations, and with an international
out reach component in its academic program. It was to be a democratic
community in which all students and teachers participated equally, in which
complaints and grievances, plans and projects, passions and problems could
be aired, discussed and resolved in a weekly School Meeting. It was also to
be a democratic community which made clear that individual freedom in a
democracy also demands individual responsibility for the welfare of the
community as a whole.
When the Stockbridge School opened in the fall of 1949, the 16 students
included two blacks and three foreign students. One black girl had come
through the Walden School where she had been misplaced. The black boy came
from Hessian Hills Schools in Croton on Hudson where the mother was not able
to pay the tuition. Kaia Crevenna came from a German family, but had been
raised in Mexico. She was sent by her grandmother, Karen Horney, the
psychoanalyst. Davi Kunjara, a Siamese boy from Thailand was referred to
Hans by Alice Keliher, and a little South American Indian boy from Colombia
was brought by his parents after the school was recommended by a friend of
Hans' in Washington.
In the years that followed, black and foreign students regularly comprised
25 percent to 35 percent of the student body and with surprising consistency
about 30 percent of the students were girls. Nobody knows for sure exactly
what the black and foreign percentages were because no records were kept.
Former students can give approximate figures for their own class, but even
that is difficulty. Timothy Pitt, a 1966 graduate, speaks for many when he
says: "We never thought about it. Color or race or nationality was never an
issue at least until the late 1960s when the Black Power Movement caused
some black students to set themselves apart, and I think most students
resented that. "
Hans recruited many of the foreign students through friends in Europe and he
and Ruth traveled abroad frequently during the summer. In 1951 he had an
opportunity to get acquainted with representatives of private schools from
all over Europe when he was appointed to a UNESCO commission to explore the
development of an International Baccalaureate Degree to ease the problems of
college entrance for graduates of international secondary schools. A few
years later he was asked by UNICEF to go to India and he and Ruth took the
opportunity to continue the rest of the way around the world, visiting
schools and meeting schoolmen as they went. After that trip students came
from India, Pakistan, Thailand, Japan, and the Philippines. "Somehow ", Hans
says, "you know, I became a kind of traveling salesman, but it worked from
the very beginning. "
About a third of the black and foreign students received scholarship aid and
some foreign students came on scholarships offered by the school through the
Social Services Center at the UN. Funds for scholarships came from the
operation of the summer camps and, after 1955 when the school was
incorporated as a nonprofit educational institution, Hans and Ruth turned
over a third of their joint income to the fund.
Few of the foreign students spoke any English when they arrived so, long
before English as a Second Language became fashionable, Stockbridge was
regularly teaching English to its students.
Hans delights in telling the story of little Chico, the Indian boy from
Colombia, whose parents brought him to the school, enrolled him, paid the
tuition and fees for the entire year, and took off. "We never saw the
parents or heard from them for the whole school year. Never got a letter.
"Two or three weeks after school started, I was sitting on the sofa in my
office when this little guy, who didn't speak a word of English when he
arrived, walked in, sat down beside me, put his head in my lap and cried. He
cried for about ten minutes and I didn't say anything. Then he stood up,
dried his tears, and walked out. Exactly two weeks later he came back, sat
down beside me, put his head in my lap and cried again. I sat there thinking
that one of the women ought to take care of him, but first he had found me.
"Then Chico got acquainted with our good friend John Tishman who brought
Ruth up to Stockbridge from New York City every weekend. He was building
himself a weekend apartment in one of the towers of the barn. After that if
you wanted to find Chico on a weekend, he would be with John. But he never
heard from his parents. During vacations he stayed with Ruth and me, and
over Christmas I sent him with a group to Florida.
"Then, the day school closed, the big Buick drove up and there were Chico's
parents. They came in, greeted him, packed his things, came and said
'Gracias' to me, and took him away. But you know, by that time Chico
couldn't speak a word of Spanish any more. "
There were always a few foreign students who had to stay at Stockbridge year
round, usually five or six, sometimes more. The reasons varied: political
turmoil at home, parents in exile, divorce, death of one or both of the
parents, or simply the cost of having a youngster travel halfway round the
world twice a year. In some cases Hans was made official guardian, more
often there was a tacit understanding with the parents that he would act as
surrogate parent. For these students, and some American youngsters from
seriously deprived or broken homes, Hans would see that they spent vacations
at the home of another student. During longer vacations, such as Christmas,
he would ship a group of them off to Florida or Mexico in the care of one or
more teachers. During the summer they were integrated into the summer work
For some students Stockbridge was the first real home they ever had.
Benjamin Barber says: "You have to remember that Stockbridge wasn't a
standard prep school, it didn't get kids who wanted to go to Harvard, though
a surprising number of them did. Choate was the place for that. Ninety
percent of the kids at Stockbridge were there because their parents wanted
to unload them somewhere. Either they had problems, or their parents had
problems, or their parents just wanted to get them out of their hair. I came
from a theatrical family and when my father bought a place nearby, the
school was a convenient place to dump my brother and me. For many of us it
was a home, and for some like me, it was a first home. I hadn't ever had
the feeling of being in a home before. That meant, of course, that when
problems arose they were compounded by all the emotions that go with a
home. Hans and his staff had to deal with those problems. We were expecting
a lot more than just a school environment. It is a remarkable tribute to
Hans that he was so successful. " Hans demurs a bit at Barber's
characterization of the student body, but Harriett Pitt, a long time friend
of the Maeders, who sent her three children to Stockbridge in the 1960s,
agrees. She says of Hans: "He was giving and loving and he saved a lot of
Stockbridge was, among other things an experiment in educational democracy.
Hans believed that preparation for living in a democracy should include
practice with the forms, the responsibilities and obligations of democracy
as well as the rights and privileges. A weekly School Meeting, a sort of town
meeting of the school community, provided the vehicle.
Every Wednesday evening at eight o'clock all members of the school community
students, faculty, and administrators gathered as equals to air their
grievances, their interests, their frustrations, their plans and hopes for
improving life at Stockbridge. No subject was taboo, from the latest
international crisis to complaints about last night's tuna fish casserole.
All meetings were chaired by a student. The chairmanship was rotated every
three weeks and meetings were run according to Robert's Rules of Order. A
student parliamentarian was elected annually to settle disputes on
procedure. Hans spoke rarely except when he asked a question or when he felt
that the discussion had gone awry. Other faculty members were free to
participate as they wished.
One former student says: "We had plenty of hassles at Stockbridge, but they
weren't organized around race, nationality, or religion. They grew out of
personalities, substantive issues, emotions, interests, passions, and that
is the way it should be. It wasn't by any means a conflict free environment.
The dynamics of conflict at Stockbridge were no different from those in any
healthy community where there are individuals and groups with differences.
But the conflicts weren't drawn along lines of external bigotries."
Yet sometimes personal characteristics that grew out of race or culture were
the focus of controversy at School Meeting. On one occasion a black boy
stood up, pointed a finger at a new Puerto Rican student and said: "When I
heard you were coming, I knew I didn't want you here. But you're here and I
don't like it. "
Another time a bright Jewish girl from California was chairing the meeting.
She was unfamiliar with European table manners before coming to Stockbridge
and she found them repellent. When the discussion turned to cultural
characteristics she pointed to four German students and said: "When I sit at
the table with Ursula and Annette and Dirk and Eric my stomach turns over at
their manners. I can't stand them. " At that point Dirk Sager, now known in
his country as the Walter Cronkite of German television news, stood up and
announced: "When I was coming to this country my friends told me this would
happen to me. And now it has. "
Issues of this kind were faced frankly and discussed heatedly both in School
Meeting and in small groups around the campus. Having them out in the open
was the first step toward their resolution. Sometimes it took time, but in
most cases the antagonists became friends.
Students also felt passionate about issues that concerned the whole school.
In 1954, during the Senate hearings on Senator Joseph McCarthy, the
suggestion was made that the school buy a television set so that everyone
could watch the historic proceedings. Some students were violently opposed,
feeling that television would change life at Stockbridge, that the close
communal life of the school would suffer from the impersonal diversion of
the screen. After long discussion the Meeting decided to appoint a committee
to monitor programs for a week with instructions to report back to the whole
group with a recommendation for or against the suggestion. The report was
affirmative and television came to Stockbridge, but it was never allowed to
become a substitute for group activities in which everyone participated.
On another occasion in the early 1950's students were studying about a
famine in India in their World Affairs class. They became concerned and
decided they should do something about it. But making a collection from
their small weekly allowances, and going without desserts for two weeks
didn't raise much money. They didn't know what to do. Then a newspaper man
from New York, a long time friend of the school, came up to Stockbridge for
a weekend. He learned of the dilemma and suggested that they buy a token 50
pound bag of wheat and present it to the Indian consul in New York. He would
see that the presentation was written up in his paper, complete with
pictures. The suggestion precipitated a lively debate among the students
about whether they would really be trying to do something for the children
of India or would merely be seeking publicity for themselves. They finally
decided to go ahead with the project, but that they would also write to
other schools urging them to do the same thing. They did present 50 pounds
of wheat to the Indian consul in New York and it was duly reported in the
papers. Then they settled down and wrote 1,400 other private schools urging
them to contribute in the same way.
Hans did take an active part in School Meeting discussions, but he always
insisted that two rules be observed. First, after a vote was taken, those
who were opposed to the motion should have an opportunity to state their
objections, if they had not participated in the debate. Second, no motion
was to be rushed through to a vote without adequate consideration and
One evening during the early years of Stockbridge the School Meeting seemed
endless. An issue had been debated at great length and everyone was tired.
Finally it was brought to a vote and was passed 40 to 20. Hans asked for the
floor and announced that he would like to hear why the 20 were opposed to
the motion. "Pandemonium broke loose", he recalls. "Everyone wanted to quit
and go to bed. But it was an important issue. And you know what happened ?
One of the kids who was opposed convinced the entire group to consider
another motion which they finally passed unanimously. Sometimes timid kids
have marvelous ideas, but they are so overwhelmed by the group that they are
reluctant to speak up. I always watched and felt that everyone have a say on
important decisions. "
Bertha Rantz remembers another occasion during the civil rights movement in
the 1960s when a student proposed a motion, gave an impassioned, rabble
rousing speech, and pushed his motion through to a vote with hardly any
discussion. Hans let the whole thing go through and then stood up. "Do you
realize what you have just done?" he asked. He pointed out that they had
accepted the student's inflammatory rhetoric without demanding supporting
evidence or considering other points of view. "I'm vetoing this whole
thing", he announced. "The vote doesn't count. But next week, Paul you come
in with evidence to back up your position. We'll discuss it, and then you
can bring it to a vote again. You were not ready to vote tonight. You were
Everyone in School Meeting had an equal vote, but Hans retained veto power.
It is not surprising, then, that when Hans used his veto he was accused of
dictatorship. Hans let students indeed insisted that students take
responsibility for making many decisions affecting their lives and life in
the school community. He sought to make sure that they became sophisticated
about the obligations as well as the freedoms of democracy, about the
crucial role of reasoned discussion, about the ebb and flow of emotions
within a group, and about the difference between leadership and
Nevertheless, many students resented the fact that there were limits on
their participatory democracy. "Here we're supposed to be living a
democratic environment where every vote is equal, but it's a democracy
headed by an authoritarian dictator. " They were, after all, adolescents
testing the limits of authority. And some, at least, recognized the
realities of the situation. Philip Reed, a 1967 graduate, remembers that: "A
friend and l used to say that even though we're practicing the forms of
democracy, this wasn't democracy we were living in. You could go just so far
and then Hans would tell you how things were going to be. And that got a lot
of people upset. But l think that many of us really knew that the man had a
school to run. If we voted to close down the goddamn place, was he supposed
to go along with it? Whatever freedom we could have without disrupting
operations, we were allowed."
Hans is philosophic about the issue. "The person who has to make the
ultimate decision in any community is often accused of being dictatorial
That is understandable and l accepted it as a fact. But democracy in a
school is a tricky business because students are there for a specific
purpose, to learn, and the school has an equally specific mission, to
provide an environment for learning. So you have built in limits on majority
rule. What you really mean when you say you want to have a democratic school
is that you will listen to what the kids are saying. You will encourage them
to make decisions, not only about their own lives, but about matters that
affect the school community of which they are a part. Kids aren't going to
learn to make decisions, to make judgments, if they are never given a chance
to make them."
Hans' whole vision of the school he wanted to create included a strong
conviction that young people should learn to take responsibility for
themselves, but also for their environment and for other members of the
community. Consequently the students were responsible for all cleaning and
most of the maintenance of the dormitories, classrooms, and offices. They
served the meals and washed the dishes. They cut the grass, tended the
garden, and took responsibility for outside painting, garbage collection and
disposal, routine car and bus maintenance. They cared for the fields and
forest, felling trees and hauling logs for firewood and lumber. They learned
to select the trees that should be cut out so that younger growth would have
the sunlight needed for it to flourish. They tended the pigs and chickens and
riding horses. They constructed ski trails, waterfront docks, and pig sties.
They built roads in the forest and, as the school grew, they dug trenches
for the foundation of new classrooms and dormitories, had a hand in
designing some of the buildings and did much of the construction. They built
furniture in the shop, some for the school and some to be sold in New York
to earn money for new shop equipment. Whatever needed doing, they did always
with adult supervision, instruction, and encouragement.
Harriett Pitt recalls: "My first and fondest recollections of Stockbridge
are of seeing kids outside at work. There were kids digging and planting,
mowing and raking, cleaning and sweeping. There was a wonderful sense of
bustle, a strong feeling of involvement between the land and the buildings and
the kids that you felt almost the moment you drove up to the campus."
A notable characteristic of Stockbridge students was the possessive feeling
so many of them developed for the school. It was as if they had had a hand
in creating the place and, indeed, they had. Kaia Crevenna writes that: "It
is hard to describe what a close knit family we became, possibly because we
had to run the whole show ourselves. Maybe that is why we looked upon new
arrivals as intruders. Each new class had to prove itself before it was
accepted. The family kept growing, yet the feeling remained. "
Certainly running 'the whole show' is one of the reasons for the students'
strong devotion to the school. When they left they had invested something of
themselves in Stockbridge. They had worked to build and maintain the school
and they knew when they left that the school was a better place than when
they came. As one student put it, "Having worked with my hand in this place
to make it more beautiful, I feel that in some way I own a part of it, or a
part of it owns me. "
Work at Stockbridge was not separate from the academic life of the school.
Both work and studies were integral part of the curriculum. Students learned
from their work just as they learned from their classes, they were proud of
the new skills they acquired whether they were physical or intellectual, and
they wrote about their experiences in English classes and in Symposium, the
Lynda Adler, a 1956 graduate who helped to dig the foundations for a new
classroom building, put her reaction to ditch digging on paper:
"Until the coming of work week, I never thought that there was anything to
respect in people who dug ditches or did any job requiring muscles, not
brains. I supposed that all it took to be an adequate ditch digging was a
bit of muscle training. Anyone, thought I, can dig ditches ! l have now
changed my mind. It is easy to fill a shovel with dirt, and toss the dirt
once. Even a large stone can be lifted and thrown once by strong girls, weak
men, even weak girls, without too much trouble... Ditch digging, I have
discovered, involves more than lifting a shovel once. A shovel must be
lifted continuously, and this, I have found, takes real strength and
endurance, and even real courage, if a person is tired. Even though a
physical laborer is trained to have this stamina, I have come to admire him
greasy for having it. From now on, whenever l hear sounds of pick axes
clanging and shovels crunching, and see heads rising from a trench, I shall
look up to them, not down. "
Almost without exception the students at Stockbridge were city kids. Some
came from wealthy and influential families, others came from city ghettos,
but few had experience with physical labor. In some cases parents were
outraged that their children should be subjected to menial labor. But the
kids themselves responded in their own varied fashion. One youngster, for
instance, when assigned to the garbage detail, took his responsibility so
seriously that he promptly ordered a complete outfit of work clothes from
Abercrombie & Fitch so that he would be suitably attired as he transported
the garbage from the kitchen to the dump.
Routine, repetitive jobs such as cleaning and KP were rotated on a weekly
basis so that everyone shared equally. A committee of students drew up the
schedule at the beginning of the year. Other jobs were distributed according
to individual interests and skills. On occasion high prestige jobs such as
truck driving and manning the tractor were used as incentives for students
who were not doing well in the classroom. Alex Perkins, who taught history
at the school during the early years wrote in a handbook describing the
school: "The boosting of self-esteem in the social field can do wonders for
a young person's performance in scholastic matters. A tractor on many
occasions has proven of more value to better classroom response than all the
audiovisual aids, all the counseling and supplementary teaching in the
Certainly using student labor to maintain the school was an economic asset
during the early years of struggle to get established. But that was not the
purpose. The objective was educational and communal, to demonstrate that
adolescents from all over the world and from every level of American society
could live and learn and work and play together in harmony. The specific
purpose of work jobs was to instill a sense of responsibility not only for
oneself, but also for others. The effect was to strengthen that sense of
community that was so much a part of Stockbridge, the feeling that led the
little boy from Thailand to exclaim: "Why we are a learning family. "
Phillip Reed, who is black and was an active student leader during his years
at Stockbridge, today says of the experience: "The way I live my If e now,
the way I see things now are direct products of what we practiced at
Stockbridge. It took me a long while to realize why we were taught to do the
things we did. Learning how to work communally, whether we were clearing a
field or washing dishes or sawing wood or whatever, we were not only doing
those things, we were making ourselves a part of the place, of the group, of
the school family. Everything we did at Stockbridge was part of the
educational process, of our learning. I learned skills, I learned team work,
I learned how to make something mine, how to appreciate it, how to become
part of it, and proud of it. When you feel part of something you don't
vandalize it, you don't put graffiti on the walls. You do that to their
house, not yours and this was our house. When a toilet gets plugged, you
unplug it, when something breaks you f x it. It's your responsibility.
That's what Stockbridge was all about. "
Academic studies were not forgotten in the concern for a nurturing
environment. The attitude toward academic learning was strongly influenced,
however, by the school's primary concern for the individual's growth and by
respect for students varied talents and capabilities.
The experience of a 1970 graduate is revealing. The boy came to Stockbridge
from another private school with a widely heralded reputation for academic
excellence. He was a talented, verbal lad who had difficulty in mastering
mathematics. In an effort to overcome his deficiency, his school
concentrated on his weakness and ignored his talents. He lost faith in
himself and was falling apart. Finally his mother was asked to place him in
another school. At Stockbridge he found the opposite approach. His talent
for language was encouraged and applauded while his teachers worked with him
to overcome his deficiency. He blossomed in the new environment, went on to
college and to a successful career as a television news producer for one of
the major networks.
Hans was sometimes accused of downgrading the importance of college. But
that was not the case. He fought as tenaciously as any other private school
director to get his students into top flight colleges. But entrance to
prestigious institutions was not the primary objective. He recognized the
vast differences in interests and talents among young people, and he wanted
each to develop as fully as possible in his own way. Therefore, he said that
"college is not the only acceptable path to adulthood".
The success of the academic program at Stockbridge was due in large part to
Hans' genius in attracting talented, often brilliant teachers who shared his
vision of effective education. Many of them, especially in the early years,
were not trained as teachers, and often they did not have the credentials
for certification. But they were broadly educated, creative people who were
wholly committed to their own fields study and were able to make them
exciting to their students.
Hans' vision of the school he would create provided a broad institutional
framework for the school. It was a vision of a kind of community and an
attitude toward youth and their education. The teachers he attracted, who
shared his vision, were given great freedom in developing the programs of
study that would make that vision a functioning reality. In return they were
expected to invest their own creativity and enthusiasm in developing the
school. And they did.
Former students' tendency to down grade the academic program: "Well,
Stockbridge wasn't so great academically, I probably missed some things I We
could have gotten some other place." Then the inevitable follow up: "But we
got so much, we learned so many things. We were given a chance to grow in
any direction we wanted to. "
Ben Barber's assessment of the faculty: "When I think of the people I've
encountered at every level of education I have a doctorate from Harvard and
have taught at five or six universities I don't think I have ever met a more
unusual and gifted group of teachers than I found at Stockbridge in the