09 July 2014

Concord College for Adult Education: From Dream to Reality

A. Bronson Alcott on the steps of the School of Philosophy

The Concord School of Philosophy began as a dream. After Amos Bronson Alcott began his mercurial career as a schoolteacher in the 1820s, during which he tried out his radical educational ideas in the classroom in a series of schools that he ran in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and in Boston, Massachusetts, he abandoned the idea of running his own schools in favor of holding “conversations” for groups of adults, often traveling as far as the Midwest to find his audiences. Alcott’s dream of one day opening an adult educational center, a “college” that would be open to the public, was an idea he entertained as early as 1842 . On his trip to England to meet the founders of the Alcott School, named in honor of Alcott’s educational ideas, he collected hundreds of volumes of books on literature and philosophy, bringing them back to Massachusetts for the library of his future ideal classroom.

The dream became a reality in 1879, when the very first session of the Concord School of Philosophy “Conversational Series” was held in the Study of Orchard House. There were so many attendees that they spilled out the doors; and afterwards a benevolent participant from New York, Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson, donated $1,000 to build a structure that would house the large numbers of future participants.

1899 Rendering of the School of Philosophy Building

During the following years the School was run each summer with great success. Many women and men, coming from as far away as the Midwestern states, would attend, boarding in town during the weeks of the sessions. Speakers who graced the stage included such luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Elizabeth Peabody, Julia Ward Howe, William Torrey Harris, and Franklin Sanborn.
Franklin Sanborn, eminent Concord educator, thus described the conversations that followed each series lecture: “What is sought in the discussions at Concord is not an absolute unity of opinion, but a general agreement in the manner of viewing philosophic truth and applying it to the problems of life.”

The Hillside Chapel, as Alcott named it, built in 1880, still stands today on the Orchard House grounds. Bronson Alcott’s legacy lives on in the Summer Conversational Series and Teacher Institute, held annually each July at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House.

The School of Philosophy as it stands today.
This year’s Summer Conversational Series and Teacher Institute, “Navigating the Vortex: Creative Genius in the Time of the Alcotts,” runs Sunday, July 13 through Thursday, July 17, and is open to the public. Massachusetts teachers may receive Professional Development Points for attending. Speakers include Pulitzer Prize winners Megan Marshall and John Matteson, screenwriter Olivia Milch, and others.

Pre-registration and prepayment are suggested. For a full schedule and additional information CLICK HERE, or call 978-369-4118 x106.

Lis Adams, Director of Education


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  2. This sounds like it would be a good investment for a business to make. We tend to get a little lazy as far as learning and progress are concerned as we get older, so it's impressive that your focus is essentially instilling the desire in adults to continue being creative, innovative and to never stop learning. http://www.pctc.k12.oh.us/adult-education