At the turn of the 20th century, Carleton Washburne would have appeared an unlikely hero. Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1889, Carleton led an unremarkable life. His school career was reasonably average for the son of well educated professionals, but he did not excel. Plodding through life and looking for a path to follow, Carleton turned to his father’s love and attempted to follow in his footsteps by studying medicine at the University of Chicago. Things did not go well. His grades fell and his interest waned.
Now frustrated with his life at University of Chicago and left with very few options, Carleton gravitated instead to his mother’s interests.
Carleton’s mother was a strong willed, politically active woman, untypical of the age. She was a friend to the famed progressive educator John Dewey and would regularly engage with him over many issues. The parlour would buzz with passionate debate about the purpose of education and how it might be bettered as the young Carleton listened eagerly while he played. From the very beginning, Carleton’s life was one steeped in education theory and policy.
Carleton attended a Dewey school, Francis W. Parker School, in Chicago as a young child and would later go on to become a founding member of the John Dewey Society and president of the Progressive Education Association.
Carleton dropped out of UoC and headed to a new university that was starting to establish itself in California: Stanford. No longer pursuing medicine, he chose to study education.
As with all young men in the final year of a degree course, Carleton would have needed focus and dedication to his course to be truly successful. However, in that same year, Carleton fell deeply in love with Heliuz Chandler and all thoughts of studying took second place. Their first child was on the way. Despite this, Carleton did manage to scrape through and graduate.
A mediocre university degree in hand and with no real direction in life, Carleton turned his focus to becoming an entrepreneur. Enthused by what he believed to be a sure fire business success, Carleton borrowed money from any source he could and invested it all in his new idea. It failed. Badly.
Now unable to support his family and with no other options in life, Carleton was faced with only one route out of penuary: he reluctantly became a teacher.