The reader may discover in this book an innovative school system that embodies the concepts of a relevant education, a community school, an educational park, and team teaching. Originally published in 1916, The Gary Schools is a forthright account of the public school system of Gary, Indiana, under the superintendency of William Wirt. At a time when Gary was being developed by United States Steel Corporation, Wirt initiated a novel educational program to meet the problems of urban life and demands of a modern vocation. From nursery school to the first years of college, the Gary plan was to educate the whole child in an integrated and continuous fashion. Courses in the industrial and technical arts were taught along with conventional academic subjects, and the truly "public" school meshed classrooms and shops with municipal playgrounds, parks and gardens, libraries and museums. Wirt also introduced the "platoon" system, which efficiently utilized a relatively small number of teachers and facilities to take care of a maximum number of students. Bourne thus describes a modern school system that grew in recognition of a social need. It was different in curriculum, method, and organization from other schools of the time and was immensely popular with progressive educators everywhere.
In a long introduction the editors attempt to bring the Gary system and the style of Bourne's account into the context of the period. They provide a biographical sketch of Randolph Bourne, social reformer and radical, and examine the social and political forces his sponsorship represented. In itself a lively essay, the introduction covers Bourne's career with the New Republic, the struggles with his publisher, and the attempted introduction of the Gary plan into the New York City schools—a political endeavor that resulted in large demonstrations and riots.
In an epilogue to Bourne's enthusiastic account, the book also includes an annotated and abridged version of the summary volume of the 1918 critique of the Gary system by Abraham Flexner, an educator of the day, and Frank P. Bachman, a school administrator. The Gary Schools thus provides a unique opportunity for those concerned with schools and society to peruse both positively described material on innovative methods and a careful critique that seriously considers the limitations of the Gary plan and the problems of implementing change in a major cultural institution.