Dr. Edwin M. Swengel, life-long educator, has proposed a way to change the lock-step traditional (failing!) school system with a school in which students learn something and then help younger students learn--”Mutual Instruction”--in a setup that allows all students to learn at their own pace. (See BENIGN SCHOOL page.)
Dr. Edwin M. Swengel Dr. Edwin M. Swengel & Jane Swengel Creason


Dr. Swengel's Plainston Chronicles reads like an epic novel as his characters tell their stories in either letters written to each other or journal entries or editor's notes. Thus is the reader propelled through the narratives, following the trials and tribulations of the very real characters. The book makes one want to immediately start such a school as Dr. Swengel envisions, as such a school addresses the whole child, not just "book larnin'." When children, at an early age, learn to care about and for their fellow students, this caring attitude carries through their life. Such a school is interactive with its community and impacts it in a very positive way. The effects ripple out even beyond the immediate community and could ultimately affect governments and the way nations are run. Hope springs anew that the world could indeed become a better place!

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A modern American city where people don't drive cars, where there is no mayor, where no one is hungry, where medical care is available for all, where most people worship at the Temple in the center of the city, where kids attend year-round schools which don't have grade levels or even grades—a city that lies closed off behind an encircling wall with a moat, no less. What is really going on behind that wall? Why are there “cells” of Plainston citizens living in major cities all across the country? Why are they getting involved with a new third political party? Karl “Kiki” Kornhauer, a well-known political analyst and writer, has been invited into the city “to live Plainston” in order to find the answers. Have Plainstans discovered a way to solve most modern urban problems, or is there something sinister going on behind that wall, as other columnists have charged—most notably, Wilber Bickersley? What is the “conspiracy” that so many refer to both inside and outside the wall?

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T H E   P L A I N S T O N

As an educator in a public school classroom for thirty years, then working with school districts as a consultant, a certified drug and alcohol prevention specialist, certified ESL instructor, early childhood education specialist, and a long time advocate of common sense changes in public education, picking up Dr. Edwin M. Swengel’s book, “The Plainston Chronicles” was an exercise in “Ho hum, what new little bandaid twist will we hear about now?!”

What a surprise to find myself deeply engrossed right from the author’s “regret” page! Not only is Dr. Swengel’s style lyrical, but it hit very close to home as I recognized techniques I have used in primary classes.

Disenchantment with rigid curriculum over the years caused me to gradually train students to be partners in their learning. As the characters in the book discovered, children are capable of far more than we think and they were soon helping each other and discussing tutoring skills.

True learning accelerated, children learned skills in many areas, and discipline problems disappeared. This technique left me with time to work individually with students. Did I call it "family-style" learning? No, but that’s what it was.

Is this book “pie in the sky”? Definitely not, as it worked miracles in my classrooms. Hopefully many school administrators, teachers, and parents will read and enjoy this book and call for changes. I heartily encourage the discovery of this book!

- Educator, Joan Larimore

Dr. Swengel has written a compelling “treatise” (in story form) on education in our country over a period of time, 1919 through 1951, in the central plains of the U.S.

First, I wish I had read this before my practice teaching in the public school systems. It explores concepts of teaching that are so sensible and attentive to the sensitivities of young students one must ask why this is not being done now... in all the schools?

This delightful and enlightening work should be required reading for teaching candidates. If you had told me I would be reading two volumes on education last month, I probably wouldn't have believed you. The writing is enticing and joyful as he spins the stories of his characters. Dr. Swengel draws the reader further and further into the dramas of Plainston. But be forewarned … Volume I leads to Volume II!

Dr Swengel's powers as an educator and his skills as a crafter of stories are both evident. By the end of Volume II, I was thoroughly engrossed in the educational evolution of Plainston. It is clear Dr. Swengel's "research" in creating this work was a lifetime of love for education and what it gives us as a society. It is a work with many levels and a power of inspiration.

Yes, there is a Volume III [Conspiracy]. Yes, I'll be reading it.”<

- Teacher, Beau Randt




Having read Plainston Chronicles I and II, I was delighted to discover that there was a sequel.  Dr. Swengel, and (posthumously) his daughter Jane, co-wrote a charming mystery that skirts around a “conspiracy.” How could a school that has children enhance their learning by helping younger children learn, and all the other advantages the school offers to the entire community, be thought of as a “conspiracy”?! Maybe it's a “conspiracy” to create a sane society! I love this out-of-the-box idea for education and find myself wondering how I could help bring it into being.

- Sharon Hillestad
Teacher, Tutor
Author of "The Reading War – Stories from Teachers on the Front Lines"

Over the last 40+ years I have met a few very special individuals who have shared their vision of an ideal future world and how to create it. I have shared a few myself. What "Conspiracy" and its authors have done is to go beyond a partial vision and solution and put forth an overall solution, adaptable to any culture, that addresses the underlying factors that, when properly handled, will naturally create an ideal scene as time goes by.

Although fictional, the story is realistic enough that its ideas could be put into effect by those who share the vision and have a purpose to create it. Given today's world filled with multitudinous global challenges, this book has been released at a critical time. It is both stabilizing and entertaining--a recommended book for inhabitants of Earth. Thank you Edwin and Jane, for your vision and ability to bring the vision to life.

- Bob

This is a wonderful book about an educational system that should be implemented.  All three of Dr. Swengel's books need to be read and studied and absorbed by all intelligent educators--and for that matter by all parents, too!

- Judith


A   "T R A D I T I O N A L"   T E A C H E R' S   V I E W P O I N T

O N  "M U T U A L"  I N S T R U C T I O N

by Jane Swengel Creason

I am Edwin M. Swengel’s eldest daughter, a recently retired English teacher after forty plus years teaching entirely in traditional school settings. So why do I have anything to add to my dad’s website about Mutual Instruction and a “benign” school system? Maybe because of what I wrote to Dad in 1963 when he was in California, taking Montessori training, and I was in Illinois, preparing for my first teaching job in a city high school. Excerpts from that letter follow:

I have five classes of sophomores. I also have a syllabus, which tells me what to teach and when…. I look forward to 175 kids since the sophomore class has increased by 300, but the faculty remains the same… I’ll probably end up following their syllabus and succeed in teaching something to about one fourth of my kids…. The worst part is that no one there realizes that the system is ridiculous.

I recognized the probability of failure even before I walked into that third floor classroom with desks in rows bolted to the floor. But I stayed in the traditional system because I loved being a teacher and because there were no other options. My career was unusual since I eventually taught at four levels—grade school, middle school, high school, and college. I left the high school to become a stay-at-home mom. I became a grade school teacher some years later when I was substituting in our local grade school and a 6th grade teacher quit in the spring of 1974. After four years in a self-contained classroom, I moved up to 7th and 8th grade language arts and reading. When our district established a middle school, I was transferred there for the next twelve years. After I retired, I started teaching classes as a part-time instructor at the community college in our county—all levels from the developmental classes for those not ready for college classes to the rhetoric classes for transfer students. I was there for the next twenty-five years.

Despite long hours of grading and class preparation work at home, despite many hours of rewriting and planning during the summers, despite giving my all every day to my students, I knew from that first year at the high school that I would fail to reach many students no matter what I did or how hard I tried. It was the system. Though we lived two thousand miles apart, I knew that Dad envisioned a totally different kind of school system with kids learning to help each other. Over the years, I kept hoping someone would use his ideas for a charter school.

In the 80s, I finally started to write novels for young people. I tried finding traditional publishers for years before self-publishing as Dad had for Plainston Chronicles. My first book, When the War Came to Hannah, is a historical fiction story inspired by a family event that happened during World War II. The Heron Stayed is a coming of age story told from the point of view of a teenaged boy. My third novel, All the Right Pieces, a sequel to The Heron Stayed, takes that young man to a city and an experimental school called the Academy for Mutual Instruction. I took some drafts of the early chapters to California and read them to Dad who said, “That sounds like my school.” My response was, “I hope so since that is what I intend.”

I last visited Dad in California in October of 2010. He was revising the manuscript of a novel he’d written twenty years earlier. While I was there, I typed into his computer the last of the fifteen chapters of Conspiracy. After his death, my sister, Marcia, and I decided that I should edit that manuscript and send it to the publisher that he’d already contacted. Then when going through his papers, we found the original manuscript. It wasn’t fifteen chapters as we’d thought but twenty-four, and the revisions he had started created all sorts of inconsistencies. I then took on the role of co-author, not just editor, as I explained in the Foreword of Conspiracy.

As I worked for the next couple of years to finish that project and then to finish my own All the Right Pieces, I became more and more convinced that Dad had the right idea about truly reorganizing schools. I added an Author’s Note at the end of the All the Right Pieces. Part of that follows:

I have created the Academy for Mutual Instruction based on my dad’s and my ideas about how such a school might be structured. The school would be based on a number of general concepts that most of us educators as well as parents accept.

1. Age is often not a good indicator of when a child is ready to start school.

2. Kids are social beings.

3. Younger kids often look up to older kids.

4. What we teach we learn even better.

5. Kids in a same-age class can have a wide range of abilities. I know! I remember a 7th grade reading group I once had in which the reading scores on an achievement test from the previous year ranged from 2nd to 11th grade.

6. In a traditional classroom, some kids are so far ahead that they are bored. Some are so far behind that they are discouraged or frustrated or even angry. Kids from both groups may become discipline problems.

7. In a group setting, a lot of student time is wasted since some kids could move more quickly and some aren’t mastering skills because the pace is too fast.

8. Failing grades more often do not motivate kids to do better. Most often those low grades act to discourage them.

Dad died before finding a combination of parents, teachers, and supporters who would create a real Academy. I’m convinced that someday there will be such a school because the concepts he espoused in his novels and on which I based the Academy of Mutual Instruction cry out to be tried.



Copyright © 2021 by E.M Swengel