Archives for the month of: June, 2018

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.

There are THINKABLE ALTERNATIVES.

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

 

 

 

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