One of the great men of our times was in town this week Paul Goodman--psychotherapist, poet, novelist, teacher, city planner, social critic--came to Cambridge Tuesday to tell a group of School administrators what they are doing wrong.
Goodman spoke at Holmes Hall, Radcliffe, in the ninth annual New England School administrators' Institute. In his talk and in conversation afterward, Goodman developed themes from his recent work, Growing Up Absurd.
He bemoaned the discontinuity in American life between human nature and the national culture. America's culture is "pre-canned," all out of human scale and damaging to the natural growth of young people; for example, he noted, vocational balance does not serve the natural development of the individual, but rather is a means by which manpower changed into jobs to fit society's needs. "The society's felt "needs" are absurd, Goodman insists, and frustrates creative capacity at every turn.
In a random question-and-answer session, Goodman had good words for: work-study programs, such as those engineered at such schools as Bennington and Antioch; progressive education ("We were sunk in the '20's. Everybody got chicken."); the Protestant Ethic ("but with a greater respect for the health of the body"): greater sexual freedom; the Middle Ages ("Why, you know, they had 162 holidays a year then. They know how to live. We don't know anything about the Middle Ages. Those serfs never worked."); freedom of teachers to establish their own curriculum free of administration supervision; moving classrooms into the streets and farms ("except in New York--too much traffic.").
Goodman spoke against large classes ("Any more than 20 is impossible. I like the 12 and 13 year-olds best. They have the intelligence of adults without their blocks and fears."); the New York City school system; the narrowness of most Ph.D. research; the Harvard of 1961 ("in the old days they used to work with a real Calvinist seal.).
A little man, pink-checked and wearing a natty seersucker jacket, Goodman stirred things up for a while, and quietly stole out of town yesterday early in the morning, to return to New York and continue his war against the Organized System.