Langberg, Arnold

Written by Linda Kirkpatrick on .


Arne Langberg

The "guru" of open education

(1933 - 2014)



Born and raised in New York City.  Married to Dagnija.  Relocated to Evergreen in 1975 to help start the Mountain Open High School (MOHS), an alternative public school open to anyone from Jefferson County who chose to attend.

Arne had helped start a similar school (the Great Neck Village School in NY) in 1970; and he was one of those contacted by the students and parents who were the driving force to start MOHS.  With Langberg hired as principal, the committee of students and parents behind the effort reviewed 300 applications for 6 teaching positions and invited 24 candidates to interview.

"Nine students, nine parents, one teacher from the lower school, and I interviewed six a day for four days, and then we went to the Sternbergs' cabin to try to reach consensus.  It took until two in the morning, but the culture of our school was established, Langberg remembers.  "Choosing the people with whom our community would be working would always involve all aspects of that community, and would be determined by consensus."

According to Langberg, in 1975 graduates from Jefferson County High Schools were required to have three years of English, one year of American history, one year of world history, one year of mathematics or science, one year of physical education or music, and eight electives.

"This hardly seemed adequate to us in defining our expectation of MOHS, so we had a community meeting to create our own graduation requirements; and as these were more demanding than those of the district, we were given support from the school board.

"We also considered personal and social learning, what is currently referred to as character development, to be at least as important as academics, so we created requirements in these domains as well.  Once these were established, we were faced with the inadequacy of the conventional grading system.  Perhaps a B in mathematics can be meaningful, but how about a grade for 'knowledge of inner resources' or 'ability to get along with others'?  Our solution was, and still is, to dispense with grades and credits and replace them with a portfolio system of student self-evaluation with responses from the teachers with whom the student had had the learning experiences.

"One problem of the large, comprehensive high schools was the number of students who were able to remain anonymous.  (Think Columbine!)  The heart of MOHS was our advisory system where every student had an advocate on the staff, and each advisor had 16 advisees, each of whom became part of a support group for the others.  (16:1 was the actual student/teacher ratio across Jeffco's high schools back in 1975.)

"The other unusual aspect of open high was the extended trips.  Evergreen is a wonderful community, but it is an unrealistic representative of the world with all the diversity of languages, economic situations, and cultural differences.  We chose to give our students first-hand experience of the wider world, and the funding to support much of this travel came from the equivalent funding in the other high schools for their chosen extra-curricular activities.  There was, of course, continuing fundraising on the part of the students as well.

"The five broad goals for Open High that we initiated in 1978 and are still in force ... [were for every JCOS graduate to] be able to:

  • Rediscover the joy of learning
  • Engage in the search for meaning
  • Adapt to the world as it is
  • Prepare for the world as it might be
  • Create the world as it ought to be"

Langberg left the school in 1986 to take a position as Administrator of Alternative Education in the Denver Public Schools, retiring in 1992. He continued, however, to be involved in public education reform throughout the region and across the country, served as an adjunct professor of education at DU and UCD, and occasionally served as a consultant to the Jeffferson County Open School.

From literature published by the Langberg Foundation: "Much of the developmental work contributed by the alternative schools movement is currently manifest in the 'Charter School' enabling legislation.... Charter schools were to be part of the existing school districts, and they were to provide opportunities for districts to experiment with new ideas and, in a sense, serve as laboratories for the development of programs and ideas that could be inculcated into all the schools of the district."

Langberg is still considered the "guru" of open education in Colorado and is known nationwide as an expert on progressive, democratic schooling. The building that housed MOHS in Evergreen was determined to be in need of repairs too costly to make it feasible to continue using it, and it was eventually demolished to provide parking for the existing Evergreen Library.

In 1989 (without input from the community) MOHS had a name change to Jefferson County Open High School (JCOHS) and was moved to the old Lakewood Junior High building on 10th just west of Wadsworth.  It was combined with the pre-kindergarten through ninth grade Open Living School, which had been located at Tanglewood in Golden.  At this time it is functioning as Jefferson County Open School in a mostly brand-new building on the same site.

During his tenure with MOHS, Cleo Parker Robinson and her entire company were "in residence" in Evergreen for two weeks, thanks to a major Federal grant.  Langberg's daughter later became a member of he internationally acclaimed dance-arts and educational institution rooted in African American traditions.

Langberg served on the board of the Colorado Philharmonic (now the National Repertory Orchestra) for 10 years and organized a number of film festivals at The Flick (Evergreen's movie theatre), the library, and Evergreen High School.

Source:  Arne Langberg