The New Themes in Education Conferences

In the 2007 Totnes Review Walter King wrote a very interesting piece entitled ‘The Lost Worlds of Dartingon’. King’s argument is that during the 1980s there was a split on the board and that the “New Agers” defeat of the pragmatists led to the economic decline of the Trust and the dismantling of its economic base.  Whilst I think that the article is an excellent acount of the travails of the Trust in the 1980s, to some extent I disagree with King in that I see both the ‘new age’ and the Dartington economic crisis having much deeper roots. I will write more on both aspects in future posts but suffice to say at this point that many of the Trust’s businesses were struggling during the economic downturns of the 1970s. I would also argue that the ‘vacuum’ over the direction of the Trust that King identifies also  stretches back to the early 1970s when it entered the post Elmhirst era.

In terms of the ‘new age’ at Dartington, one of the concrete examples was the New Themes in Education Conferences which began in the mid 1970s, and which this extract details.


The New Themes in Education Conferences organised by Mark Braham under the auspices of the Dartington Society which was one of the initiatives which came out of Ash’s (1974) Rediscovering the Estate paper. The first of the Education Conferences was held for a week over Easter in 1976. A range of participants were involved, many of whom were in no way associated with alternative ideas, but the conference also provided a platform for R. D. Laing. Laing is regarded as the father of the ‘anti-psychiatry’ movement and was described by Theodore Rozak (author of The Making of a Counter Culture) as ‘one of the leading mentors of Britain’s burgeoning counter culture.’ Laing later retuned to Dartington in 1979 to speak at a sold out lecture on childbirth. The Education conferences became an annual occurrence and bought a range of thinkers and ideas into contact with Dartington. The 1977 conference was subtitled ‘Education and evolution’ and focused on the ideas of Piere Teilhard de Chanin. Teilhard has become regarded as a significant inspiration for the modern New Age movement. Subsequent conferences included figures such as James Robertson, Frijtof Capra, Christian Schumacher (son of E.F. Schumacher, all attendees at the 1978 conference) and Hazel Henderson (1981 conference on Right Livelihood) amongst others, all of whom had burgeoning reputations as innovative thinkers at the time. The conferences continued into the 1980s and were one reason that Dartington itself developed a reputation as a ‘New Age’ centre. For example they were mentioned in the Appendix to Marilyn Ferguson’s The Aquarian Conspiracy, a bestseller when published in 1981 and which did much to popularise ideas of a ‘New Age movement’.

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