“I want schools small enough to fail as they learn on the job”: An Interview with Deborah Meier

Deborah MeierDeborah Meier is the founder of the modern small schools movement. After teaching kindergarten in Chicago, Philadelphia and New York, Meier founded Central Park East elementary school in 1974.  This alternative but still public school embraced progressive ideals in the tradition of John Dewey in an effort to provide better education for inner-city children in East Harlem, within the New York City public school system.

She then served as founding principal for two other small public elementary schools, Central Park East II and River East, both in East Harlem. In 1984, with the assistance and support of Ted Sizer’s Coalition of Essential Schools, Meier founded the Central Park East Secondary School. The story of these schools is told in David Bensman’s Central Park East and its Graduates: Learning by Heart (2000), and in Frederick Wiseman’s High School II (1994). In 1987 Meier received a MacArthur ‘genius’ Fellowship for her efforts.

I’ve known her for at least 20 years and have admired her for more. Now 78, Deb is still going strong, as this recent interchange proves.

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