As a contribution to LECTURE HALL.FREE SCHOOL at the Bethnal Green Library, VerySmallKitchen are delighted to make available Cid Corman’s Origin Memo 1 entitled THE WORLD AS UNIVERSITY/ THE UNIVERSITY AS STUDIO, first published in Kyoto, Japan in 1968.
VSK’s motivations are both archival and contemporary. Corman’s memo is usefully viewed alongside the more well known poet-educational models of his contemporaries and correspondents, such as Charles Olson’s A Bibliography on America for Ed Dorn, which, whilst functioning at a different level, asserts a related view of self-directed poet-learning as Corman explores here, and a parallel desire to extrapolate a model of learning from a poet’s own methods of writing and community.
To re-publish this document now – a response to its own concluding invitation that “this article may be reprinted and circulated freely – only, please, indicate source” – is to make a nuanced poet intervention into a plethora of recent pedagogy focussed projects. It’s also to try and learn from both the clarity and the failings and obstinacy of Corman’s approach, tracing into VerySmallKitchen’s own practices the tension between Corman’s macro- ambition and the micro- scale of his own operation and distribution.
More specifically, THE WORLD AS UNIVERSITY/ THE UNIVERSITY AS STUDIO enters into the sessions of the LECTURE HALL. FREE SCHOOL project, a problematic contribution to its own ambitions of community, exchange, need and hopefulness.
ORIGIN MEMO 1
THE WORLD AS UNIVERSITY
THE UNIVERSITY AS STUDIO
Recently a teacher-friend from within the complex of schools in Western Massachusetts of which Hampshire College is the latest development sent me their only too elaborate “pitch book”: The Making of a College: Hampshire College, Working Paper Number One. The authors are Franklin Patterson (chiefly) and Charles R.Longsworth, president and vice-president respectively of the school.
Beyond what they wish for their model undergraduate college – worked out with a great many educational experts as consultants – they seem to think of themselves as exposing (according to the report’s subtitle)” “Plans for a New Departure in Higher Education.” Ironically, at least to me, they have brought home the sense, first, that they are incorrigibly obsolete in their “thinking” about education – despite their expressed concern – with modernity – and second, that their projected college is quite unnecessary; indeed, that ALL colleges are unnecessary.
Since my sense of this derives immediately from their own presentation, any merit my ideas have must admit a debt. And for whatever stimulus value these ideas may have towards a basic reconsideration of educational possibilities – on a universal scale – let me sketch my reaction to the report out in a little detail.
The obsoleteness of such a report – well over 350pp – is reflected in its hopelessly jargon-ridden language – no matter how “sincere” and “honest” the pitch may be and likely is. (I say “pitch” advisedly. The authors themselves stress “hard facts”, so-called, and speak of inculcating culture as providing “individual freedom and a sense of virtue in order” “ as a central matter of business.” The whole report merited perhaps 50pp: in terms of what is communicated. And Hampshire, it may be noted, is especially proud of its radical sense of how vital “language” – in every sense – is in the modern curriculum.)
One of the report’s major points is to suggest the possible intimate role of the college in the community, but again this role is quickly set into an economic scene. And the point turns out to be no more than the “hard fact” that the college could and should be a “successful business enterprise.” My point is not to debate the economic issue, but to get at education and its procedures.
They, the authors, never seem to wonder if it might not be better, in every sense, to educate people within their native communities – a need that becomes more obvious if seen in the light (if it is light) of underdeveloped areas of the world – rather than drawing them out (providing scholarships yet at pre-highschool level) into an artificial community. In the same way, they boast of the idea of offering “simulations” of foreign communities in studying foreign languages. It is neither economical nor possible, in “hard fact”, to offer the actual in an admitted substitute of it. And since the actual is available there is no call to resort to subterfuges.
An extention of this idea – not to be pushed here – is that scientists in their simulating laboratories also tend to lose their powers of total perception, and proportion, by isolating themselves from actual occasion in all its multiplicity. The intensification of this process must and, of course, does narrow human vision.
Any frank reading of this report must, I feel, induce a sense of educational claustrophobia, not perhaps unlike the total-environment company system as it operates here in Japan. Instead of offering and educing a profound and genuine sense of freedom, it offers the simulation of freedom – so that any youngster attending such a school will be beyond knowing what freedom might mean and will be swamped by the contradictions his life after college presents and will either go insane and/or entrench himself in the “set-up”, such as it is.
More immediately cogent, perhaps, is the realization that dawned on me in reading this report of how effective our rapidly moving technology allows us to be – not only in the field of education, but everywhere.
What is allowed becomes startlingly clear when the report quotes: “The net message, in reply to queries about what education can expect to have from communications technology in the next decade or so, is: ‘Anything you want.’” It also becomes clear the educators really dont know what they want – for after detailing, interestingly, some of what has already been achieved through technology, the authors timidly let the whole possibility drop – as if it would all just take care of itself.
The issue is underlined by an instance they provide of a young physicist at M.I.T. who teaches about one and a half hours a week there and with associates helps train a dozen grad students and for his own research project has to “commute frequently” to Stanford to use their unique equipment – and his university covers the costs. They add: “This young man does not see how even a major teaching and research institution can expect to have first-rate scientists without providing for very light teaching loads and time to travel to and use expensive research facilities elsewhere.”
My own suggestions of how this situation could be answered – and it certainly needs answering at every level – will follow in due time. The Hampshire authors admit, simply, that they cannot hope to compete with such schools, but see their answer in a pooling of resources within their own five-school orbit: certainly a feeble answer.
The answer, of course, must be sooner or later far more revolutionary than anything they will let themselves envisage. To be sure, such a realization jeopardizes their own, no doubt hardwon, positions and that could hardly be attractive to them. (This “drag” and “drain” in human conditions is true everywhere and in all spheres of activity, but in the face of the increasing ponderousness of “things” – which was effectively never as heavy as now – radical changes become extremely difficult to effect on a strictly physical and economic (and thus political) level.)
The answer, it seems to me, to the educational “economy” of the world rests dramatically and decisively with technology and our intelligent use of it.
As a practising fulltime poet, of all things, it might well seem an anomaly for me, of all people, to be advocating a complete technological takeover in the transmission of education, but the point is not to put education in the hands of technology, but to use the technology given us, handsomely, so as to revolutionize and radically improve educational procedures on a universal scale. (I grant, of course, that such a move must proceed on a more modest scale to start with – but that is another matter.)
Let me detail some of the issues. In my own experience, and it has been extensive (on several continents), as both student and teacher, I have found myself bedevilled by pointless lecture systems and seminar programs involving students and teachers who should never have been brought together in the first place. (And this has been characteristic everywhere.) Hampshire mentions several tentative freshman seminars tried out at various schools in America, but doesnt get at the more fundamental issue that in any college rig the likelihood of bringing the “right” students to the “right” teacher is most remote.
Let me put it another way. As an undergraduate (1941-45) I took many seminar courses in writing poetry (I would have been glad to study day and night and, by myself, effectively did) – more, in fact, than are listed in my college record, for my interest was in the work, not the credit. But in several years of attendance in this course – more selective than most – I was the only serious writer in the groups – not only as it “turned out”, but as was apparent to both the teacher and myself, at least, at the time. And he was “lucky”, if you will, to have had even one (1) such student in a decade. You can say that the others benefitted in marginal ways, but that is beside the point. The point is that every student of his ought to have been and could have been just such a student as myself. But the situation, the set-up, militated against such a possibility. And it still does – everywhere.
The utter waste and futility any genuine teacher must feel in such situations – beyond rationalizing them out – are overbearing. And the cases where this is not true must be exceedingly rare today. Perhaps less so in the relatively aristocratic (truly élite) and monastic arrangements in many places in the past – or in their counterparts now.
Against this prevailing situation, let me cite – and as above, without any self-adulation at issue – the personal situation I find myself in at the moment (and one that has been rather constant for the past twenty years). Unaffiliated with any school formally or informally, I am corresponding “in depth” with a host of young writers from all parts of the world who write me, whether mistakenly or not, in the hope that they may receive the more personal and detailed help that they cannot get or arent getting elsewhere – or over and above other assistance. And this, in fact, includes some serious writers who are as old as or older than myself; i.e., not so young, let’s say. (Some few have even troubled to come over to Japan to live in the area, for there are some other helping poets here in addition to myself.)
My point, if it isnt already too obvious, is that in this situation ALL the “students” are self-chosen and intensely concerned. And their dedication evokes my own that much more and provides much mutual interplay. It’s true, of course, that I earn no salary for this work – but when one makes love – in any scene – one doesnt expect pay, unless one is a prostitute. And then, just as clearly, it isnt “love”, but business.
All this, however, though useful, is preliminary. Where and how does the technology fit in?
Perhaps it begins to loom out at you without my saying it: that any college today needs be no more than a transmission center: a studio for communications. (Perhaps research centers could be placed together in such locations, but it may not be either practicable nor necessary: their labors can certainly be drawn upon, as warranted.) And a center for communications storage” “education banks.” All that are needed are technicians and coordinators at such “plants”, The physical layouts of colleges, schools, universities, can be and should be drastically reduced. No students need ever “go to school”: the education can be brought to them, either at home – in an “education room or facility” – or in some local “education center” or centers. The hours could be those of a laundromat or a Hayes Bickford cafeteria.
(Think of how much space could revert to needed private housing and green zones. “Green Zones”: that ugly admission of defeat, meaning woodlands and fields, extended gardens, as well as smaller individual home-sites. Think of the reduced traffic. Think of how active education suddenly becomes!)
Here each student (no age limits: each aware and limited by his own capacity) is his own grader. He can choose whatever he wishes to try his hand at, his spirit, his intelligence. Public information centers locally (available by phone) could carry listings of what can be had and specialist consultant-contact could be arranged in those cases where individual “conference” might be wanted. Tests – taken at the students convenience and self-graded largely – could be received either by mail or telecommunication. All lectures would be received by either tape or TV (or whatever other devices may come into use).
The students – note – would be learning whenever they “felt” like it and within their own communities. (Travel would be encouraged and it would not cut off anyone from pursuing studies at the same time, while providing an active supplement.) It would, no doubt, harass commercial TV, etc., for it would compete vigorously, naturally, with it – but no one would honestly regard this as a negative factor.
It would cut down the number of teachers needed drastically and keep only the best teachers (selection would be generous, but mostly “natural”) “in stock”. The teachers would record their lectures at their own convenience and would not have to commute to a school or live in an artificial environment and often far from where they “really” want to be. It would eliminate all the weak souls who retire into teaching and the relative seclusion of a campus.
It would mean that anyone ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD could tap in on this resource. Wealth would not be required, nor examinations. One would pay for education as one pays for any utility – in terms of actual service and service charges.
It would mean that some lectures would be favorite lectures for generations possibly. It would mean that a specialist in physics could tap in on the key developments almost immediately EVERYWHERE and not be reduced to one, often isolated, point of view. It would mean parent and child could share the same courses: the parent would see and hear what the child is exposed to. It would mean much more time for children to play together outside. (Rainy days, etc., would be ideal study days.) It would enliven intelligence and feeling everywhere.
All the artificial and useless pressures of education would be removed. The government itself, or better – international organization, could provide the necessary facilities out of a common tax or simply out of the savings such a presentation naturally creates.
It would be a godsend to the poorer nations as well as to downtrodden minorities where schools cannot be afforded and teachers are scarce. It creates a common fund of human excellence. (Even translation machines could come into play.) It would create an incredible amount of stimulation for all human society and increase the desire and chance to share ideas and live together. It would remove the basis of such much human bickering and misery – or at least open them at more profound levels. (The autobiography of MALCOLM X is a moving example of how even a little dedicated self-education, improved by travel, mingling, and experience, deepened a man otherwise deplorably ignorant and malicious – even if his life was lost just when it was worth saving.)
Anyone with questions could contact, directly or indirectly, sources where he could get true response and a variety of response. Discussion would be stimulated and enhanced within communities and groups interested in the same range of ideas. Contact could be effected quickly between people in distant regions concerned with similar problems. How much more educated – drawn forth – liberated – would the entire world society be!
All that I have imaged here very broadly others can and, I trust, will develop according to their better knowledges. This is only the generative idea.
Countless problems are evoked by this new approach, but none of them seems to me anywhere near as terrifying or insoluble as those we are now forcing upon ourselves at a steadily accelerating pace. What I am suggesting neither can wait, nor should wait, upon more “worse”.
And then the more fundamental issues of education remain. I refer chiefly to that of a guiding vision. And if I am inclined to feel that this vision is, necessarily, that of poetry, please understand that it is not mere bias but out of a sense of poetry’s larger meaning. For I think of poetry as human being par excellence, as the human sense of all that is found in circumstance met generously, fully, and realized out of the deepest awareness that death subsumes us all. Such a vision begins at home; it cannot wait for “higher education”. For me the higher education starts at birth.
13-14 April 1968
(this article may be reprinted and circulated freely – only, please, indicate source)
Other components of VerySmallKitchen’s DEMOTIC ARCHIVES OF ART WRITING are (1)Thomas A Clark’s THE GALLERY AND THE BOOK which can be seen here, and (2) Richard Foreman’s ONTOLOGICAL HYSTERIC THEATER: A MANIFESTO which can be seen here.