The Organic School takes pride in our dedication to preserving and practicing the organic education philosophy conceived by Marietta Johnson over a century ago.
Schools, like families, are engaged in “raising children”. Much like Marietta Johnson, we believe that the formality and rigidity of the public school system is at odds with the natural learning styles of children, which are ever-changing and developing intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally.
Consequently, we postpone and relax enforced structure according to the individual needs and abilities of each child. We contrast and balance teacher-driven instruction by providing the appropriate time, space and materials to prompt spontaneous, creative and self-inspired activity. For over a century, these methods have produced content, creative, engaged and motivated learners – happily active participants in developing and nourishing their minds, bodies and spirits. Our Organic family provides an environment for each child to learn as naturally as in any other setting – without grades, tests or time limits –without pressure.
Fairhope, Alabama, was founded in 1894 as an experimental Utopian community based on Henry George’s book Progress and Poverty, and a radical concept known as the “Single Tax Colony”. The locale was chosen for its natural beauty, its fertile land, temperate climate, and potential for growth. Situated on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, the town was easily accessible by boat as well as horseback and eventually automobiles. Fairhope soon grew into a thriving town populated by artists, idealists and non-conformists.
One of Fairhope’s residents at the time was a Minnesota teacher named Marietta Johnson, who brought her unconventional ideas about education to the open-minded new town, and with financial aid from friends, founded The School of Organic Education in 1907.
A proponent of a unique philosophy of progressive education, and a contemporary of Rudolf Steiner and Maria Montessorri, Mrs. Johnson created a school that had no examinations, no homework, and no possibility that any child would ever fail.
The school was a laboratory for ideas in education that were considered radical at the time, but have become more valid with each passing decade. She was one of the first to advocate the prolongation of childhood – a period of intense, natural education – so that its attitude would extend to the whole of life. Mrs. Johnson also believed that physical education should take the form of dancing and creative games, and often said, “the greatest minds are those able to use the spirit of play in their work.”
America’s most famous educational philosopher of the day, John Dewey, came to Fairhope in 1913 to review her revolutionary approach. He was extremely impressed by her work, and even wrote a chapter in his book Schools of Tomorrow about Mrs. Johnson and her unique school. Fairhope became quite well known in the 1920’s largely because of Marietta Johnson.
During her life in Fairhope, she became respected on the world stage as a powerful speaker and lecturer. She went on numerous lecture tours to share her ideas on education, raising funds and donations from the likes of Mrs. Alexander Graham Bell, Mrs. Woodrow Wilson and Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford. As word spread about the Organic School, Fairhope’s intellectual elite eagerly enrolled their children.
The school reached its zenith in the 1920s, in part because of John Dewey’s book and its reference to Mrs. Johnson and her school. Through the great depression, two world wars and Mrs. Johnson’s death in 1938, the Organic School has never closed its doors.
Its graduates have become doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers, writers, artists, engineers, poets, university professors, dance teachers, potters, computer technicians and entrepreneurs in virtually every field of endeavor. Many of the schools graduates, after traveling and working around the world, have come back to Fairhope. Some never left.
The school’s original 10-acre campus was located where Faulkner State Community College now stands in downtown Fairhope. A museum dedicated to Marietta Johnson occupies one of the original buildings on that site.
In 1986, the school moved to an eight acre plot of land on Pecan Street just off Section Street, one of Fairhope’s main arteries.
Who Was Marietta Johnson?…
Like so many of the early residents of Fairhope, Mrs. Johnson was an idealist. She envisioned a new kind of educational system based on the fresh, new approaches to early childhood development that were becoming popular at the time.
She was a revolutionary thinker in the field of education, a pioneer, a progressive, and a leader. Although she died in 1938, her unique perspectives on education drive the school today.
Mrs. Johnson was a natural for Fairhope in its early days, possessing great personal charm and intelligence. A staunch supporter of the theory of Single Tax, she was a friend of the town’s founder E. B. Gaston and other influential thinkers in the community. In Fairhope, she laid the groundwork for a school system that would benefit all children by allowing them to learn at their own pace and by exposing youngsters to the arts, handcrafts and folk dancing along with academic work.
Marietta Johnson’s pioneering work influences the best of education today. Her book, Teaching Without Failure, is used as a textbook in the Education Departments of such institutions as Boston College and the University of South Alabama. Today’s Organic School adheres as closely as possible to the philosophy and methods that she established.