Paul Goodman

Compulsory Miseducation




Some anti-conventional ideas for a new approach to education.



There are thinkable alternatives. Throughout this little book, as occasion arises, I shall offer alternative proposals that I as a single individual have heard of or thought up. Here are half a dozen directly relevant to the subject we have been discussing, the system as compulsory trap. In principle, when a law begins to do more harm than good, the best policy is to alleviate it or try doing without it.

I. Have ‘no school at all' for a few classes. These children should be selected from tolerable, though not necessarily cultured homes. They should be neighbours and numerous enough to be a society for one another so that they do not feel merely
'different'. Will they learn the rudiments anyway? This experiment cannot do the children any academic harm, since there is good evidence that normal children will make up the first seven years school-work with four to seven months of good teaching.

2. Dispense with the school building for a few classes; provide teachers and use the city itself as the school - its streets, cafeterias, stores, movies, museums, parks and factories. Where feasible, it certainly makes more sense to teach using the real subject matter than to bring an abstraction of the subject matter into the school-building as 'curriculum'. Such a class should probably not exceed ten children for one pedagogue. The idea - it is the model of Athenian education - is not dissimilar to youth-gang work, but not applied to delinquents and not playing to the gang ideology.

3. Along the same lines, but both outside and inside the school building, use appropriate unlicensed adults of the community - the druggist, the storekeeper, the mechanic - as the proper educators of the young into the grown-up world. By this means we can try to overcome the separation of the young from the grown-up world so characteristic in modem urban life, and to diminish the omnivorous authority of the professional school-people.
Certainly it would be a useful and animating experience for the adults.

4. Make class attendance not compulsory, in the manner of A. S. Neill's Summerhill. If the teachers are good, absence would tend to be eliminated; if they are bad, let them know it. The compulsory law is useful to get the children away from the parents, but it must not result in trapping the children. A fine modification of this suggestion is the rule used by Frank Brown in Florida: he permits the children to be absent for a week or a month to engage in any worthwhile enterprise or visit any new environment.

5. Decentralize an urban school (or do not build a new big building) into small units, twenty to fifty, in available store-fronts or clubhouses. These tiny schools, equipped with record-player and pin-ball machine, could combine play, socializing, discussion and formal teaching. For special events, the small units can be brought together into a common auditorium or gymnasium, so as to give the sense of the greater community.
Correspondingly, I think it would be worthwhile to give the Little Red Schoolhouse a spin under modem urban conditions, and see how it works out: that is, to combine all the ages in a little room for twenty-five to thirty, rather than to grade by age.

6. Use a pro rata part of the school money to send children to economically marginal farms for a couple of months of the year, perhaps six children from mixed backgrounds to a farmer. The only requirement is that the farmer feed them and not beat them; best, of course, if they take part in the farmwork. This will give the farmer cash, as part of the generally desirable programme to redress the urban-rural ratio to something nearer to 70 per cent to 30 per cent. (At present, less than 8 per cent of families are rural.) Conceivably, some of the urban children will take to the other way of life, and we might generate a new kind of rural culture.

I frequently suggest these and similar proposals at teachers’ colIeges, and I am looked at with an eerie look - do I really mean to diminish the state-aid grant for each student-day? But mostly the objective is that such proposals entail intolerable administrative difficulties.

Above all we must apply these and other proposals to particular individuals and small groups, without the obligation of uniformity. There is a case for uniform standards to be reached … but they cannot be reached by uniform techniques. The claim that standardization of procedure is more efficient, less costly, or alone administratively practical, is often false. Particular inventiveness requires thought, but thought does not cost money.


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