From Susan Isaacs to Lillian Weber and Deborah Meier: A Progressive Legacy in England and the United States

  • Jody Hall


Susan Fairhurst Brierley Isaacs (1885–1948), English child psychologist, psychoanalyst and school reformer, saw in this instance of an amoeba’s behavior a life energy by which all organisms seek equilibrium between inner processes and environmental changes. Such an analogy is indicative of the use of evolutionary biology to inform psychology in its beginning years. From 1924 to 1927, as director of the experimental Malting House School in Cambridge, for children aged 2 to 10, Isaacs gathered evidence of children “reaching out” to materials, events, plants, and animals, and to peers and adults, much in the way that the amoeba’s pseudopodium, on touching a surface, changed its behavior—an act, Isaacs wrote, of “positive activity towards its environment.”1 The legacy of Susan Isaacs is not so much the founding of a school, as it is the synthesis of a school of thinking about schooling that undergirded reform. Although the Malting House School was short-lived, Isaacs drew from the data to create a persuasive set of guidelines and exemplars for practice. In so doing, she blended ideas from Darwinian biology, philosopher John Dewey, and psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein. Isaacs lived the theory that she espoused, through immersion as teacher and researcher in the day-to-day life of the Malting House School, in her own psychoanalyses with J. C. Flugel, Otto Rank, and Joan Riviere, in teaching graduate students in education and psychology, in psychoanalytic practice, and as a training analyst.


Preschool Education School Practice Childcare Provider Dramatic Play Intellectual Growth 
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Copyright information

© Alan R. Sadovnik, Susan F. Semel 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jody Hall

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