12 October 2011

Max and Gertrud Bondy

[Radical educational reform and experimentation has a mixed history in this country, especially at the liberal end of the spectrum. John Dewey (1859-1952), the American philosopher and psychologist, has arguably had the most influence on progressive theories of teaching and scholastic organization in the United States. His ideas, however, if carried too far or applied injudiciously, can descend into Auntie Mame travesties of self-indulgence or formlessness. As sociologist, poet, writer, and public intellectual Paul Goodman (1911-72) writes: “On the whole, the history of progressive education has not been a cheerful one. Its ideas and methods have been stolen and bastardized precisely to strengthen the dominant system of society rather than to change it.” A few attempts at a new paradigm for educating young people have appeared on the scene from time to time, though most didn’t last very long despite impressive successes in the fields of teaching and learning (usually for reasons more connected to administrative or financial problems, or both). Goodman and, especially, Dewey both were often associated with these schools, one of which, the New School for Social Research in New York City, founded in 1919 (and renamed the New School University in 1997 and then simply the New School in 2005), is still operating successfully. Its more radical cousin, Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina, lasted only 24 years, from 1933 to 1957. Black Mountain was virtually an open educational system where the faculty and students worked in partnership more like masters and apprentices and the teachers were not only educators but often prominent practitioners in their fields, especially in the arts and letters. Black Mountain became a center for arts training during its short existence, but the near absence of an administration, which the founders saw as an impediment to learning and open inquiry, eventually led the school to descend, as historian, essayist, and playwright Martin Duberman described in his study of the experiment, into “little more than a group of squabbling prima donnas.”

[Strangely, though, another, very similar experiment unfolded in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts, directed in this instance at teenagers. The Windsor Mountain School also lasted only a short time, from 1939 to 1975, but it followed many of the same practices as Black Mountain (from which, perhaps not coincidentally, some of the faculty came), with, perhaps, a little more structure and formality—though not much. The founders of the unusual prep school were Max and Gertrud Bondy, World War II refugees from Germany by way of Switzerland, who’d developed their philosophy of education beginning in 1919 in Europe as a response to the growing authoritarianism they saw developing in German society following World War I. I learned of the Bondys and their school when I began doing research into the life and career of Leonardo Shapiro, the innovative stage director I knew in the 1980s and ’90s and about whom I’ve written many times now on
ROT. Independent of Leo’s connection to the Bondys and the influence he felt Windsor Mountain, from which he’d graduated in 1963, had had on him, the story of Max and Gertrud Bondy is fascinating and worthy of note. I hope ROT readers will agree. ~Rick]


When Max Bondy (1892-1951), a former art historian, returned to Hamburg in November 1918 after service as an artillery officer with the German Reichsheer in World War I, he saw that his countrymen had become accustomed to cruel behavior toward one another and, especially, to prisoners of war. He decided that this situation had arisen because, as children, the Germans hadn’t been taught “decency and love” but “only to obey.” Bondy saw the German public schools of the day as focusing almost exclusively on obedience and stern discipline. Germany had raised a generation of bullies, cruel to anyone weaker than they. The only way to change this, Bondy decided, was to change the way children were educated. Before the war, Bondy had observed that the young men at universities habitually tormented their younger schoolmates and that their social organizations promoted drinking and found great honor in dueling and bearing scars. Parents treated their sons with extreme strictness but didn’t teach them respect for others. Bondy organized a club in which the aggressive impulses of the members were spent in debating, animated discussion, sports, and mountain climbing. In fact, mountain climbing, an activity which required skill, courage, and daring, but which pitted the men not against one another but against the mountain, served as a metaphor for the kind of non-competitive pursuit the Bondys encouraged.

In 1923, Max Bondy and his Prague-born bride, the former Gertrud Wiener (1889-1977), one of the first female physicians in Germany whom Max had married while she was still in medical school, founded a school, initially in Gandersheim, Lower Saxony, and then in 1929 in Marienau, south of Hamburg, as an alternative to the public schools. Their goal, pursuant to a dream Max Bondy had formed with friends who hadn’t survived the war, was to educate a new kind of German, with a “sense of responsibility, self-respect and the desire to be a new person.” Schule Marienau became one of the first in Germany to establish a student government as the Bondys endeavored to develop an atmosphere of mutual trust and reliance instead of discipline and punishment. “We wanted the students to feel that they could be leaders and be responsible for themselves,” Gertrud Bondy said, “building up a life in the school.” Self-government for the Bondys wasn’t merely meant as a way to inculcate democracy; more importantly for their epistemology, it was intended to direct the students’ energies to productive and beneficial activities. “We have often seen that the most aggressive young person has become the most energetic leader of the group,” explained Max Bondy.

Small at the start, Schule Marienau was organized into groups with each group functioning as a community, the members of which did everything together, for and with one another. Each group of eight to ten students had a teacher as an adviser and an elected student as a peer leader. If two groups developed a dispute, they’d stage mock combat “in the spirit of sportsmanship,” fighting for treehouses which they’d built. Whereas traditional German boarding schools had strict discipline similar to U.S. military schools, reinforcing the sense that there was an authority over the students, Schule Marienau wanted the adolescents to feel they could become leaders and, as Max Bondy phrased it, “self-sufficient people who will take their responsible place in future life.”

In 1931, on the cusp of the National Socialist’s take-over of the German government, Max Bondy said: “We see the standard of the German youth continually declining. His way of thinking gets more and more dependent. One rarely meets a critical, well-educated individual anymore.” Independent thinking and judgment, the Bondys believed, can defeat the mob mentality of suppressive authority, but it should also benefit society by leading its members towards the common good. The educational reformers saw teaching cooperation as “the real antithesis” to Social Darwinism: instead of the notion that “the basis of education is competition,” schools should promote the maxim, “The group that is best able to cooperate and live together has the best right and chance for survival.” A student who didn’t learn the basic lessons of the Bondys’ new community quickly either changed under their guidance or was dismissed from the school.

(I haven’t been able to confirm this, but it sounds as if one of the Bondys' inspirations was Prince Pyotr Alekseyevich Kropotkin, a Russian aristocrat who grew disillusioned with life at the imperial court. Kropotkin, 1842-1921, author of Mutual Aid, insisted that cooperation and mutual assistance are the standard in both nature and human society, attacking Social Darwinists for their view that the world is essentially competitive. Windsor Mountain alumnus Leonardo Shapiro cited Kropotkin as a personal inspiration and I believe that he learned of the Russian anarchist’s philosophy and possibly read Mutual Aid while he was at the school. I don’t know whether the book would have been assigned reading or if precocious students like Shapiro were just encouraged to read such challenging fare. In any case, Kropotkin’s philosophy dovetails with the Bondys’ pedagogical principles.)

When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, the public schools soon began teaching ideas that contradicted what the Bondys believed. The reformers “saw at once that the drive to hurt, both physically and mentally, to indulge people in the wildest cruelty and meanness, all those ‘uneducated’ drives, revealed themselves in the majority of German adults.” Teachers in the state schools, the Bondys believed, ignored the truths established by modern psychology indicating that these kinds of impulses were part of the human constitution—Hitler, explained Max Bondy, hadn’t created these drives—and can’t be eliminated—but they can be “educated.” “Too late for the world it was discovered that . . . if they are not educated,” insisted the Bondys, “they will break through in some way that may damage the world terribly.” Perhaps most significantly to their agenda, the Bondys concluded, “It was not the neurotic or psychopathic; it was the average German whose drives were uneducated.” Max Bondy pointed out that “Hitlerism, Chauvinism, anti-Semitism, freshman hazing, groping, etc., apply to normal average people and not to sick people.”

They saw the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws which discriminated against all kinds of minorities, particularly Jews, and “sanctioned the open display of sadistic drives.” (The Bondys were Jewish by heritage, though they had been baptized as Lutherans in 1924.) The establishment of the concentration camps and the horrors that took place there following on the seizures of the possessions and murders with impunity of members of the outcast groups were anathema to the Bondys and their followers. The Marienau students were shocked at what they saw happening around them and the Bondys saw more clearly the need for education. A few years earlier, Max Bondy noted: “We are observing with fear the decline of the thinking and acting of the majority of the German students into the thinking and acting of mobs. The present public school system seems to be unable to counteract the mob spirit efficiently.” In 1936, Gertrud Bondy, who’d also studied psychoanalysis with Sigmund Freud in Vienna, took as many students as wanted to go and moved them to Gland, Switzerland, on the northwestern shore of Lake Geneva. (Coincidentally, Gland, 17 miles north of Geneva, is only about 11 miles from the town where I went to school one year myself more than 25 years later.) Max stayed in Germany under the impression that the Nazi philosophy couldn’t sustain itself. When he realized he was wrong, he joined his wife in Switzerland in 1937 and they built a new school founded on their old principles.

In 1939, the Bondys emigrated to Windsor, Vermont, and established the Windsor Mountain School based on these same principles the following year. After moving briefly to Manchester, Vermont, the school settled in its final location in Lenox, Massachusetts, in 1943. Upon Max Bondy’s death in 1951, Heinz Bondy (b. 1924) assumed the headmastership of the school, which closed in 1975. (Heinz Bondy’s older sister, Annemarie Roeper, b. 1918, married a man who’d been a student at her parents’ school and came to the U.S. with her husband in advance of the Bondys. The Roepers moved to Detroit where they founded a school dedicated to the education of gifted students. The Roeper School is still operating.) Shapiro described Heinz Bondy as “the voice of leadership, of experience and doubt—tempered idealism.” (Gertrud Bondy, then already over 70, was “the soul of the school.”)

Among the fundamentals of their philosophy was the establishment of a “friendly school”—a description Max Bondy preferred over “progressive school,” which he felt sanctioned the indulgence of a student’s “individual leanings” without considering others’ needs and rights—which fosters an atmosphere of trust among the students and between the students and the adults. This friendliness, the Bondys argue, isn’t mere “practical politeness to keep outside friction to a minimum.” Max Bondy explained:

If the aggressions of a young person express themselves in a wrong way, it is because he feels constantly attacked and his attacks in turn are his self-defense. If this is so, we have to create a community life in which his fears and anxieties are not confirmed by reality. Therefore we try to create an atmosphere which is more friendly than usual in the ordinary life period. We explain to our colleagues why they must really listen when a child talks to them, not only that they must show patience but that they must honestly take the child seriously.


The Bondys’ goal was the development of “mutual recognition, respect, and, if possible, friendship” among everyone in the group and beyond it. They also advocated the “education of the emotions,” a psychologically-based form of instruction aimed at redirecting the aggressiveness that they believed was innate and ineradicable in humans but could be put into constructive efforts. Max Bondy conceded that the existing schools did well enough with the “education for knowledge,” though some could criticize the material taught, he acknowledged. They also succeeded in the “education of behavior,” what we’d call socialization and good citizenship; and there was sufficient “training for acceptance of outside control, punctuality, and tidiness.” (Max Bondy made these claims in Europe in the 1930s; I wonder if he’d still make them today in this country, given the problems identified with the consequences of our public education.) But the Bondys found that “most educators have not even devoted time to a discussion of methods” for training the emotions, which he termed “the main task of education.” “That is a deeper reason for the idea of our self-government,” explained Max Bondy. Having concluded that the German people’s aggressiveness under the Nazis was in part the consequence of the lack of any emotional training, leaving them unable to resist the pull of authoritarianism, the Bondys insisted, “We want to give the young people the possibilities for working out their aggressions in a positive way.”

The “anti” feelings the Bondys saw exercised around them, the prejudices, bigotry, and hatreds of one group for another, they contended were not the result of improper understanding or an intellectual failing of some kind, but the lack of emotional training that impelled the haters and bigots to direct their own fears and anxieties into aggressiveness and violence. The domestic counterparts of this aggression included the tyranny of a parent over the family or the rejection of a child or spouse. The educators also recognized it in less-destructive behavior such as rudeness, hurting others clandestinely, and engaging in gossip and slander. As Max Bondy asserted:

We do not need to believe fatalistically and pessimistically in the hopelessness of human nature when we see these drives which are destructive and a handicap to happiness and joy. We know today that all these drives of hatred and aggression can be tamed through our knowledge of modern psychology. Psychological insight gives a new opportunity for the betterment of education.


The Bondys believed that all children face “disappointments, lack of security, lack of guidance” which “make a child feel lonely, weak, and lost.” As a consequence, the children develop “anxiety, insecurity, and inferiority feelings” which put them “on the defensive,” generating “feelings of hatred and jealousy” so that they act out aggressively by breaking things or hurting animals and other people. As we grow up, most of us learn to suppress the destructive behavior, but the impulse is still there in our psychology, hidden behind the veneer of politeness and socialization.

The friendly atmosphere established at Schule Marienau and later at Windsor Mountain was the key to the emotional training that would assuage those fears and obviate the impulse to violence. What Max Bondy called “the main idea of our school” was to generate an atmosphere where people don’t feel isolated, where they don’t need to defend themselves because no one’s attacking them. If you don’t feel afraid, the reformers believed, you don’t lash out. This is what Max Bondy called the “atmosphere of general friendliness,” the environment that makes “‘laws’ and ‘limitations’ bearable and livable,” referring to the rules the community sets, first, “to transform the child into a well-adjusted social being, and secondly, to enable him to get as much as possible out of life.” The students are also shown that those who are older or stronger, including the teachers and other adults, don’t get more rights or privileges than anyone else; bullying the younger or weaker gains nothing. Even though it seems that this setting doesn’t exist outside of the schools’ campuses or that “hard reality forces feelings of distrust and anxiety,” the Bondys insisted that the practice was still both valid and effective. Max Bondy did grant that the emotional education he advocated was easier to accomplish in small groups like boarding schools of limited size, where an adolescent can get a complete view of the entire community, than in a family, where the family dynamics make it difficult, or large schools, where a less-personal atmosphere exists and the potential for loneliness is greater. He also emphasized that the national, ethnic, and religious mix of the school community like Windsor Mountain was an important element in the emotional training. The reformers asserted that, though it can take years, they had proved in practice that young people will gradually feel less hostile and insecure as they find that others, including adults and even strangers, listen to them and take them seriously.

The education offered at the Bondys’ schools, as well as other forms of instruction, was accomplished as much outside as inside the classroom, in conversations with the adults which were often initiated by everyday events. The idea that adults listen to the children and pay attention to their questions and concerns, whether in class, in formal conferences or meetings, or in casual conversations on the school grounds, was part of the way the friendly campus enables the emotional training. The teachers and other staff of the schools had to learn to listen carefully because the students’ real concern might be disguised as an innocent and even frivolous question or passing remark. Furthermore, the adults were admonished sometimes to come at an issue obliquely, by “philosophizing” with the student or offering academic help and easing into the more fundamental matter. (We can see here the influence of Gertrud Bondy, who we should remember was a trained psychoanalyst.) Teaching at Windsor Mountain (and, I would surmise, at Schule Marienau as well) wasn’t easy, as the faculty had to expose themselves freely to the students’ scrutiny and demonstrate clearly that they aren’t hypocrites who use the students for their own ego-enhancement. The student units were also meant to offer support and attention to anyone feeling adrift. And although students who engaged in selfish or aggressive behavior were left to suffer the unpleasant consequences of their actions, punishment, which the Bondys believed led to resentment and anger, was rare. The important aspect of the mutual respect and friendliness was that the adolescents weren’t left alone with their problems but were allowed to speak their minds and voice their concerns in an environment where they’d get sympathy and understanding. This, the Bondys affirmed, was how confidence was built and, therefore, a sense of personal security fostered.

This isn’t to say that there weren’t incidents of bad conduct at the Bondy schools. There were occasional occurrences of everything from laziness and gossiping all the way up to making hostile ethnic or racial remarks about another member of the community. In addition to dealing with the immediate transgression itself, as well as its consequences, the schools turned these incidents into “teachable moments,” as we call them today. “We do this by encouraging lively discussions,” explained Gertrud Bondy, “giving people the opportunity of letting out their aggressions in words, proving their points and understanding the opposite opinions. This is a much more positive life.”

The Bondys continued their emphasis on student government as a way to teach the students leadership responsibilities and their encouragement of independent thinking and individuality in service to the larger community. Members of the unit were assigned responsibilities to increase their interest in the welfare of the entire group. In response, of course, the older students and the group leaders approached the younger and newer members with the friendliness fostered by the schools’ philosophy. The Bondys recognized two kinds of ambition: one, the drive for renown and power; the other, the desire to do the right thing. It was this second kind of ambition that the Bondys intended to instill in their students. Students who weren’t leaders were expected to try to become what they wanted to be. Being a leader in the Bondys’ epistemology meant seeing that life was enjoyable and satisfying for everyone in the community. Being disruptive or selfish was clearly not the way to accomplish that. If students were interested in becoming part of the student government, they would have to work to develop the leadership qualities that would take them to that goal.

The Bondys established an atmosphere in Lenox where adolescents were encouraged to “find their own voice” and engage in “radical political thought” as well as “self-motivated artistic endeavors.” The Windsor Mountain School, in the words of former student Steven Court, specialized in educating “kids who were the black sheeps of their family” in an environment free of rules and administrative repression. (Court, whom I interviewed in 1997 by phone in Iowa City where he was a grad student at the University of Iowa, was a student at Windsor Mountain from 1970-73.) An earlier alumnus, Jeffrey Horowitz (class of ‘64), founder of New York’s Theater for a New Audience, observed that the student body included “a number” of “misfits” and that the school encouraged and supported them. The freedoms—intellectual, social, political, sexual—offered by Windsor Mountain School all had profound repercussions on its students in their adult years.

Max and Gertrud Bondy saw “formal” education, by which they meant conventional schooling, as a way to teach people “to present only a smooth uniform exterior” while suppressing their individuality and independence of mind. “We consider [the formal school’s] method of education ‘non-educating’ or ‘mis-educating,’” declared Max Bondy. “The formal school only knows a uniform education, it does not recognize the importance of individual education.” With a student body of about 250 and a student-to-faculty ratio of seven to one, Windsor Mountain nurtured a “friendly atmosphere” that fostered mutual trust and respect in which student-teacher relationships were “close and informal.” One senior student, extolling the faculty members’ interests in non-academic pursuits like motorcycles and photography, acknowledged, “I relate to teachers like friends and equals, not like teachers.” As Paul Goodman called for in The Community of Scholars, Windsor Mountain strove to prepare its students for life beyond the campus without smothering their “creative impulse and attitude for change” by encouraging independent thinking and individual creativity in service to the community. Their educational philosophy, as we’ve heard, stressed individuality and independent thinking, but they were not unbridled libertarians. Uncircumscribed freedom is merely selfishness, they taught, but independence in service to the community is leadership.

One of the principal goals of education, the Bondys affirmed, is to make the student a member of society. “He cannot live as a hermit, and he will not wish to live [as] a hermit if he is not a psychopath,” said Max Bondy. “Through small but necessary restrictions he will learn to curb his own impulses and desires.” The Bondy schools’ aim wasn’t to create conformists, but to make everyone feel they are part of a group. While their students were expected to question authority and “test whatever is offered to them,” each was expected to bring his skills and talents to the service of the community, “to sublimate his ego to the superego represented by the group.” The Bondys not only taught their students to question whatever dicta are handed down to them, but emphasized that, even as adolescents, they are responsible for themselves and that others did not have power over them. “Wake up,” Gertrud Bondy admonished her students, “—not only to criticize but to criticize constructively, and to put your good ideas across to people.” Those with superior educations mustn’t remove themselves from society but participate in it, the Bondys taught. Max Bondy told a reunion of Marienau alumni:
It would indeed be bad if the former members of our school community would live in seclusion, despise the way of life of the “others” and only look forward to the time when they can again be together for some days . . . among like-minded people.

No, you . . . must integrate into the community of the nation. You must not show yourselves to be better than the others, only better educated.


An example of putting this belief into practice could be seen in a tradition common in the ‘60s at Windsor Mountain, according to Jeff Horowitz. The school had little endowment but strove to maintain a scholarship program for deserving students, including many from Africa. Scholarship funds were raised by students who voluntarily worked in the Lenox community by performing services like painting residents’ houses. Besides benefitting the future scholarship students and Windsor Mountain, this practice was also an example of the Bondys' oft-stated precept that helping the community in which you live is a “positive action.”

(Once again I find myself wondering about Windsor Mountain reading assignments. I know that Leo Shapiro was introduced to the German novelist Hermann Hesse, 1877-1962, while he was a student there, and one of the books Shapiro later cited as an inspiration was Magister Ludi—also known as The Glass Bead Game—in which Hesse holds that humanity’s truest calling is the commitment to others rather than cloistered, solipsistic contemplation. I can’t help but see the parallels between the 1943 novel, the author’s last, and one of the Bondys' firmest tenets. Could it have been a book much read on the campuses of Schule Marienau and Windsor Mountain because of the stark similarities between the two philosophies? Could that be why Shapiro felt strongly enough about the book to talk to me about it specifically?)

The textbooks used at Windsor Mountain were conventional, but college-level. Students as young as 13 or 14 (Windsor Mountain started with seventh grade), however, were already reading authors like Goethe, Proust, Dostoyevsky, Nikos Kazantzakis, William Faulkner, Kenneth Fearing, William Golding—authors and works I didn’t read until college (if then)—and Sartre’s Nausea, Hesse’s Siddhartha and Journey to the East, and René Daumal’s Mount Analogue were the elective choices of some. The school’s theater program staged European drama like Max Frisch’s Biedermann and the Firebugs, Maeterlinck’s Pélléas and Mélisande, Giraudoux’s The Enchanted, Chekhov’s The Seagull, Strindberg’s Ghost Sonata, and Yeats’s Purgatory; and many of the Windsor Mountain students “seemed already to be professional artists” in poetry, painting, and theater. (Camp Windsor, a theater camp conducted on the campus, offered continued immersion in the arts during the summer.) Alumnus Shapiro, already a theater enthusiast and occasional visitor to Greenwich Village as a high-schooler, characterized the young artists as Village denizens, only younger.

Windsor Mountain, while offering traditional college-preparatory academics, took a liberal approach to regulating its students’ lives. Heinz Bondy, the headmaster, insisted that the “purpose of a school is not to run smoothly,” but to keep changing and adjusting to find answers. There was no dress code, no rules for leaving campus, no censorship of student publications. Students and faculty alike were subject to the same standards of conduct and there were no restrictions on political activity. The students themselves could suggest courses for the curriculum on the theory that adolescents were responsible, intelligent individuals capable of making reasonable choices about their lives. Teachers there were free to “experiment, improvise, and develop their own styles” and “teach pretty much what they want in any way they wish without interference from the administration.” The faculty even included several professional artists-in-residence, a rarity even now for secondary schools. Like a Black Mountain College for teenagers, the goal of the Windsor Mountain School, which didn’t demand its graduates go on to higher education as long as they pursued goals that made them happy, was to create a community that blurred the boundaries between students and adults and between classroom and life. Two late alumni invoked the name of a famous British experimental school, Summerhill, whose founder declared he’d rather the school “produced a happy street cleaner than a neurotic scholar," as a kind of paradigm. Windsor Mountain shared this philosophy: Horowitz put it this way: “If you were a happy secretary, that was just fine” and Court stated the school philosophy as: “Live what you’re for, stop fighting what you’re against.”

Windsor Mountain was one of the few private prep schools where the student government had more than an advisory function. The student court had sole authority over suspensions and expulsions and the student council made all the non-academic rules. In the 1969, for instance, the student council voted to allow students to visit the dorms of the opposite gender during the day and early evening. In addition to the sciences, arts, and literature, students in Lenox were also taught about political dissent, Horowitz asserted. Among his schoolmates at Windsor Mountain were several whose parents had suffered the effects of the probes by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), losing jobs and seeing their lives destroyed. The HUAC legacy was a topic of conversation on the campus which, Horowitz attested, “had a strong socialist element.” Far from suppressing social engagement or political activity by its students, Windsor Mountain encouraged it and students were free to participate in political activity if they wished. In the 1960s, the school hosted concerts by such counterculture icons as Pete Seeger, whose daughter Tinya was a student at Windsor Mountain, and Joan Baez. Other prominent parents who sent their children to Windsor Mountain, which was coeducational and had a religiously and racially integrated student body and faculty before the civil rights activism of the ‘60s, included singer Harry Belafonte, jazz musicians Thelonious Monk and Randy Weston, singer-actor Judy Garland, actor Henry Fonda, and civil rights lawyer Clifford Durr and his wife, activist Virginia Foster Durr.

It can’t be denied that, described this way—and much of what I presented here is either directly from the Bondys’ speeches or closely paraphrased from them—the Bondy philosophy sounds more than a little socialistic, utopian, and flower-childlike. If Schule Marienau (which still operates in Dahlem, Lower Saxony) and later Windsor Mountain didn’t slip into Auntie Mame caricature, there’s something of Peter Pan’s “Think lovely thoughts” floating around the Bondy epistemology. Still, there’s also a lot of truth embedded in it: prejudice is, indeed, often based on fear—though ignorance isn’t absent as Max Bondy seemed to believe. And while it might be possible to create a truly friendly atmosphere in a small community such as a boarding school of fewer than 300 students with a low student-faculty ratio, in the larger, more open society at large, or even just a medium-sized public school, the kind of control and intellectual discipline necessary to maintain one would be impossible to attain. Finally, the notion of teaching a young adult “to sublimate his ego to the superego represented by the group” would fly in the face of the ingrained American ideal of “rugged individualism” that has permeated our culture since long before there was the concept of the “Me Generation.” I don’t know how the European schools actually worked, but by the time the reformers got to Lenox, they seem to have succumbed to some practicality. I’m afraid the closest we’re likely to come to the Bondy ideal is the way John Lennon saw it: “Imagine.”

[Many of the facts and quotations from the Bondys in this article are drawn from various speeches of the Bondys published on a website that’s no longer on line (and which I corrected here for obvious spelling or typing mistakes). (The site was maintained by a descendent of Max Bondy’s brother and contained other material, such as genealogical information.) Some of the speeches, translated into English, may have been taken from a German-language book, Max Bondy: Reden an jungen Deutsche (1926-1947) [Speeches to young Germans] (Marienau, Ger.: Schülern der Schule Marienau, 1998), published by the school originally founded by the Bondys. The principal sources, however, were speeches entitled “Philosophy of the School” and “The Objectives of the School and Their Origins.” The first was delivered by Max Bondy clearly at Windsor Mountain (although I can’t tell which campus) and the second by Gertrud, obviously after her husband’s death.]

24 comments:

  1. Wow! Great article on my grandmother, Gertrud Bondy! One small correction: Gertrud was an M.D., although she never practiced medicine. She was a terrific grandmother, who always made me feel that I was important and significant, even though I was just a kid. But I think she was like this with everyone. She was generous to a fault, and insisted on giving Christmas presents to huge amounts of people. Visiting Gertrud was like visiting the empress, but she made you feel like you were a special member of her court.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mr. Gerard:

      Thank you for the comment and the compliment. I learned of your grandparents through a former student of Windsor Mountain, and the more I learned about them and their schools, the more impressed I became with their philosophy and their methods. My friend was influenced by Gertrud all his life and spoke of her and Heinz with reverence and fondness, and I could see some of what he valued. I'm so glad you wrote in.

      (I'm going to leave my description of your grandmother's medical status as it is because I don't state she ever practiced and your remark has specified that fact sufficiently. Even if she never practiced medicine, she was still a trained physician and psychoanalyst and surely drew on that knowledge in her work with students and education. Thank you nonetheless for the clarification.)

      ~Rick

      Delete
  2. I'm doing research on Windsor Mountain School, where I attended from 1961-63. I remember Leonardo Shapiro. Please contact me at RickGoeld@cox.net ... Eric (Rick) Goeld

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mr. Goeld:

      I've pretty much included everything I know or found on Windsor Mountain in the article about the Bondys. I wouldn't be able to tell you anything more than is published here.

      Leo Shapiro died of cancer in 1997. He had just turned 51.

      ~Rick

      Delete
  3. The Windsor Mountain School changed a bit over its decades. The experience in Vermont with a tiny student group differed from mid-1950s in Lenox (about 175 students, 7-12), from the mid 70s and its closing.

    As an example, late 1950s Windsor did have a dress code, for dinner, for boys sport jackets and ties, for girls something. (cf. "There was no dress code, no rules for leaving campus, no censorship of student publications. (p 8/12)."

    A dozen speeches of Max and Gertrud Bondy were published in 1965, and some have been posted to the current Yahoo egroup, restricted to Windsor alums.

    Rick, if you still monitor this part of your blog, give me an email, I have a few other comments, but no direct email for you. Daniel. voyer-at-keganlaw-dot-com.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Daniel--

    Yes, my information about Windsor Mountain is based on the school in the '60s when my friend was there and just before a national magazine article about the school and some sister institutions was published. Thank you for pointing out the changes over time.

    As I suggested, I did find a website, now no longer in existence, from which I downloaded several of Max's and Gertrud's speeches, and I was aware of the German publication of some of their addresses as well. I'm sure there are also many others which would prove revealing.

    I'm sorry, however, but I don't publicize my e-mail, which isn't connected to ROT. Any additional remarks will have to be left here, on the blog.

    ~Rick

    ReplyDelete
  5. Barbara Kersken, the resident historian and archivist at Marienau School has written a book about the Bondys, "Gertrud and Max Bondy-Pioneers of Modern Pedagogy of Experience;" ISBN 3-88456-086-7, which might be interesting to translate into English.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Ms. Runte. I'm sure you're right, but my German is no longer strong enough to venture a translation myself. I'd be interested in seeing an English version if someone else manages one, though.

      Thanks for providing the information. I will check it out in any case.

      ~Rick

      Delete
  6. The Bondy's also were concerned with ethnic and socio economic diversity. Perhaps an over abundance of scholarships played a large role in its early demise. As a student there from 71-74, I benefited from the academic environment and the multitude of culture to which I was exposed. However as an African American from the inner city I suffered from the lack of structure and the culture of drug use which was very much tolerated if not outright having been condoned as part of the grand experiment. It was widely known that Gertrude Bundy was a heroin addict. overall the progressive movementideals and philosophies that were purported at Windsor

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your contribution. I'm sure responses to the program at Windsor Mountain varied widely, depending on when a student was there and what he or she needed from the experience. It doesn't surprise me that there's a lot of information I don't know and that people didn't bring up in print or interviews.

      ~Rick

      Delete
  7. My mother and father, black mountain graduates taught at
    Windsor mountain in the late 1940's, today my 91 year old
    mother who taught art there, found in her closet some wonderful paintings done by a 12 year old boy named Harry Singer, who was a refugee who had lived in caves in europe before being brought to the school , she remembered him fondly He would be 77 years old now

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is a fascinating story. Thank you for commenting.

      I have tentative plans to post an article about Black Mountain in the future. I have plenty of notes, but I haven't even thought about writing the article yet, so I have no idea when I'd publish it, but it may happen. Check back from time to time to see.

      ~Rick

      Delete
  8. I wanted to add comments due to the fact I am a former Rudolf Steiner,Summer Hill & Wind
    sor Mt. student.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're more than welcome to post comments. I'm pleased you felt the urge to do so!

      You may be interested to know that my friend Oona Haaranen, whose story "Nobody Wants to See a Tired Bat on Stage" was posted on 9 Jan., was also a Rudolf Steiner student--in Finland. (I have an article on Michael Chekhov, posted on 2 May 2011; he was a follower of Steiner.)

      ~Rick

      Delete
  9. I was a Windsor Mt. student in the early 70's near the end of the school. I would say that Gertrud Bondy was a good friend of mine. She was a wonderful person. She had sort of a salon in the evenings in her apartment which was attended by various students and faculty. I remember conversing about various intellectual subjects while sipping cafe mit schlag out of a demitasse. It was all wonderfully old world.
    I read Freud with her during frequent "sessions" which she had with students she wanted to keep a mentoring eye on. It's not true that she was a heroin addict. She confided in me about her addiction which she said was originally to morphene which she had been prescribed for her angina (heart condition). At the time I knew her she was on methadone. She also took nitroglycerine pills for her angina, the pain from which she frequently suffered visibly.
    The school itself did go through an epidemic of heroin addiction at some time before I was a student there (late 60's?) which affected many students and some faculty. But by the time I was there heroin use was unkown though marijuana was common.
    In 1996 there was a reunion of students of all the classes which had attended the school during it's history. The gratitude and warm feeling expressed toward the school was overwhelming and I heard over and over again former students saying that they felt the school was a pivotal experience in their life. I was also surprised to see how many who during their school years seemed troubled, had gone on to lead very succesful and creative lives, and many credited the school for this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing your recollections about Windsor Mountain. My late friend, Leo Shapiro, didn't mention the salons, and maybe they didn't happen in the mid-'60s when he was there, but I have very clear memories of 'Kaffee mit Schlag' (you've mixed your languages a bit) from when I lived in Germany in the early '60s. (That's coffee with whipped cream, for all you non-Teutons out there.)

      I don't believe I ever said anything about heroine, either with respect to Gertrud Bondy or the school. This is the first I've heard of that problem. It's really irrelevant to the point I was making in my article, however.

      Leo was mortally ill in 1996 (he died in Feb. '97), so he wouldn't have been able to attend a reunion. But he said to me several times that WMS was a seminal influence on his thinking and his art. He's certainly one of those who'd have "seemed troubled," and he definitely went on to live a "creative life": I've just completed a 2-part article for this blog on one of his most ambitious theater projects, 'Strangers,' published here on 3 and 6 March.

      ~Rick

      Delete
  10. About the "heroin" I was responding to the dec. 23 comment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I see. I hadn't looked back. My bad.

      ~Rick

      Delete
  11. My grandmother Gertrud Bondy had a real talent for communicating with young people. She would have long private talks with me when I wasn't even ten years old. She was often exorbitantly generous.

    It took me a lifetime to realize that being a German Jewish refugee had a powerful affect on her beliefs. Her educational philosophy was based on creating a society in which Nazis couldn't take power again. She described herself as a citizen of the world. She never called herself a Jew and my second cousin once removed was told he would be fired if he told anyone she was one. At the same time she welcomed her fellow German Hewish refugees to live at the school until ghey got on their feet.

    It seemed that Gerturd always had money. She behaved like a member of high society, but the Bondy family had several years of poverty when they first came to the USA. There was always a nurse around to give her injections and take care of her. Her generosity might have had a deleterious effect on the school but now I can see it as integral to her sense of well-being.

    About the drugs: yes, it was mighty confusing to have a grandmother get injections every three hours. She called it angina pain, but any physician will tell you this isn't angina. It was really withdrawal symptoms. In between injections Gertrud would falk about how distressing it was for her that young people were doing drugs.

    She was one-of-a-kind and I loved her.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Once again, Mr. Gerard, thank you for generously sharing your memories of your grandmother with me and my readers. I have no doubt that some of those memories are hard and even painful. (I'm still contending with similar recollections of my mother, who died at 92 a little over a year ago, and even my father, who died in 1996.)

      My impression of your grandparents is that they were both remarkable people. I have no doubt it would have been a privilege to have known them. I know that my friend Leo Shapiro felt very strongly about the influence Mrs. Bondy had on his life and the life lessons he learned through her and Windsor Mountain. Alongside my thanks, you also have my sympathies.

      ~Rick

      Delete
  12. Thank you for all this. It's heart warming to recollect, and some of it is new to me. What research! Two things. Leo was at the '95 reunion, although clearly ailing and Ina wheel chair. I distinctly remember the first class he came to - he started shortly after the school year began, in 9th or 10th grade. For some reason we were assigned a shortened version of The Red and the Black. Leo said, in his deep and impressive voice, "I am not accustomed to reading abridged books". And on another note, one of my fondest and most influential memories is the hours a small group of us spent with Gertrud for several weeks reasons Faust together. Lovely to think back and think of how we all got from then to now. Leslie Dreier '63

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Leslie. What a nice memory.

      Leo started at WMS in 10th grade, having done his freshman HS year at a school near his home in Florida. I didn't know he attended a reunion in '95--he'd already left NYC be then and we were in contact only by letter and occasional phone call. Of course, he died not too long after.

      I read 'The Red and the Black' in college--in French (not abridged)! (I was a French-German major.)

      ~Rick

      Delete
  13. Quite a coincidence. I was a French major too and of course read the Red and the Black in college. Never learned German, although I did start my freshman year at Windsor witha German class.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was a double major because I entered with advanced placement in both French and German. (I had been living in Germany and finished HS in Switzerland. I've told some of this story in "An American Teen in Germany," 9 and 12 March 2013.) Since I started with junior-level courses, the requirements for the two majors dovetailed perfectly and I not only didn't have to take extra classes to fulfill the major, I had vacancies in my schedules that I filled with courses I took purely out of curiosity (acting, directing, psych, philosophy, comp. lit., etc.) I even took two years of Russian because I could! (My college had an annual Foreign-Language Christmas Sing involving the students in all the modern language classes. I was the only student who sang in three sections!)

      ~Rick

      Delete