Unreal Nature

October 11, 2016

Educational Utopia

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… Sunny and optimistic images of young people studying, working the land, and making art created an image of an educational utopia.

This is from Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College: 1933-1957 by Helen Molesworth (2015):

… In 1935, the journalist Louis Adamic was hoping to escape the “tempo and confusion” of New York with a few days of pastoral driving through the South. Born in Yugoslavia, Adamic, who had received a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship three years before, was encouraged to visit Black Mountain College by a friend at the Guggenheim Foundation. Upon his arrival at the college, he was given a guestroom and an invitation to dinner. The talk at supper continued long past midnight.

[line break added] His visit to the campus, which he expected to last for only a few days, stretched to two and a half months and resulted in the essay “Education on a Mountain: The Story of Black Mountain College,” which was published in the April 1936 issue of Harper’s Magazine. At the time, the school was three years old, and the article garnered the college its first serious encounter with publicity. The myth making had begun.

Adamic’s article gushes enthusiasm on every page: “In BMC there is no head-cramming. There education is experience that involves in action the whole person.” He enumerated the philosophy of the college: No required courses; one-on-one student-teacher relationships through tutoring; no classes were allowed to conflict with the elementary classes in music, drama, and the visual arts; students and faculty eat together and serve one another meals; the student government is lively and participates in college governance along with the faculty;

[line break added] communal living makes the individual aware of his relation to others; teachers take classes along with the students; and most important, “one of the efforts, in which the entire community continually participates, is to bring to each one’s consciousness his uniqueness — and this is not only as a potential scientist or plumber, but as a person who, being endowed with imagination, is an artist.” Sign me up.

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… The die had been cast and this utopian boosterism would continue throughout the college’s existence. Design magazine dedicated a special issue to Black Mountain in 1946. Students and faculty produced myriad brochures designed to lure students who, in paying tuition, would keep the place going. Sunny and optimistic images of young people studying, working the land, and making art created an image of an educational utopia. But by 1957 it was over. The college had lost its way, lost its funding (not that there was ever much), and lost its ability to sustain itself. The world had changed.

-Julie

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