Daniel Baron was not your typical Bowdoin student. After graduating from Scarsdale High School in New York, he spent two years at the University of Denver, right during the Vietnam War protests. He helped lead a movement to get the University to divest itself from Dow Chemical Company, and when the University refused to divest, he decided to transfer to Bowdoin in the fall of 1971.

The Bowdoin Admissions Office accepted Daniel on the condition that he receive all High Honors and Honors grades (the equivalent of A’s and B’s on today’s scale.) He accepted the challenge and moved with his wife Donna to South Harpswell. “Every morning I would get up at 4:30 a.m. to take Donna to her job at Dunkin’ Donuts. After I dropped her off, I’d go to the top of the Senior Center (now Coles tower) and study.” Incidentally, their VW bus didn’t have a defroster so driving through the winter sometimes presented a slight problem.

Daniel graduated cum laude from Bowdoin, while holding down a demanding Religion-Philosophy double major. “I loved the Socratic pedagogy followed in both departments,” he says, “It suited my style.”

Daniel’s “style” was decidedly different. He wore a turban on campus during his two years at Bowdoin. He began teaching yoga classes to fellow students, well before yoga had gained national acceptance. He moved to Bowdoinham before his senior year to start an ashram, which is a place for practicing yoga, meditation and other spiritual practices.

After Bowdoin, Daniel enrolled at the Bank Street College of Education in New York City. Shortly before his graduation, he noticed an ad for a position as a Change Agent at a Choctaw Indian reservation in Philadelphia, Mississippi. He notes that Choctaw was the first language for 95 percent of the students.

While speaking at a conference he was approached by the chair of curriculum theory at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. The man encouraged Daniel to enroll at Indiana University to pursue a degree in Curricular Theory and Practice, and Daniel agreed to do so.

Eager to put his educational ideas to work, Daniel launched the Harmony Elementary School, an independent school in Bloomington when he was just 25 years old. “I envisioned a democratic school where students had a real voice in every aspect of their educational experience.” Just as important, he wanted to serve the underserved, and 80 percent of the students at the Harmony Elementary School were on financial aid. He later founded the Harmony Middle School based on the same philosophy.

The spirit of educational entrepreneurship runs in the family. Daniel’s son Jeremy started the Telluride Mountain School, an independent school in Telluride, Colorado when he was only 25. His daughter Heather co-founded, along with her father, the Bloomington Project School, a charter school, when she was just 26.

Today, Daniel spends most of his time providing exemplary professional development to school districts and equity-based projects across the country. In fact, I got introduced to Daniel by my stepson Andy Barker who started the innovative Burlington City & Lake Semester in Burlington, Vermont.

“Every child possess unique gifts and talents, which they bring to school every day,” he explains. “As educators, we must tap those assets.”

Daniel Baron is passionate about closing the opportunity gap between the educational haves and have-nots. “We have to eliminate the predictive value of race and class,” he says.”The inequities that exist in today’s America are just not sustainable. The pandemic has brought these inequities to light in the starkest way.” This visionary leader refers to his educational philosophy as “liberatory pedagogy.”

A teacher at the Bloomington Project School says, “As a teacher, I get to make the changes for kids the same day they need them. No child has to be lost while waiting for approval by someone who does not know him or her personally.”

A parent at the Bloomington Project School says, “At the Project School my kids are learning that they are the agents of their own education — and education in the broadest sense of the word. They are encouraged to set their own goals — not only in academic terms, but also regarding their contribution to their classroom and school community — and regularly to assess their own progress toward achieving these goals.”

It should be noted that over 25 percent of the students at the Project School have been designated with special needs; yet the School ranks among the top five percent of Indiana schools in the growth of its students from one year to the next.

Throughout his life, whether wearing a turban or not, Daniel Baron has been the agent of his own education. And he’s changed the lives of countless students and teachers in the process. That’s a pretty good legacy.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary and suggestions for “Just a Little Old” columns. [email protected]

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