The Bennington College Plan: Toward a shared understanding

Elissa Tenny, University of Pennsylvania


Bennington College opened in 1932 as part of a progressive education movement rooted in the philosophy of John Dewey and expanded upon by William Heard Kilpatrick. Dewey's core ideas of "learning by doing" and "education as an active process of living" are embedded in the College today. This dissertation is a case study of the Plan Process at Bennington College. The center of a Bennington education is the Plan---the process by which students take responsibility for the design of their education. The process is overseen by a faculty Plan committee that is responsible for ensuring that "students design an education with breadth and depth, unified and fueled by their own passions." The purpose of this study is to explore the understanding that faculty and students have of curricular breadth and depth within the context of the Plan Process, the College's curriculum, and its mission and to investigate how these understandings inform the implementation of the Plan. Research for the study included analysis of contemporary and historical documents, faculty, student, and staff interviews and focus groups, and observation of committee and Plan meetings. The findings of this study reveal a variety of faculty and students' understandings of the concepts of breadth and depth. While faculty and students respect and even praise this diversity, the lack of a common, shared understanding creates burdens on the successful implementation of the Plan Process. The findings also reveal the need for greater clarity of the conceptual understanding of the meaning and purpose of the Plan Process. The study provides recommendations for the improvement of the communication of the understandings and for the subsequent implementation of the Plan. The study also contributes to the literature on integrative and intentional learning by demonstrating the potential of Bennington College's Plan Process an exemplary model of this type of learning.

Subject Area

School administration|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Tenny, Elissa, "The Bennington College Plan: Toward a shared understanding" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3255870.