This book started cooking in 1964, during the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, the first open revolt against the institution of American higher education.
Though I had been active six years in the young New Left, up to then we had attempted few organized alternatives to anything. So I was a Teaching Assistant in Mathematics, as alienated from the university as everyone I knew, doing acid and going through personal changes. I'd thought some about my schooling, but never deeply about learning in general. The FSM changed all that. What began as a political movement led many of us to reconsider our education itself. For the first time, we began collectively to articulate our discontent and to move to build new forms. (1)
The year after FSM was my last in school. I taught in an experimental undergraduate program. Its head doubled as Chairman of the Philosophy Department and was proud to share a birthday with Thomas Hobbes. We differed strongly over educational policy. He cursed me all over campus for being a mindless anti-authoritarian, an inciter of barbarian hordes who would destroy Western Civilization. I thought he was mostly right, except about the mindless part. Even there he had a point, for I was pretty inarticulate then. Battered by encounter and confrontation, my frameworks were breaking down, and the new ones forming were still all scraps and partial, raw energy unformed. I could hardly find words to tell him why it should be destroyed, let alone to describe what might be born from its death.
I had been marking time as a mathematician and student activist while looking for a way to invest my long-term energy. I'd long since lost faith in electoral politics as a technology for significant social change, and the Vietnam Day Committee experiences of October 1965 clearly foreshadowed the limits of confrontation politics. Now I began to think that educational change is a more basic technology -- that systematic root-reconstruction of education is a key lever for freeing human energy for the radical potentials of this time.
Watching the way the scholars and bureaucrats responded to the issues raised by the FSM made me realize how pernicious to thought and action the academic atmosphere really was. Teaching in a System-sponsored "innovation" raised hopes only to frustrate them, and convinced me that if I wanted some leverage to transform education, inside-the-System wasn't where to stand to get it. I would have to go outside, to find or help form some independent base from which to deal with this institution in my own terms. To reinforce my decision, I was fired from the program -- "for grooving with the students," as Hobbes put it -- and then literally kicked out of graduate school for finally getting up nerve enough not to pay a library fine immediately.
"So I dropped out of school and drifted for a time." How many people have told me that in their tales of changes? For five seasons I drifted through the confusion of changes that comes when you leave the context in which you have grown to define your work and your skills and set out to re-create them in new social space. Even if you are in touch with your secret processes, you endure this period of deep reorganization during which thought won't focus and your powers are scattered.
I felt as tender as a crab freshly molted of his shell. Karen shouldered the money-hassle during this time, freeing me from the need to harden too soon -- we have been able to take turns doing this sort of timely thing for each other -- and, thus protected, I had only my own yammering need to "be productive" to fight against in yielding to change. As I poked around, new thoughts and new arrangements of skill slowly came together in me, and I began to learn ways to connect my energy into the common pool.
I spent the summer of 1966 aimless, save for writing down what I understood about the relation between the New Left and education in pretty chaotic prose. (2) That fall I hung out at the San Francisco State Experimental College, then in its first flush of success as the prototype campus-based "free university," absorbing some perspectives and skills from its founders.
That winter, Harold Taylor invited me to New York to work with him. We fed each other's minds delightfully. He was marvelously supportive and gave me the freedom to do what I wanted to at a pregnant time: I spent three months traveling to Eastern campuses, studying the political movement and the newly sprouting student-based movement for educational change. I met many people in many places beginning the struggle to organize themselves into power and clarity; and I learned to play a useful role by asking sharp questions and helping information to circulate.
I came back West to wander around the Haight and dig its lessons in the spring of its unveiling and destruction. I was still waiting to go to jail for the FSM, for my part in that signal rejection of our parent institutions. Here, barely two years later, the first of our counter-communities was sprung full-blown and struggling to survive, and a hundred more were budding in America.
That summer of 1967 I spent in another sort of school, Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center, learning what it had in common with conventional schools -- in particular. learning about my own conditioning to be, as a teacher, an authoritarian control-figure -- and brooding in rare peace upon what was signified by all the quick changes of the past few years. It was just then becoming clear that we were committing ourselves not simply to a movement of political liberation and social justice, but to a profound and comprehensive cultural transformation. In this light, much traditional liberal wisdom about the progressive reform of education was overshadowed. What was needed was root re-conception of education, the risk of searching out new ways.
After I warmed up from being in jail, I was finally ready to do serious work. For the next three years I spent almost half my time on the road, dealing with students on campuses and at conferences and later in freak communities as they grew. I was a tame sort of traveling organizer, working on the interface between politics and education, trying to link their new energies into feedback. In the late sixties many others started traveling, usually after some period of local organizing experience. I hitched and rode planes with guerrilla theater troupes, community organizers on OEO funds, Yippie! and White Panther and YSA spokesmen, underground press consultants, psychedelic and ecology gurus, and many impossible to categorize -- all transformers of the awakened currents of a generation, valves for the flow of collective energy, cycling the spectrum of news and lore and perspective developing across the nation. We were a family of insects in a broad meadow of change, cross-pollinating the flowers opening awkwardly everywhere; the texture of our lives was a continuous many-toned buzz of information and heady vibration.
By 1969, I knew perhaps a hundred other travelers dealing in "education." Together we formed a loose national infrastructure for a movement of educational change. We rapped to large groups, trained small ones in organizing skills, held seminars on theoretical perspectives and strategies of institutional change, developed workshops and learning games to teach cooperative skills. And we got around a lot -- I spent some 400 days going 150,000 miles to work on seventy campuses. It's a matter of pride, and of some sociological significance, that mostly we worked for students, at their invitation, and they paid our expenses and subsistence from their own funds -- that is, we were ourselves, as an organizing network, an alternate educational institution developed and supported by the student movement.
By 1970, some 500,000 students were involved in various self-directed efforts to change higher education. This movement's infrastructure had generated a fairly well-rationalized system of regional and national conferences; and campus visitations had grown more elaborate, sometimes involving a dozen travelers in week-long coordinated workshops. A few regional and national clearing houses for circulating skilled people and information were well-established enough to be able to seed frontier organizing projects. For example, there was the Pennsylvania Project, an OEO-funded spin-off from the National Student Association. Its five organizers stirred and linked ed reform currents on forty-two campuses, mostly in rural areas of the state, during the eight months before FBI surveillance, dope busts, YAF pressure in Congress, blackmail by their grant supervisors, and general kickback from federal, state, town, and college administrators cancelled out their funds and sent them for a time into anonymous dispersion.
These clearing houses depended for support upon major grants from foundations and the government. Though these were negotiated independently by their organizers, this dependence created major problems for operations so funded: and the lure of grants seduced the infrastructure's attention away from organizing the level of cooperation among students that would ensure a fully independent support-base for its growth. But that story belongs to a closer study of this movement, which, like all else, is changing so quickly and deeply that in recording even these sketchy notes about it I feel as though I am writing about some transient phenomenon, a wave rising and now gone, its energy passed on to other motions. (3)
Through our work, we were developing a body of thought and skills to apply to the reconstruction of education -- but a body whose nature was changing with each season. For, all the more so for being young, we were subject to a key law of social transformation: whoever works with others to create a context of change is himself transformed by that process, gains new consciousness and perspectives. Involved as we were with heavy change technologies -- from acid to sit-in, encounter to organizing -- as we tried to direct ourselves through History the whole fabric and most intimate textures of our lives kept changing.
In our sense of work, as in our private selves, these changes unfolded in orderly progression. My case is somewhat typical. At first I was concerned mainly with the formal rules, operations, and power distributions of the bureaucratized institution, and with organizing skills and strategies for changing them. This led toward action on issues: the rules governing student political activity; language and breadth requirements; student representation on committees and financial autonomy; interdisciplinary studies and the adviser system; the composition of boards of trustees; etc.
Slowly I grew equally concerned with the level of process upon which learning occurs. Working with students to organize social action, I came to see that the efficacy of our action groups is rooted in their nature as learning groups. I saw how deeply our learning for our own uses is crippled by our conditioning in the established system of education. So I studied and experimented with the processes of group learning, and helped develop some new forms and skills -- learning games, facilitation roles, deconditioning exercises, energy rituals, and so on. (4)
Our work was all reflexive. As in the Totalitarian Classroom Game, we studied ourselves in play and sometimes managed to apply our knowledge to ourselves. Working in brief intensive cooperations in this nomad learning conspiracy, our consciousness became self-centered to a critical degree. My spirit, like many others’, crossed a major divide. I lost interest not only in the old perspectives of institutional reform, but in the very prospect of re-forming the present institutions gradually. As I outgrew the role of teacher (and organizer) learned within them, I came to apply myself more to the process and society of my own learning, and it seemed less and less conceivable that these could be properly contained or nourished within even the most intelligent and humane reformation of the present system.
My priorities shifted to creating an intimate context for my own ongoing education, using what I'd learned while trying to reshape the System. My need grew urgent, to be involved in building a learning-family: a long cooperation in a democratic group, supportive and skill-sharing. flexible enough to be seminar, action-group, economic collective, playground and hospital -- the undifferentiated core unit out of which a system and culture of revolutionary learning can evolve. I put it in these terms to accord with the pretensions of this book. But of course what I imagine is also a pride of mutual lovers, each father and mother and teacher to the children; a band of comrades working to survive and serve the highest interests we can conceive; and so much more.
And here is a remarkable fact about working to change education in white Amerika in the late sixties. Almost everyone I know who worked for more than a couple of years in this movement came to their version of this place, came to see the most important thrust of their work as being the creation of their own learning families (or whatever they called them). During the past couple of years I've been involved in two attempts, partial in their joys and heavy in their pains; now I'm ending a retreat into the privacy of writing books and, with Karen, gearing up for another try. Most of our brothers and sisters in work have gone through some such progression.
Though our road keeps changing, I think it will take us farther yet along this way. In time it will lead us back to the level of mass institutions, but from a very different perspective of experience. That for now we invest our energies on a more modest and personal scale is not a de-politicization but a radicalization, strengthening the roots of our change. For in a time in which change spreads by example, the strongest politics is to begin to live in the ways that our movements for liberation have opened to our imagination.
As for schools as they are now, from colleges on down, their present form serves two functions, to transmit information and skills and to impress a social conditioning in the interests of a certain social order. From within and without, that order is being challenged and rejected as leading to death. Revolution -- in the means of communication, both material and social, and in our notion of how free people learn what they need to know -- is leading us to serve these functions differently. Though the schools still seem intact as a social form, in fact they have begun to evaporate. Already masses of the young are fleeing them, and even before high school grow frantic to disengage. If humanity survives, in fifty or a hundred years the massive and endlessly duplicated architecture of educational institutions will be turned to unforeseen uses, or, more tastefully, razed.
I can't write you a scenario for the withering away of the State's schools; it won't be just another shift of academic fashion. We have no precedent for the depth of the cultural transformation we are entering. As one aspect of it, all the essential divisions that characterize our present version of education -- teacher/student. learning/action, administrator/scholar, school/world, imitation/creation -- will be melted down and reconfigured. To the extent that education may be distinguished from the other processes of society, it will of course occur through "institutions." But these will be radically different from present institutions, and we will need a new language to describe what happens within them.
In this book, then, you will find no recipes for changing colleges, no program of institutional reform. On such matters there is a sufficiency of common wisdom. Wherever students sit down seriously to figure out what's wrong with their current institutions, and how these might be changed for the better in the short run, they come up with roughly the same analysis. I have seen the same manifesto, comprehensive and intelligent, written independently at fifty campuses. What is lacking is the power, and to some extent the will, to implement its immediate conclusions.
But we are headed far beyond them. It is not my purpose here to summarize the conventional radical analysis, though mine shares many of its assumptions and values and should be understood as extending it. Rather, I want to pass on some scraps of understanding about the deeper transformation education is undergoing -- some ideas to apply to our longer vision and to put the immediate changes of the present in perspective.
The heart of this book is a series of metaphors about learning: the Authority Complex, Open Space, the Tao of Learning, and Golem (Man-Machine). They are mind-tools, lenses through which to view the unities that underlie broad ranges of our experience. They represent thinking I haven't discarded, deeper organizations of thought that accumulated as my terms kept evolving -- such of them, anyway, as I managed to set down when ripe, in between the raw intensities of working and living.
The outer politics of education are well studied: they have to do with distributions of power, philosophies of production, and the sharing of scarce resources; inevitably their focus is institutional. The inner politics are not much spoken of. They have to do with the process and psychology of learning, especially as these reflect and complement the outer politics. My metaphors all deal with the inner politics of education, with basic perspectives on the struggle to remake the authoritarian learning systems we have inherited in more balanced, democratic, and liberating ways. (It is my fancy that they supplement three bodies of partial knowledge: what the system's scholarship has gathered about learning; the insights of radical study about the gross operations of power: and the social theory of a resurgent Marxism, which holds promise of flowering more strangely and fully.)
That my broad theme is political reflects my position on the thin political fringe of educational change. It was pretty lonely, having a political consciousness and working within that movement. For it's a sad fact that, during the last half of the sixties, the political and educational branches of the student movement grew mostly independent of each other. They overlapped some in their persons on campuses, and each indirectly nourished the other. But by the time you reached the level of organizer and national infrastructure, each movement's people rarely interacted with the other's; and overall there was little sharp interchange of thought or reinforcement of perspectives. I knew few organizers in education who were also committed to leading an active political life in campus and community struggle; and I found few SDS figures who understood the relevance of educational process to social action (though more in the Resistance did). Sometimes I felt kind of weird, doggedly rapping about how good politics must be grounded in good learning, and how educational change was empty without a political edge and aim.
My metaphors, then, come from where the direct investigations of learning and of social change reinforce each other. Our competence in the intersection of these domains is crucial to our being able to modulate human culture deliberately. That this area has not been well studied is due partly to the way the departments of education and the social sciences lie at opposite ends of the campus, are inhabited by academics, and function in the service of repressive social control; and partly to the newness of our urgent need for understandings here.
After the metaphors, I include a collection of movement studies. All these were written more or less spontaneously, during the years I was traveling, as natural expressions of the need to order my understanding and as tools to use on a modest scale in my work. Feeling uncomfortably like a fanatic, I Xeroxed them up by the hundreds on the local student corporation's new high-speed cheap machines, hauled them around to campuses, handed them out at conferences, burdened the mailman. They passed back into the common flow with little direct feedback. Here and there some kids on a campus I worked at would knock me out by scrambling together a dozen volunteers to spend their dear time typing stencils and cranking out a thousand or two mimeo copies of some core essay, giving me a hundred or so to take somewhere else. (5)
My writings bear the imprint of their development in this milieu of ephemeral information circulation, and I've chosen not to erase it. Rather than melted down and recast into a smooth piece, they are here essentially in the forms in which they were circulated among their original audiences -- and so tell some indirect tale of a progression of consciousness and needs. On the Acknowledgments page you will find a diagram describing when these chapters were written. In particular, I beg your tolerance for the earliest chapter, which follows this one: it now seems somewhat fuzzy and dull, but its metaphor is still essential to begin with.
I can't tell you how strange it was to write them, let alone to make a book of them. For our school of thought was not like that of the Academy in which I developed as an intellectual, with its book-dominated textures and endless empty writing practices. Though we digested a deep and eclectic array of texts, what circulated was not sanctified, but earned its value by its usefulness in our practice. Overall, books were for us a distinctly secondary source of knowledge. (6) Most of our thought developed and was transmitted in an oral tradition, a national conversation as continuous and intense as a telephone exchange. Its written reflection and support was ephemeral, impossible to summarize, a swirl of eddies in the vast circulation of underground media.
It is still borne this way. Little has passed into books; so much depends upon the quality of our conversation. That the counterculture has produced relatively few books of its own, among the flood of writing about it, is not due simply to the public's preference for having its insights predigested by the official agencies of cultural interpretation. Our capacities for writing in the old modes have eroded in our change. Even to write essays is becoming a rarer skill, save perhaps among the political movement, where traditional ways are strongest; and the dominant aesthetic governing such books as we do write has come to be assemblage, reflecting the flow of the surround.
So I think my difficulty in turning my part of a rich web of interchange into even such linearity as I have managed reflects more than the traditional private struggle of the writer. The old modes of writing seem to me increasingly inadequate to express the intricacy of even the technical aspects of experience; I find myself drawn toward richer media like videotape; the nomad necessities of a changed way of living militate against the kind of forced-march thesis discipline that goes into most serious books. In the context of my life, writing essays is coming to feel unnatural. and producing books is almost unbearable, it so absents my energy from the web of transformation, inner and outer, that goes on now all the time and needs tending.
I have undertaken this weird painful business not only for crass motives of personal ego, and in the hope of its social utility, but out of a sense of responsibility to the many co-producers of the thought I express. In deep ways, these essays are not mine. They were written not from solitary inspiration (though any writer is often alone), but from engagement in the awakening of a broad popular struggle for liberation. They are a valve-off from a flow of collective thought. I don't know how many people I touched minds with, those four years traveling and in Berkeley; I hardly know what is "my own" now in mine, or in what I have written.
Of course I take some glad responsibility for the broad organization of Metaphor. But in the thought of this book I can see what was passed on to me directly by Vic Fein, Jim Kornibe, Lynn Kleinman, Adrian Mellott, Rich Adelman, Joan McKenna, Sky Garner, Arthur Gladman, Norm Jacobsen, Patsy Engelhardt, Patsy Parker, Jim Goss, Heinz von Foerster, Neil Kleinman, Steve Crocker, Gayle Rubin, Dennis Church, John Judge, Alan Potter, Tom Morrey, Mark Cheren, Rick Kean, Doug Glasser, the game freaks at Denison, Ira Einhorn, Saralee Hamilton, Harold Taylor, Blair Hamilton, Robert Greenway, Harris Wofford, Roger Landrum, Chuck Hollander, Phillip Werdell, Mike Vozick, Bob Black, Linda Thurston, Bill Coughlan, Ray Mungo, Jim Nixon, Cynthia Nixon, David Harris. Russell Bass, Ken Margolis, Charlotte Margolis, Karen McLellan, Mario Savio, Jack Seeley, Carol Rowell, Tom Linney, Lonnie Rowell, Glen Lyons, Joe LaPenta, Peter Berg, Beth Rimanoczy, Thamar Wherritt, Burt Kanegson, Jack London, Harold Rossman, Mark Messer, Richard Flacks, Jackie Perez Motion, Barbara Blackwill, Everett Gendler, Ann Siudmak, Frank Bardacke, Abbie Hoffman, Lorca Rossman, and I'm not sure how many others whose names escape me at the moment, during coffee table days and stoned nights late. To credit them all properly would take more than enough footnotes for a thesis. (7)
There are nine Ph.D.s on that list. Only one is younger than I am at 31. Of the forty-two other younger people, only five or so have much likelihood of going for their doctorates. That is, of the serious young workers and thinkers in educational change whom I've known, only a small minority will now even bother to credential themselves for high-level work in the established system. Are we simply ourselves, an impromptu deviant band: and if so how shall we survive? Or has something broken down decisively, do we represent in our exodus from the Academy a leading edge of the vital energy of an entire generation? Whichever, the departments of education, long slums, will languish further without us.
This book is a fragment of a collective thesis, for a floating college unchartered by the State. Its writing was supported not by the good offices of an institution, in return for certain service; nor by article sale or publisher's advance, in response to the winds of fashion and profit. As a scholar, I was supported largely by the people, that mythic beast sometimes miraculously actualized -- in this case by students, overall some thousands of brothers and sisters, who traded their own funds face-to-face for honest work trying for social consequence. (8) Their support was generous enough to free me from hustling during the forty or so weeks it took to write these essays, and flexible enough to enable me to write, teach, act, and learn whenever any of these seemed right, and as best I could. In what accredited multi-versity could I have had the honor of learning contracts freely subscribed to, mutually created, and self-sustaining? Or the freedom to change my roles and my discipline each season as needed? Far out! I mean, it's been really a privilege of warm interactions. Thank you, dear people, I hope it's been worth it to you too.
In the past few years a broad experiment has been flowering. Now many tentative forms are being employed in the struggle to connect people directly with the learning they need -- free universities, crisis and rap centers, city switchboards and regional clearing houses, movements from radical therapy to female liberation, underground papers, intercommunal need-exchange bulletins, speakers' bureaus, audio/video media collectives, army-base coffeeshops where revolution organizes in the military, overall thousands of groups touching the lives of millions of persons. (9)
To my sisters and brothers working in all such nexuses of our free learning system, I direct this archaic text -- not for its immediate practical relevance, but because it attempts the depth of thinking that all whose work involves the recreation of education must now share in. The image strongest on my mind, right before my child's first birthday, is of the free-school parent and teacher; but what I have to say to you is for the others as well. The metaphors that follow are as much a reflection on the education we experienced as they are an evocation of what might be. Though they're phrased mainly in terms of "higher" education, they have to do with the unities underlying all our experience of organized learning. To be able to remake education for our children, we need to understand our own deeply in the process, and better it for ourselves.
Undoubtedly, this book will find some use as a text for good intentions in education classes and other sinks in which the written Word misfunctions to prison the Spirit. As a charm against this fate I intone the truth,
and urge you to conspire first with your brothers and sisters.
(1) As I was one of the more visible figures of the FSM, the media have ever since been after me with the burning question, What happens to student radicals as they grow up? Are they still as crazy seven years later? How can I tell them, it is a process, not a state? But you might take my sketchy account here as being, beneath its personal particulars, somewhat representative of the committed activists I've known -- for almost all still continue to seek ways to move on.
(2) The coherent part you will find in The Wedding Within the War under the title "The Movement and Educational Reform." Besides several other essays on the outer politics of educational change, WWW also goes more deeply into some examples and themes of this book as they appeared in historical context (particularly those of Chapter IV).
(3) For more about the ed reform movement, see Chapter IX, “An Organizing Strategy for the … Movement.” A rich panorama of its upper inner workings during an early crisis is provided by The Ed Reform Papers, edited by Tom Linney, published and then suppressed by NSA's Center for Educational Reform in late in 1968.
(4) Of what new knowledge has developed in this movement, this is the most valuable, and I wish this book offered more than a few scattered examples. But neither I nor anyone I know who has practiced these new arts has managed to write down more than a fragmentary account of some one aspect. [2008 note: My book Learning-Games was written several years after this sad assessment.]
(5) Along the line of how metaphors spread, I must mention Jerry Farber's "The Student as Nigger" (Pocket Books. N.Y., 1970). For two years after its publication in an underground paper in 1967, on every campus I visited I found Jerry's tight gutty little essay -- in the student paper, dittoed for English class, mimeographed by SDS or the student government or the local free university. It was reproduced spontaneously on a thousand campuses -- those that later flared up at the time of Cambodia and Kent State -- and not only by students. If quickness and depth of popular response mean much, it was the most powerful single piece of writing about education of its time.
(6) Among authors on learning, I have found particularly helpful Carlos Castaneda, Harold Taylor, Judson Jerome, R. D. Laing, John R. Seeley, Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, Black Elk, T. H. Kuhn, Kenneth Keniston, Herbert Marcuse, John Lilly, A. N. Whitehead, Mao Tse-tung, Norbert Wiener, A. S. Neill, Roger Harrison, Maxim Gorky, and Cesar Vallejo.
(7) If you're saving raw data for the study of the sex- and age-based origins of thought. that's forty-nine men and seventeen women, with an age-distribution roughly like that in the diagram.
(8) Here is power unused: Were a tenth of the $ 150,000,000 in semi-autonomous student budgets turned to the support of a free professoriat, it could provide for the equivalent of 4,000 posts in the faculty of Floating Liberation U -- a vast circulation and residence, upon America's 2,500 prison campuses. of the ablest learners of a generation, sharing their skills and understandings of social action, education, art, earth-survival, the body, law, and the spirit.
(9) The SOURCE Catalogues (Source, 2115 S St. N.W., Washington, D.C., 20008) are the best present index to them.