Page images
PDF
EPUB

nucleus among the moving spirits of the New School in its beginningshad each a definite conception of social reform. Their idea was to make a contribution through research directed toward reconstruction. By getting people together, studying their minds and trying them out in one way and another, at least the experiment would have made a beginning. Beard, Graham Wallis and Robinson-whose book "Mind in the Making" was composed of his lectures given at the New School-were the lecturers the first year, besides which three fellows were engaged exclusively in research.

But the pattern, although set so carefully, did not fulfil the beautiful beginnings of its design. In a year or two the general interest in economic reconstruction died out. Funds fell away, crippling the research function of the New School. The teaching program on the other hand could continue. Only it became obvious to Dr. Alvin Johnson, the present director, and others interested in the experiment, that the students did not want exclusively to take courses in political science and economics. What they particularly desired was psychology. For more than a decade through the thought of America a stream of psychological thinking had been flowing, much of it, to be sure, poor and amateurish. Yet just as wild animals come hundreds of miles for a taste of salt, so the individual turns instinctively to the study of psychology. The animal does not know, when he seeks the salt stone, that iodine is good for his thyroid gland. Similarly, without always being aware of the reason,

modern people have a leaning toward the study of psychology. They only know that possibly it can tell them what is the matter with their thinking, why life has ceased to be the high adventure it once was, why such a gap yawns between them and the younger generation, why Richard, a doctor's son, would rather be an elevator boy than follow his father's profession.

Sensing the growing trend of thought, seeing people eager to come to the New School and hearing their demand for a study of psychology in addition to other things, Dr. Johnson and his associates reasoned thus: Here is a body of adult people dissatisfied with their lives. It is not enough to find out what is the matter with their spiritual and mental diet. -All the herds between two mountain systems are suffering from a lack of iodine.-It remains for us to supply them with a new diet. Thus almost overnight the New School became an adult educational institution committed to discover the needs of a rather silent body of people, a body in which the college graduate is the most dominant element though not perhaps the most numerous one. In shaping the curriculum, for the convenience of workers, classes come in the late afternoon and evening; 5:20 to 6:50 and 8:20 to 9:50-it was decided that every course given, be it in anthropology, philosophy, psychology, history, literature, mathematics or the arts, must have a content worth while for the person at the college graduate stage of culture. People without college degrees were welcome to enter the New School. If they could keep up, well and good. As a matter of fact, there was found

to be extraordinarily little difference "I hear it was charged against me

between persons who have enlightenment through university training and those who have gained it by means of experience, association and thinking. A noteworthy example of this was the case of an elderly Russian Jew who, on coming to this country, had employed all his time in making enough money to support his family and send his sons to college. When they became mature he found himself in the unenviable position of being no longer the head of his family. Their sense of intellectual superiority had shouldered him out of his place. In his unhappiness he enrolled as a student at the New School. Here for several years he devoted himself to the study of history, philosophy and the arts. In the end he found himself reinstated as the patriarch of his tribe.

But for the most part the New School has sought to supply, as far as its means permit, facilities for studying the subjects most vital to persons already possessing a liberal education. It does not strive to bring its students to a specific academic standard; but it takes its steps squarely on the basis that intellectual exercise is a permanent need, that for mental health systematic study is just as necessary as is physical exercise for the health of the body. And it has the conviction that unless there is a continuity of mental stimulation in the lives of middle-aged people engaged in practical affairs, no intellectual sympathy can exist between them and the younger generation passing through the colleges and the universities.

Walt Whitman has caught that ideal companionship in his lines:

that I sought to destroy in

stitutions,

But really I am neither for nor against institutions,

(What indeed have I in common with them? or what with the destruction of them?)

Only I will establish in the Manhatta and in every city of these States inland and seaboard,

and in the fields and woods, and above every keel little or large that dents the water, Without edifices or rules or trustees or any argument,

The institution of the dear love of comrades."

22

The sublimated color which comes from exchange of ideas and a quiet stirring mental life are the characteristics which strike you when you first visit the New School. Half unconsciously you are aware of the simplicity of the place. The building consists of offices, rooms in which to seat classes, a library, a book-shop, an auditorium, a lounge, a diningroom, and you soon learn that the administrative staff is as small as is compatible with effective work. But the unpretentiousness of furnishing has no effect of meagerness because of the abounding intellectual activity and the spontaneity with which each interest is invested. Everywhere you feel the zest in the adventure. In the compact book-shop where the tall young woman in charge tells you of the amazement of publishers that more books on serious subjects are best sellers here than in any but two other shops in New York; and then breaks off to say, "But it's because the students of the New School have

gone thoroughly into the study of psychology, philosophy, sociology and literature. The work they do sharpens their critical faculty. Second-rate things don't go with them." You get it at the piled up desk of the statistician who tells you that the number of students registered for courses in the New School since it was founded in 1919 increased from eight hundred and seventy-seven for the first full year 1919-20 to one thousand four hundred and sixty-five for the year 1925-26. “It is a matter of continual surprise to the outsider," she will tell you, "that they come with such unflagging enthusiasm and in increasing numbers, when no credit is given," that the enrollment in individual classes runs from twenty-five to one hundred and twenty-five, depending upon the popularity of the subject and the ability of the instructor, that an analysis of the thousand students enrolled for the fall term of 1924-25 showed that two thirds were women, more than two thirds were American born and a third had been enrolled in the New School before.

"But what stimulates one's imagination in this work is the stories behind these bare figures," she says. "The case, for instance, of a rather hidebound doctor from a small Jersey town who drifted in here, asked questions, became interested in international politics, gained such a fresh intellectual interest that he has become much more of an individual and a far better doctor. Or of the mother who, on presenting herself for registration, said she had grown to feel like a sleek domesticated cat and wanted to join the New School for mental stimulation. Or the group of

physicians and nurses who once a week leave King's State Hospital at four in the afternoon to take Dr. Ferenczi's course in psychology in the evening, not getting home till two o'clock the next morning. There are dozens of such cases."

You find the same enthusiasm for the accomplishment and spirit of the New School in the expert librarian who has charge of the Carleton Parker Memorial Library and the books which are added each year at the suggestion of instructors, forming the foundation of an important research collection. And the spirit itself of unspoiled, critical, intellectual interest is a dominating quality of the Friday afternoon forums whether the speaker be Claude Bragdon on "Four Dimensional Vistas" or Eduard C. Lindeman on "The New Germany." It is one and the same thing. Always the eager faces, always the challenging questions, the lively discussions.

The instructors who nearly always conduct their classes after a full day's program elsewhere (and often for a minimum sum) are charged with this same interest. In the choice of these instructors the New School exercises a freedom which an endowed institution could scarcely use. The fact that its income is from tuition fees, admissions paid for individual lectures and sustaining memberships, supplemented by annual contributions from friends of the institution, while limiting it financially gives the directors liberty to ask whomever they please to conduct a course of lectures for the institution. In consequence men of the most distinguished minds and the soundest culture, whether they be professors of

unimpeachable academic standing or scholars engaged in private research and creative work whose names may be anathema in orthodox university circles, become members of the faculty.

Moreover, in the arrangement of the curriculum the fact is ever kept in mind that the New School is not trying to guide its students into any particular school of thought. Rather, it would present many sides of a subject, leaving the student to make his independent choice of what trend of ideas he wishes to follow. For instance, in the study of psychology not merely behaviorism is presented. On the contrary, during the past term not only Watson, the leading behaviorist, but Holt who represents further developments of tendencies of William James, Ferenczi, simonpure Freudian, Adler who stands for a schism in the psychoanalytic camp. Ira Wile, coming into psychology by way of medicine and psychiatry, and Frankwood Williams whose connection with psychology is through the medium of mental hygiene all these have been on the teaching staff of the New School. And no one of these scholars has ever suggested that the others should not be lecturing there. All recognize that the students are adults, competent to select what they want from the wealth of ideas made available for them.

From these students one gets most of all the gaiety, the surprise, the mental stimulation of this adventuring along the road of life with education for a companion for more than a mile. "When the American people are better educated, there will be less solemn pantomime in the land.

Education should help people make an art of living, and the art of living, like all arts, is play."-One feels this focussed interest in learning per se in the level-eyed attention they give their lecturers. In the New School no instructor is a demigod armored by degrees, receiving from his class parrot-like what he has dealt out to it from his Olympian height. He knows his every word is under merciless scrutiny, that almost before he has concluded, questions, dissents, challenges are to be shot at him with fire-cracker rapidity. In the end, as he knows, his statements stand only by virtue of their intellectual sound

ness.

This spirit of give and take, this intellectual equality even though the scholarship of the instructor be higher than that of the students, is emphasized in the teacher training courses in adult-education being conducted at the New School by Everett D. Martin, H. A. Overstreet, Leta Hollingsworth and Eduard C. Lindeman through the coöperation of the Carnegie Corporation in conjunction with the People's Institute. Here in studying for the first time the technic of conducting adult education classes, the theory is being put into practice that the student can consciously be an active part of the group every minute whether he is speaking, that the ideal is the linking of mind to mind, the "kicking an idea along" instead of kicking one another, that class-room discussions are little laboratories where people express themselves to one another frankly, more willing to show their weaknesses than their strengths, and that above all one should learn to play with his ideals and his sublimities.

Recognizing that the enthusiastic support of the student body is in the ratio to its active participation in the affairs of the New School, the Board of Directors has passed a by-law by which, with the approval of the Director of the School, the students may organize coöperative courses, choosing their own instructors and assuming financial responsibility for the courses so given. Under the Students' Coöperative Association thus formed-its activities do not include the management of stadium football games-a number of courses have been given including Human Engineering by Count Korzybski, Nineteenth Century Thought by Morris Cohen, and Technique of Influencing Human Behavior by Harry A. Overstreet. The Association which aims ultimately to transform the New School into an institution supported entirely by the students through tuition fees and widely distributed contributions, seeks now to secure the effective organization of the students for the promotion of the interests of the institution and its student body. As one member put it: "The New School is not alone for the pursuit of profound research. It is to stimulate an intensified feeling toward life." Through all the activities of the institution runs this idea of the passing over of education into conduct. Another student approximated it thus: "To my mind what the New School is doing men in all ages have tried to do; to make clear what the human adventure is all about, untrammeled by the passing prejudices of the moment. You may get there an inkling of what it is all about, whether the course you are taking is one in the drama, in an

thropology, in beauty and use, in psychology or philosophy."

22

You might think that the New School is already fulfilling its ultimate function. Dr. Johnson sitting in his study on the second floor of the main building looking reflectively into the leaping wood-fire, will tell you differently. "As far as the future is concerned the changes that may take place are in the nature of adaptation to our educational problem. For many students the lectures with class-room discussion and supervised reading are sufficient. But more room will eventually be made for individual initiative. As we need to organize discussion groups inside and outside the School to equip the student to take a more active part in discussion, so we have to make room for the exercise of the teaching instinct as well as the learning instinct. In consequence we are sometime going to ask each student of the New School what subjects he would be prepared to teach for the teaching's sake to small groups. Also we shall ask each one what subjects he might care to study in a small group under a qualified teacher, thus providing a closer texture of instruction and study as a basis for the regular courses given in the New School. Another object we have is to develop our own particular kind of research. Almost all of our students are employed in the professions or business. They are in no position to go out and pick up subjects of research extraneous to their everyday lives. But many of them are in an excellent position to take problems definitely connected with their work, as soon as we are prepared to give

« PreviousContinue »