Goddard is a one-of-a-kind institution of higher education with a history of creativity and chaos, invention and experimentation, of growth, decline and reemergence. It is an institution that has survived with integrity and adherence to its founding values for nearly 150 years, with the fortitude of a pioneering spirit and the unpredictability that such a spirit can bring.
The Goddard of today took shape in earnest in 1938, when a group of educators led by Royce “Tim” Pitkin proposed a Vermont “College for Living” to be located on a Plainfield sheep farm purchased from the Martin family. This new college would provide the environment for students and faculty together to build a democratic community featuring plenty of the “plain living and hard thinking” espoused in Goddard’s early mission. The aims were far-reaching, radical. These aims still influence and, with some change in nomenclature and practice, aptly describe Goddard to this day. The original, 1938 Goddard College catalog described them this way:
- Education for real living, through the actual facing of real life problems as an essential part of the educational program.
- The study of vocation as part of living rather than as something different and an end in itself.
- The integration of the life of the College with the life of the community, and the consequential breaking down of the barriers that separate school from real life.
- The use of the community as a laboratory.
- The participation of students in policy making and in the performance of work essential to maintenance and operation as part of the educational program.
- The development of a religious attitude that is free from sectarianism recognizing that any activity which is pursued on behalf of an ideal end of universal worth is religious.
- The provision of educational opportunities for adults.
The new college, while small in scale (starting with 50 students and a truckload of old furniture and books moved to the Martin family’s farm), was rich in inspiration, drawing on the experiences of Bennington, Sarah Lawrence, Reed, the new Antioch, Black Mountain, St. John’s, and the educational innovations of the University of Chicago. Most people in the Goddard community now associate “Kilpatrick” with the main dormitory on the Greatwood Campus in Plainfield. However, it was Dr. William Kilpatrick, an influence on founding president Tim Pitkin and in whose honor the building is named, who stated three principles key to the Goddard practice:
- The most fundamental fact of life is change.
- People learn only what they inwardly accept.
- Education is a moral concern.
The Goddard practice continues to view learning as a function of the whole person and the intellect, in the context of awareness of a responsibility to the personal and social consequences of behavior. Over the past 70-plus years in Plainfield, Goddard College’s program evolved and flourished, and experiments were undertaken, expanded, and then abandoned or segued into new experiments. Students studied for a year in countries around the world, in Africa, Europe, India, the Middle East, and Asia. Interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary studies that supported students’ individual interests and passions made for a dynamic campus life. Through the 1960s, enrollment swelled to over 1,500 as the American counterculture, back-to-the-land movements made Goddard’s educational philosophy and location attractive to a new generation disillusioned with traditional structures and lifestyles. This influx of faculty members and students and its consequent burst of creativity not only changed Goddard forever, it continues to affect Vermont and far beyond as Goddard graduates bring their energetic questioning and status-quo–changing philosophies and skills to social, political, environmental, entrepreneurial, and artistic endeavors.
In 1963, the Goddard Adult Degree Program was inaugurated with two-week seminars that allowed adults returning to school to earn bachelor’s degrees through independent study with faculty advisors. This truly new concept tailored college to busy working adults with families. Featuring a low-residency experience with independent learning, this innovative, fledgling experiment 46 years ago is now at the core of Goddard’s offerings. The original Adult Degree Program was the groundbreaking experiment that has influenced countless educational institutions in the decades that followed.That experiment continues. Currently, Goddard offers undergraduate and graduate programs with faculty members and students from across the United States and around the globe who come to our Plainfield, VT campus or our sites in Port Townsend, WA and Seattle, WA for eight-day residencies. Goddard recently commemorated its 150th birthday, which neatly aligns with the 75th anniversary of the school’s move to Plainfield and the establishment of Goddard College, and the 50th anniversary of the Adult Degree Program. It is a potent time to reflect on the mission and purpose of the College, to gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the College’s origins and history, to assess the present, and to look to the future with added clarity and renewed vision.