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Compulsory Mis-Education, and the Community of Scholars by Paul Goodman

By Paul Goodman

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Their weakness can be observed vividly on college campuses. Students gripe about the moral rules by which they are still absurdly harassed at eighteen and nineteen years of age. It's ironical; had they quit school and were assembly-line workers, they would be considered responsible enough to come and go, have sex and drink. Yet it comes to nothing but griping; they do not feel justified to enforce their demands, for they have never had this issue, or any issue, out with their parents. Similarly, they are unhappy about the overcrowded classes, the credits, the grading; they know they are disappointed in the education they are getting; yet they are so confused about what really they do want that they are speechless.

There is a pathos in our technological advancement, well exemplified by programmed instruction. A large part of it consists in erroneously reducing the concept of animals and human beings in order to make them machine-operable. The social background in which this occurs, meanwhile, makes many people outcast and in fact tends to reduce them as persons and make them irresponsible. g. in teaching science; but it dues prove to have a use for the reduced outcasts, in teaching remedial arithmetic. 7 TEACHING SCIENCE A century ago, Matthew Arnold and Thomas Huxley debated whether science, rapidly growing in importance, should become preponderant over the humanities in the popular curriculum.

Now, however, observation and experiment occur in a vast framework of systematic explanation, and (I would guess) it must be hard to convey the excitement of discovering the truth without what almost amounts to a specialist training. To get to this excitement of actual exploration requires spelling out the fundamental concepts very far; yet without this excitement, the unique contribution of science to the humanities is lost. Thus, it might still be best, in order to convey to the majority the wonders of exploring and explaining nature, to have recourse to the history of classical experiments, as at St John's of Annapolis -- on the theory that these demonstrate the scientific spirit of man in action; or to stick to the spectacular popular demonstrations that Helmholtz or Huxley used to go in for; or perhaps just to explore the solar system with a six-inch telescope, plate spoons with silver, cut up dead cats, plant hybrid squash, or time the traffic lights and count the can, in order to show children and adolescents that there is an observable world that can be made intelligible by explanations (what Plato in the Timaeus calls 'likely stories').

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