The Movement and Educational Reform
Preface to Book Publication (1971)
We quite surprised ourselves, in the FSM, by saying so loudly that the broad process and basic premises of our education, as well as its political face, were for shit. How perfect that this feeling was first voiced at what was then the leading Multiversity of its time! But nothing was special about our perception. Soon college students everywhere began turning their energy to changing their education, in innocuous and radical ways. Almost instantly, the impulse spread downn through the high schools and out into the beginning of a movement of free elementary schools.
Free Universities and kindred work began and spread with sit-ins, as the Movement turned on the campuses. By summer 1966, organized student action for ed reform was well begun, involving maybe 60,000, when I wrote some notes trying to sort out where it was taking us. I thought we could tell by examining the nature of the white Movement -- not its momentary political goals, but its process, which was beginning to become clearer as the post-FSM confusion lifted and our motion went on.
A year later, in jail, I tidied the notes for The American Scholar. Grad school still was strong in me, I could never write that straight now. From my jail introduction you can see what more could be seen by then. It did not change my mind, and educational reform continues to develop along the lines implicit in the Movement as it was by 1966.
But these notes have a special relevance for re-tracing how we got to wherever we are. From now we can see clearly what I barely grasped in that introduction. Change only the names, in this description of the Movement's nature, and it becomes an inventory of most of the basic aspects of the hippie/commune movement which was then developing. Our nature has been steadily emerging all along, though the media mythologies have made us imagine false discontinuities.
Preface to First Publication (1966)
Given that students are becoming the main source of initiative and energy for the reform of higher education, then the present style and concerns of the Student Movement should indicate the nature of future reforms. I have tried to sketch here some aspects of the Movement more basic than its political surface, and to connect these (rather stiffly, I'm afraid) with some general directions of reform.
Since these notes -- originally written at the request of the National Student Association for a workshop on educational reform -- were set down well over a year ago, there have been two important developments. The Vietnam War, monstrously swollen, has become the Movement's main focus (sapping much energy from its reform efforts). The increasingly anguished and desperate tone of antiwar activity has begun to color all of the Movement's works; and its character, which I try to sketch below, seems less clear in the stress of the present. With a provident symmetry connected with the War, however, this character shows more clearly in the second development: the appearance of what we temporarily call "the hippie movement," which is spread more widely and deeply than the media can recognize. There are certainly more hippies than antiwar marchers among the young. But these categories are not distinct: more and more young activists are drifting into "the hippie thing." What is becoming clearer is that among America's young a change in life-style is evolving that runs much more deeply than the political skin that first rendered it visible. This change carries important consequences for the nature of mass education.
But that these consequences will be felt within the present system is not at all clear. Current returns from reform efforts suggest that the investment in their present identities of our institutions -- and of those who fill roles within them -- is too great to permit real change. This neat tautology -- that the system cannot change significantly while remaining itself -- has an obvious, although inadequate, counter-argument: real change takes time, generations. Bur the progress of both the War and the "hippie thing" suggests that there will not be such time. For, in their respective ways, they cause and reflect a rapid, profound estrangement of the young from the forms and content of the culture that has produced them.
The young are leaving; they will not return. It is too early to see the shape of where they are going, but some of the colors are already clear. It is about this that I was writing a year ago, in the context of thoughts about the potential flexibility of the American college system which now seem to me naive. The prospects for radical reform within the system seem dim indeed. But, with these afterthoughts as foreword, what I wrote then still seems to make sense; and I have left it virtually unchanged.
Some Aspects of the Movement (1966)
No one is quite sure where the Movement begins or ends. Its heart is SNCC and Students for a Democratic Society; and the NAACP and Democratic reform groups seem out-of-bounds. But how do we divide the spectrum within these limits? If the Peace Corps is out, the coincidence of its popularity in Movement centers needs explaining. Cooperation with the Establishment may disqualify; but the student-run Experimental College integrated into the formal structure of San Francisco State College speaks with the Movement's voice. To separate sharply pacifist living experiments from groups of hippies playing with psychedelic utopias in rambling old buildings seems difficult and foolish; and even the hippies seem more Movement than, say, the Young Socialist Alliance does.
It may seem that I understand the Movement too broadly. But there is an understanding of it that is certainly too narrow: to view it as being defined in any significant way by its occasional semi-stable organizational manifestations. For were the Movement the political phenomenon most commentators take it to be, we'd expect to have a clearer grasp than we do of its location and identity. Bur the kinds of concerns that seem to be the characteristic marks of its presence are not "political" in any familiar sense of the term. Indeed, most writers take the Movement's trademarks to be crippling flaws in its political potential. Within their frame of reference, they may he right; but I do not think we are talking about the same Movement.
For there is understanding to be gained by treating my generation's involvement in social action as if it were composed of two distinct phenomena. (The division is not entirely artificial.) One of these is a series of political engagements -- over the War, Civil Rights, and so on -- that do not seem to differ fundamentally from their counterparts of thirty years ago. The other, which I'll call the Movement because it is new, is a matter of style. Not all of our political actions are Movement; and only the iceberg tip of the Movement can be seen. For political involvement is a dye, which renders only a part of the Movement visible.
Of what does this style consist? First, there is a concern for the caliber of interpersonal relationships: for qualities like tolerance, openness and honesty, which are thought of in their positive, rather than neutral, senses. This concern springs from a feeling that the relationships among people working (or learning) together must constantly be dealt with in dimensions other than the narrowly functional. The Movement is increasingly sensitive to the delicate inseparability of means and ends and, as well, to the flimsiness of the line dividing the public and the private. "The price of the liberation of the white people," says James Baldwin, "is the liberation of the blacks," and, Black Power or not, the SNCCniks are deeply aware of how immune to legislation the need to hate is. Our slavery is to our condition and needs -- but not simply to the economic or political versions of these. And so the bumperstickers read "Make Love Not War," rather than "Make Peace ... " or "Make Plows ... " Similarly, there is a feeling that much that has been characterized as the confrontation of public roles can and must be made interpersonal on some level. Part of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement's demand was for face-to-face meetings with administrators. And members of the War Resisters' League, in earnest one-to-one dialogue, attempt to persuade small manufacturers to refuse war contracts.
A second characteristic of the Movement's style is the level of social organization on which it works. In this, the Movement is most clearly distinct from its political allele. For the present Old Left among us (not to mention the old Old Left) aims at the mass: at the racial, economic, or occupational population. But the unit in terms of which the Movement conceives change tends to be the small group. And the mechanism of change is often thought of as the creation of a climate of self-propelled, autonomous groups engaged in satisfying activity, whose presence inspires not so much imitation as exploration. The way to influence large groups is by local example, rather than by global persuasion.
In a culture of the hard and soft sell, of too many words with too little substance, the Movement's alienation from rhetoric runs deep: when it does not proceed by example, it uses force (if it can). This pragmatism is not simply a reflection of the feeling that bare moral and intellectual suasion is an inadequate tool. Rather, direct personal involvement is the Movement's human backbone and colors all of its thoughts. "Lay your bodies on the line" is less a battle cry than a testament to the conviction that commitment and reward cannot be accomplished by proxy. In saying that people must be involved in the decisions that shape their lives, the emphasis is on involved.
There are two ways in which this essential "existential" component of the Movement's identity manifests itself. One may be seen by comparison with the extreme hangovers of the Old Left, like the Young Socialist Alliance and the Progressive Labor Party. These see themselves as tightly disciplined cadres enacting change on a mass level: the workers are a class to whom an appeal is made in History's name. In consequence, there is a remarkable distance between them as political actors and the subject (s) of their acts. But there is less distance generally between the callers and the called with the Movement. And it is at its best when this distance is least: when it comes not to tell but to listen and share, in the slums of the city and the academy.
The way in which the Movement tends to merge with the landscape is rarely noticed, and accounts for some of the difficulty in trying to establish its location and identity. This lessened distance and the small-group form are intimately related. They mean also that political dialogue must be cast in a different vocabulary than that possible with the comfortable separation of Changer and Changed. These close quarters, and the ambiguity of the Movement's outline -- no one holds a membership card -- mean that it must take seriously the qualities of the relationships that exist between people wherever it operates.
The Movement's "existential" orientation is expressed directly in the way its groups are structured and operate. "Participatory democracy" shows up as an operating principle in one or another variant, and there is constant debate over how to render the concept workable. As a result, many groups have explicit mechanisms designed to discourage leadership. The most balanced view seems to be that it provides less than it inhibits. (Concern about leadership can be subtle: at present SDS is conversing internally about the way the questionable coin of speechmaking ability by itself makes their conferences elitist, and encourages passivity and alienation.) Again, the Movement's groups tend to be sized and operated so as to avoid dependence on fixed and hierarchical roles for their members to play. The lack of structure that generally characterizes Movement groups is the result of choice rather than inability, and is meant to create a climate that fosters responsibility and initiative.
Not only the structures, bur the very identities of the Movement's organizations are fluid. To a considerable extent the Movement shows up in ad hoc groupings, and its less-evanescent bodies still engage in constant redefinitions of their natures and goals. This again is not from inability to create stable groups. In part, it is a reflection of the Movement's being alive and in a process of growth (indeed, perhaps the Movement is a process of growth): for groups no less than for individuals, a fixed identity is a death. But also, this is a consequence of the problem orientation -- rather than theory/ideology orientation -- of the Movement. Each problem, or each stage in a problem, demands its own group, unique as a key tried in a lock. At any rate, the continuity of even SNCC and SDS is more skeletal than real; and the Movement seems to depend on temporary group involvements as its basic modality of work and emotional sustenance.
Such disposable organizations -- and a growing Movement indifference to marriage, put briefly as "People change, why tie them down?" -- would seem to require that those involved have little fear and a high competence in freedom. "If anything, what we're trying to do … is to see how you can move even though you're afraid," said SNCC's Bob Moses. And people in many areas of the Movement speak often of the central necessity of conquering the fear that holds you static and afraid to change.
This brings up the essential and difficult question of freedom. To the Movement, freedom, like democracy, is less a political state than a psychological condition. The chanting of "Freedom Now" in university sit-ins is not incongruous, for in every area of its attention the Movement is concerned with the problem of ensuring or creating the ability to make real choices, real decisions. Clearly, the Movement's concentration on creating viable concepts of freedom is connected with other characteristics of its style.
One element in the Movement's notion of freedom is the concept of non-coercive concern. Whether the example be L.B.J. and the Negroes, parent and child, or teacher and student, our culture interprets "care" or "concern" to mean telling the recipients what to do "for your own good." The Movement seems quite consistent in its response to the notion of decisions being made for other people -- whether in Vietnam or graduate school or the ghetto. Again, narrow notions of "efficiency" -- whether in the procurement of jobs for the poor or of graduates for industry -- seem inimical to the Movement's idea of freedom. In evaluating social processes, it seeks indices of "efficiency" that are compatible with and include this idea.
There are other relevant aspects of the Movement: its interest in creating non-coercive modes of authority, a notion foreign to this culture; its gropings toward non-destructive community; and its developing notion of a group as a collection of autonomous individuals come together to tackle a problem of common interest, which is paradoxical in this culture, in which to belong to a group is to submerge your own identity. Bur these fall beyond the scope of these notes.
One last element of the Movement's style is of critical importance. The Movement is a collection of young intellectuals; and this indelibly marks the activism that is usually taken as its distinguishing feature. Draft board sit-ins are accompanied by teach-ins. CORE and Women for Peace conduct economic studies. SNCC and the War Resisters' League use sociodrama as a sophisticated training device. SDS and university reform groups analyze power structures. The Movement's intra-university disputes are often subtle and learned.
It is most fruitful, I think, to view this eclectic intellectualism as the product of the Movement's basic identity as a loose assemblage of experimental social scientists. This picture is suggested by the Movement's constant preoccupation with methodology, its facility at making and discarding models, its keen sensitivity as to how observer and observed interact, and, of course, by the way it views almost all its acts mainly as experiments to be studied and learned from. Also, throughout the Movement there is the sense that the end of research should be insight.
Insight into what? Into the question of human nourishment. The problems to which the Movement's style are addressed are tomorrow's problems, although they are here today. If we take politics to be in essence the language of men contending with a world of too little bread, then the Movement is indeed beyond politics, in a sense that is not at all incompatible with its very real political identity. For the Movement is a collection of young intellectuals concerned with the quality of interpersonal relations, who work on a small-group level in unstructured temporary groups in which the dominant themes are existential involvement and effective (potent) freedom. This Movement springs, by no coincidence, from a monoculture whose most obvious characteristic is the lack of social forms and institutions that foster or permit the engagement of men with themselves and with their work.
The suburb, the TV set, and the bureaucracy -- as we now know them -- are three of many tangents to a circle, toward whose center not only our white middle class, but also the USSR, the Common Market, and the Negro are converging in their separate ways; and the rest of the World lags behind by less than our lives. However one conceives of the Movement, one must explain its motive power; and I see no other explanation than a reaction, direct or not, to this convergence. There are certain values that seem essential to our emerging and different idea of human nature, and that seem unable to survive in that center. The Movement may well be our search for viable forms and processes in which to embody these values -- it is in this sense that I mean the description of it as a group of experimental social scientists as more than just a metaphor -- and may itself be the process that creates them.
Some General Directions of Radical Reform
At the close of a conference held to evaluate the first semester of the Experimental College at San Francisco State College, a professor complained that all the discussion of experimental education was intertwined with talk about the Movement. He went on to suggest that the Movement was a limited audience with narrow interests and goals, and that its relevance to the question of educational reform had been blown up all out of proportion. But there are two reasons for supposing him wrong.
First, the society and the university are so intimately intertwined that their ills do not differ significantly. If the needs of either -- formally recognized or not -- dictate radical reform, some segment of the population will be most sensitive to these needs, and will indicate which way the wind of change is blowing. Surely the young adults of college age are this weather vane, having less of an inertial investment in the status quo. We call the motion already in progress in this group, the Movement.
Second, the Movement is a force as well as a direction. Our culture has created the juggernaut of mass higher education, with no understanding of its function, nature, or potential. In this vacuum the faculty, performing after their fashion, have shaped the institution in their own image. That they can lift themselves by their boot-straps to achieve radical reform seems unlikely. Granted this, we are left with students as the only major source of initiative and energy for reform. There is never much free energy available for radical social change; we live on a narrow margin. But what there is among us is embodied in the Movement. The disgruntled professor may propose a whole conference of clever reforms; but reforms depend on response, and if they are not in tune with the Movement's interests and nature, they will remain unaccomplished.
The sketch given above of the Movement's character suggests some directions that Movement-centered radical educational reform will take (whether or not it is possible within the system, which is a separate matter). The primary drive will be toward expanding individual freedom, and creating engagement in the learning process. Presently the role of the student is a dependent one. His being placed in an autonomous situation -- with regard to either the subject or the method of his learning -- is an infrequent privilege, usually laboriously achieved. But if education is to be a process that enables individuals to recognize and meet their own needs, autonomy is a central necessity.
A drive toward educational autonomy is not, however, a simple matter. Our college lives are cut from a single piece of cloth, and the warp threads are all manifestations of the Big Daddy Complex. There is little basic difference between dorm mothers checking permissible hours, administrators checking permissible political activity, advisers checking permissible programs, and professors checking permissible readings and approaches: the motto is "for your own good," the effect is to inhibit autonomous adulthood. And so the subject of reform will be no single one of these examples, but the attitude itself: it must be, for the examples are tied inseparably to one another.
A consequence of the drive for autonomy will be a rethinking of the traditional teacher/student roles. (It is here, probably, that the stiffest resistance will be encountered from Those Who Have The Students' Best Interests At Heart.) The present role of teacher as leader generates passivity. This role will constantly be attacked, and attempts made to replace it with basic group-learning situations that involve minimal, nominal, or no leadership. The permissible kinds of interaction between student and teacher will have to be broadened, in the context of a growing understanding of the learning process which sees these two as being involved in more than their narrowly functional roles. In consequence, the line between teacher and student will blur, despite its present sanctity.
Emphasis will shift from the teaching process to the learning process; this will produce new applied models of human nature and learning and further alter the traditional roles. The notion that learning must be embedded in a coercive framework -- with threats of poor grades and no passport degree -- will be increasingly challenged. Learning energy must be generated by the importance of the work itself to the individual or group; and mechanisms will be sought to make this more possible. Again, if we conceive of "getting an education" as the acquiring of an attitude rather than an object, the role of the teacher as the transmitter of a fixed body of knowledge will undergo a radical change. The way to teach students to learn may be by example rather than bombardment: by learning in various ways and publicly; and lecturing, disguised or overt, may be replaced by the displaying of raw chunks of developing understanding, with all their sloppy edges dangling, and all the ego-danger this involves.
The shift to the notion of teacher as learner-and-sharer will have other consequences. The way in which the teacher now doubles as a cop will be attacked as untenable. The "each one teach one" philosophy behind community tutorial programs will be taken up in the academy; and attention will shift from the faculty to the student body itself as the main source of (newly conceived) teaching resources. There will be a drive to shift the learning experience along the dimension of what Roger Harrison, now with National Training Laboratories, calls encounter: the extent to which emotions, values and deeper aspects of the self are actively involved, touched and changed. This will perforce involve the "teacher" in a new fashion: he must join or be left behind, and either choice means that his relation to the student (and conversely) must be newly conceived.
Along this line, our sense of how intimately we impinge upon each other will begin to deformalize all small-group learning situations, and make their occasional resemblance to encounter groups both more noticeable and more deliberate. Indeed, the single most persistent phenomenon now found in experiments in higher education -- within or without university walls -- is their turning inward upon themselves to become conversations about the nature of the learning process and of group interaction. Surely this is a barometer to our sense of our needs.
There will be several kinds of change aimed directly at increasing engagement in the learning process. There will be pressure to structure theoretical learning -- especially in the social sciences and to some extent in the humanities -- around problems in which the individual (or group) is already involved. This will mean a renewed attack on the artificial barriers that disciplines and time-divisions of study present to learning. Engagement with real problems will necessitate decentralization of the learning setting, with a consequent further de-emphasis of the classroom. The curriculum will be forced to become directly relevant to the immediate social (or artistic) concerns of those who will be applying pressure. For example, cross-disciplinary courses in rapid transit problems or election campaigns will be requested, not as fringe enjoyments, but as central academic concerns. There will be an increasing realization that the individual in a standard classroom is neither fully himself nor a member of a real group; and thus there will be demand for an ambience that permits groups or individuals, whose educational interests are purely their own, to be accepted as having valid educational identities. In particular, there will be pressure to allow the ad hoc group to become the normal form in which non-solitary learning occurs.
It is clear that there will be demand not only for the abandonment of grades with their attendant coercive and standardizing influences, but also for a broader revision of the kinds of indices by which educational achievement is measured. Some way must be found to evaluate (or simply recognize?) the degree to which a student has undergone a personal process, rather than become a processed person.
There are other kinds of reform, more or less radical, that appear as plausible targets, given the present energies and interests of students. Perhaps the most important. and certainly the most discussed at present, is the radical re-distribution of power within the academic community. In many ways, freedom and power are inseparable. So student attempts to gain control of curriculum, degree requirements, the hiring, firing and tenure of faculty, and all the other broad aspects of their academic lives, are natural and essential consequences of the drive toward autonomy that characterizes the Movement. The possession of such power will deeply change the nature of student relationships with faculty, other students, and their own work.
I have tried to indicate broad kinds of reform that are both radical (have non-trivial consequences for the nature of the educational process) and currently plausible. My perspective has been specialized, although I think there are solid grounds for accepting this narrowness as realistic, and I am under no illusion of having sketched a complete catalogue, even in such general terms. There is a danger, however, in confusing those radical reforms that are attractive to the Movement as it now exists, and hence are possible, with those radical reforms that are needed. There are kinds of reforms that current interests and energies seem blind to. The need for a deep synthesis of the Two Cultures (to put a very complex matter briefly) grows daily; one can only conjecture how critical the need is, but surely the project will entail a complete revolution in the nature of our knowledge. Less broadly and more immediately, the current structuring of knowledge and research into disciplines appears more and more restrictive and untenable; yet our interest in the problem is piecemeal and peripheral.
In our time, knowledge -- or data, at least -- proliferates unbearably; we have no viable mechanisms for coping with its present qualities, Iet alone with those soon to come. And there is a clear need for a revision of the place higher education occupies in our life space, from a localized to a continuously distributed activity. Matters like these should also be our concern but seem not to be. lt is hard to tell if we will turn to them once significant progress is made in the areas of our immediate interests sketched above.