Creation of the Credos

A document analysis from the Archivist of Bank Street College of Education

Part One:

In the history of Bank Street, there seems to never have been a time when Lucy Sprague Mitchell wasn’t leading the institution with a credo. What’s a credo? Oxford defines it as “a statement of the beliefs or aims which guide someone’s actions.” A survey of Mitchell’s writing and official school documentation yielded a narrow set of source material when I only searched for “credo” in the Bank Street Archives. But when I widened my searches for the words “belief” and “aim,” a more comprehensive legacy of the Bank Street Credo that we know and quote from today came into view. This is a brief history of the credos of Bank Street.


Certainly there were action plans in the earliest days of the Bureau of Educational Experiments, the organization that grew into Bank Street College. In 1916, Mitchell convinced her wealthy cousin that she had a plan and goals for the Bureau, and that secured the seed money and annual fund for ten years. A summary of the Bureau’s development written in 1931 looked back at the aims in 1916. It was organized “for the purpose of studying newer methods of education and of contributing to their development… The first form of organization was a Bureau of Information.” (Summary of the Development of the Bureau of Educational Experiments, p. 1.)

Image file of BEE Summary pdf document
Summary excerpt, page 1 of 5. 1931. Records Group 1 - Board of Trustees, SG1, Series D, Box 2. Bank Street College Archives, New York, NY.
Page 1 of Lucy Sprague Mitchell's 1919 report
The full Chairman’s Report. May, 1919. Records Group 1 - Board of Trustees, SG1, Series A, Box 1. Bank Street College Archives, New York, NY.

When the Bureau became active in teaching, new beliefs emerged. Mitchell was edging closer to an official credo for the institution, writing in an internal May 1919 Chairman’s Report:

I am thinking of the difficulties and discussions of the past years which I honestly believe have brought the group to something like a common platform in the matter of educational principles and the consequent school procedure as nothing else could have done. I believe the group is not only in essential agreement; I think it is articulate as never before. I believe it is now safe for the Bureau to start the school classes which it plans.

Moreover I believe it is only through the responsibilities and privileges of our own school that we can ever bring any of our work, even of the type we have already tried, through to a satisfactory standard… Our beliefs do not carry conviction–perhaps not even to ourselves–unless they are tried out under the actual working conditions of a school…

I believe it is only through the explicit understanding of these underlying and guiding principles that we can understand the meaning of the work we are beginning with children.

…Our school environment resolves itself, consequently, into our beliefs about how children grow.

We believe children grow through experiencing and therefore the school should furnish the children with real and first-hand experiences relating to and interpreting the world immediately around them. We also believe that emotional satisfaction and health is obtained only through self-expression.

From the beginning the aim will be to raise inquiries in the children and give them the opportunity to answer them.

When Mitchell wrote the introduction to a published 1922 report on “A Nursery School Experiment” by co-founder of the Bureau Harriet Johnson, she stated that “The aim underlying all the Bureau work has been to get specialists and schools together for their mutual benefit.” In her closing, she added, “We believe that experimenters should share their thinking as they work,–their aims, their programs, their methods of attack, their current findings and even their hopes for the future… This report aims only to show how we are making the effort to study the educational factors in the environment of small children and to gather scientific data concerning their growth.” Johnson then followed with her report; issuing several aims and beliefs that, taken together, made up a credo for the Bureau Nursery School.

THE 1930s:

It was in 1931 that the scholarly journal Progressive Education (PE), Volume 8, included what some have called Lucy Sprague Mitchell’s first credo in an article titled “A Cooperative School for Student Teachers.” (p. 251-255)

The 1931 course catalog and brochure for the Bureau’s Cooperative School for Student Teachers showcased an extensive quote from the PE journal article:

…Our aim

is to help students develop a scientific attitude towards their work and towards life. To us, this means an attitude of eager, alert observation; a constant questioning of old procedure in the light of new observations; a use of the world as well as of books as source material; an experimental open-mindedness; and an effort to keep as reliable records as the situation permits in order to base the future upon actual knowledge of the experiences of the past. Our aim is equally to help students develop and express the attitude of the artist towards their work and towards life. To us this means an attitude of relish, of emotional drive, a genuine participation in some creative phase of work, and a sense that joy and beauty are legitimate possessions of all human beings, young and old. We are not interested in perpetuating any special “school of thought” or duplicating an individual’s work. Rather we are interested in imbuing teachers with an experimental, critical and ardent approach to their work. If we accomplish this, we are ready to leave the future of education to them…

"Our Aims," page 2 of the C.S.S.T. course catalog, 1931
The complete Cooperative School for Student Teachers catalog for 1931-1932. Records Group 5 - Graduate Programs, SG8, Series B, Box 37. Bank Street College Archives, New York, NY.catalog for 1931-1932. Records Group 5 - Graduate Programs, SG8, Series B, Box 37. Bank Street College Archives, New York, NY.

These aims would grace many a catalog for the subsequent two decades.

In part 2 of “Creation of the Credos,” we’ll arrive at the credo we know and quote from today.

Creation of the Credos

Part Two:

Some wording of the Credo for Bank Street that the institution knows and follows today first came into public view in 1951. It was in Lucy Sprague Mitchell’s recording for Edward R. Murrow’s radio program that she used “credo” as a word to frame her beliefs and aims.

THE EARLY 1950s:

In Mitchell’s “This I Believe” recording in 1951, she distilled some of her 1931 writing in the PE journal, weaved in a brief personal credo, and laid the groundwork for the credo of the Bank Street College of Education. Key phrases in the following transcript are in green type when they have corresponding ideas in the PE article, yellow if the wording is similar to the BSC credo that appeared several months later in an institutional brochure and Mitchell’s Two Lives… memoir.

Lucy Sprague Mitchell appears on Edward R. Murrow's radio program.
``This I Believe``
I believe the two greatest experiences that life holds are; first, people, people you love, second, work, work you believe in. I’ve had a wonderful life that has combined these two experiences and worked for children and their schools as mother, teacher, and writer. I went through long, groping years before I found my work niche. My father, like most of his generation, believed children were born bad and achieved grace by feeling themselves unworthy. Also, he believed that women belonged only in the home, which meant that their education was unimportant, and work outside the home unseemly. In the 76 years I have lived, social sciences have practically been born; study of human beings brought rapid changes and attitudes toward children and women that have exaggerated the struggle between the generations. With me, this struggle brought prolonged conflict between loyalty to my family and to my own developing credo. To find myself, I had to break with family beliefs, though not with my family. I went to college and became the first Dean of Women at the University of California. But I carried a heavy load of guilt with me. Not until I married did I come out from the shadow of guilt into the sunshine of self-confidence. It was my husband who believed in me, in my work, who freed me to develop what powers I had [“promote the development of personal powers,” p.2, PE article]. With four children in our home and work with children in schools, my life became unified; a joyous, strenuous shared adventure. I believe human beings have undeveloped powers to think, to enjoy, to create, to care for the other fellow. [“other fellow” used in brochure and Two Lives.] I believe that development of these powers is society’s best chance for its own improvement and that for such development, education is society’s chief tool. [“Education is democracy’s chief tool” in brochure and Two Lives.] Therefore I believe that our schools, in addition to teaching the 3 R’s, should help each boy and each girl according to his individual capacity; to think, enjoy, create, and care. The vision of such schools made me resign from the University to come to New York to work with children, to teach and write for children and their teachers has been exciting. So has the 38 years of work at what is now the Bank Street College of Education. With a group of teachers and research workers, we’re trying to find out what children are like and how schools can be made places for them to grow in. [“study of the growth of children within the classroom,” p. 4, PE article] This work has been both the source and the expression of my credo. It is based on faith that human beings can improve the society they have created. [Conclusion of credo in brochure and Two Lives.] Without some such faith, life is negative and cannot be lived its best. With such faith, present difficulties are converted into a challenge. I have a big window looking out on a stretch of woods and hills. Some of my visitors see the view; some see the fly specks on the window. So is it in life. Some people center their attention on social fly specks, on debunking, on antic crusades. I believe that we need to see beyond our human failures and feel the lift at the broad view of human progress and human potentialities. [Word is repeated in brochure and Two Lives.] We all need to have faith in the worth of the world. [“…more intelligent observers and users of the world…, p. 2, PE article] We are working on human problems that my parents’ generation didn’t even recognize as problems. Working in fumbling ways as happens in new situations. But we are learning. Perhaps the most fundamental clause in my personal and educational credo is; while we are learners, there is hope. [“…we are ready to leave the future of education to them,” p. 1, PE article]

The credo that appeared in the undated brochure, “Bank Street* is all of these…,” (below) for the Bank Street College of Education was clearly created after November, 1950 because the new name of the school was decided in June, 1950 and changed on the charter that November. The brochure also listed trustees. Some were new to the Board of Trustees; Dr. Milton Senn appears to have joined in 1952. Longtime Trustee Albert Sprague Coolidge had resigned by April, 1952. Also by April of ‘52, new Trustees had come on board; Dr. Ruth Andrus, Mrs. E. Guggenheimer, Mrs. Beatrice Lamm, and Mrs. T. Lash. It seems likely then, that the listing of Trustees is from the first few months of 1952. This gives us an approximate date of the brochure’s printing.

Lucy Sprague Mitchell's preliminary credo for Bank Street College
Credo on page of “Bank Street* is all of these…” brochure, circa 1952. Barbara Biber Papers, Series E, Box 21. Bank Street College Archives, New York, NY.

In 1953, Lucy Sprague Mitchell’s book, Two Lives: the story of Wesley Clair Mitchell and Myself, was published. Specifically, page 189 of the Catalog of Copyright Entries lists the release date as April 7, 1953. When she wrote about her credo, Mitchell prefaced it by stating: “A short time ago I was called upon to write a sort of brief credo for the Bank Street College of Education.” It’s important to acknowledge that within the pages of the book, Mitchell referred to the “Bank Street” organization with different names for corresponding eras. For the period of 1916 to the mid-1940s, she calls it the Bureau. The name that casually became synonymous with the Bureau, the Bank Street Schools, is referenced for the late-1940s period. Finally, for the early 1950s era when she was writing the book, the institution is known as the Bank Street College of Education.

Aside from the greater context for the credo in Mitchell’s book, there are really only a few small differences between the credo of the brochure and the credo on pages 547-548 of Two Lives.

Brochure (circa 1952):

Two Lives (1953):

“…education is a democracy’s chief tool…” “…education is democracy’s chief tool…”
Missing “Gentleness” bullet point Added bullet point: “Gentleness combined with justice…”
Additional blurb:

“At Bank Street we teach children and we teach teachers of children.

We investigate what children are like…”

No additional blurb before “Our credo demands…”
“…can improve the society they have built.” “…can improve the society they have created.”

The 1954 course catalog for BSC was the first catalog to quote from this new credo, although it was rephrased at several points. Notably, this catalog also quoted the aims printed in the catalog of 1931.

Aims and Objectives page of the 1954 course catalog paraphrased the credo bullet points.
College course catalog of 1954, pages 2-5. Paraphrasing of the credo bullet points were digitally underlined by the archivist. Bank Street Library.

In the third and final part of “Creation of the Credos,” we’ll see how the passage of time and loosely applied context can sometimes mask the origins of an oft-quoted document.

Creation of the Credos

Part Three:

From parts 1 and 2, we can see the credo’s evolution as a reflection of the arc of progress and change that happened at Bank Street through its first forty-year history. Aims and beliefs were being tested, just as the scientific methods of observation, recording, and fact-based reports resulted from testing pedagogical theories and practices. In the next six decades, the early 1950s credo written in Lucy Sprague Mitchell’s Two Lives… adjusted with the times, was shelved for a period, and returned when the verbatim credo was called up again. Today, when we see our credo prefaced with “Nearly a century ago…” we can choose to honor an institutional tradition of believing in principles and aiming for our goals. It’s a tradition that goes back to 1916.

THE LATE 1950s to 1980:

The 1956 course catalog quoted the 1931 catalog’s aims, and further paraphrased the early 1950s credo. This approach to the catalogs continued until 1979. In the 1979-1980 course catalog, the 1931 aims were still in place. The early ‘50s credo was there in spirit, but no verbatim quotes endured.

Aims and Objectives text of catalog
Excerpt of the 1956 course catalog, page 5. Bank Street Library.
"A Forward Looking Bank Street" text from catalog
Excerpt of the 1979 course catalog, page 6. Bank Street Library.

THE 1980s:

Beginning with the 1980-1981 catalog, the ‘50s credo and the 1931 aims were distilled to a select few words of an “About Bank Street” section that introduced thematic missions; for the College in the 1980s, as well as for research and outreach. (In terms of verbatim language, these missions do not correlate with the mission statement in use today.)

1983-84 Course Catalog cover design
Introductory text of 1983 course catalog.
Excerpt of the 1983 course catalog, pages 4-5, shows content and style introduced in 1980. Bank Street Library.

The 1984-1986 catalog included an overarching mission, and the description of the Graduate School listed objectives in bullet points. The style resembles the early 1950s credo, though the language is different.

This continued until the 1989-1991 catalog, which reintroduced the general thinking of Mitchell and the Bureau that was specified in the 1931 PE journal article, then reinstated Mitchell’s early 1950s “Credo for Bank Street.” Notably, with this abbreviated title that excises “College of Education,” the effect is a detaching of the initial purpose of this credo, as well as a detachment from its early ‘50s origin.

Credo for Bank Street reintroduced in the 1989 course catalog
Excerpt of the 1989 course catalog, page 5. Bank Street Library.

This catalog doubled down on obscuring the quoted credo’s origin with a closing statement: “That was the Bureau of Educational Experiments then…” This phrasing gives the impression that this credo came from sometime in the first three decades of the institution. With one exception, the wording of this credo (without the new closing) is identical to the one in Two Lives… (1953).* But the added context ignores that Mitchell wrote it just prior to publication as “a sort of brief credo for the Bank Street College of Education.”

*The exception is one word that was added to a bullet point of the credo. 
“Courage to work…” became “The courage to work…” 
This change manifests through to today.

THE 1990s-2000s:

The 1991-1993 catalog muddied the waters further by introducing the credo from Two Lives as written for the Bureau of Educational Experiments. This phrasing, followed by the credo, continued up to the 2001-2002 catalog. The credo went missing in the following year’s catalog, but returned subsequently. It was then that the reference to the Bureau was detached from the credo and, with no citation to a time period to accompany it, the credo seems to have taken on a timeless quality within the institution.

At this point, scholarship with mistaken attribution may have been a possible consequence of Bank Street publicizing a credo without citation. Linda Darling-Hammond and Maritza B. Macdonald’s evaluation of Bank Street in Studies of Excellence in Teacher Education: Preparation at the Graduate Level is a prominent example. This publication attributed the early ‘50s credo to 1930 (p.21/35). (In a semi-feedback loop, a 2004 draft of Bank Street’s strategic plan references a 1917 credo by Mitchell, but doesn’t quote from it, and then quotes from Darling-Hammond and MacDonald.)

Adding to the credo’s detachment from any particular era, the Two Lives version was appearing on bankstreet.edu in January, 2000 with only Mitchell’s name and the title “Founder of Bank Street.” October, 2000 is the first time it was captured by the Internet Archive. This continued for well into the next decade, with the “lively intellectual curiosities…” point of the credo running on bankstreet.edu’s homepage from March 2003 to August 2011.

In a positive example of accurate citation, Nancy Nager and Edna Shapiro quoted the 1931 aims from the Progressive Education journal in their “A Progressive Approach to the Education of Teachers.” (p. 7)

THE 2010s:

At a 2011 Trustees’ Dinner, Chair of the Board of Trustees’ Tony Asnes quoted the early 1950s credo and, in prefacing remarks, loosely attributed it to the accurate era. He described Lucy Sprague Mitchell, “who late in her life distilled her principles for an educator into what she called ‘a credo.’” (FINAL REMARKS WITH SCHEDULE as of April 11 REVISED copy.doc from Elisabeth Jakab 2012.18 folder, Bank Street College Archives.)

In October 2012, when the credo was still running in printed course catalogs without historical context, the credo surfaced on a new page of the redesigned website. This time, there was a preface with new language: “Nearly a century ago…” This same presentation of the credo was replicated on a School for Children webpage a short time later. This assignment of this credo to a period near Mitchell’s co-founding of the Bureau of Educational Experiments began appearing in other school materials. For instance, in the Graduate School Viewbook: 2015-2016, the early 1950s credo appeared with “Nearly a century ago…” (p. 3)

Introduction page of the Graduate School Viewbook
Excerpt from the Graduate School Viewbook, 2015 Records Group 4 - Institutional Advancement, unprocessed, Bank Street College Archives, New York, NY.

When the Bank Street 100th birthday book was published in 2016, the credo was referenced with only a brief quote. (p. 37) On page 8, next to Mitchell’s photo, is an extensive quote from the PE journal article “A Progressive School for Student Teachers,” published in 1931. But the centennial book doesn’t indicate from when or where the quote came. It isn’t cited with much detail.

By enshrining the credo–this vital part of Bank Street history–the Bank Street community has also been entrusted to preserve and cite it with accurate attribution. Have you read the credo or a part of the credo on the web or in a publication that wasn’t referenced in this post? Have you read some or all of the Bank Street mission statement in a publication or know when it was written or who wrote it? The Archives would like to hear from you. Please contact the archivist at the email address below.