Rebellious roots Donald before Charlotte… and Charlotte before Donald
As husband and wife for 54 years, Donald and Charlotte MacJannet jointly pursued a radical educational vision that transcended
national borders. But both were well into their 30s when they met and married in
1932. Two memoirs recently discovered in the Tufts University archives — one
by Donald, one by Charlotte — shed light on the forces that shaped them
separately before they joined forces with such inspiring impact.
Editor’s note: In 1979, when he was 85, DonaldMacJannet taped
an extended interview conducted bySeymour Simches, the first director of Tufts University’sEuropean Center
at the Prieuré in Talloires, France. Thefirst part of the transcript was recently discovered in theTufts University
archives; it provides new insights intoDonald’s background, as well as the evolution of his educationalphilosophy. Some
excerpts are provided below. Dan Rottenberg
Teachers without borders I: Donald’s story
The minister’s son, on his own
I’m from a small Massachusetts village called
Sterling near Boston. My father, Robert MacJannet, had come from Scotland when
he was nine years old, on a sailing ship to Canada with his family, and the
journey lasted, I understand, 31 days. He worked his way through McGill
University and was ordained a Baptist minister and served for a time in that
denomination. But he soon decided that one should not be paid for preaching the gospel, so he joined the
Plymouth Brethren, a fundamentalist church that met on Sundays in a circle with no ordained minister,
somewhat as the Quakers do.
My father became an Evangelist,
and so I didn’t see very much of him during my boyhood days. He was an eloquent
preacher but very strict. We were not supposed to do anything on Sundays but
read the Bible or go to Sunday school— certainly not to play games. It was my
mother that I knew and admired greatly.
We moved from one place to another,
mostly in western Massachusetts. We were five in the family, and father had
great confidence that God would provide for us— andso He did, through my work
and the work of my brother and sister. We used to help the neighboring farmers,
weeding, picking strawberries for two cents a quart, and string beans at five
cents a peck.
"God will provide": Donald (left),with sister
Jean and brother Malcolm, c. 1902
My father died in 1909, when I was quite young , and
we all moved to Boston, where my father had friends. Until I entered college at
18, I lived with a widow named Mrs. Mitchell and her small son. When I entered
Tufts, my tuition was only $75 a term, but I had to help support Mrs. Mitchell,
her son and my own younger sister Jean (who was away at school in Northfield)
as well.I earned money by selling
aluminum cooking utensils— a new product at the time, so I gave demonstrations
before women’s clubs and church groups to show that aluminum wasn’t poisonous.
I also took a job as sexton of the Universalist Church in
Medford. Another job was reading gas meters. I was paid only one cent a meter,
but the job helped me develop a technique for remembering numbers, because the
meters were often located in dark corners of tenement basements, and I found I could
remember five or six at a time, then I’d come to daylight and write them down.
Rarely did I make a mistake.
Disciplining unruly kids
My first job was in Washington. As a Phi Beta Kappa, class
orator, and so forth, I had been interviewed by a number of headmasters who asked
me, “What experience have you had?” And I said, “None.” They’d say, “That’s too
bad.” Finally I talked with William H. Church, who was headmaster of St.
Alban’s School in Washington, connected with the Episcopal Cathedral. It was
the best school in Washington. He explained: “I came to St. Alban’s last year,
with a staff that was experienced. Under the thumb of the athletic director.
And the athletic director ran the school. He told me what I should do and what
I should not do. And he said, ‘I’m going to have my own staff, and in many
cases I’m going to have men that I can train and will gladly do what I think is
the right thing to do.” I taught there eventually for three years.
Teaching wasn’t so sweet at first, because I lacked
experience. But Mr. Church was very good, and he had the room next to mine. And
when the boys would be through with my class and go to his class, he would say
to them, “I cannot understand it. When you’re with me you behaved beautifully.
When you’re with Mr. MacJannet you were disorderly.” Eventually I found out how
to do it. The disorderly student was usually warned. He would start shrieking
or something, and if I sent him out of the room, he’d still shriek. Mr. Church
would say, “Take him out when you’re preparing your lesson or doing something
in your room. Have him sit in a corner, looking into the corner, and you go
ahead with your work. Don’t speak to him. Let him just meditate.
After you do that for a few days, he’ll be quite different.”
There were lots of things I
decided I would do if I ever had a school or camp. I would make everyone feel
safe and welcome there. In my youth I had been a minority of one: the
minister’s son— “Get ready for your icy snowballs.” I made sure that there was
no sort of hazing. Everybody says, “Oh, boys will be boys.” Well, not in our
camp! No child had to fear that there was someone behind him to give him a push
so he would tumble over backwards. We never had any punishment. Sometimes a child
would be sent to my office, and I would talk to him about his being a guest
with the other guests, and that he knew from his own experience that when his
mother had guests to tea she expected everyone to be kind and generous to the
other guests, and it was the best way and it was fun. And this lad who had
annoyed the others and played tricks on the others— he must think about it.