The Dalton School, an independent, progressive school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, was founded in 1919 by Helen Parkhurst. Influenced by educational leaders such as Maria Montessori, Frederic Burk, Carlton Washburne, and John Dewey, Helen Parkhurst established a child-centered, progressive school which attempted to incorporate the notion of a democratic community within the boundaries of an educational program. This innovative program became known as The Dalton Plan.
In this book, Susan F. Semel tells the story of The Dalton School from its earliest beginnings through the present day. Her story traces the history of progressive education within the walls of The Dalton School, focusing on the school's heads, including Charlotte Durham, Donald Barr and Gardner Dunnan. During certain periods of the school's history, as progressive education waxed and waned in the educational community at large and as educators responded to demands for more content-based curriculum, The Dalton Plan was modified. At other times, the school was impervious to the infusion of current educational thought. Consequently, during some periods of its history, The Dalton School was on the cutting edge of educational reform while, during others, the school swam against the tide of «alternative education» or neo-progressivism to favor a traditional back-to-basics approach. Ultimately, Semel uses the original Dalton Plan as a yardstick by which to measure what has happened to progressive education in the larger world.
While Susan Semel concludes that The Dalton School, in its present state, is not the same school that Helen Parkhurst founded, it still employs an educational program that pays attention to the needs of a multicultural society and reconfirms the spirit of child-centered pedagogy as an important concern of the Dalton community.