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Interview with Robert Primack 1983-03-17

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Interview with Robert Primack 1983-03-17
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Primack, Robert ( Interviewee )
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University of Florida Campus (General) Oral History Collection ( local )

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This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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This interview is part of the 'University of Florida' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.


UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: Dr. Robert Primack
Interviewer: Brenda Trippe
March 17, 1983


Dr. Robert Primack
UF 133A
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
INTERVIEWER: BRENDA TRIPPE
PLACE OF INTERVIEW: NORMAN HALL
DATE OF INTERVIEW: March 17, 1983
Dr. Robert Primack is an associate professor at the University of Florida,
College of Education. His specialty is the philosophy of education. In
the course of the interview he talks about the deficiencies of the College
of Education process, low-quality teachers the system produces, and
corrective measures for an improved education of teachers. Various
teaching methodologies, punishment techniques, and an overarching
philosophy of the lifestyles and thinking processes of educators are given
t reat m ent.
A short biography of Primack is available. He is from Philadelphia,
educated at Rutgers, and taught at New York State College and in Wagga Wagga,
Australia. He shares some of his memories of the University of Florida
when he arrived in 1966.


W: Let's begin with some background information. Can I ask you to give me
your full name please?
P: Robert B. Primack.
W: And your father's name?
P: Samuel Primack
W: Your mother's name?
P: Anna Primack.
W: Where were you born, Dr. Primack?
P: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
W: How long did you live there?
P: Not very long; shortly after I was born my family moved to Chicago, and
then to New York.
W: What did your father do for a living?
P: He ran a small candy store, then after the Depression hit he had to go to
work in a factory.
W: Did your mother work?
P: Yes, she also worked in a factory as a dressmaker.
W: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
P: I was an only child.
W: Where did you go to grade school?
P: In New York City.
W: What was your impression of the school?
P: I generally liked school; I enjoyed school.
W: Was it a rough school being in the city?
P: The school I went to when I was five or six was fairly rough, but then
shortly after that we moved into a somewhat better area, after that it was
pretty good.
W: Where did you go to high school?
P: At Evanderchilds in New York City.
W: And what did you think of that?
1


P: It was huge, there were about 10,000 students at Evanderchilds. I
was part of a group of friends, we were friends quite a long time after we
graduated. On the whole I enjoyed it.
W: When did you graduate?
P: I graduated when I was sixteen; that was 1938 or 1939, somewhere in that
area.
W: Why did you graduate early?
P: I was able to skip a couple of classes.
W: You did well in school then?
P: Yes.
W: What did you do right after you graduated?
P: I attended City College of New York for a year, and then my best friend
bought a farm in New Jersey and asked me to come out and buy a farm near
him. At that time there were still some of the effects of the Depression,
and farming seemed like an ideal situation. Shall we say there was a
technological breakthrough in poultry farming, and if you could kind of
ride the early technological wave even though the rest of farming was in
bad shape, you could do fairly well in poultry farming.
W: When did you go back to college?
P: Must have been about twelve years later. I decided, by that time, I had
built up, I mean the nature of business had changed, and I was running a
business in which thirty people were employed; I had thirty people working
for me, and something like twenty farms either rented or owned. It was
quite a big enterprise, and then I found that I spent most of my time
reading or doing things not connected with the farm because I had other
people working for me. Instead of paying attention to the business I
would go to New York as a drama critic for a local newspaper, and doing
things like that, which had nothing to do with farming. So, I decided to
get out of it and go back to school.
W: Did you sell your farms?
P: Yes.
W: Where did you go back to?
P: Went back to a little college called Monmouth College in New Jersey, and
then I got my degree there. Then I got my masters and my doctorate at
Rutgers.
W: What was your major?
P: I majored in education, English, and history, and by the time I graduated
I had a major in all three.
2


W: What was your graduate work in?
P: History of education, philosophy of education.
W: Why did you decide to go into that?
P: Well, I guess I got a lot of encouragement from the teachers at the
College. I seemed to do very well in those three areas: education,
English, and history. And I thought I would combine the two by history of
education and philosophy of education. That really, I found, was the most
interesting for me.
W: What were your parents' attitudes toward education?
P: Well, my father died when I was quite young. It was much more important
than making money. Their attitude was that education was THE most
important factor that a man could pursue.
W: What was your social life like in college?
P: I was older than most students, but I was on the college magazine; I was
writing for the college magazine, if that's what you mean by social life.
And I was interacting with all of the other students in my department, you
know I was friends and had all the college business of other students and
I got involved in it. And I was also old enough to interact with the
professors, and that was kind of a good situation.
W: Was it more beneficial to be older when you went back?
P: Yes, I think so, your general tendency, when you are older, is to keep
your eye on the ball more firmly. You have settled, at least, hopefully,
some of the problems that young people have, without getting too ancient
and getting too absorbed with your own problems, and as I say I was able
to interact with the students, you know an awful lot of the students were
fifteen years younger than I was. But I still had good relations with
them, and I was able to interact with my professors. So college by
and large was a very good experience, both the undergraduate college
and Rutgers. There are always daily worries about a test coming up or
something like that. I would say on a scale from one to ten, by college
experience by the time I was older was a good nine. And if they paid me
enough to eat, I would have just continued taking subject after subject,
because I really enjoyed it.
W: What did you do after you got your doctorate?
P: After I got my masters, I taught in Redbank, a kind of depressed area
school with about eighty-five percent minority students, and that is a
valuable experience, if you can. Up until that, I would be substituting,
and if you can survive substituting, you can survive anything. And I
would be substituting in the area to make a little extra money and to get
the experience. And then I taught for two years in a slum area school,
which was a very valuable experience. And then, I was offered a
fellowship at Rutgers and so I went back and got my doctorate.
W: What made you decide to go that far with your education?
3


P: Well, for one, I like college, I just like learning stuff, and two, the
possibility of doing what you like and getting paid for it just seemed too
good an opportunity to miss, and Rutgers, I think, gave me a very good
fellowship at the time. And all I had to do was learn stuff, and they
were paying me, I was in a kind of seventh heaven.
W: That school you taught in Redbank, what level was it?
P: Well, I taught the fifth grade for one year and the sixth grade for the
other year.
W: And how about the other school?
P: And then after I had taught for two years I went back and got my
doctorate. And then I began to teach, you know as a graduate assistant,
and then I taught for a year at Newark State College. And then, what
happened is that while I was at Rutgers one of the professors here, a man
who has since retired, a man called Hal Lewis, was a summer teacher at
Rutgers and I was one of his students. And what happened was that he and
I became good friends, and an opening developed here, and about a week
before I had been driving home from Newark State College and got hit by a
terrific snow storm and the damn accelerator pedal froze to the floor and
there was no way you could stop, the only way you could stop the car was
by turning the motor off completely. It took me about three hours to get
home, which is normally a half-hour drive, fighting that snowstorm. So I
told myself, this is no way to live, and the first opportunity I get I am
going to get to some place where there is not any snow. And about a week
later he called me up and asked me if I would come and teach at Florida,
and before the words were out of his mouth, I said yeah, sure. And that
is how I got here.
W: When was that?
P: It must be seventeen, eighteen years ago.
W: Was that the first you had seen Florida?
P: No, there was another reason, my mother. My father died when I was
quite young, and my mother had retired to Miami. That was another good
reason to go; it is quite a trip from here to Miami, but it was a good
reason to go to Florida.
W: What was your first impression of the University?
P: Oh great, here was this New York boy who drives into all these palm trees
and just, you know, just great, I mean it just seemed like the ideal
situation. And to top it all, as I remember driving at that time
where the Holiday Inn is now, they had a Wolfey's Restaurant. Do you know
what a Wolfey's Restaurant is? You are from West Palm Beach Wolfey's
restaurant is a famous delicatessen, and was right across the street from
the entrance to the University of Florida. Which I thought was great. I
love delicatessens, and here was a delicatessen right opposite the
entrance to the university, here at the university with all the palm
trees, birds singing, and the trees budding, and I thought it could not be
any better.
4


W: What time of the year was it?
P: I guess it must have been, just at the end, end of summer, because I
started in September.
W: What were your impressions of Gainesville?
P: Well, again I thought, small town, I had always liked farming. The reason
I went into farming was that I liked the whole idea of country life, very
few things are more pleasant than waking up at sunrise in the country.
Waking up with the sunrise and the fresh air and the birds singing, and
that kind of stuff, that really starts your day off great. And so I was
kind of predjudiced in favor of a small town. At that time Gainesville
was much smaller, much more country-like than it is now. So I liked
Gainesville.
W: What do you think the biggest change you've seen has been here?
P: In the university or Gainesville?
W: In the university.
P: Right off the top of my head, I have not given that much thought, but I am
glad you asked it because I will think about it tomorrow or in the coming
days. I would say, the absence of hope. At that time there was a sense
of what you were doing, we were engaged in some very constructive
missions, like teaching kids how to teach, and the odds are that we were
doing a good job, at least that is the way I look at it. And then as time
went on because of the 1960s, and Vietnam, and the whole host of
deterioration of the society in general, I think, that throughout the
faculty, certainly in my own case, we came to the realizaton that we were
really fighting a losing battle, and we were not doing what presumably we
were set up to do. Mainly create teachers, who really educate young
people. Again I cannot speak for the rest of the faculty, but certainly
that kind of thing is what I would say would be the biggest. When I came
here, the assumption was that we would be able to do a a first-rate job.
And then there is a gradual erosion in that belief, until like, in this
morning's paper, very sad news about teacher candidates. And also, I
guess, the realizaton, you know, I kind of felt that the College of
Education was not responding to the real problem.
W: Which is?
P: The real problem is to create the kind of teacher who, when she or he gets
out of the university, will effectively educate himself and educate
others, and thus help the society function effectively.
W: How could that happen?
P: Well, we talked about this in class a lot, first of all you have to go
through a different process of selection for a teacher candidate. How
were you selected as a teacher candidate?
W: I applied and got accepted.
5


P: That is right. Now it is basically on grade point average and that just
will not get the job done. People can have a good grade point average and
not really be interested in educating anybody else, or educating
themselves. Grade point averages, even standardized tests like the
SAT, just are not good enough. I think they ought to be used, but they
are not a good enough indication of whether a person really wants to teach,
whether he is capable of teaching, whether he is dedicated enough for
teaching, that kind of thing. And so, you know we only have two years to
work with people, and if, for instance, the kind of person that we select
never reads a book on his own, or very rarely, or only reads it if the
teacher, the professor assigns it. That kind of person going into
teaching, will go back to his old business of carpenter, he will be a
carpenter, he will make the two by fours, he will saw just right, maybe.
But he will never be an architect, and that is the kind of people we need
if we are going to turn the society around.
W: What is an architect?
P: An architect? You remember that PAW. An architect is one who treats
teaching as an art, as a science, and as a craft, and as a calling, that
this is what I am going to be doing for the next forty years. All of
these things have to come into play and many people who have indicated,
are first drifters, they are really into the College of Education, but
they flunked out of engineering or law. They are waiting to get married,
and a host of reasons that have nothing to do with the educated process.
So we have to get people who are not in the process of self-education,
that is they do not enjoy educating themselves, and, of course,
unfortunately, a great many teacher candidates neither enjoy educating
themselves nor educationg others. So what you have got, you cannot have a
good or great faculty if you do not have a good or great student body.
The faculty is limited, students do not realize this, but the faculty's
capacity to teach is limited by the inherent qualities of the student
body. You cannot teach, for instance, kids great literature, if the kids
are not interested in great literature. All you are doing is boring the
hell out of them, because you try to tell them about Shakespeare and the
great themes involved in that, but if they are not interesteed there is
not, you may be the greatest teacher in the world, they are fundamentally
not interested in learning about that or incapable, you know,
intellectually incapable. What we have to do is recruite different kinds
of candidates into the teaching profession, to the extent that if we not
do it we are going to fail, as we have been failing. To the extent that
we improve it then we will be in a better position to solve the problems
of both education and society.
W: How would you rate the quality of the student body now?
P: Well, again I would say that probably twenty-five percent are drifters,
ten or fifteen percent are architects, really their lifestyle, that is
another characteristic, you can tell whether a person is an architect by
their lifestyle. What do they do in their leisure time? Do they ever
open a book on their own? Do they ever explore some idea on their own?
Do they ever attend a lecture on their own? A music teacher who never
attends a concert on her own, just because she likes music, is not going
to be a good music teacher. She could lead the kids in singing, that
carpenter activity for thirty minutes. I will lead the kids in singing,
6


but if she does not fundamentally like music, does not have the lifestyle
that goes with appreciating music, learning about music, the odds are she
is not going to be a great music teacher. The same would be true of an
art teacher, or an English teacher. An English teacher who teaches the
rules of grammar, and never opens a book on her own, or reads a great
classic is not going to be an effective teacher.
W: Has this quality gone up or down since you started working here?
P: Oh, I do not know. It is hard to say. Classes have personalities,
peculiar personalities, classes have individual personalities, just like
the first period class had a different personality than the fourth period
class, the class I had last year has a different personality, so I cannot
make any judgment as to the general quality. There are some classes that
are just with it; you give them a hint, and they are marching off to, you
know, the head of the line. Other classes are like pulling teeth,
resentful, and any demands you make on them are too many demands, that
kind of thing.
W: What is your area of specialization?
P: There are three areas that I have taught and done research in. My
original dissertation was in how does a course in the philosophy of
education change the attitudes of students? Does it change the attitudes
of students? Are we just wasting our time teaching philosophy of
education? There is a great deal of evidence that we teach students
courses like the philosophy of education. They finish it and then they
never have another philisophical thought the rest of their lives. It is
like they have complete amnesia, they kind of vaguely remember that the
professor gave them a "C," but that is all and they just are not
interested in the topic, and they do not apply it in their own educational
system, you know, their own educational experience. So I was interested
in finding out were there ways that we could make a philosophy of
education course more significant to them. We did various kinds of tests
with tutoring and without tutoring, but did they become more democratic,
more open minded after a course in philosophy of education, or did we have
any kind of impact on them?
W: What were your findings?
P: Apparently, and you know these are just preliminary findings, in order to
do a good job I would need funding, and at that time I was trying to do
enough of the experiment so that I could submit is as a doctoral
dissertation. The imact was comparatively small in terms of, for
instance, tutoring did not increase the acceptance of various measures,
like it did not make them more democratic, but the philosophy of education
courses tended somewhat to make them a bit more open minded than they were.
W: How long have you been teaching social foundations?
P: I guess eighteen, nineteen years.
W: Do you teach any other classes?
P: Oh yeah, I teach history of education, philosophy of education. I went to
7


Australia for a year. I taught psychology of education and almost a whole
gamut of courses that I taught, at one time, you know.
W: Where did you teach in Australia?
P: In a little town called Wagga Wagga. It was a nice little town. In many
ways it was like Gainesville, probably forty or fifty years ago. The
Australians are very similar to Americans, and at least on the surface
they admire Americans. But there are also some fundamental differences.
You have got to be very careful; you think you are talking to an American
and then you realize that there are differences. In any case, one of the
things I noticed, for instance, after my year was up in Wagga Wagga, the
town was pretty much as I had come the year before. When I came back to
Gainesville, in a year's time the town had expanded with new apartment
houses, new businesses, and that was not true when I left. So that was a
big difference in America and Australia. Australia is pretty much set in
its ways. In a town like Gainesville, in one year's time there was quite
a bit of change.
W: When did you go?
P: I guess it must have been 1971-72.
W: Was it that the population of the school had increased that much in
Gainesville?
P: Well, yes, I do not think it was, I think that had a role to play, though.
I think it was just that American businesses are more enterprising,
American life is more hectic and less settled, and that people are willing
to take more risks and that kind of thing. The population of the
University of Florida has not changed that much. This was a different
kind of country, you know, you would leave a town one year, and in one
year's time there would be all kinds of new things. And in Australia, you
began the year and at the end of the year the town had hardly changed at
all.
W: What is your research now?
P: How people make true statements. How people decide they are going to
believe something whether it is true or false, unknown or unknowable.
Lifestyles of teacher candidates; I had an article submitted to
Educational Leadership on educational deficiencies and attitudes. I read
the paper before the American Educational Studies Association in November
of this past year on educational deficiencies and attitudes of teacher
candidates, what we have been talking about. What do we expect of our
teacher candidates, and how can we get them to, you know, increase their
own demands on themselves.
W: What are some of your findings in your research about how people make true
statements?
P: We do not. Again we have talked about this in class; the tendency is to
marry your ego to your belief system, and as soon as you challenge your
belief system at any fundamental level, e.g., those are good shoes, those
are bad shoes, that will not upset you too much. But if I challenge a
8


more fundamental belief like, "What do you think of education or religion
or politics?" there are very few people who say, all right, let us look at
this coolly and objectively. I have believed this for the past fifteen
years, but I am perfectly willing to consider an alternative explanation.
Only about five per cent of the population take it that calmly. And say I
am willing to do that. It is a bad situation because the important thing
about teachers is that they have to teach true beliefs. There is no sense
in having an education that teaches us that the world is flat, or that
they have to teach three times seven is forty-five. They have to teach
true beliefs and they have to know how they arrive at a true belief.
Those are simple examples, that, you know, you do not have too much
trouble with. But take this whole creationism business, that there is no
reliable evidence that creationism has anything to offer to a science
course. Yet the general public supports it, teachers, many teachers, take
the attitude, "Well, I do not know enough about it one way or the other so
I might as well teach it," or some teachers actually believe that junk.
So it is quite an uphill battle to get people to do that. And of
course, you arouse tremendous hostility when you tell somebody that, "Hey,
you ought to re-examine those beliefs." I am not saying that you change
necessarily, but build a sounder foundation other than that your daddy
told you this is the way to believe, or the fact that you happened to be
born a Catholic and therefore I am always going to believe Catholic dogma.
W: Was there a certain point in your life when you challenged your belief
system? The first big breakthrough.
P: Every day. I mean I try to challenge it everyday; I try to, I subscribe
to something like thirty-five journals across the whole spectrum of
political, social, and religious beliefs. I am taking in all kinds of
ideas that are opposed to mine all the time and I try to re-examine them,
and of course I certainly abandon some of my belief systems at various
points along the road. And hopefully I will be able to do that again as
new evidence come! in, that beliefs I hold are not correct. You see, you
start off with the attitude and that is the basic, you might say that is
the fundamental attitude of the person who is really interested in truth,
and that is the one human thing that there has never been an exception to,
is that humans are fallible, that they make mistakes. So if you are
honest with yourself, you say to yourself, "Probably somewhere along the
line I am making a mistake about my belief system right now." And so as
new evidence comes in you have to be prepared to abandon your belief
system. Now that is a very difficult thing for most people to do, to say
to themselves I am human, I am fallible, it is quite possible that a
certain percentage of my beliefs are cockeyed and therefore I am going to
leave myself open to new evidence. And people do not generally operate
that way. They want to believe strongly and they want to see to it that
other people accept their beliefs.
W: Was there a certain time when you first did this or did you always?
P: I did not always do it. I think just in the process. I mean, when I was
growing up I accepted the beliefs of my parents, and it took a long time
and lots of reading and lots of experience before I began to say, here are
all kinds of people with all kinds of different bits of evidence and all
kinds of belief systems. So it took a long time before I finally arrived
at the position that I have arrived at now. It is still painful. You
9


have a favorite belief, and then new evidence comes in, and you have been
thinking that thing for ten years, and you know it is just wrong. It is
really painful. If you are interested in the truth, that is what you are
trying to do.
W: Was there any certain teacher, or teachers who helped you with this?
P: This professor, Dr. Lewis, he substituted for a time about two years ago
and was very influential in showing me the whole business about history
and philosophy and social foundations. I think part of the reason that I
went into social foundations, doing what I am doing, is because of his
influence. And there have been others, Professor Roddy, who I still
correspond with at Monmouth College, who was into education and
Shakespeare and great literature people like that.
W: Do teacher candidates need to just learn how to challenge their own belief
systems, or get other people to challenge theirs too?
P: The idea is to challenge your own belief system, then to challenge other
people's belief systems, unless, you see, their belief systems do not make
any difference. We have talked about this in class. If you think your
boyfriend is the handsomest guy in town, do not bother with that. Keep
thinking that. It does not hurt anybody and it may do some good. But
there are a whole series of beliefs about politics, "My grandfather was a
Republican, my father was a Republican, and I am going to be a
Republican." You get somebody like Richard Nixon in there, and you are
going to be a Republican and you are not going to change just because your
family was, well that is a belief system that could be very harmful.
W: What is a competent teacher?
P: Well, come back to this notion of architect. A teacher who looks on
teaching as a science, as an art, as a craft, as a calling. People who
recognize their professional responsibility, look on teaching as a
profession not as a job, teachers who are always in the process of
educating themselves. You have got to start with yourself before you can
educate others, and those would be the characteristics that a competent
teacher might have.
W: What is an excellent teacher?
P: Well, it would be in the same hierarchy, but the excellent would be more
of those things than just the mere competent teacher. More involved,
wider range of reading and analysis, that type of thing. There is a fine
line between a competent teacher and an excellent one.
W: How could we get more competent teachers into the school system?
P: Well, one is to immediately triple the salaries of teachers, and to at the
same time have the right kind of very, very careful selective process that
we are not doing now. We talked about grade point average. That ought to
be considered, but that in a way is the least of your characteristics that
would make for good teaching. Lifestyle, the kind of lifestyle the
teacher candidate displayed before he decided, you see, we are not going,
by the time you are twenty your habits are pretty much set. We may change
10


some peoples' habits in some extraordinary way, but by and large the
overwhelming majority of people are going to pretty much come into the
classroom and leave the college pretty much the way they came in. Because
the lifestyle, if you are accustomed to reading an hour a day, you might,
the college might get you to read an hour and a half a day. If you are
accustomed to never open a book on your own, the college may force you to
open a book for the two or three years that you are here, but as soon as
the damn doors close, and you have the white sheepskin, you will go back
to not reading. So your lifestyle, and that is only one aspect of
lifestyle, your lifestyle before you came. For instance, if you never
displayed any interest in young kids and you are going to be a
kindergarten teacher, the odds are we are not going to make you young
kids' sweethearts in the two year's time. Some will but the majority will
not. So if I were an educational dictator, I would say, tell me about
what you did in the twenty years before you got here. Give me some
indicaton that you are really interested in young kids, that you are
really interested in learning. What did you do? Your grades are
important, but I think even more importantly did you ever lead a Boy Scout
troop? Were you ever a counselor at camp? That kind of thing. Give me
some indication of the great thinkers you read. How did you come to
believe what you believe? And if he says, well, I always listen to my
local priest, by my definition, that is not good enough. I would also
kind of insist, that again if I were a kind of educational dictator, that
no teacher would be allowed to come into, no students of any kind, teacher
or not, be allowed to come into the university without a year of work
experience in the real world. That is awfully maturing and if you have to
work for somebody else you take orders and meet a deadline and come on
time to a job or you get fired. You know, a fair number of kids just have
not learned a simple thing like coming on time to someplace they are
supposed to come on time.
W: Would that include a job in high school?
P: I would say it would be desirable to cut off the school exerience for one
whole year. First of all, you have been going to school for twelve years.
It is a good idea to do something else. Two, a job in school is like
maybe I can use it, maybe I do not need it, but real jobs where you have
got to be there eight hours and you have got to perform in order not to be
fired, I think that can be a maturing process. I would say everybody
before they enter college ought to have one year's job experience of one
kind or another. Preferably some kind of social service experience,
working in a hospital, for teachers, anyway that would be desirable,
experience working at a nursery school, that kind of job.
W: These guidelines that you set that you think would be good for entrance
into the College of Education, do you think that should go for the whole
university?
P: Well, the one about the year's job experience, yes. You get a much more
mature student body who understands what the real world is all about. If
they had a year of meeting the kinds of demands that you have to meet in
the real world.
W: How would you define your role as a professor?
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P: Again, you try to be an architect. That does not mean you succeed every
day. You try to educate yourself, you try to educate others, you try to
have decent relationships with your students, and all the things that go
into being an architect.
W: How do you think we could improve the school system, not the college or
the university system, grade schools and high schools?
P: One is, if I were an educational dictator, I would say that you should
begin school much earlier, and it would probably do the country a hell of
a lot more good to eliminate all doctoral programs, save the money and put
it into nursery school programs. Those first few years are the most
crucial, at the right kind of nursery school. And so I would extend
school down to the age of four probably. And then I would have a
different kind of teacher core, the kind of teachers that are
professionals and architects, and want to teach and are in the process of
educating themselves. So if you did things like that, plus one of the
weaknesses of the teaching profession, and this we discussed in class. We
are the only profession that can have a profound, a really profound
political impact, because we are the biggest profession. If you have got
those two million who are the right kind of people, they would educate not
only within the school system, but they educate outside the school system.
So they would be educating that the community would give enough money to
the school. They would educate that this whole business of racial
inequality and stuff like that, they would be in the forefront of that
kind of thing, social economic inequality. They would both educate the
entire community, both parents and kids, as well as be a potent political
force for good. Not just for raising their own salary, which is a good in
itself. But for doing things like dealing with problems of pollution,
doing things like making sure you have good day-care centers and so forth.
W: Could you discuss teaching methods that you use and that you think should
be used in schools?
P: Well, if you are reasonable and if a particular teaching method,
whether you use grouping or some other method, I do not think it is
terribly crucial. I think much more crucial is the general approach that
you take to the whole business of teaching. My own teaching method is to
do very little lecturing, to engage in some kind of dialogue with the
students and challenging their value systems and that sort of thing. I
think that kind, you know, with educational technology that it is a little
absurd to lecture to a group of students. To stand up there and talk for
fifty minutes. So if you could just pass out those mimeograph sheets you
know the student could refer to it several times. So I would do away, by
and large, with not all together, but by and large, lecture in the
classroom would be eliminated to a considerable extent and use group
discussions. That would be my kind of particular way of dealing with the
situation. And certainly in the early grades diagnostic testing, almost
daily, so that you have, with computers what we have now it could be very
easy to institute a system of diagnostic daily testing. What did the kid
learn in the last six hours? You see, and like now sometimes the teacher
waits a week, two weeks, and you do not know. Two weeks might have gone
by and the kids wasted the two week's time because he did not understand
the principle that you put in the first day, an idea you had the first
day, and he just missed it. Those two weeks were wasted, so with the
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technology we have now I would have diagnostic testing just about daily.
We have the technology to do that. What did the kid learn in the last six
hours? If he did not learn, then, you know, you can move him back and go
over it again. If, for instance, a teacher thinks he has an idea across
and then at the end of the day she does a diagnostic test, she sees then
that eighty percent of her students did not get the idea. Then she can do
it another way or go over it. Daily diagnostic testing would be a very
effective system that we are not using now, even though we have got the
technology to do that.
W: With high school students, too?
P: Well, with everybody.
W: Could you discuss your views on integration?
P: Well, any form of segregation that is not justified on educational grounds
is inherently anti-educational and anti-democratic. And it is just as
stupid to segregate kids because of skin color. That is why I am opposed
to all parochial schools, because you are segregating kids on the basis of
religion, and this is a society that needs interaction between all
religious groups. And so if a kid grows up for ten or twelve years
without ever having, if you are a Catholic kid, without ever interacting
effectively with a Protestant kid or a Jewish kid, that is very damaging
to society. If a kid grows up only interacting with white kids, never
with a black kid, that is very damaging. So any form of segregation is
not justified by good educational reason. We might segregate a blind kid
in order to teach him Braille because you do not have to teach anybody
Braille. But that would be the only kind of segregation, you might
segregate a kid who is so badly disturbed that he cannot function in the
regular classroom. But again we have good educatonal reasons for that.
So any form of segregation is inherently evil, anti-democratic, and anti-
educational. One of the best forms of education is good interaction
between peers, that is the way kids really get socialized. And when we
segregate, you go to this school because you are black and you go to this
school because you are white, or you have got blue eyes you go to, that
kind of thing that is just crazy.
W: For handicapped children, should we segregate them just for certain times
or should they be mainstreamed?
P: No, the only time we segregate is when, there ar some courses that a blind
kid could go to, you know, it would not hurt him to go to. There are other
situations where you cannot have a blind kid, maybe diving off a diving
board in a swim class. So he might have to do something else. We can
justify not having a crippled kid running on the track team because he
just cannot. On the other hand, he might be able to sit in a classroom
and do just as well as anybody else.
W: What do you think about corporal punishment?
P: Well, you know, one of my classes I did this, maybe both First of all,
you try to make your classroom experience as rewarding as you possibly
can, and in as many ways as you possibly can. Rewarding in the sense that
the kids are happy about coming; rewarding in the sense that the teacher
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praises the kids when they have a half-way reason to do so. Even physical
prizes, you know, I think there is nothing wrong with a kid who makes
progress to get a toy, or an extra book to read, or candy, or whatever.
You try to create the atmosphere in which there is always the opportunity
for reward. If Johnny is jumping out of a seat seventeen times, try
rewarding Johnny for sitting still. Only after you have rewarded him
seventeen times, and it has not worked, then you can resort to some type
of punishment. The form of punishment should be as mild as you can
possibly devise which will get the job done. And corporal punishment is
always very dangerous, it is dangerous when you use it in your own family,
and doubly dangerous when you use it in the school system. I cannot say I
would never use it in the school system, but I would say that is should
almost never be used in the school system. And only under very, very
special kinds of circumstances that you would use it. And the odds are
that it will not work; most of the kids who are that bad have had all
kinds of corporal punishment from their families. It also has all kinds
of negative fall-outs; it makes the teacher an ogre, and makes the school
system non-rewarding. Try to catch the student doing something good and
reward him. And try to set up situations too in which you can do that,
and then keep rewarding him for progressive changes, and most of the time
that will work. And then if you must do the punishment, then use a very
mild form of punishment. Maybe leaving the room for a few minutes, or
staying after class for a few minutes, and of course, explaining, try to
get through to him. If you are going to use punishment, try to get
through to him cognitively, as well as punitively, if you get what I mean.
That is, you try to explain, look Johnny, you are disturbing the whole
class, not during class, but when you have him alone, keeping him after
class, we cannot really conduct our lessons if you keep jumping out of
your seat. And would not it make more sense for you to be quiet at least
for a little while and behave. Try to get both his cognitive equipment
involved in getting his behaviour, as well as his physical equipment
involved in changing.
W: You worked in a slum school. Did you have any problems with discipline,
any stories?
P: Oh yes, all kinds of problems. At least one fight a day on the
playground, and you know, you had to separate them and you had to talk to
them. The best thing I found in that situation, and not too many teachers
have the time, or maybe even the inclination, the best thing to do was to
demonstrate to the kid that you were somehow, even when you were punishing
him, you were on his side. So you might go to the kid's house and try to
get the parents, you know, I would sometimes say to a parent he has been
pretty edgy these past two weeks. Have you done anything nice with him?
Have you done, have you gone to a picnic, or taken him to the movies, or
something like that? Try doing that. Try to get the parents involved.
And above all, try to make it clear to the kid that even though you are
punishing him, you are fundamentally on his side. And of course, you
always use rewards before you punish him. That is the way you attempt to
handle the difficult problem. But you really must not stay that with a
kind of zoo. There was nothing you could do to control them because many
of these kids had been so badly damaged that only deep therapy could
really pull them out of it.
W: What does that do to the teaching?
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P: Well, we know what it does to teachers. There is a tremendous turnover in
teachers, you have low morale, and the only teachers that stay either tend
to stay in slum areas or those teachers who cannot make it any other way,
those few saints, you know, the very few saints that we talked about, the
few saints who stay, probably half of one percent of the population, just
because they are saints and they want to be where the action is. And then
you have a ninety-five to ninety-eight percent turnover. And the people
who stay year after year are the people who cannot get a job anyplace
else, and who are such lousy teachers that they go through their classes,
it is like they are on the Ford assembly line. You know, I will do this
at three o'clock and that at two o'clock, I do not care if the building
burns down, I am just going to do my thing. And if the kids do not learn
a thing when they come out of this class, so what.
W: This concludes the interview with Dr. Robert Primack, Associate Professor
of Education at the University of Florida..pa
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