Thursday, September 01, 2011

September 1: Phyllis Wallbank (b. 1918)

Born on this date in 1918, English educator Phyllis Wallbank. She worked with displaced children as a young woman in wartime London, and knew she wanted to find a way to make that her profession; a chance to hear Maria Montessori speak became the means to that end. Wallbank is one of the UK's best-known proponents of the Montessori method. In 1948 she opened Gatehouse School on the grounds of a church, and a major feature of the program was the inclusion of disabled children, at a time when few educational opportunities were available. Said Phyllis Wallbank (source):
"We incorporated mentally and physically challenged children at a time when they were normally segregated. We had groups of eight called 'families', each incorporating one disabled child. The child adapted to normality instead of to an institution. We eventually had all kinds of challenged children: children suffering from blindness, autism, maladjustment, thalidomide, Downs syndrome, cerebral palsy, brain damage and epilepsy. We had a social mix too: many children from professional families, some taking Common Entrance and public school scholarships and some local East Enders with parents known to have serious criminal backgrounds. And yet it all worked! Children were assisted and looked after by their friends and became an integral part of their "family". Often parents had no idea that a fellow student who came up in conversation at home was a disabled child."
Wallbank turns 93 today. Just a few years ago she went on an international lecture tour; one of her lectures in the US is on YouTube, in ten parts, here (there's no transcript, however).

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