Anarchy 94/Paul Goodman on Freedom and Learning
Freedom and Learning
“The belief that a highly industrialized society requires twelve to twenty years of prior processing is an illusion or a hoax. The evidence is strong that there is no correlation between school performance and life achievement in any of the professions, whether medicine, law, engineering, journalism, or business. Moreover, recent research shows that for more modest clerical, technological, or semi-
skilled factory jobs there is no advantage in years of schooling or the possession of diplomas. We were not exactly savages in 1900 when only 6 per cent of adolescents graduated from high school.
“Whatever the deliberate intention, schooling today serves mainly for policing and for taking up the slack in youth unemployment. It is not surprising that the young are finally rebelling against it, especially since they cannot identify with the goals of so much social engineering—for instance, that 86 per cent of the federal budget for research and development is for military purposes.”
Well, what are these undeniable truths presented by Mr. Goodman bucking?
They are bucking, first of all, against the inherited pride of nearly every American in the public school system of the United States—a plainly patriotic emotion. It is an emotion which also lets us approve the spending of 86 per cent of the national research budget for military purposes—since we believe that we must preserve from alien wickedness the institutions which Mr. Goodman—rather persuasively—now tells us aren’t worth saving.
Goodman is indeed a very confusing man. Next he focuses on a fact that conservatives and other unprogressive people have been whispering to each other for generations, in order to justify their indifference toward the educational potentialities of common folk. But Goodman has another reason for repeating this fact—he wants to refute the idea that the only kind of intelligence that should be honoured and fostered in our society is intellectual, academic intelligence. He writes:
“In the adolescent and college years, the present mania is to keep students at their lessons for another four to ten years as the373
only way of their growing up in the world. The correct policy would be to open as many diverse paths as possible, with plenty of opportunity to backtrack and change. It is said by James Conant that about 15 per cent learn well by books and study in an academic setting, and these can opt for high school. Most, including most of the bright students, do better either on their own or as apprentices in activities that are for keeps, rather than through lessons. If their previous eight years had been spent in exploring their own bents and interests, rather than being continually interrupted to do others’ assignments on others’ schedules, most adolescents would have a clearer notion of what they are after, and many would have found their vocations.”
Goodman proposes what he calls mini-
“School methods are simply not competent to teach all the arts, sciences, professions, and skills the school establishment pretends to teach. For some professions—e.g., social work, architecture, pedagogy—trying to earn academic credits is probably harmful because it is an irrelevant and discouraging obstacle course. Most technological know-
how has to be learned in actual practice in offices and factories, and this often involves unlearning what has been laboriously crammed for exams. The technical competence required by skilled and semi-
skilled workmen can be acquired in three weeks to a year on the job, with no previous schooling. The importance of even ‘functional literacy’ is much exaggerated; it is the attitude, and not the reading ability, that counts. Those who are creative in the arts and sciences almost invariably go their own course and are usually hampered by schools. It is pointless to teach social sciences, literary criticism, and philosophy to youngsters who have no responsible experience in life and society.”
One sees why Mr. Goodman is popular only with the young. How many parents are ready for these revolutionary revelations, and for the responsibilities which they entail? You might as well tell them to keep their children out of school! However, Mr. Goodman has excellent plans for reform at every level of learning. Of higher education he has this to say:
“By and large, it is not in the adolescent years but in later years that, in all walks of life, there is need for academic withdrawal, periods of study and reflection, synoptic review of the texts. The Greeks understood this and regarded most of our present college curricula as appropriate only for those over the age of thirty and thirty-
“Every part of education can be open to need, desire, choice, and trying out. Nothing needs to be compelled or extrinsically motivated by prizes and threats. I do not know if the procedure here outlined would cost more than our present system—though it is hard to conceive of a need for more money than the school establishment now spends. What would be saved is the pitiful waste of youthful years—caged, daydreaming, sabotaging, and cheating—and the degrading and insulting misuse of teachers. … Since the growing-
up of the young into society to be useful to themselves and to others, and to do God’s work, is one of the three or four most important functions of any society, no doubt we ought to spend even more on the education of the young than we do; but I would not give a penny to the present administrators, and I would largely dismantle the present school machinery.”