Paul Goodman’s Primary Grades

The compulsory system has become a universal trap, and it is no good. Very many of the youth, both poor and middle class, might be better off if the system simply did not exist, even if they then had no formal schooling at all.

Our urban and suburban environments are precisely NOT cities or communities where adults naturally attend to the young and educate to a viable life.  Also, perhaps especially in the case of the overt drop-outs, the state of their body and soul is such that we MUST give them refuge and remedy, whether it be called school, settlement house, youth worker or work camp.


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.  Such a class should probably not exceed 10 children for one pedagogue.

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 modern urban life.  Certainly it would be a useful and animating experience for the adults.

Decentralize an urban school (or do not build a new big building) into small units, 20 to 50, 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.  Give the Little Red Schoolhouse a spin under modern urban conditions and see how it works out.  That is, combine all the ages in a little room for 25 to 30, rather than to grade by age.

Use a pro rata part of the school money to send children to economically marginal farms for a couple months of the year, perhaps 6 children from mixed backgrounds to a farmer.

(Or how about sending them to an environmental camp, a volunteer opportunity with Habitat for Humanity, a bus trip investigating Appalachian Culture and Mountain Top Removal, a walkabout studying Montana waterways or cattle ranching, a co-oop or internship placement with any number of non-profits across the USA or abroad.)

Compulsory Mis-education AND The Community of Scholars by Paul Goodman, Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, New York, 1962.


Joseph Featherstone’s Schools Where Children Learn highlights the work of Elwyn Richardson in northern New Zealand.  Featherstone suggests that In The Early World may be the best book about teaching ever written.  Certainly it’s one of the most beautifully designed. Reproductions of children’s art of an astonishing quality fill its pages – wood and linoleum cuts, pottery, and fabrics, as well as writing.

Featherstone reflects that it takes time for the reader to understand that a long account of how the class took up pottery is meant to be emblematic of a whole style of teaching.  Clay of various grades lay in deposits near the school, and Richardson and the children tested samples to see which kinds were good to work with.  They built a small brick kiln and pottery became the standard activity in the school.

Messing around, the children slowly learned the limits of the material – you couldn’t build wet clay too high or it would collapse.

Pottery grew into writing deeply influenced by the natural world surrounding the school.

The pine tree stands
With cracked sooted arms
With stumped branches
Rotted into the ground

Richardson’s testimony on the work:  I saw that I had to teach as much as I could when opportunities arose, and that this was a better kind of teaching than I had known when I was following through topic after topic.  If I did not teach at such times, the work became poor and lifeless….The series of developments taught me too, that I must use environment to the full and encourage individual expression rather than class.  This meant more individual and small group observation.

Elwyn S. Richardson, In The Early World, Pantheon Books @ 1964.Screen Shot 2018-06-13 at 10.29.31 AM.png




During the time of my visits, a 6 1/2 year old named Alan invented a learning environment for himself.  Alan’s basic metaphor was WAR.  I was at first a bit put off but then I realized that Alan, more than anyone I had met, hated and feared war and the consciousness of WAR that pervades American life.

It was as if, by understanding war down to the roots, Alan might gain some sort of dominion over it.

Alan’s home base was a corner of the reading-reference-junk room at the school.  There he had built and impressive fortress that changed in character and armaments as the campaign he was imagining changed.  Alan spent quite a bit of time helmeted and armed, within the fortress.  But he spent far more time at what he called “my work”.  His work consisted of filling large sketch pads with line drawings of battle situations.  Vivid and accurate in detail, the drawings were produced with great speed and economy of line.

When I told him my own combat experience had, fortunately, kept me out of the trenches, he said, “Do you want to see what trench warfare is like?” and leafed through a completed sketch pad.  The sketch he showed gave me the EXPERIENCE of being in a World War I trench – the cramped surroundings, tangles of barbed wire, exploding shells, the distant yet ominous presence of the enemy.

After a couple of days I learned that Alan’s “work” involved a project of grand proportions: he was creating a picture history of every major war the U.S. had fought, from the Revolutionary War through Vietnam.  At the time of my visit, he was up to the North American Campaigns of World War II.  When Alan needed further information about some battle or mode of warfare, he would take a book about the campaign, retire to a corner and read avidly.  No “motivation” problem here.  Or he would go to the Art Room and paint combatants’ flags and insignias, or model tanks and warships in clay.  In the Woodshop, Alan would build appropriate armaments.  In the Gym, he would invent war games.  Or in perfectly reasonable switch, he would organize peace marches, with hand-lettered signs like “War Is Sick”.

Perhaps not by accident, Alan’s headquarters were located within easy hearing distance of the table where Wilbur Rippy (Educational Director) read aloud about and discussed history, geography, evolution, etc.  While Rippy would read, Alan would continue his work, hardly seeming to notice the “lesson,” but actually taking it all in.  When Rippy would leave, Alan would rush to the table, scan the written material, look at the pictures, study the specimens, then mutter” “I must get back to my work.”

Support for the striking Oklahoma teachers comes in all shapes and sizes.
Support for the striking Oklahoma teachers comes in all shapes and sizes. Photograph: Sue Ogrocki/AP

On Sunday at the First Christian church of Chandler, some of the striking Oklahoma teachers went to a special service. The 150 teachers on the grueling march come from different faiths but they have developed a faith in each other.

“I have bled on half of these women,” said Madeline Jacobsen, a third-grade teacher at Bell elementary. “Our feet are gross and you can’t reach them at the end of the day so someone literally has to help you wrap them and get your feet good.”

Many had never attempted anything so intense as a 110-mile march, in this case from Tulsa to the state capitol in Oklahoma City. But they were inspired to make a statement about the need to fund education properly.

“I planned to walk five miles each day because I didn’t think I could do it all,” Jacobsen said. “I have walked every single mile because I can do more with this group and this support than I can ever do alone.”

The marchers are mostly women, and they have formed a tight bond. Every night, they have dinner together and go over “pluses” and “deltas” of the day. Deltas are obstacles they would like to overcome. There is give and take. The women talk through issues and figure out solutions to make everyone feel included.

“Men wouldn’t be able to do things like this,” said 52-year-old Radonn Broeffle Musgrove, a 31-year teaching veteran. “Women are able to work these sort of things out.”

Broeffle Musgrove is one of only a few teachers on the march who participated in the last statewide strike in Oklahoma, back in 1990. She said she saw a big difference.

“I think the #MeToo movement has even really propelled us forward,” she said. “It’s so exciting.”

The women are driven forward not only by others on the march. Many members of communities on the route have stood by the side of the road, cheering the marchers on and handing out snacks and water.

“People have asked me, ‘Why do you stay in Oklahoma?’” said 28-year-old Heather Cody, a single mother who was forced to move back in with her parents to make ends meet while teaching. “This has proved why we have stayed in Oklahoma: the community has helped us. We just had two great meals at the First Christian church of Chandler and every town we walk through it has gotten better and better.”

Together, the women feel they are building momentum. On Friday, the state legislature passed two measures expected to help education funding. The main goal remains.

“We aren’t gonna shut up, we aren’t done, this movement has gelled us together,” Jacobsen said. “We are ready to fight for our kids for the long haul. We have power together.”

Great Woman Great Public School Community

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who challenged the political and business establishment of her day, would be proud of the students’ courageous efforts to galvanize a movement for gun control, which now includes a nationwide walkout by students and teachers scheduled for April 20.

Douglas was a journalist, writer, feminist, environmentalist, and progressive activist, best known for her staunch defense of the Everglades against efforts to drain it and reclaim land for development.

Born in Minneapolis in 1890, Douglas attended Wellesley College, where she earned straight A’s and was elected “Class Orator,” graduating in 1912. It was at Wellesley that she first got involved in the women’s suffrage movement.

In 1915 she moved to Miami to work for The Miami Herald, which was owned by her father. The next year she joined the American Red Cross in Europe in the midst of World War I. She spent much of her time writing articles for the Associated Press from France, Italy and the Balkans. When the war ended, she remained in Paris to care for displaced war refugees. That experience, she later wrote in her autobiography, “helped me understand the plight of refugees in Miami 60 years later.”

Returning to Miami in 1917, Douglas continued working at the Herald, and jumped into the struggle for women’s rights. That year she traveled to Tallahassee with three other women to campaign for the women’s suffrage amendment before Florida state legislators.

“We had to speak to a committee of the House, which we did,” she recalled in a 1983 interview. “It was a big room with men sitting around two walls of it with spittoons between every two or three. And we had on our best clothes and we spoke, as we felt, eloquently, about women’s suffrage and it was like speaking to blank walls. All they did was spit in the spittoons. They didn’t pay any attention to us at all.”

(Although the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the vote, was adopted in 1920, Florida did not officially ratify it until 1969.)

Post-World War I Miami was still a small Southern city, governed by Jim Crow laws, with fewer than 20,000 residents. Many Miami police officers were members of the Ku Klux Klan, which was gaining momentum. One night Douglas was driving back from the beach with her father when they came upon the KKK preparing to march in their masks and sheets.

“A masked man on horseback rode up in front of my father and said, ‘this street is closed,’ and my father said ‘Get out of my way!’ and drove right straight ahead, through them and scattering them and everything; they couldn’t stop him,” she recalled years later. “We were all yelling and screaming in defiance, we were so mad.”

Despite his liberal sympathies, Douglas’s father initially relegated her to writing for the paper’s “society” page, covering weddings, tea parties, and other so-called “women’s issues.” She rebelled, insisting on covering more hard-hitting topics, and was soon writing editorials, columns, and articles that expressed her concern for civil rights, better sanitation, women’s suffrage, and responsible urban planning. In 1923, she wrote a ballad lamenting the death of a 22-year-old vagrant who was beaten to death in a labor camp, titled “Martin Tabert of North Dakota is Walking Florida Now,” that was printed in the Herald and read aloud during a session of the Florida Legislature, which passed a law banning convict leasing, in large part due to her writing.

After leaving the Herald to become a freelance writer in 1923, she published more than 100 short stories and nonfiction articles in the Saturday Evening Post and other popular magazines, as well as several novels and a number of books on environmental topics. Her most influential work, the 1947 bestseller The Everglades: River of Grass, “changed forever the way Americans look at wetlands,” according to her New York Times obituary. The book transformed popular views of the Everglades from a worthless swamp to a treasured river. Many environmentalists have compared it to Rachel Carson’s influential book Silent Spring, published 15 years later. “There would most likely be no Everglades wilderness without her,” the Times noted.

In 1941, Douglas wrote the foreword to the Work Projects Administration’s guide to the Miami area, part of the New Deal’s controversial Depression-era Federal Writers’ Project American Guide series, designed both to provide jobs for out-of-work writers and to compile detailed histories and descriptions of the nation’s cities, regions, and cultures. Douglas served as the Miami Herald’s book review editor from 1942 to 1949 and as editor for the University of Miami Press from 1960 to 1963.

According to a profile of Douglas on the National Park Service website:

In the 1950s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rose to the top of her list of enemies. In a major construction program, a complex system of canals, levees, dams, and pump stations was built to provide protection from seasonal flooding to former marsh land—now being used for agriculture and real estate development. Long before scientists became alarmed about the effects on the natural ecosystems of south Florida, Mrs. Douglas was railing at officials for destroying wetlands, eliminating sheetflow of water, and upsetting the natural cycles upon which the entire system depends.

To do battle with the Army Corps of Engineers and others, in 1969, at the age of 79, Douglas founded Friends of the Everglades. One of its first campaigns was to protest the construction of a jetport in the Big Cypress portion of the Everglades. President Richard Nixon scrapped funding for the project due to the efforts of Douglas and her environmentalist colleagues.

She continued to work to preserve the Everglades for the rest of her life. Her tireless activism earned her the nickname “Grande Dame of the Everglades” as well as the hostility of agricultural and business interests looking to benefit from land development in Florida.

In 1948, angered by the fact that many black residents of Coconut Grove, the racially segregated section of Miami, had no running water or sewers, Douglas led a successful campaign to pass a law requiring all Miami homes to have toilets and bathtubs. She also set up a loan operation for the black residents of Coconut Grove to borrow money interest-free to pay for plumbing work.

Douglas was a charter member of the South’s first American Civil Liberties Union chapter in the 1950s. In the 1970s she campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment, urging the state legislature to ratify it. In 1974 she cofounded the Friends of the Miami-Dade Public Libraries and served as its first president. In the 1980s Douglas lent her support to the Florida Rural Legal Services, a group that worked to protect migrant farm workers, especially those employed by the sugar cane industry near Lake Okeechobee.

In 1985 Douglas campaigned to get the Dade County School Board to provide a building for the Biscayne Nature Center. Six years later, the Florida Department of Education endowed $1.8 million for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center in Crandon Park. The headquarters of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in Tallahassee is called the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Building.

Broward County named its new high school for the 100-year-old Douglas in 1990. Among many awards, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton in 1993. She died at age 108 in 1998.

Several books—including An Everglades Providence: Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the American Environmental Century by Jack Davis (2009), The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise by Michael Grunwald (2006), and her autobiography, Marjory Stoneman Douglas: Voice of the River, written with John Rothchild (1987)—tell the story of this remarkable fighter for social and environmental justice.

“Be a nuisance where it counts,” Douglas once said. “Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed, discouraged, and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics—but never give up.”

The students at Douglas High may not know it, but in translating their anguish into activism, they are carrying on in the tradition of their school’s namesake.

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This very last image is work by First Graders.  The rest is of mixed age students.

The Pringle cans are a stroke of genius and absolutely LOVE the DO NOT TOUCH sign.

They mean it!

Isn’t that Egyptian Cat just the BEST?!


Yes.  These are all school chairs.  Or they should be.

Have a look.

No institutional, plastic, mass-produced, poorly-welded rubbish.


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From Italy


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Sock Monkey


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Bunny Chair



Japanese Company Hiromatsu Children’s Furniture



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Fiber Art Chair





Yoruba People Beaded Chair Africa


The simple act of acquiring non-traditional school chairs can serve as a first step in de-institutionalized thinking about schools.

As long as it is acceptable for chairs to be insignificant, garish and poorly constructed, then everyone’s imagination and appreciation is diminished.

One way out of our current catastrophe is to consider beautifully, lovingly constructed chairs.  The adults change and the children change and it is all for the better inside an enhanced Circle of Children.

But for too many adults working in today’s  USA classrooms, be they public or charter, these chairs would get you fired.  Good luck finding an employee who attached significance to a chair, its artistry, composition or appeal to children.

But if you did locate such a humane individual, you would probably find them subject to the equivalent of a modern day witch hunt.  Imagination and Initiative are lethal.  Anything that lives outside the realm of metrics and data massaging must be extinguished.  The cult of counters know how to look after their own and chair enthusiasts don’t belong.

It begins and ends with what Giroux calls “normalized ignorance”.  The fog of crude, callow and empty gobbles up all available space.  Chairs are ugly on purpose.  No one cares about them and that’s exactly the point.  In such schools, uncouth regimes remain as authoritarian sciolists.  There is money to be made and beautiful chairs obstruct the cash flow.

A Bunny Chair will get you booted.  You can bet on it.

And then there is the problem of going off message.  Curriculum becomes a series of commercials on how to care for and preserve artful chairs.

Next, the Yoruba people arrive bringing with them a vibrant history of beading, braiding, tattooing, clay and ceramic molding, bronze casting, weaving, dyeing and sculpting.

When would there be time for War Room confabs, choking on bulging, black binders bursting with benchmark analytics?






















Syracuse Cultural Workers


We did this in Chicago and discovered great, small business people operating hair salons, hardware stores, rib joints and corner groceries. They ALL contributed to our neighborhood curriculum and it was an eye opener how resourced this impoverished community really was. Lots of smart people with an eye on education.


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