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Paul Goodman, 30 Years Later: Growing Up Absurd; Compulsory Mis-education, and The Community of Scholars; and The NewReformation—A Retrospective

Posted: 2008-08-26

Teachers College Record Volume 108 Number 7, 2006, p. 1339-1361

Some of us are still working to hold on to that "romantic humanism" to which Paul Goodman gave strong voice. Say his name, and there are a few elders who will start expounding. Is there anyone writing today who will produce that same nostalgic reverence among aging educators 50 years hence?

As the author rightly observes, Goodmanâs educational agenda was about personal liberty and authenticity, not social revolution or academic performance.

Note to teachers who say they have to do DIBELS because they're afraid for their jobs: Paul Goodman pointed out that if you have to choose between bread and liberty, it is better to choose liberty.


This article is a retrospective account of the legacy of Paul Goodman's major educational works: Growing Up Absurd; Compulsory Mis-education, and The Community of Scholars; and The New Reformation. It is argued here that what remains of interest in Goodman's work is to be found in the tropes and the anarchic Zeitgeist of his work. The legacy of Goodman's educational writing is its art and the nostalgic romantic humanism that holds together its various educational tropes. Goodman's contribution to educational thought was the awakening that he brought to some elements of America's mythologyâthat is, freedom, liberty, individuality, and human rights. Although many of the recommendations for education in his books seem more than somewhat out of touch with today's educational issues, Goodman's texts still assert a romantic anarchic humanism coloring an educational counterstory that is a refreshing alternative to the politically correct educational agendas of conservatives and liberals alike.


Paul Goodman is one of Americaâs significant bohemian intellectual vanguards whom its people never knew well, if at all. But he held a prominent and honored place among the Beats, Americaâs academic establishment and, later, the counterculture of the sixties. Four of his books critiqued American education: Growing Up Absurd; Compulsory Mis-education, and The Community of Scholars; and The New Reformation (1960; 1962a; 1962b; 1969) and brought Goodman to a place of significant intellectual and educational influence. Viewed in a charitable fashion, Goodman can be described as one of those fiftiesâ artists who helped Americans build cultural, social, and intellectual bridges beyond the innocent world of their post-Depression childhood to the adult life they would construct at the end of the century. In a less charitable fashion, he might be described as one of those self-indulgent fringe dwellers of Greenwich Village who might have been better off if he had drank less, smoked less, and spent fewer hours in the Cedar Street Tavern and the San Remo Cafe, favorite watering holes of the Beats in New Yorkâs Greenwich Village.

His poetry and fiction are and were mostly unknown to Americaâs public.1 Adam and His Works (Goodman, 1968a), a collection of his stories, was not given any critical notice. Goodmanâs The Empire City (1971), arguably one of the important novels of the period, quickly and quietly exited to the remainder tables of âartsyâ bookstores. The Empire City brought him some fleeting literary recognition when Vintage Books republished it. Toward the end of Goodmanâs life and after his death, Taylor Stoehr, his literary executor, largely engineered what remains of Goodmanâs academic reputation. Stoehr collected Goodmanâs poems, short stories, and various other works and saw to their publication. He also presented thoughtful introductions to Goodmanâs life and works in the prefaces of the various works that he edited on behalf of Goodmanâs literary estate.2

In the social sciences, Goodman achieved more than fleeting notoriety in the field of psychoanalysis and education.3 He was a friend of Frederick and Lore Perls, the founders of Gestalt therapy. He helped Frederick Perls with the seminal manuscript that would be published as Gestalt Therapy (Perls, Hefferline, & Goodman, 1951). The second part of Gestalt Therapy was written entirely by Goodman and brought him a certain enduring place in the history of psychotherapy and education. Goodman played a central role in extending American educationâs interest in discovering what insights psychoanalytic thought might bring to the study of adolescence. In the sixties, Goodman brought the insights of Gestalt psychoanalytic thought into educational theory, though he was hardly the first to bring the services of psychoanalytic thought to the task of understanding American adolescents.4 Be that as it may, Goodmanâs obvious concern for adolescence in Mu (1960) and his work as a Gestalt therapist brought him recognition on the campuses of American and European colleges and universities.

His various educational writings, poetry, and fiction are all but forgotten by the nationâs public (Weltman, 2000). The remaining regard for Goodmanâs work resides in what remains of the fifties and sixties bohemian avant-garde, and college professors and their students who have been moved by his various works (Dennison, 1973).5 When remembered at all, he is one of those individuals who prepared the way for the bopping and sock-hopping American youth of the fifties to be âhipâ to the politics of the Right and Left. He is seldom remembered as the anarchist intellectual who asked the periodâs decisive questions: âWhat world is this?â What am I to do?â and âWhich of my selves is to do it?â (Higgins, 1978 p. 101). Education to Goodmanâs mind was not necessarily about learning stuff, getting good test scores, or going to college; it was about learning how to be free and how to be me. Goodmanâs Growing Up Absurd (1960) said it all; growing up was absurd!

Tom Wolfe, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Todd Gitlin, Jimmy Hendrix, Arlo Guthrie, Angela Davis, and all the other rebels of the counterculture who annealed Beat into something far more interesting and historically remarkable were in debt to the Beats in general and often, in one way or another, to Goodman in particular. âThe beats were the main channel; hostile to the postwar bargain of workaday routine in exchange for material acquisition, they devoted themselves to principled poverty, indulged their taste for sexual libertinism, and looked eastward for enlightenmentâ (Gitlin, 1987 p. 28). They recast Beat as the counterculture and took it down the road that Goodman had helped point out. They loved him for his social, sexual, political, and intellectual bad manners (Gitlin). The multiple perspectives of Beat were as fractured as the politics of the counterculture it helped generate. The intellectual orientations of Beat were divided among three major groups: intense intellectuals who traced their intellectual loyalty to Europeâs Left intellectuals, the street players who were more comfortable with French existentialists, and Midwestern flower children who were hopeless patriots and more familiar with the gonzo journalism of Tom Wolf and Mad magazine than the heavy-duty philosophy of Camus, Sartre, and Marx (Kaminsky, 1993). But whatever their intellectual differences, they all learned directly from the Beats that smoking the Old Manâs cigars was great fun, and being free was perfect.


Goodman was a trained philosopher.6 However, Goodmanâs novels, plays, poetry, and Gestalt therapy were foregrounded and showcased within the context of the Beat lifestyle of jazz, drugs, sex, mystical experience, and dissent. His life and intellectual work cannot be understood without placing them within the context of the âzig in the nationâs intellectual Zeitgeistâ announced by the Beats. Without placing it within the context of the intellectual force of the bohemian intellectual vanguard, the Beats, Goodmanâs work is deprived of the powerful intellectual, social, and educational relevance that can be still mined from its aphorisms, poetics, and rhetoric. Furthermore, unlike many of his bohemian friends in the Village, he was comfortable and familiar with the work of Aristotle, Kant, and Marx. Moreover, Goodman was sensitive to the message of Europeâs postwar intellectual aesthetic: existentialism. Europeâs postwar French intellectuals, such as Andre Malraux and Jacques Baumel, and various former members of the editorial board of Gallimard Press (especially Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre), presented themselves to Americans in a hard-edged voice. It was a voice that most Americans found too shrill, strident, and European. Goodman was one of those Americans who set about the task of translating Europeâs existential voice for American audiences by living, writing, and performing its message (cf. Weltman, 2000). In a manner similar to Sartre, Herbert Marcuse, and Dwight Macdonald, Goodman âprovided agreeable but unsought applauseâ for Left-leaning individuals who were resident among the Beats and, later, the counterculture (Caute, 1998). However, Goodmanâs relation with the New Left was an unrequited romance. His Neolithic conservatism never allowed him to become a card-carrying member of the Left. But as a Beat poet, playwright, and essayist, he presented an intellectual collage to the Village intellectual elite and the American public alike who argued for the right of each personâs heart to select its own name and its own communityâoutside ordinary domestic and communal ordersâand his message found a warm and receptive audience.7

The Village, like Venice West (Los Angeles) and North Beach (San Francisco), was one of the important geographical centers of the Beat mood. The ideas, plays, poems, music, stories, and novels nursed to life by Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, Miles Davis, James Agee, Jack Kerouac, Jackson Pollock, and Paul Goodmanâall regulars in the Villageâs San Remo Cafe and Cedar Street Tavernâhelped bring Beat to the attention of Americans in general and to their educational establishment in particular. Goodmanâs contributions to The Black Mountain Review extended his reputation as a Beat poet among academics and public intellectuals.8 In the Northeast, those who read the New York Times Review of Books came to know him as a promising new author. The Living Theatre produced Goodmanâs play Faustina in 1954, thereby attesting to Goodmanâs avant-garde standing and his excellent, if not quite exalted, status among the Beats (McDarrah, McDarrah, & Gloria, 1996; Watson, 1955).9 Faustina presented the mood of a modern (postwar) underground world in which the familiar world broke down, the everyday became unbearable, and âreal lifeâ lost its meaning. In the Village, Goodman was an author, poet, and playwright of superior standing.

The Beats, each in his or her own art and each in his or her own time, made various contributions to moving the subterranean revolution confronting âDagwood and Blondie.â The Beats listened to Charlie Parker play jazz, sipped espresso coffee, smoked marijuana, drank heavily, and wore dissolute clothing: jeans and turtlenecks (Watson, 1955).

Some of the beat spoor rubbed off on other bohemians, even those like Paul Goodman who disdained the frantic and shapeless romanticism of the beats. Colonies of would-be artists hung out in the Village, listened to jazz, retreated to out-of-town enclaves like Woodstock and Sausalito. âUndergroundâ films (like Kenneth Angerâs homosexual-motorcycle pseudo epic, Scorpio Rising) drew long lines of students looking for images of exotic sex. Late-night free-form parties, spaghetti dinners and cheap Italian wine, talk of art and sex, the hovering possibility (and threat) of seduction . . . the whole scene lured teenagers yearning to flee their middle-class parents. (Gitlin, 1987, p. 53)

Goodman was one, if not the, new voice of educational insurgencyâreform was for the establishment. His major educational writings, Growing Up Absurd (1960), Compulsory Mis-education, and The Community of Scholars (1962b), and The New Reformation (1969) made him famous. The idea of an educational system based upon voluntary association and personal choice was a sexy alternative to the lock-step world of the public school. Compulsory Mis-education, and The Community of Scholars made him one of the countercultureâs most respected father figures. All these books returned, again and again, to one central concern: Goodmanâs belief that once the problem of personal freedom is taken care of (assured), then the issues of truth and wisdom will take care of themselves (1960). Goodmanâs educational agenda was about personal liberty and authenticity, not social revolution or academic performance.

Growing Up Absurd (Goodman, 1960), Compulsory Mis-education, and The Community of Scholars (1962b), and The New Reformation (Goodman, 1969) make it obvious that his primary educational concern was not about the inability of the Americans to keep up with the Russiansâ-"a secular and functional pedagogy"âas much as it was about his concern that pedagogy was "increasingly suffused with ritual and social control" (Goodman, 1969, p. 75). The meaning of Fascism was not lost on him. He argued that Americaâs militarism was inherently dangerous to the possibility of real pedagogy and authentic life. Goodman argued that the agendas of American education sounded too much like the requirements of Albert Speerâs Third Reich industrial machine (see Goodman, 1960, pp. 86-102; Speer, 1970).

Goodman was particularly concerned about the oppressive politics and conformist norms of the United Statesâ post-World War II military politics. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was all too real (Goodman, 1960). Democracy, Goodman knew, did not flourish in the shadow of the army or the secret police. However, this concern was not peculiarly Goodmanâs; it was, first and foremost, the property of Norman Mailer. Mailer presented the antihuman eroticism of Americaâs militarism (unlimited mortal combat) in The Naked and the Dead (1948). Mailer made the message explicit in the Presidential Papers (1963). He described Americaâs mythos this way:

Since the First World War Americans have been leading a double life, and our history has moved on two rivers, one visible, the other underground; there has been the history of politics which is concrete, factual, practical and unbelievably dull if not for the consequences of the actions of some of these men; and there is a subterranean river of untapped ferocious, lonely and romantic desires, that concentration of ecstasy and violence which is the dream life of the nation . . . .

The film studios threw up their searchlights as the frontier was finally sealed, and the romantic possibilities of the old conquest of land turned into a vertical myth, trapped within the skull, of a new kind of heroic life, each choosing his own archetype of neo-renaissance man, be it Barrymore, Cagney, Flynn, Bogart, Brando or Sinatra, but it was almost as if there were no peace unless one could fight well, kill well (if always with honor), love well and love many, be cool, be daring, be dashing, be wild, be wily, be resourceful, be a brave gun. (Mailer, 1963 pp. 38, 39)

Goodman and Mailer believed that liberating the individual from the erotic appeal of Cold War politics was the first step toward the construction of a redeemed personal (if not social) order. If America needed redemption, it needed redemption from its smug moral realism, social conformity, and military obedience. Both writers were horrified that the politics of World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War that quickly followed had almost silenced the voice of personal freedom and laughter. J. Edgar Hoover and McCarthy were not a laughing matter. Like Mailer, Goodman knew that the crime of seriousness was upon the land, and the nationâs schools were accomplices.

The Beats represented a significant portion of the American community that had not been silenced by Americaâs seriousness. They were about creating a new social order and populating it with new culture heroes. The Beats sought to replace John Wayne, Americaâs symbol of apple-pie radicalism and evangelical progressivism, with a new hero. John the brave and well-mannered pioneer/cowboy was just too much of a patriarch/authoritarian, renegade/vigilante, misogynist/chauvinist for the Beatsâ taste. The Beats, like Goodman, recognized that âJohn,â the post-World War II everyman, was an Anglo-Saxon White male agricultural/cowboy/industrial worker/hero/victim who was in the process of transforming himself into Archie Bunker, a bigoted, crude, paunchy, and violent individual who was intolerant of anything that was âUn-Americanâ (the social order of the thirties). Archie hated Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, homosexuals, and women who didnât know their place. Goodman and the Beats didnât have much time for Archie, although they were more than sympathetic to Edith, Archieâs wife. The Beats were busy attempting to substitute the androgynous antihero of Portnoyâs Complaint (Roth, 1969) for John Wayne and Archie Bunker.

Paul Goodman understood what the Beats were saying. That is, he understood that if you had to choose between bread and liberty, it is better to choose liberty. However, it was Kerouac and Ginsberg that presented that message to the American psyche and rightly received the credit. Jack Kerouacâs On the Road (1957) and Allen Ginsbergâs Howl (1956) captured the sentiment of Continental intellectuals and translated it into a critical cultural commentary that Americans were ready to hear. The Beats proclaimed that if the messages of nationalism, German positive philosophy, Roman law, and the Christian church had brought the nation World War IIâs human carnage, it was time for a different message. Goodman, following the Beat message, would use the sense of discourse âshownâ in On the Road and Howl to help construct his educational suggestions for educational theory and practice.

Beat for Americans was that new message; it was a message of unrepressed sexuality, recreational drugs, and alternative religious expressionâ that is, mysticism, and experimentation with unconventional Eastern âlife worlds.â The message was one of romantic humanism written large. It was the message that Goodman, the proselytizer of Beat, and many others would learn to live. Later, when attached to the political resentment that surrounded the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and womenâs liberation, it would become the âcounterculture.â The Beat generation was Americaâs template for bohemian nonconformity. The Beat had his or her childhood during World War II, endured puberty in the wake of the Holocaust and the Bomb, read Sartre, Camus, Henry Miller, and Mad magazine in his or her late teen years. And still later, perhaps in collegeâunder the tutelage of Alfred E. Neuman, the character/symbol of Mad magazineâthe Beats and those who aspired to the Beat message learned to ridicule everything sacred and profane (Gitlin, 1987; Watson, 1955). Everybody and everything had committed the crime of seriousness; the kids who read Mad knew the world was nuts, not serious.

If Goodman could not accept the self-satisfied lives of those who had defeated Fascism, neither could Americaâs bourgeois youth. The lives of Dagwood and Blondie, lives of which Americans in the Great Depression could only have dreamed, were not enough. The young prodigal generation sneered at every aspect of American cultural conformity; they sneered at Mom and Dad and the green grass of Levittown. From where they were at, Mom and Dad and suburbia represented a âbig, boorish, clumsy, tasteless countryâ (Maynard, 1991, p. 8). In the same manner as Beat intellectuals, Goodman required an America that was something other than a suburban nirvana. America was segregated, misogynist, homophobic, militaristic, and anti-Semitic. It was a world marked by double standards and moral duplicity. The bearded men and pallid women of Greenwich Village, Venice West, and North Beach embraced a âlife worldâ that included everything their parentsâ world excludedâBlacks, Native Americans, homosexuals, liberated women, jazz with its implicit eroticism, and an uninhibited sexuality. It was an âamoralityâ that contested Americaâs double standards and social duplicity (Goodman, 1960; Maynard; Watson, 1955). The Beats discovered that their parents had feet of clay.

Prime-time American television of the sixties attempted to domesticate Beat and the âmutiny of the young.â Maynard G. Krebs, played by Bob Denver in the sitcom Dobie Gillis, represented the tame beatnik: âa sly, knowing, physically unimpressive young man, usually bearded who dressed shabbily, who wore his sunglasses indoors, went around in sandals all year long, and never seemed to do much of anythingâ (Maynard, 1991, p. 3). Of course, Krebs was always pursued by the Beat chick, who was White, slim, and considerably sexier than Gidget. It was a version of the movement that allowed mainstream America to dismiss Beat.

Be that as it may, Beat was not to be dismissed. Beats more in touch with Camusâs Rebel (1956) would tutor a collection of Alfred E. Neumanâs disciples who would become âhippies,â psychedelic songsters, Black activists, feminists, and antiwar protesters. This rebellious version of Beat evolved until it transformed itself into the kind of counterpublic sphere depicted in Easy Rider. It was a world filling itself with antiheroes, dropouts, protestors, and delinquents. The result was a confrontation between the self-satisfied world and inflexible moralizing of Archie Bunkerâs AmericaâWhatâs Right is right, and whatâs Left is wrong!âset against Kerouacâs renegade, outrageous, and accusatory relativistic moral standards and the dubious social intent of the characters in On the Road (1957). Beats lived by a distinct commitment to having a good time, sincerely expressed in the Enlightenment rhetoric of liberty, equality, and fraternity. To their minds, âother Americansâ were persecutors (racists, chauvinists, and sexists), toadies (organization men of the military-industrial complex), and neocolonialists (financial minions of the United Nations and World Bank).

Goodman and the Beats remained in an intellectual vanguard, faithful to âthe peopleââhyphenated-Americans, feminists, jazz musicians, dropouts, civil rights workers, artists, and themselves. Other Americans reaped the luxurious lifestyle of post-World War II economic boom; Beats were victims of the Cold War, McCarthyism, and the Korean War, or so they claimed. Beats foreshadowed âthe counterculture.â They stood for âthe people,â the Old Leftâs Popular Front. Beats were the faithful at civil rights rallies, small meetings of feminists, and civil rights workshops for the poor and dispossessed in the North and South. They embraced a stance somewhere between La Folletteâs farmer-labor politics and Keynesian celebrations of American capitalism. The Beats, like the children of the counterculture that followed them, were never at ease with the airtight logic of the New Left. Their brand of happy illogic just didnât fit with the Leftâs one true way (Maynard, 1991, p. 8).10 They didnât have much time for the self-satisfied Right either. The players in San Franciscoâs street theater were hip to the politics of the Right and Left alike. Their (the Beatsâ) revolution was personal, not political (Watson, 1955).


Goodman was one of the mediums and soothsayers who populated the sixties. His work foreshadowed in the way that soothsayers foretell events an American counterstory in which both the Left and the Right are accused of forgetting the equivalences of Enlightenment thought that allowed the individual to become the foreground, the subject, of all Western cultures (Goodman, 1969). He demanded that the individual was not to be the subject of history or an appurtenance of the market. According to his counterstory, education is not successive stages in some inevitable evolutionary movement from simple to complex cultural economics. Neither is the individual a vehicle for the delivery of competitive market behavior or for making the trains run on time; rather, âthe individualâ is an aesthetic form of personal and social creation painted against the reality of something that one cannot get back once it is gone (Goodman, 1960, 1969).

The personal and social worlds that Goodman presents in Growing Up Absurd (1960), Compulsory Mis-education, and The Community of Scholars (1962b), and The New Reformation (1969) present a description of an anarchist paradiseâan urban arena of personal freedom, voluntary association, meaningful work, gender-bending âfe/manlyâ identities, public intellectuals-cum-private artists, and subsistence industrial capitalism. His work is an intellectual collage of tropes.11 Goodmanâs tropes, once presented, collapse into various intellectual heterotopiasâan O-zone.12 The parts of each personâs heterotopia are personal, not social or political, adventures.13 The conclusion seems obvious when one remembers that Goodman was a quixotic anarchist. Goodmanâs O-zone (his life as freedom and adventure) is an aphoristic itinerary that parallels the concerns of his life and time. It is presented in the âspaceâ of some future megalopolis, âparadisio,â in which the stilted world of Grant Woodâs American Gothic could live side by side with Jackson Pollockâs Blue Poles.14 Goodmanâs various narratives do no more and no less than wish each person an educational situation âinâ or âoutâ of school, taught by various individuals who may or may not be teachers in some professional sense, with formal or informal curricula that present each person with a narrative journey that leads to a paradisio (good city) of a lifeâs various freedoms and adventures.

The Beats captured the word free, and free captured the language of education with Goodmanâs help and the help of others in and out of the Village. The word free was among the prizes that the Beat movement claimed from contending partisan agendas of the Right and Left. Freedom was a prize claimed in Beatâs educational discourse. Freedom became the mantra of Beat and, later, the countercultureâs educational discourse. In educational discourse, the Beats translated free into a call for the exploration of all of the possibilities that âhaving a lifeâ implies. The anarchist story that a charitable reader can glean from Goodmanâs narratives in Growing Up Absurd, Compulsory Mis-education and the Community of Scholars, and The New Reformation confronts ideas and social practices that he found to be particularly dangerous to each personâs liberty, if not to each personâs sheer possibility.

The definition of a âreal educationâ to Goodmanâs mind is something like the ability to respond to the questions, âWhich world is this?â What is to be done?â and âWhich of my selves is to do it?â (Higgins, 1978, p. 101). These questions call to mind some of lifeâs serious concerns; their standing as significant concerns suggest the questions that call them to mind as metaphorical definitions of an education. Growing Up Absurd, Compulsory Mis-education, and The Community of Scholars, and The New Reformation offer descriptions of heterotopous educational paradisios. They are paradisios within which education dissolves the matrix that surrounds and holds the private sphere of life in thrall to public need. Or perhaps it is more correct to say that they reserve a portion of the private sphere to a place where the public and its politics have no claim. It is a life place outside the irrational and confrontational politics of the Left and Right, a politics that has defined the history of the West since the turn of the last century (Kundera, 1984). Goodman reminded us that an education is about the possibilities of each personâs life, not about the dreams of this or that enthusiast. A real education, then, is a cultural practice about how to be and thrive in a world that was, and perhaps remains, all too ready to erase the individual as the point of social practice for the benefit of the bottom line.

Goodman announced a âzig in the nationâs intellectual Zeitgeistâ to the nationâs educators in the same manner that he had to the American public. He encouraged educators to consider the social and cultural politics of a âcounter-public sphereâ as an important axis for educational thought. Education was not about spending or studying the Russians into the ground; the social and educational compact that Goodman championed had to do with the Ninth Amendment,15 the amendment to the Constitution of the United States that reserved to the people all powers not explicitly given to state and federal governments (Goodman, 1969). To Goodmanâs mind, the Ninth Amendment is a social compact that primarily honors the private sphere of each personâs life against the intrusive demands of the public sphere of local, state, and federal politicsâthat is, the realities of House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), McCarthyism, Herbert Hooverâs conversion of the FBI into a private secret police force, and the Cold War, with its nuclear fallout shelters. Furthermore, Goodman believed that compulsory education and things as mundane as teacher certification didnât sit well within the guarantees of personal liberty written into the Constitution by the Ninth Amendment.

The curricula foreshadowed by the Ninth Amendment, Goodmanâs curricula, are more about how to become your own âperson-in-the-worldâ than they are about civil obedience and defining your identity as a social function (Goodman, 1960, 1969). Educational success for Goodman had to do with the schoolâs participation in the creation of personal liberty, equality, and fraternity in an American community that seemed to have lost sight of those goals. A real education was about self-esteem and social hope (Goodman, 1960). That is, Goodmanâs sloppy cultural individualism ran to anarchism and elitism. The best that can be said about the politics of his work is that in the public and private sphere, he addressed issues that included race, sexuality, gender, war, and economic oppression as part of a fresh educational statement, synthesized and consolidated in The New Reformation (1969)âissues that did not exist among members of the educational establishment in the fifties and sixties (Maynard, 1991). Goodman wrote that the real educational question of the day was âhow to have a free society in mass conditions; how to make the high industrial system good for something, rather than a machine running for its own sakeâ (1962b, p. 41). And, of course, the âgood for somethingâ with which Goodman was concerned had to do with how the educational system might be good for each personâs attempt at achieving his or her personal authenticity.


Goodman admired Deweyâs philosophy of education (Goodman, 1960). Both were patriots and moderns, and both saw the school as the key to a redeemed personal and social order. To Goodmanâs mind, âunrestricted discourseâ is what distinguished the âDewey Schoolâ and the schools highlighted in the Schools of To-morrow (Dewey & Dewey, 1915) from their academic competitors (Goodman, 1962b). Goodman argued for an unrestricted educational discourse in which all speakers and all listeners had a place in all curriculaâa discourse evident in Kerouacâs book On the Road (1957) and a discourse metaphorically shown in Ginsbergâs "Howl" (1956)âto protect the âwild shepherdsâ from the mundane conversations of dreary peers and pretentious adults. What was important in these schools was not their vocational curricula, child-centered motivation, and movable desks; it was their organization, an organization that allowed for a free and easy discourse, a discourse that provided a natural, unrehearsed intellectual adventure within which the possibility of finding the âundiscovered countryâ of each personâs life might occur.

In plain language, Paul Goodman reminded us in Growing Up Absurd that the measure of truly excellent schools and their curricula is their ability to provide students an encounter with the disorderly business of adolescent lives.16 Here, the elements of the unrestricted discourse functioned like Foucaultâs heteroclitic discourse; it is a discourse within which âfragments of a large number of possible orders glitter separately in the dimension, without law or geometryâ (Foucault, 1970, p. xvii). It is a discourse that breaks the order of things and makes available uncensored and âdisorderlyâ possibilities for the ordered business of their lives as the starting point for their education.

In true anarchist fashion, Goodman believed that liberating Americaâs youth from the grasp of the âSystemâ was the first step toward the construction of a heterotopous anarchist order (Goodman, 1969). In his anarchist order, it was the communityâs members, not the state, who could provide instruction for liberation (Goodman, 1962b). The stateâs conflict of interest was obvious to Goodman. The state needed functionaries; the state needed to produce the âorganization man.â On the other hand, Goodman argued that irrespective of the stateâs needs, humanity needed the anti-heroâthe delinquent, if you will. [emphasis added]

Goodmanâs educational discourse was part of a public altercation over how educational discourse should be divided up, enumerated, counted, and valued. His educational heterotopia does away with the expected foreground of educational discourse. It encouraged educators to consider what elements of educational philosophy, theory, and practice might be useful for achieving the promise of each personâs immediate and future authenticity, and what might be sent to the scrap heap of history for the purpose of dissolving the exclusions, oppressions, and subordinations embedded in compulsory education. It was a stance that was at odds with the revolutionary posturing of the New Left and had no time for the pompous and reactionary swagger of the resurgent Right. Goodmanâs revolution was personal, not political. Moreover, Goodman would not have agreed with neopragmatic liberals such as Richard Rorty (1998), who wrote, âProducing generations of nice, tolerant, well-off, secure, other-respecting students of this sort in all parts of the world is just what is neededâindeed, all that is neededâto achieve an Enlightenment utopiaâ (p. 179).


Referring to Goodmanâs educational writings, Herbert Kohl (1975) wrote, âHis writing is tightly reasoned, intenseâthe most intellectual writing of all the booksâ (p. 159). And recently, Weltman (2000) argued,

Goodman left an intellectual legacy that deals with many of the social and educational debates of todayâuniversal rights versus local controls, governmental power versus individual freedom, collective enterprise versus market place choice, direct democracy versus expert leadership, high standards versus inclusiveness, practical education versus academic learning, child-centered methods versus teacher centered pedagogy, multiculturalism versus traditional core curricula, public schools versus private choice. (p. 196)17

From the perspective of this article, one can only assume that Kohl and Weltman have confused the genius of Goodmanâs Zeitgeist and subsequent tropes for his incomplete and poorly focused educational narratives. Moreover, Kohl (1975) argued that Goodmanâs books âshow how the schools crush individuality, stifle creativity, and cripple the mind and the emotions.â There seems an unfortunate conflation of âshowsâ and âprovesâ in Kohlâs argument. Goodmanâs books certainly do raise some interesting philosophical and political points, points that should not be dismissed as trivial; but it is important to point out that none of Goodmanâs books cites so much as a single study that would âshow how the schools crush individuality, stifle creativity, and cripple the mind and the emotions.â Goodmanâs narratives do not speak to the questions of everyday practice voiced by administrators and teachers.18 A careful reading of Goodmanâs work demonstrates that his writing is anything but tightly reasoned. Furthermore, it is difficult to believe that Goodman left a significant contemporary legacy in any of the topics Weltman identifies. For example, it is unlikely that Goodmanâs prose would appeal to or inspire the rap-hip-hop-punk youth of today in the way that it inspired the campus flower children who flocked to read his books in the sixties. It is also hard to imagine a powerful intellectual legacy drawn from Goodmanâs work when talking about modernity, education, human rights, sexuality, local control, governmental power, or direct democracy. It would be impossible to make a creditable argument that Paul Goodmanâs work would hold the same place in todayâs academic literature as the work of Herbert Marcuse (e.g., 1966), a contemporary of Goodmanâs who has written about individual freedom, human rights, and modernity; Michel Foucault (e.g., 1978) and Vaclav Havel (Havel & Vladislav, 1989), fellow members of the Westâs literary establishment who have written about freedom, sexuality, revolution, and varieties of other topics; or John Rawls (e.g., 1993), a fellow philosopher who has written and thought carefully about democracy. Moreover, when considering multicultural education, it is hard to imagine Paul Goodmanâs contributions to multicultural education being of more interest or power than those of, say, Charles Taylor (e.g., 1994) or Cornel West (e.g., 1999). The best that can be said about Goodmanâs educational recommendation is that he addressed issues that included race, sexuality, gender, war, and economic oppression as part of a fresh education statement. Goodman presented a discourse that did not exist among members of the educational establishment in the fifties and sixties (Maynard, 1991).

Kirkpatrick Sale (1995), moving to the other extreme, described Paul Goodmanâs life and literary work in a manner that parallels some of the comments of Taylor Stoehr, Goodmanâs literary executor, and George Dennison, an intellectual fellow traveler. Sale described Goodmanâs life and literary work this way:

Paul Goodman was pretty much of a mess. There was nothing neat about him, not his person, his ideas, his prose, his theories, his career. Reading him today, you canât help but be struck by how haphazard his essays were, as if he were taking âessayâ literally and trying out various ideas that came to him as he contemplated one topic or another without subjecting them to rigorous form or sequence . . . . But in retrospect . . . the impact of this protean figure seems to be messy, unfocused, unframed, unfinished, but thereâs no denying the genius, (p. 496)

If the legacy of Goodmanâs educational thought were restricted to his discursive recommendations for practice, it would be a meager meal indeed. In his own words, Goodman foreshadowed Saleâs (1995) retrospective assessment of his work on educational practice. In the closing words of the first book of the combined volume, Compulsory Miseducation, and The Community of Scholars (1962b), Goodman wrote this:

To be candid I do not think that we will change along these lines. Who is for it? The suburbs must think I am joking. I understand so little of status and salary. Negroes will say I am down-grading them. The big labor unions donât want kids doing jobs. And the new major class of school-monks has entirely different ideas of social engineering, (p. 154)

However, there are elements of his work that are of value to educational thought.


Although the legacy of Goodmanâs work on educational practice is relatively modest, the romantic humanist aura and the genius of the intellectual tropes that litter his writing can still enrich educational thought. Goodmanâs educational thought can be divided into two parts: Goodmanâs Zeitgeist and the genius of his various tropes. Saleâs analysis hints at the suggestion that the legacy of Goodmanâs work is to be found not in his naive and poorly focused suggestions for educational practice, but in the genius of the manner in which he speaks to educational issues and the freshness of the literary tropes that he employs.

Avoiding the crime of redescription is at the center of Goodmanâs educational Zeitgeist. Goodmanâs major educational works remind us that what is at risk in the contemporary order of things is the possibility that the emancipatory politics of modernity, a politics that has made an authentic identity for the men and women of the West a real possibility, will be erased in the name of a defense against old disquiets, present dangers, and enemies: old, new, and unnamed (cf. Rorty, 1998).19

Goodmanâs Zeitgeist suggests a âlife-world politicsâ that accepts people on their own terms. It does not require them to abandon their authenticity and redescribe themselves to achieve the accolade of âeducated.â As Rorty (1989) noted in another context, requiring people to redescribe themselves (abandon their authenticity) is not a small thing.

Most people do not want to be redescribed. They want to be taken on their own termsâtaken seriously just as they are and just as they talk. The ironist tells them that the language they speak is up for grabs by her and her kind. There is something potentially very cruel about that claim. For the best way to cause people long-lasting pain is to humiliate them by making the things that seemed most important to them look futile, obsolete, and powerless. Consider what happens when a childâs precious possessionsâthe little things around which he weaves fantasies that make him a little different from all other childrenâare redescribed as âtrash,â and thrown away. (p. 89)

The life-world politics that Goodman suggests stands beyond the questions of emancipatory educational practice. His life-world politics is a politics of authentic self-identity.

Goodmanâs romanticism rues the impoverishment of political imagination, a reduced imagination that cannot appreciate that everything is not political. The romanticism of Goodmanâs books reflects the nostalgia of a post-World War II culture brooding over Beach Boys songs, malts, and Ford Mustangs, a time of relative political innocence. It is the nostalgia of a mother or father revisiting a third-grade classroom or kindergarten room that marked their childâs early days. Or, it is the personal melancholy of the various botched attempts at sexual maturity that haunted each of us through the middle grades of our education. In Goodmanâs books, schools, teachers, textbooks, lessons, grades, and extracurricular activities, towns, cities, and all their inhabitants great and small are part of a quixotic present. His books present a foreground that allows us to determine what type of sadness and ecstasy are in fashion; what counts as heroic and what counts as cowardly; what is beautiful and what is not at the moment; what is warranted and what is notâfor now and evermoreâat this point in time and history. Goodmanâs romanticism and melancholy poignantly remind us that an education is about achieving a life. The romanticism that Goodman presents suggests that we move beyond the powerful political sentiments that separate liberals and conservatives such that we might investigate how and why we have ended up being the sort of people we are. Further, he poignantly asks, How can we maintain the integrity of a free society when its highest valuesâthose of authenticity and autonomyâare based upon conformity and submission to political authority (Goodman, 1969)?

If the Enlightenment of which Goodman was so enamored is defined as the cultural movement from force to persuasion, from vassalage to liberty, from segregation to fraternity, and from abject ignorance to something resembling knowledge, it is educationâs purpose to assure that the Enlightenmentâs promise will not crumble and will not be forgotten. Educationâs role must be understood in terms of creating social conditions in which authentic individuals can thrive and remain as the subject, not the object, of Western culture. The romantic humanism and nostalgia of Goodmanâs various works bring to the foreground and remoralize questions of how we should live our lives. In one way or another, Goodman calls attention to educational questions of a moral and existential type within a life-world politics.


The second legacy in Goodmanâs work is to be found in the tropes (seductions) of Growing Up Absurd (1960), Compulsory Mis-education, and The Community of Scholars (1962b), and The New Reformation (1969). Goodmanâs books are collections of seductions that encourage educators to reconsider the myths and utopias of educationâs epic chronicles.20 If one âmis-readsâ Goodmanâs educational works in a fashion that pays attention to the tropes they contain, their vitality remains. Their vitality remains partially because tropes were not constrained by the politics of conservatives or liberals. Goodmanâs work brings back moral and existential educational questions into sharp focus irrespective of how poorly or well they fit within the political visions of conservatives and liberals. Goodmanâs tropes call our attention to problems in educationâs âundiscovered country,â its contribution to the creation of a redeemed (authentic) personal order. Goodmanâs books encourage individuals and their educators to be heroes of their own lives. The nostalgia and clairvoyance of Goodmanâs tropes challenge educators to consider educational theory and practice outside the box, against the reality of a time when the world was young and life was remarkably guiltless.

For example, Goodmanâs trope of the âwild shepherdâ condemns envisioning youth as a dependable and obedient commodityâthis is, reason devoid of passion, courage without a sense of adventure, freedom shackled to convention, and virtue devoid of a robust enthusiasm for having a good time. Goodmanâs work reintroduced some elements of the anarchistic wish for freedom, brotherhood, and adventure into a world that had discovered atomic physics and had forgotten a satyrâs sense of life in the suicidal and puritanical politics of the Cold War. In Goodmanâs (1969) words, âYet it is likely that by far the greatest waste of ability, including intellectual and creative ability, occurs because a playful, hunting, sexy, dreamy, combative, passionate, artistic, manipulative and destructive, jealous and magnanimous, and selfish and disinterested animal is continually thwarted by social organization, and perhaps especially by the schoolâ (pp. 76-77). Authentic education, to Goodmanâs mind, provided an individual with the talent to say his or her own name, not the name of the age or the politically correct mantra of the Left or Right. A real education, Goodman argued, provides each person with the intelligence and courage to âtell it like it isâ or âmight beâ for them; as he noted, âSince the world has become increasingly scholastic, we must protect the wild shepherdsâ (p. 77). It was, again, a way of arguing that in a truly excellent educational system, the most important thing is protecting youth from the common, mundane, ordinary, prosaic, and middle-of-the road limits.

The trope of âeither/orâ is part of Goodmanâs (1960) fractured commitment to faithâthat is, Protestantism, Zen Buddhism, Tao, and Zionism. Here, in a manner similar to Reinhold Niebuhr, Goodman attempts to remind us that all our projectsâthe construction of our lives, the education of our children, and the occupations that take up our lives, among othersâ have a profoundly spiritual element. Commenting on the role of spirituality in life, Niebuhr (1932) wrote,

There must always be a religious element in the hope of a just society. Without the ultra rational hopes and passions of religion no society will ever have the courage to conquer despair and attempt the impossible; for the vision of a just society is an impossible one, which can be approximated only by those who do not regard it as impossible. (p. 81)

Goodmanâs trope of either/or reminds us that a spiritual education is about who we would be if only we would and could be something more than we are. It implies a certain, or not so certain, faith. If one took this trope seriously, the problem for educational theorists and practitioners might be to reconsider the adequacy of educational practice and theory when it has been entirely stripped of spirituality. Can an education be adequate when it does not address the issue of faithânot the bigoted, oppressive, and subordinating spirituality, but the spirituality that confronts the absurdity of a mortal world in which all are condemned to die, irrespective of status or wealth (Goodman, 1969)?

And, of course, some of Goodmanâs tropes call attention to issues that many families are forced to deal with, irrespective of their political persuasion. That is, Goodmanâs (1960) âsocial animal,â his Billy the Kid version of the noble delinquent. His test of any educational system was its ability to service educationâs social and intellectual irregularsâthat is, the delinquents, âthe powerless struggling for life within, not resigned from, an unacceptable worldâ (p. 161). âMarlon Brando spoke for them in the classic film "The Wild One." To the reasonable question of every parent of the 1950s, What are you rebelling against? Brandoâs answer summed it all up: âWhadda ya got?â (Kaminsky, 1993, p. 91). This reconstruction of Goodmanâs Brandoesque version of societyâs communal and intellectual irregulars might be used to seriously investigate whether public education offers âthe right stuff.â The âmutiny of the youngâ was for Goodman a matter of constructing an educational system capable of helping Americaâs youth rebel against their own biography and history for the sake of accomplishing the lives that they would have for themselves, not the lives into which they were born.

The list of tropes in Goodmanâs work is long. The preceding examples should help individuals interested in Goodmanâs work to look past the relatively haphazard educational essays that make up Growing Up Absurd, Compulsory Mis-education, and The Community of Scholars, and The vitality that remains in his work is to be found in the shards of geniusâthe various tropesâthat highlight his romantic humanism, and therein his educational thought.


The legacy of Goodmanâs work is his art and the nostalgic romantic humanism that holds together his various educational tropes. Goodmanâs contribution to educational thought was the awakening he brought to some elements of Americaâs mythologyâthat is, freedom, liberty, individuality, and human rights. He reminded us that an education was about the possibility of having a lifeâyour own life. His thought held âan educationâ accountable to the bittersweet memories of all the possibilities of that special sometime, something, and somewhere; the special something you cannot get back when it is goneâa life, a world, a childhood. Goodmanâs books remind us of, and bring back into prominence, a life-world politics within educational theory and practice that has been quietly diminished in the revolutionary posturing and self-loathing of the sixties (Caute, 1998; Gitlin, 1987) and in the contemporary revolt of Americaâs conservative elite (Lash, 1995; Rorty, 1998). In a manner that reminds one of Jonathan Kozolâs various books, Goodmanâs educational works, viewed as a collection, suggest an existential hermeneutics that refuses to evaluate what counts as an education in terms of its contribution to law and order (obedience) or its contribution to the Gross National Product (national wealth). Goodman decried any natural or social order that inhibited the desires of the heart in the name of obedience. His educational writings and the tropes that are part of them direct each heart to select or create its own educational order and take responsibility for its creation. His life, like his poetry, asserted that having oneâs own name, and therein, oneâs own life, is at least as important as being an expert (Goodman, 1960).

Growing Old

My anarchy as I grow old

is, Let me alone with my habits

I learned when I was poor

ânor did they ever work.

I like to have a flag,

I too, and hold it up.

I really donât expect

anybody to salute.

(Goodman, 1973, p. 3)


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 108 Number 7, 2006, p. 1339-1361

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