Organic Education with F. Scott Fitzgerald


Every educational adventure begins with a list. What we forget though is how organic learning is and how that list must adapt and grow. In school, your counselor or advisor sits down with you to create a list of classes the school requires to be completed in order to graduate. Instead of your school counselor, what you if you had the privilege to study under F. Scott Fitzgerald? In 1939, Sheila Graham, who lived with Fitzgerald for the last three years of his life was so fortunate and luckily documented the whole experience in her book College of One.

College of One

Ms. Graham did not received a formal education but became a nationally syndicated gossip columnist in Hollywood at the same time Mr. Fitzgerald was turning his attention to the silver screen. The plan was to create a curriculum Mrs. Graham could be studied in two years for a woman who had to learn in a hurry.

“There would be no math, botany, biology, Latin, or French. This education was for a woman who had to learn in a hurry, who wanted to be familiar with what in a broad sense was taught in a liberal arts college. It would embody Scott Fitzgerald’s ideas on what should be taught and his personal method for getting the most from what he considered essential subjects in the shortest possible time. It would take between eighteen months and two years, he estimated. The student would be ready for her diploma in May 1941, after taking written and oral examinations on what she had learned. As the sole graduate of the F. Scott Fitzgerald College of One, class of ’41, I would wear blue stockings and a cap gown, and I would receive a unique scroll presented with due ceremony by the founder himself. It would also be a reeducation for Scott. He would be taking every course with me. We would study history, literature, poetry, philosophy, religion, music, and art. He was as eager to brush up on his own knowledge as I was to learn from the beginning.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald understood the learning process extremely well. He realized everyone learns differently and at different speeds. For the simple reason, he created an organic approach that today would probably be seen as out of the ordinary. Learning must adapt with every generation and student which Mr. Fitzgerald realized in 1939.

“Most educators create a master plan of study at the beginning and stick to it, regardless of the needs of the pupil. But not Mr. Fitzgerald. The curriculum grew concrete as it developed. The order was changed when a book was impossible to get or because Scott believed my interest was flagging. There was nothing rigid about the education. It had an organic growth. The four sections of the plan were never considered final and were constantly retyped by Scott’s secretary.”

What if we adopted this approach in our schools today? What if instead of going to college, you create your own College of One and create your own curriculum? You have all the necessary tools at your disposal. What if you contacted professors or mentors you admired and asked them to sit on your review board for your oral examinations? What if you took control of your own education just like Sheila Graham did and create the curriculum and learning experience you have always dreamt about?

Keep learning free and simple.

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