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The United States And The World: On Education

Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

Caleb Gattegno


vol. VII no. 3

February 1978

First published in 1978. Reprinted in 2009. Copyright Š 1978-2009 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. Author: Caleb Gattegno All rights reserved ISBN 978-0-87825-288-6 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. 2nd Floor 99 University Place, New York, N.Y. 10003-4555

This issue of the Newsletter mainly contains a long article by Dr. Gattegno on the subject indicated by the above title. First commissioned for the Washington, D.C. Bicentennial Conference on the United States and the World (September, 1976), it has now been released for publication. Since this article contains considerations which supplement an article on “The Spirit of English,� published in our December issue, it seems appropriate to publish it in the issue which followed. But it contains a great deal more that our readers may like to think about, whether they live in the United States or overseas. If they let us know through their comments whether they have been provoked in any way and to what extent, it would enlighten us.

Table of Contents

The United States And The World: On Education ................. 1 The American Mode Of Thought ........................................... 3 Technology’s Place In Education........................................... 7 Optimism And Enthusiasm.................................................. 11 Readiness To Give ...............................................................15 Personal Experiences ..........................................................17 1. Open Admissions ......................................................................... 19 2. An Elementary School .................................................................20 3. Education and Television ............................................................22 A Follow-Up Proposal ......................................................... 25 Conclusion ......................................................................... 27 Book Review ....................................................................... 31

The United States And The World: On Education

A foreigner visiting the United States must learn many things before he or she can perceive (or “see what is . . .”) the reality beyond the appearances. The most important one was to learn to suspend judgment, for it seems possible to document almost any stand on some evidence selected from current events. The United States is everything at the same time. But all components are not equally meaningful in a serious effort to reach its reality. So much has been said and written on this country that it is impossible to make a statement which is not contradicted by one or more “authoritative” statements, all equally valid. After ten visits over eight years, which lasted from a few days to a few weeks, I decided to spend five years as a steadier visitor, not only to study and serve this country, but also to find out firsthand in what ways its educators functioned and whether it was possible to discover the real springs that were at work in that field. Five more years had to be added, and I am still finding new components which affect my study and force me to change my mind somewhat. There simply is too much going on at the same time and the instruments for reaching conclusions are not sufficiently refined. Nevertheless, some conclusions seem valid to me, and they are given here for what they are worth. 1

The United States And The World: On Education

In the disciplining of myself, I now know that I am no longer swayed by appearances in the scene. Perhaps my faults lie now in suspending my judgment too readily and wanting to make a place for the descending future affecting education in ways which are too unclear at the moment for one to be certain about them. ***


The American Mode Of Thought

Although appearances say the United States is a commercial society — and there is plenty of evidence for that — I, as an educator, had to give to this component second or even third place in order to find out what the United States had to offer the world in its experiment in education. Taking as my yardstick what I call “the mode of thought” of the inhabitants in any culture — which is perhaps invisible and perhaps even only subconsciously held by its users — I found, after a few visits, that what moves people to act in the United States is not their love for money and comforts, but a certainty that truth can be seen and can only be expressed through blueprints. I have stated this in a few words somewhere else as: “The mode of thought of the inhabitants of the United States is that of the engineers,” i.e. of people who act and expect their actions to prove themselves. This mode of thought is, I believe, originally American and exclusively spontaneous in the American population, but it managed to be exportable, and I see it as the greatest success in all the attempts made by the United States to influence the world. Today a version of it is found operating in most influential people’s mind, everywhere. But its purest form is in the thinking of the ordinary man and woman of the United States. When someone wants to present a new thought in order to have it accepted, it has to be presented in a manner which would suit engineers in this and in other cultures.


The United States And The World: On Education

If I am to follow the guidelines of the invitation in writing this paper, I cannot devote it entirely to substantiating my understanding of the American culture. But a little more development may be permitted so as to make the rest of the paper clearer. It seems obvious to me that the integration of so many different people coming from so many backgrounds to a country offering such a variety of climates, resources, reliefs etc. has demanded a neutral approach. This approach must not be easily rejectable by passion, must be proved correct in many, often minute examples of everyday life, and must not require for its presentation philosophical and scholastic eruditions which so easily divide. The vastness of the country requires for survival that action be a major component of the mode of thought adopted. The problems created by this vastness encourage people to accept all things which make it more manageable and, as a result, to favor moves that reduce the impacts of distance, increase intercommunication and allow one to dwell on a problem only for as long as is needed to solve it. Too many challenges await people involved in space and time at the scale of the United States. The deepest desire has been to minimize their impact on the mind by adopting ways of work which reduce them to the point where they can safely be ignored. The British who came to populate the new continent had already developed in their own country the germs of a mode of thought which accepts truth more readily if proved by experimental evidence (or experiential evidence as modern people would prefer) than by syllogistic deduction. Francis Bacon’s immediate success in Britain (and in the world soon after) with his proposal to act upon what one was studying, so as to make it reveal its content, is evidence that in studying the world people at work were susceptible to meeting truth in the guise of “it works.” But it was in the United States about a century ago that pragmatism became the open stand or avowed position of spokesmen for the culture. Anything proposed, if it can be carried out successfully, is acceptable. Facts cannot be disputed, covered up. “The proof of the pudding is in 4

The American Mode Of Thought

the eating” popularly sums up this attitude, in Britain as well as in the United States. As a result anyone can feel free to make any proposal and no one is prevented from trying to prove that one’s proposal is a valid one. The public is prepared to look at anything provided in some way someone shows that it could work. But it is just as prepared to turn the back to what does not work, not even asking whether some hidden merit exists that may justify an involvement. This is the proposer’s responsibility. Hence the social stress on “the spirit of achievement” and on “success.” Hence the innumerable efforts going on in all walks of life to break through in one’s field. Hence the virtues of ambition and perseverance fostered among the descendants of the pioneers and among those who want to emulate them in order to compete with them. Hence the actual competition for the attention of would-be supporters and the difficulty of these supporters in making up their minds. Whenever someone can actually carry an inspiration to the stage of action, evidence is made available, and outsiders have no difficulty deciding whether they want to join in the adventure of expanding the initial success into a national enterprise or even an international one. But if it is still at the stage of an idea (which is the case of almost all proposals for funding in the field of education), the proposer has little chance of eliciting support in the public unless the idea can be presented as a blueprint, i.e., as satisfying the conditions which link virtual action to actual action since a blueprint for the engineer is as good as the finished product in terms of whether the product can do what is intended that it should do. Today no proposal for research, for training, or testing, etc., can be submitted with any chance of even being looked at, unless it is couched in the language of engineers: objectives, procedures, expectations, evaluation. These reasonable demands emanate from people who must decide to act and disburse funds (public or private) with some likelihood that these will not be wasted. Even a few years ago it was not necessary to go through all this in the field of education. Only in business transactions, in industry-initiated 5

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projects, was it necessary to know in advance that the investments would not be squandered. The rules that convince engineers that plans would lead to a building, to a plant, to a highway, to a bridge, which would fulfill their specifications, were adopted more and more widely until they became the dominant approach to knowing how things were doing, in every area of life. As the rhythm of taxation, appropriation, elections, selections, proposals, re-funding, extensions, etc., became more rapid, all organized life became involved in projections or blueprints that made such an organization possible. The engineering mode of thought penetrated more deeply into the way of thinking of the mass of people engaged at different levels of education and made it more neutral and thus more easily exportable. The more so when this neutral mode of thought was coupled with a technology which only required the pressing of buttons.


Technology’s Place In Education

Today anything that “works� seems a priori translatable into technology. This is a prevalent belief among most people who occupy decision-making positions in education, from school teachers to legislators in Congress and administrators of titles at H.E.W. Somehow they all seem to expect that what has worked so well in generating wealth for this country will work equally well in taking care of the hurdles in education. Disappointment with the outcome of any project which looked good on paper concerns only that one project, and does not lead to examining the approach that created confidence in the first place. Technology has the power to make objects; and objectivity is a viewpoint adopted by engineers in their field. Society at large has become keen to encounter similar approaches in as many areas as possible. At present there are a number of currents that are labeled: social engineering, medical engineering, biological engineering, even psychological engineering. In these the persons engaged consider that progress has been made in a distinctive manner because they can replace the activity of the mind by machines with automatic feedbacks. For instance, in computer aided instruction the attention of the teacher on the error made by a student working on a program is replaced by an automatic response telling him what he should do, even if this only means a reference to previous exercises already in the program, exercises that are seen as the basis for the avoidance of such errors.


The United States And The World: On Education

The stress on technological objectivity can be clearly seen in particular in two fields. First, in the rapid expansion of the acceptance of tests in the evaluation of students. A few decades ago the most fertile field of research in education in the United States was the production of tests of all kinds. The tests of achievement being the most popular as they were replacing the old examinations and correcting their “subjective” biases. To prove their objectivity they were “standardized” all over the nation. To achieve this standardization statistical methods were needed so that the expression of the findings gained the appearance of scientific statements. What it all meant in fact was that individuals had lost their uniqueness and that persons could never be the concerns of those who were legislating for them. The dominance of statistics in the field of education is still with us although opposition from minority groups have made a dent in the impregnable fortress. The apparent neutrality of statistics has also served to make the approach to education exportable. All over the world today the only dignified way of presenting “research” in education is as it has been done in the United States for a few decades. Second, to justify the use of the above methods of evaluation of the school reality, a psychology of the appearances is required, and behaviorism is the answer. The success of behaviorism results from the prevalence of the engineering mode of thought in the nation. Behaviorism is the psychology of engineers and can be used for psychological engineering. When “behavior modification” became popular 15 to 20 years ago it was based on a definition of education that says that it “is the efforts of society to affect individuals so that they are more acceptable socially.” Hence all means which modify behavior towards conformity are right and must be adopted. Many projects were funded to show that this could be achieved to the majority’s satisfaction. Government initiated projects (such as Headstart and the Job Corps) were staffed exclusively with psychologists who were explicitly or implicitly behaviorists and behavior modifiers. The funding agencies to this day require that the proposals they receive explicitly satisfy the engineering mode of thought of the administrators and readers of proposals.


Technology’s Place In Education

The prestige of objectivity in the nation today is such that only small chapels can be formed by a small number of dissidents around alternative positions with almost no chance of influencing the main stream. The pressure — in terms of being selected to obtain qualifications that give access to jobs in society — is so great that uniformly in the nation young researchers become ipso facto supporters of the main approach by being indoctrinated in it and rewarded by making it harder every day to break through, if one sees things differently. And this is now being transferred overseas. The stress on pragmatism in education — which prevails in the United States because it is a national and original attitude and because education is a component of the prevailing social dynamics — has now found its ways into other cultures. Even France under de Gaulle and after him, could not resist the impact for an expanding economy, of the common sense of the way of working taking place in the United States. It had been brought back from the United States by many of the French brilliant minds who spent some time in the States during and after the end of the war. The venerable Sorbonne has been changed and the curriculum of all subjects at the University of Paris is presented in a way which can be tested more or less automatically leading to new intermediate degrees showing some respect for intellectual individual differences. In the past a rigid adherence to a certain view of the subject matter made the reality of the students very secondary and made everybody aim at the same very high diploma rarely attained. It is true that the French resist Americanization and prefer their lofty studies to a vocationally oriented preparation to their economic future. But now the government is imposing change by making its higher learning institutions the allies of industry, commerce and politics as they are in the United States. Behaviorism and conditioning are close pals. Behind the spectrum of the many political regimes on earth at this time — which look very different, particularly when differences are stressed — it is possible to see a remarkable adherence to one educational ideal which is permeated by the need that the leaders of the various countries have


The United States And The World: On Education

for a molding process which would produce the kind of citizens they need now. Hence the demand for behaviorism and conditioning everywhere. The first is mainly nourished in the United States, the second in the “Marxist� countries; and one or the other is selected by the rest according to the ideological leanings of their leaders.


Optimism And Enthusiasm

Besides the engineering mode of thought we find on a closer examination of the United States society another spring that is at work. It is the deeply grounded belief that there are enough resources in the minds of the population to attack any problem and solve it. Optimism is the prevalent mood except in moments of depression. Optimism can be explained in a number of ways: youth of the nation, constant new blood brought in from outside in people who could not deny to themselves that enormous opportunities lay ahead of them, the ease, for some, of generating wealth and the hope of others to be counted among them, etc. Still, that very optimism has been able to blunt the critical mind and has made Americans into followers rather than initiators. Enthusiasm is very easily generated in the United States, while it is extremely difficult to produce in the “old� European countries. A glimpse of a promise is at once transformed into a bandwagon and is supported seemingly wholeheartedly by the public for some time — but not for long. Understandably so, for enthusiasm is generally shortlived. In fact it is impossible to live all the time in paroxysm. Everyone is personally justified in turning away from what looked promising and exciting if one no longer finds it to be so. Hence reformers get instantaneous backing but must deliver at once and at a scale that keeps supporters as happy as if they were investors


The United States And The World: On Education

in the stock market. The public looks for the new, the glamorous, hoping it will be better than what came before. This dedication to the new, compatible with an expanding economy, has made a great number of educators look for what is disposable rather than what is of lasting value. The merchants selling in the field have supported the stress on the new by constantly supplying new products so that there are very few people with the criteria to know what “should” be adopted and why. American education, having become product oriented, has generated a serious crisis for itself which may not end soon since its solution cannot be found in more products. The world of American education is divided into two groups: a small one doing research, trying to find criteria and having almost no impact on the main stream, and the rest made of followers without leaders who are channeled by those who cooperate with the manufacturers via the varying educational associations. For an observer of the educational scene in the United States, the annual conventions of the multitudes of associations are most instructive. Three things are immediately visible: 1. the officers of the various associations are mainly concerned with the “well being” of the association rather than with the urgent problems in the field, and the annual conference produces the officers democratically from among those who want to serve the association, not necessarily the interests of the membership; 2. the conventions offer so many topics for examination that it is obvious that everybody agrees that the only way to handle the field and its problems is to fragment it; 3. every convention has an exhibition for the suppliers in the field to bring their wares to the participants’ attention; everything that is “new” will be found in the exhibits competing with each other. Taking the two groups together, it becomes clear that the greater influence upon education is in the hands of the firms whose interest is 12

Optimism And Enthusiasm

the continued selling of what they produce but not necessarily a deep concern for the main challenges in the field. Of course, products could be exportable if they were adaptable and if sales abroad were profitable. The meager impact of the researchers in education and the dominance by the manufacturers of educational products, characterize the field of education in the United States. This state of affairs has translated itself into two features: a)many of the changes visible in American education are in equipment, architecture, organization; b) many of the changes have been imported from overseas and applied with enthusiasm and vigor (sometimes to death). Schools in the States have adopted carpeting, open spaces, audio visual equipment without even a pretense at research before wholesale acceptance. The caution, which should accompany the experimental spirit in the descendents of the Anglo-Saxons, has failed to operate in the swing towards the adopting by educators of team-teaching, open classrooms, computer aided instruction, language labs, etc. Spectacular failures such as the talking typewriter, the language labs, turnkey, performance contracting, even individualized instruction by machines including computers, do not seem to wake anybody up to the realities of the field. Billions over billions have been spent to implement projects like the Job Corps, Head Start, Title III projects and many others that seem to peter out without anybody learning the true lessons. What is worse is that no one seems to mind. “So long as there is action there is hope” seems to be the philosophy. Some of these projects had enormous possibilities but they did not last because the possibilities were not made explicit, and behaviorists were in charge. American education has the means to do a great deal for the world but, in fact, does very little. It does little because American educators are not as interested in education — at home, let alone overseas — as they could be. Their enthusiasm for products seems to prevent them from thinking of the problems of education, which they leave to (some mysterious) “others.” This is true of university teachers who play the well-known game of publish or perish, which has led to the publication 13

The United States And The World: On Education

of so much trivia. They honestly believe in specialization and fragmentation of knowledge, which are useless when attacking the huge challenges of education. This is true of school administrators who hold the power of the purse but rarely have criteria to guide them in their expenses. This is true of school teachers whose training has made them systematically and thoroughly dependent on the publishers and their teacher’s guides. This is true of the public at large who find that education is needed, but that the field is dull and better left alone. State departments of education and the United States Office of Education, being instruments of government and politicians, spend most of their time watching how funds appropriated are being spent. Since so much money goes to staff educational projects, there remains little to put into the overall discovery of what needs to be done in education. Instead, evaluations of projects, which are worthless in assisting towards knowing the whole, are mandated for each project but must cost no more than a certain amount (usually very little) and must be handled in a uniform manner not dictated by the content of the project. It follows that in this immense and vibrant country, where so many people believe that they believe in education, the only force for true change is the unforeseen, the sudden pressure that comes from finding that what was working smoothly has collapsed. Urban education, rural education, suburban education, private education, college education are all facing unprecedented crises which do not seem to abate, and the Federal Government rightly feels that financing failure should not be continued. This is making the crises increasingly more visible and more difficult to counter while almost everybody awaits the arrival of those (mysterious) “others,� who continue to fail to show up. ***


Readiness To Give

It is these circumstances — the special conditions and features of the United States that could teach the world many lessons, if the world were to listen, to look, and to watch. Nowhere in the world besides the United States is there the slightest chance that a vision of a solution to an educational challenge will be heeded. The climate that exists in most places sterilizes individual initiative and discourages any movement towards making the educational systems respond to the challenges of the descending future. Either the past is entrenched, as it is in the “old” European countries, or the lack of criteria makes those “shopping” for a modern approach to education unable to offer their countrymen an educational system that is capable of delivering what is needed in rapidly developing countries. Buying the American one would turn out to be as wrong as buying the one from Italy or any other country. Through its AID programs, the United States has attempted to present generously to participating countries, what worked in the United States even though only partly. To complicate matters, the circumstances in most recipient countries have far from guaranteed a smooth functioning of the gifts there because of the sophistication of the equipment and the cost of its use. Responsibility for making what is received work is a demand which is rarely met. Hence, push button approaches have been offered in preference to creating a true response to challenges. They have been exported as the answer to helping others


The United States And The World: On Education

modernize their education. The results have not been very encouraging. Hopeful signs remain, however, because 1) the United States is inclined to give and people are inclined to receive because they admire the economic advances of this still “young democracy� and 2) the United States normally exports what it has and what it thinks is best not only for its population but for everybody, so that if people want education they can get American education. If ever the United States discovered an education that worked well, the whole world would have a chance to examine it and copy it and be helped in doing so by the financial support of this country. This in fact is of paramount importance for the whole world. Indeed, the pragmatic attitude of the Americans guarantees that if a solution can be found it will be adopted. And if it is a solution to a universal problem which will apply outside the United States, it can be taken up by whoever has come to see it at work and found it desirable (in the way American planes have been adopted). The United States will willingly assist in its adoption without visible strings, even though it is conscious that such aid adds one further link between the country concerned and the United States. Although it would be wrong to export American education as it is, mainly because it is not working at home, it would be right for the United States to attempt to reach somehow the maturity in the field of education which it has achieved or is in the process of achieving in other fields such as science or technology. The necessary resources exist in the intelligence, the determination, and the many know-hows of the United States. All these are needed to transform any insight into the grasp of the reality of the challenge of education and after that into an ongoing national functioning involving individuals, and the institutions they run. In the United States the roles of individuals and of institutions, while never totally explicit, are understood by many and easily translatable to many others via the openness of the society and the commitment of the people of good will among its population. 16


Personal Experiences

Implicit in my often renewed and prolonged stay in the United States is my finding that, in order for me to serve education in a most effective way as an international educator, I should work via the United States by working in the United States. This is the feedback I have received from my study of the international scene in education having been in more than 40 countries. I know that if I ever manage to influence education in this country, my work will be acceptable in many others, perhaps all others. This would not be the case if I were still living in Switzerland where I retired after 20 years of work in Britain and Western Europe. If I cannot find for myself an opening in this country, I will certainly have no chance anywhere else. Perhaps my impact on other countries would not count as an American impact if I remain a resident alien in New York instead of becoming an American citizen. But I never found anyone who thought of me as a foreigner when engaged with me in studying educational challenges and considering my solutions to them. Although I have never felt that I personally in my endeavors was entitled to any financial support as Americans are, in 1975, I was granted a contract by the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education of H.E.W. to demonstrate that I had a working solution to some of the many problems presented by open admissions at CUNY. As part of the contract, the governmental agency included a component for dissemination of the findings so that interested parties could both assess our proposals and benefit from any of our progress. I find this preoccupation heartening and in agreement with the process of sharing with others whatever is of value. Again in harmony with the open hand that wants to give to all, there was no 18

Personal Experiences

restriction on who was to be invited to the dissemination conferences. As I mentioned above, this is a profoundly American process. In the particular position in which I find myself, having voluntarily come to the United States to make my work available to all in the United States and through the United States to the rest of the world, I am satisfied in saying that to have an impact on education in the world, there is no better country to start from than this one. *** In 1954 while in England, I developed an approach to teaching foreign languages which I then tested in a number of countries. This led me to publish a book in 1963 on the subject and the materials for three languages: English, French, and Spanish. Only two reviews of that book appeared, and both were in professional journals in the United States. From 1968, a growing number of people — mainly in the United States — began to experiment with the approach. When it came to the notice of some Peace Corps volunteers and administrators, it took only a short time to be tested in a larger number of countries and, when found valuable, supported still more widely. “The Silent Way,” as the approach is named, is now known much better and much more widely than would have been possible from anywhere else. My presence in New York City may have been of some help, since I am more easily accessible for consultation and demonstration. Perhaps I can contribute more to the understanding of what American education has to offer the world by citing three more examples taken from my personal experience. Because I am entitled to become a citizen of this country and because the experiences mentioned took place in this country, they may count as originating from here. The first concerns the Open Admissions policy of the City University of New York, the second an experimental school in the Bronx, and the third a reading program that was aired in the United States by a commercial network.


The United States And The World: On Education

1 Open Admissions When the top administrators of CUNY took the bold step of letting any high school graduate who wanted it, enter as a freshman in one of the city colleges, they invited an outsider, myself, to prepare the first contingent of 44 professors so that they could, in turn, help the hundreds of teachers who were to be hired for the new program (1970). The only qualification of mine known to the City University Chancellor’s Office was that I had developed an educational approach called the subordination of teaching to learning, for the basic subjects and that I had some knowledge of how to motivate learners by making them use their mental powers. The challenge of Open Admissions could be entrusted to me because I had found a way to make learners start from scratch and increase their yield per hour so that in a few weeks they could cover thoroughly the ground they had not managed to cover during their years at school. Without accomplishing these tasks, the whole project was doomed. CUNY had to turn to someone who had developed a technology to meet the challenge — a technology, which in fact was more a know-how to make students independent, autonomous and responsible in their learning, while at the same time able to generate excitement and joy in them because they found themselves doing swiftly and well what they believed to be beyond them. The professors who let themselves be touched became leaders in the Open Admissions sectors of the colleges. But many found the demands of living with new perspectives too much and did not find their work in those classes rewarding. Annual conferences organized by CUNY were given the job of keeping up the good spirit year after year. From 1970 till now, a small but not negligible contingent of CUNY Open Admissions professors have shown repeatedly that the original idea was a viable one, provided that professors learned to subordinate their teaching to the students’ learning. In a way it represented a breakthrough in postsecondary education in a democracy offering equal opportunities to all.


On Education

2 An Elementary School The Twin Parks School project may be helpful as an illustration of how free to experiment American public schools are. The more detailed story is told in 1) a monograph “An Experimental School� published by Educational Solutions, Inc., New York City, in 1973 and 2) in a restricted (8 copies) but large publication by the Office of Education through CUNY as a grantee in 1974. Here, for our purpose, it is sufficient to mention that a superintendent of a community school district in New York City, once convinced that we could provide better teaching approaches to the learning of basic skills, saw that it was part of the fabric of public education in the United States to take all the necessary steps to permit a team of educators to give a new school (K6) the chance to start as an experimental school. The negotiations first centered on the reasons to expect that, if such an approach were adopted, the school would indeed show distinctive achievements in areas where the average school in New York City was not showing them. This was settled rationally and on evidence. Rationally, because in this case students would be deeply involved in their own education. On evidence, because the work done at P.S. 133 in Harlem and at some other schools in the years before was there for everyone to see and be convinced by. Following that, the District School Board invited applications from teachers who were prepared to work at the new experimental school under my personal guidance. To be accepted, the candidates had to commit themselves to a 5 week 40-hour week training workshop in the summer preceding the September opening. In addition, for three years my colleagues at Educational Solutions would follow up the initial work of the staff and students with respectively 5, 3 and 1 teacher-of-teachers available full time to work at the school on problems as they arose. Moreover, during the first year a team of 30 CUNY professors would document from many different angles the changes taking place in people involved in the project at the school. They would also report to the nation on what had been going on at that school over 8 months. This final component was funded by the TTT program of the Office of Education through a grant to CUNY. The extra school funds were provided by Title I, since the school population was entitled to them because of the economic composition article.


The United States And The World: On Education

More than five years later, I can still say that — even for a country as ready to experiment in education as the United States is — the Twin Parks School project is an extraordinary departure from what has been happening elsewhere. With the exception of Educational Solutions personnel and those educators from Harlem who had been working with us for a number of years (and were thus acquainted with our way of doing things), the 100 teachers and teacher aides involved in the project were totally new to an approach to students far more sophisticated than anything they had ever used, seen, or read about. They could only count on themselves and what they had managed to learn at the seminar in the summer of ‘71 to get ready to work with 2, 000 students known to be very demanding. Rarely have so many people in one school felt that the education of their students was so much their responsibility and have given so freely of themselves, thus growing personally and professionally at the same time. For three successive years the Twin Parks School made distinctive contributions to the annual conference arranged by the Learning Cooperative of the New York City Central School Board. If few schools followed suit and if the Twin Parks School remains an island in the city, it is not because of its lack of attraction. Changing a school as radically as was done at Twin Parks involves many factors and the national economic recession and the troubled city finances did not help matters. In such circumstances people preferred to go on as inconspicuously as before. Still, what was so spectacularly demonstrated in some classes at the Twin Parks School and the overall lessons of Twin Parks that have not escaped us, will contribute considerably in the study of progress in education, if the project is attempted again somewhere else. If such experiments succeed, they can easily be exported, for they are above all, human experiments. In them human beings take to their schools the very successful ways of learning which all of us made use of as children before going to school, before belonging to a culture. This profound revolution can be quiet and universal even though it may provoke some clamor and take place only in a small spot on this continent.


Personal Experiences

In the semi-rural region of Acton, Massachusetts, we tried yet another educational experiment. Though very effectively carried out, it did not attract as much attention as the Twin Parks project. What makes these experiments singular is that the educational improvements which followed were accompanied by monetary savings (which is contrary to the current belief that progress costs more), and were compatible with the possibility of exporting to less affluent countries. We must stress this point: there can only be a future for any proposal as exportable education if, 1) its cost can decrease over time while, 2) its quality goes up and up, and 3) by construction it is universal. This is the case of all applications of the subordination of teaching to learning.

3 Education and Television Nowhere is TV as widely used as in the States. But today the whole world has access to it and will use it more and more in the future. Therefore, education and television will come closer and closer. At present the field is wide-open, and many contributions are being made everyday.* To write about what I know best — my own work — I can outline the story of my programs for attacking illiteracy through television. In my book, “Towards a Visual Culture” New York City, 1969, I made the suggestion that preschool children could pick up reading from special TV programs scheduled during children-viewing hours, just as they pick up the spoken language from their environment. The NBC network agreed to air a series of films provided they could fit them into their established schedule. This constraint was met by a format of one-minute spots which could occupy commercials slots. The “pop ups,” as these films were named, were aired on Saturday mornings for 2

years. Some weeks up to 23 spots were

shown. While it has not been possible to document whether anybody managed to learn to read watching “pop ups” on TV, these same films used in a number of schools, proved invaluable in helping students who                                                         *

Since this article was prepared we have been able to extend our vision of the relationship of TV and education to the fields of foreign language, mathematics and reading. Our new products have been mentioned in other issues of the Newsletter.


The United States And The World: On Education

had failed to learn to read succeed in making sense of the process of encoding speech. The scattered comments received by us, or any of the 200 stations which aired “pop ups,” generally supported this conclusion — so much so that the obvious next step was to produce a universal attack on illiteracy via television. We made films, 1) for Spanish, since in the Hispanic world there is need for basic education and television is already widespread, and 2) for Amharic, the lingua franca of Ethiopia, where illiteracy is very high.


A Follow-Up Proposal

The merging of electronic technology with the techniques of subordinating teaching to learning and the facility for production of the films, requiring the special talent of very skilled animators, make this project one that could not have been done in many places. It could not have been tested as easily and as widely and shown as readily to interested parties as was possible in New York City. This kind of product is a sample par excellence of what this country can offer the rest of the world. It is sophisticated to produce; it is effective and solves problems; it is neutral and can be made totally unbiased; it is modern and attractive; it can be adapted to meet the needs of the inhabitants of the planet. Moreover, even if the initial investment seems large, the cost of eradicating illiteracy in any one language comes to a few cents per head, whereas, the cost through other means now totals about $1, 000 per person. Americans can easily understand and produce a solution of this kind because it is of our time and has the flavor of a correct meeting of the challenge and because Americans know how to implement such solutions with ease on a global scale. The educational needs of many countries can be more easily met in the United States than within their own borders because of the availability and proximity of so many components. If we add that philanthropy and service are part of the American culture and can be summoned, it seems possible to envisage that the United States, as a nation or through private channels, would take upon itself to provide the


solution to the problem of illiteracy in the world by producing television programs which meet the problem.



To close this article, let us look once more at what makes the United States an inspiration for educators, even when it does not seem to do all it can do or even what people expect it to do, given its human and natural resources. Above all, I place the readiness of Americans to give everybody a chance. When this is coupled with a capacity to listen and hear, it becomes clear that Americans are not only receptive but also often ready to give of themselves. When this happens, their dynamism transforms potentialities into actualities. In a way, the active person in every American wants to go beyond an idea, feels the need to realize it. A common American criterion for knowing that one is right is that one’s correct guess translates itself into a profitable transaction — that one can make money with it. The culture encourages this view. Some people may frown on it on narrow, ethical grounds, which are rather self-indulgent; nevertheless, the component of the culture which produces this commercial view entitles one to accept the criterion until a better one is offered. Because Americans are busy living, they prefer to side with winners, even though they know that no one “can win them all” and that there will be losers if there are winners. If they are prepared to pay the price of gathering only what they have enough time for, and not getting what a slower pace would have made possible, who can complain that they are going too fast? Part of their make-up is the knowledge that the United States is the best place in the world and will therefore attract all


On Education

the talent needed to solve all the problems they have or that exist. They can also turn their backs on what is not satisfying and only look at what keeps them happy, even if this leads to rude awakenings as has been the case again and again over the last 30 years. Americans, to become the educators that the world needs, must learn to be less concerned with the immediate and drop their love for fragmentation. Education requires attention to complexities which have to be held together and must be met together. The price of being able to be accepted by others is to take them into account and to clearly have their best interest at heart. To influence other nations in the field of education could be an easy task for the United States, provided the proposals made are by construction human, i.e., transcend the cultural components that restrict them to the circumstances prevailing in the United States. This will require that the proposers 1) do not identify themselves with one culture, their own, 2) do not imagine that there is only one culture in the world, their own, 3) do not conceive of their culture as the highest in the world. Besides these don’ts, there are a few do’s. The proposers have to be neutral throughout. They can do this best through techniques and materials. They can be still more effective if they learn to demonstrate in silence. Looking at the world of education today implies that we think of the future as well, when things will no doubt be very different from what they now are. To imagine the present of the United States as the future of less developed countries is at best, a bet. If it is in reality a very different future we have to cater for, this will impose on the United States a new challenge that may force its educators to look for what transcends nationalities, cultures, even civilizations, and reach the common denominator in all peoples, which is that they inhabit the earth and are simply human before they be viewed in narrow fragmentary national or cultural terms.


The United States And The World: On Education

If this is a sine qua non condition for influencing the world through education, we reach the paradoxical conclusion that the educators of the United States must manage to transcend their own culture in order to find an education for themselves which will be valid for all those they wish to affect. It is perhaps a worthwhile aim in itself. Š Caleb Gattegno March, 1976 New York City


Book Review

“Just Writing” by Bill Bernhardt, Teachers & Writers Books, New York City 1977 $4.00. When Bill handed me a copy of his book with some friendly words of dedication I looked forward to becoming better acquainted with him through studying his proposals. I was overwhelmed by the expression of his conviction that his evolution since we met seven years ago, has been in part due to his work in my seminars and on my contribution to education. I am not used to such lavish reference to myself. Let us come to the book. I know that “Just Writing” does not need my commendation to become attractive. Sales to date assure that the public is a good judge and knows good advice when it gets it. Bill has worked out so many things in the hundred pages of this book that it seems more a monument than a set of practical hints to teachers. To really answer all the questions asked will require for many — including the best among us — a very long time. The value of the book is increased considerably in that it is a “new book” one has in one’s hand, every time it is read through and started again. In this text, we see how it is possible to work on practical matters, to provide large numbers of exercises and still propose profound questions which mobilize all one’s gifts and renew one’s experience. I have tried to work out some of these exercises. I enjoyed doing the research they proposed. Other readers will certainly feel the same.


On Education

The contents of the book display many qualities of its author. I expect that among the users of this text there will be many who would enjoy looking at the English language again with a renewed keenness and sensitivity. If some would be inspired to find challenging ways of working on writing comparable to those discovered by Bill, the wealth contained in his work will be well utilized. C. Gattegno                    


About Caleb Gattegno Caleb Gattegno is the teacher every student dreams of; he doesn’t require his students to memorize anything, he doesn’t shout or at times even say a word, and his students learn at an accelerated rate because they are truly interested. In a world where memorization, recitation, and standardized tests are still the norm, Gattegno was truly ahead of his time. Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1911, Gattegno was a scholar of many fields. He held a doctorate of mathematics, a doctorate of arts in psychology, a master of arts in education, and a bachelor of science in physics and chemistry. He held a scientific view of education, and believed illiteracy was a problem that could be solved. He questioned the role of time and algebra in the process of learning to read, and, most importantly, questioned the role of the teacher. The focus in all subjects, he insisted, should always be placed on learning, not on teaching. He called this principle the Subordination of Teaching to Learning. Gattegno travelled around the world 10 times conducting seminars on his teaching methods, and had himself learned about 40 languages. He wrote more than 120 books during his career, and from 1971 until his death in 1988 he published the Educational Solutions newsletter five times a year. He was survived by his second wife Shakti Gattegno and his four children.

The United States And The World On Education  

Newsletter, Vol. VII No. 3, February 1978

The United States And The World On Education  

Newsletter, Vol. VII No. 3, February 1978