The American Civilization Institute of Morristown was an experiment in community based teaching and learning. As a case study, it suggests that teaching beyond the test and beyond the classroom can have a meaningful impact not only on students’ intellectual achievement, but also on the life of the local community.
The idea for ACIM was hatched in the spring and summer of 1964. Morristown School District superintendent Harry Wenner, Morristown High School social studies teacher Jack Stewart, and Morristown school board member Dorothy Harvey, developed a plan for using the Timothy Mills House, a mid-eighteenth century structure adjacent to Morristown High School, as a multi-disciplinary laboratory. To help them shape a program, they turned to anthropologist Gene Weltfish at Fairleigh Dickinson University. For the duration of the program—which ran from 1965 until 1969—Weltfish and Wenner served as co-directors.
The ACIM engaged faculty and students from Morristown High School and Fairleigh Dickinson University in a multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary, broadly collaborative, community focused experiential learning program. During the life of the project, high school and college educators provided students with vocational training in material culture research, collections management, and public program development. But their work was also intellectual. They encouraged students to explore and challenge prevailing ideas about the history, composition, and nature of community.