paul goodman

paul goodman

find him on wikipedia

Paul Goodman (September 9, 1911 – August 2, 1972) was a novelist, playwright, poet and psychotherapist, although now best known as a social critic, anarchist philosopher, and public intellectual. Though often thought of as a sociologist, he vehemently denied being one in a presentation in the Experimental College at San Francisco State in 1964, and in fact said he could not read sociology because it was too often lifeless. The author of dozens of books including Growing Up Absurd and The Community of Scholars, Goodman was an activist on the pacifist Left in the 1960s and a frequently cited inspiration to the student movement of that decade. A lay therapist for a number of years, he was a co-founder of Gestalt Therapy in the 1940s and ’50s.

growing up absurd

Goodman wrote on a wide variety of subjects; including education, Gestalt Therapy, city life and urban design, children’s rights, politics, literary criticism, and many more.

He is our peculiar, urban, twentieth-centuryThoreau, the quintessential American mind of our time.”

On education

Paul Goodman was an important anarchist critic of contemporary educational systems as can be seen in his books Growing Up Absurd and Compulsory Mis-education. Goodman believed that in contemporary societies “It is in the schools and from the mass media, rather than at home or from their friends, that the mass of our citizens in all classes learn that life is inevitably routine, depersonalized, venally graded; that it is best to toe the mark and shut up; that there is no place for spontaneity, open sexuality and free spirit. Trained in the schools they go on to the same quality of jobs, culture and politics. This is education, miseducation socializing to the national norms and regimenting to the nation’s ‘needs'”.

Goodman thought that a person’s most valuable educational experiences occur outside the school. Participation in the activities of society should be the chief means of learning. Instead of requiring students to succumb to the theoretical drudgery of textbook learning, Goodman recommends that education be transferred into factories, museums, parks, department stores, etc., where the students can actively participate in their education… The ideal schools would take the form of small discussion groups of no more than twenty individuals. As has been indicated, these groups would utilize any effective environment that would be relevant to the interest of the group. Such education would be necessarily non-compulsory, for any compulsion to attend places authority in an external body disassociated from the needs and aspirations of the students. Moreover, compulsion retards and impedes the students’ ability to learn.”

kaller dietrich

in above piece:

primary ed: fundamental human right

secondary ed: available to all

higher ed: accessible to all on basis of merit

merit: deliberately ambiguous term and means what educational officials want it to mean. when backed against the wall, they tend to define merit as tested aptitude and as we know, aptitude is what aptitude tests test.


links to pdf:

compulsory miseducation

A great neurologist tells me that the puzzle is not how to teach reading, but why some children fail to learn to read. Given the amount of exposure that any urban child gets, any normal animal should spontaneously catch on to the code. What prevents it is almost demonstrable that, for many children, it is precisely going to school that prevents — because of the school’s alien style, banning of spontaneous interest, extrinsic rewards and punishments. (In many underprivileged schools, the IQ steadily falls the longer they go to school). Many of the backward readers might have had a better chance on the streets

A conference of experts on school drop-outs will discuss the background of poverty, cultural deprivations, race prejudice, family and emotional troubles, neighborhood uprooting, urban mobility. It will explore ingenious expedients to counteract these conditions, though it will not much look to remedying them — that is not its business. And it will suggest propaganda — e.g. no school, no job — to get the youngsters back in school. It is axiomatic that they ought to be in school

It is said that our schools are geared to ‘middleclass values’, but this is a false and misleading use of terms. The schools less and less represent any human values, but simply adjustment to a mechanical system

One has the impression that our social-psychologists are looking not to a human community but to a future in which the obsessionals will take care of the impulsives!

Other poor youths herded into a situation that does not suit their disposition, for which they are unprepared by their background, and which does not interest them, simply develop a reactive stupidity very different from their behavior on the street or ball held. They fall behind, play truant, and as soon as possible drop out. The school situation is immediately useless and damaging to them, their response must be said to be life-preservative. They thereby somewhat diminish their chances of a decent living, but we shall see that the usual propaganda — that schooling is a road to high salaries — is for most poor youths a lie; and the increase in security is arguably not worth the torture involved.

Numerically far more important than these drop-outs at sixteen, however, are the children who conform to schooling between the ages of six to sixteen or twenty, but who drop out internally and day-dream, their days wasted, their liberty caged and scheduled

Let us examine realistically half a dozen aspects of the school that is dropped out from.

1. There is widespread anxiety about the children not learning to read, and hot and defensive argument about the methods of teaching reading. Indeed, reading deficiency is an accumulating scholastic disadvantage that results in painful feeling of inferiority, truancy and drop-out. Reading is crucial for school success — all subjects depend on it — and therefore for the status success that the diploma is about. Yet in all the anxiety and argument, there is no longer any mention of the freedom and human cultivation that literacy is supposed to stand for.

In my opinion, there is something phony here. For a change, let us look at this ‘reading’ coldly and ask if it is really such a big deal except precisely in the school that is supposed to teach it and is sometimes failing to do so.

With the movies, TV and radio that the illiterate also share, there is certainly no lack of ‘communications’. We cannot say that as humanities or science, the reading-matter of the great majority is in any way superior to the content of these other media. And in the present stage of technology and economy, it is probably less true than it was in the late nineteenth century — the time of the great push to universal literacy and arithmetic — that the mass teaching of reading is indispensable to operate the production and clerical system. It is rather our kind of urbanism, politics and buying and selling that require literacy. These are not excellent.

In principle, when a law begins to do more harm that good, the best policy is to alleviate it or try doing without it.

This experiment cannot do the children an academic harm, since there is good evidence that normal children will make up the first seven years schoolwork with four to seven months of good teaching.

A child at Summerhill can just hang around; he’ll go to class when he damned well feels like it — and some children, coming from compulsory schools, don’t damned well feel like it for eight or nine months. But after a while, as the curiosity in the soul revives — and since their friends go — they give it a try.

It would probably help to improve the educational aspiration and educability of poor youngsters to give the money to poor families directly, rather than to channel it through school systems or other social agencies that drain off most of it for the same middle class.

I was struck by a recent report in the Wall Street Journal of firm philanthropically deciding to hire only drop-outs for certain categories of jobs, since the diploma made no difference in performance.

I wonder whether the Secretary of Labor thought through the constitutionality, not to speak of the morals, of his compulsory proposal. The legal justifications for compulsory schooling have been to protect children from exploitation by parents and employers, and to ensure the basic literacy and civics necessary for a democratic electorate. It is quite a different matter to deprive adolescents of their freedom in order to alleviate the difficulties of a faulty economic and political system. Is this constitutional?

What a bad scene! Its spirit pervades all of society. Let me quote from a man in Secretary Wirtz’s own department, in charge of retraining: ‘We retrain him, but before the course is finished, that job too has vanished. So we begin again. But after the fourth or fifth retraining, he has a job that doesn’t vanish: he becomes a Teacher of Retaining’. We must remember that, whatever the motive, Pouring money into the school and college system and into the academic social work way of coping with problems, is strictly class legislation that confirms the inequitable structure of the economy. 

On the whole, the education must be voluntary rather than compulsory, for no growth to freedom occurs except by intrinsic motivation. Therefore the educational opportunities must be various and variously administered. We must diminish rather than expand the present monolithic school system. I would suggest that, on the model of the GI Bill, we experiment, giving the school money directly to the high-school-age adolescents, for any plausible self-chosen educational proposals, such as purposeful travel or individual enterprise. This would also, of course, lead to the proliferation of experimental schools.

Unlike the present inflexible lockstep, our educational policy must allow for periodic quitting and easy return to the scholastic ladder, so that the young have time to find themselves and to study when they are themselves ready. This is Eric Erickson’s valuable notion of the need for moratoria in the life-career; and the anthropological insistence of Stanley Diamond and others, that our society neglects the crises of growing up.

no one can critically appreciate so many images and ideas; and there is very little moratorium to figure them out. a child is confused. and he is also anxious, because if the information is not correctly parroted, he will fall off the school ladder and be a drop-out; or he will not be hep among his little friends.

at a childish level, all this adds up to brainwashing. the components are a) a uniform world view,  b) the absence of any viable alternative, c) confusion about the relevance of experience and feelings, and d) a chronic anxiety, so that one clings to the one world-view as the only security. this is brainwashing 

The American world-view is worse than inadequate; it is irrelevant and uninterested, and adolescents are spiritually abandoned. They are insulated by not being taken seriously.

Inevitably, the high school — with its teenage majority and adult regime — becomes a prime area for sabotage and other fun and games. I have heard James Coleman, who has most studied these phenomena, express the opinion that the average adolescent is really in school, academically, for about ten minutes a day! Not a very efficient enterprise.

On the other hand, it is extremely dubious that by controlled conditioning one can teach organically meaningful behavior. Rather, the attempt to control prevents learning. This is obvious to anyone who has ever tried to teach a child to ride a bicycle; the more you try, the more he falls. The best one can do is to provide him a bicycle, allay his anxiety, tell him to keep going, and not to try to balance. I am convinced that the same is true in teaching reading.

The adults actively discourage earnestness. As James Coleman of Johns Hopkins has pointed out, the ‘serious’ activity of youth is going to school and getting at least passing grades; all the rest — music, driving, ten billions annually of teenage commodities, dating, friendships, own reading, hobbies, need for one’s own money — all this is treated by the adults as frivolous. The quality or meaning of it makes little difference; but a society is in a desperate way when its music makes little difference. In fact, of course, these frivolous things are where normally a child would explore his feelings and find his identity and vocation, learn to be responsible; nevertheless, if any of them threatens to interfere with the serious business — a hobby that interferes with homework, or dating that makes a youth want to quit school and get a job, it is unhesitatingly interrupted, sometimes with threats and sanctions.

At least in the middle class, that fills the colleges, this technique of socializing is unerring, and the result is a generation not notable for self-confidence, determination, initiative or ingenuous idealism. It is a result unique in history: an elite that had imposed on itself morale fit for slaves.

Throughout our educational system there is a desperate need for institutional variety and interims in which a youth can find himself. If we are going to require as much schooling as we do, we must arrange for breaks and return-points, otherwise the schooling inevitably becomes spirit breaking and regimentation. In my opinion, however, a much more reasonable overall
pattern is to structure all of society and the whole environment as educative, with the schools playing the much more particular and traditional role of giving intensive training when it is needed and sought, or of being havens for those scholarly by disposition.

Nevertheless, when we consider those fifteen years, and sixteen years, and twenty years of schooling, we cannot avoid the disturbing question: ‘Why is the young man in such a classroom altogether? It suits him so badly. He is bright but not bookish, curious but not scholarly, teachable but not in this way.

He must be educated; everybody must be educated; but this kind of schooling has certainly not been the best way to educate him. We have seen him in other situations than school when he looked far brighter, both more spontaneous and more committed; when he showed initiative and was proud of what he was doing; when he learned a lot, fast, simply because he wanted to or had to. Maybe, for him, the entire high school and college institution, in the form that we know it, has been a mistake.

it it is simply a superstition, an official superstition and a mass superstition, that the way to educate the majority of the young is to pen them up in schools during their adolescence and early adulthood.

The hard task of education is to liberate and strengthen a youth’s initiative, and at the same time to see to it that he knows what is necessary to cope with the ongoing activities and culture of society, so that his initiative can be relevant. It is absurd to think that this task can be accomplished by so much sitting in a box facing front, manipulating symbols at the direction of distant administrators. This is rather a way to regiment and brainwash.

We should be experimenting with different kinds of school, no school at all, the real city as school, farm schools, practical apprenticeships, guided travel, work camps, little theatres and local newspapers, community service. Many others, that other people can think of. Probably more than anything, we need a community, and community spirit, in which many adults who know something, and not only professional teachers, will pay attention to the young.

For urban poor kids who are cajoled not to drop out, the mis-education is a cruel hoax. They are told that the high-school diploma is worth money, but we have seen that this is not necessarily so.

Of course, there is no real choice for any of them. Poor people must picket for better schools that will not suit most of their children and won’t pay off. Farm youths must ride to central schools that are a waste of time for most of them, while they lose the remarkable competence they have. Middle-class youths must doggedly compete and be tested to death to get into colleges where most of them will doggedly (or cynically) serve time. It is ironical. With all the money spent on Research and Development, for hardware, computers and tranquilizers, America can think up only one institution for ifs young human resources. Apparently the schooling that we have already had has brainwashed everybody.

Maybe the chief mistake we make is to pay too much direct attention to the ‘education’ of children and adolescents, rather than providing them a worthwhile adult world in which to grow up. 

…look for an organization of education less wasteful of human resources and social wealth than what we have. In reconstructing the present system, the right principles seem to me to be the following: To make it easier for youngsters to gravitate to what suits them, and to provide many points of quitting and return. To cut down the loss of student hours in parroting and forgetting, and the loss of teacher hours in talking to the deaf. To engage more directly in the work of society, and to have useful products to show instead of stacks of examination papers. To begin to decide what should be automated and what must not be automated, and to educate for a decent society in the foreseeable future.


via Maria via rt by Bonnie

Audre Lorde on the Transformation of Silence into Language and the Empowering Vulnerability of Visibility

Original Tweet:

“Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each,” Paul Goodman wrote in his anatomy of the nine kinds of silence


Education Should be More Than Money and Good Grades for Some
Paul Goodman: ‘The better way is to expand social needs that are also opportunities for education appropriate to different dispositions’
Holt’s: No Schools At All. This is the title of a speech Dewey gave in 1933 at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, wherein he describes his educational Utopia.
We can’t get somewhere new unless we blaze a path there first.
imagine 2 convos as infra