The new learning

Today it’s chaos Tomorrow ... FREEDOM?

May 1 1969
The new learning

Today it’s chaos Tomorrow ... FREEDOM?

May 1 1969

Today it’s chaos Tomorrow ... FREEDOM?

The new learning

THE TROUBLE WITH freedom is that someone has to put the garbage out.

Rochdale College, Toronto, Canada . . . the eyes of the world are upon you.

This, after all, is what rebellion is all about. It’s the nitty gritty of the half-heard demands of Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Jerry Rubin and the face-less computer-burners at Sir George Williams and, when you get down to it, even Eldridge Cleaver. At Rochdale, as at no other educational institution in the world, there’s no Reactionary Establishment or arbitrary measures of success; there are no hangovers from yesterday’s lousy world to bug you. Just freedom, to do your own thing your own way, to build your own environment, to decide what you want to learn, and how. Freedom . . . radical democracy . . . anarchy, at first anyway . .,

In part, the rhetoric behind Rochdale College goes something like this:

Traditional education has become part of The Machine. At any given moment, The Machine needs so many engineers and doctors and truck drivers and physicists and short-order cooks. So it puts kids into one end of its educational system, force-feeds them on approved information, and from the other end — the high schools, colleges and universities — out pop so many engineers and doctors and truck drivers and physicists and short - order cooks. Most of them can’t see beyond their occupational horizons. Most of them can’t get along with one another. Alienation? C’est la vie.

But there’s more to Rochdale than that. The old men who tend The Machine — those old imperialist lackeys like university presidents, and me — they know it’s all wrong. They know The Machine’s educational process is something that ends. The chemist who graduates today not only doesn’t know what’s happening in the rest of the world, he has also stopped learning. He’s got his education — and in 10 years he’ll be hopelessly out of date. He doesn’t really know how to learn about the new discoveries and so won’t be able to use them to make better food preservatives or perfumes or syn-

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thetic fibres, and so his company won’t be able to make a profit out of what he can’t make.

And if the truck driver is on a twoday week or is replaced by machines, and doesn’t know about life except for truck driving, then he’s going to be a problem for society. Problems are expensive, and don’t consume. So maybe Rochdale College isn’t a bad idea. Just supposing they’re right. . .

IT IS AN 18-story building on Bloor Street West in mid-Toronto, on the borders of the campus of the University of Toronto. It is a block long and can house 850 people in single rooms, shared rooms and two-bedroom apartments. Built by a student housing cooperative, Rochdale is double-headed. It is a high-rise apartment building that is also a college. Both are run by the people in them. They manage it, make the decisions about rents, choose their own teachers, subjects, study methods, morals. The magic word, hopefully, is — or was — consensus.

The manager is Bernie Bomers, who used to be a Bay Street economist and now never wears a tie. He calls it a living machine — “an 18-story machine that demands money, lubrication, supervision. And the contradiction is that the freedom gets wasted with people putting in an awful lot of time on the mechanics of survival. The idea of everything being participatory means you’ve got to get things organized if you want clean sheets. You must have a structure and substructures. This ‘doing your own thing’ rhetoric is beginning to be talked about as a myth. Doing your own thing means being self-centred, and asocial at a very mundane level, such as noise, not doing the dishes.”

Sheila Newell, 21, a student of French at the “straight” university (University of Toronto), says, “It’s very annoying to get up to go to lectures and find people coming to bed after being up all night on a noisy acid trip in the lounge next door.”

DENNIS LEE, 29, used to teach at the “straight” university. He gave it up for Rochdale. Before it opened he was saying such things as:

“What Rochdale is all about is having a system flexible enough to fit people, all kinds of people, rather than trying to make people fit a structured system inherited from somewhere and someone else. It is a place where people must create their own environment, make their own decisions, learn to face themselves — because the basic truth everyone must face is about himself — and learn to live and be complete, rounded people. Educationally, people must learn how to learn so that learning becomes part of

living, like sleeping or blowing your nose, and not something you do for a preordained period until you’ve acquired sufficient expertise in one field to go out and earn a living.”

When Rochdale had been open for four months, he was saying: “Kids who’ve come up from a structural, conventional school system have a hard time handling Rochdale freedom. First, they go through a period of euphoria at this ideal world they’ve dreamed about, a sort of saturnalia. Then they become disillusioned when they see that the people in Rochdale are just as venal and just as dirty and just as nice and as nasty as in the straight world. Some of them leave, then, and some of them go through a second saturnalia to ease the disappointment, and then — hopefully — they come back to earth and realize they’ve got to live their own lives and accept responsibility for their actions.”

BARRY LUGER, a bearded New Yorker, who tends the building’s boilers to pay his way through the college, believed in total freedom until, as he told a meeting of the college council, he began to realize that the building was being taken over every weekend by bearded, bell-bottomed gate-crashers.

Bernie Bomers says: “Some crashers are good people. We’ve taken in about 50, and some of them work for their bed, like cleaning up. One has even started a crashers’ industry: they make paper flowers in the secondfloor lounge. But at weekends we have had maybe 200, including kids from the suburbs in for kicks or to get dope or who think they can come here and get a quick lay. They have taken over at times, and then everyone you see in the public places is probably a crasher, some of them lying on the floor, dumping filth, dealing in dope, cranking up [injecting themselves with speed, or methedrine] in washrooms, walking around making a noise, pulling fire alarms, just generally imposing.”

Consensus is putting a stop to that. There is even talk of putting back the lock someone removed from the front door in the name of Freedom, and supplementing it with a closed-circuit TV camera.

Wu, THE COLLEGE CHEF, is a Yugoslavian - born vegetarian and philosopher. Mostly, he is occupied providing relatively plain meals as part of the room-and-board deal: roast duckling one evening, meat loaf another. He finds the 24-hour restaurant, “The Same,” less inhibiting. His menu includes 19 kinds of honey, including linden, rosemary and mellona; caviar at 40 cents a portion; 25 kinds of cof-

fee, from straight Canadian to dandelion; 23 kinds of tea, from tea - bag through something called Constant Comment to Yerba Mate; 10 varieties of smoked meats; 22 variations on the theme of jam; and 23 flavors for milk shakes, including anise, bilberry and tamarind (a rare Indian date).

I LOVE LOVE (Except between 6 and 9 p.m., when I’m studying, and Wednesdays and Fridays, when I’m ironing or doing my hair).

— Sign on 15th-floor apartment

The population of Rochdale is divided into students and residents. There are 300 students who, in theory, are dedicated to furthering their education solely through the college facilities. There are 500 residents, who take part in the experiment by living at Rochdale while attending courses at the “straight” University of Toronto.

Mary Trew, 20, is a Rochdale student. She moved in last September and began seminars in philosophy, sociology, physics, art and conversational French. After five months she said she had learned very little in the strict academic sense.

“I think I did quite well in high school, but by the time I graduated last year I’d had it with the formaleducation thing. Most of the other kids respected the whole authority structure, the parents and the teachers who wanted them to get good marks.

“From when you are five years old the system is teaching you that you have to be told what to learn and how to learn and when to learn, and that’s why the situation at Rochdale is so difficult for most people.

“You are confronted with this void where there’s no one to tell you what to do and where to go. For the first three weeks I was very keen on the whole idea of seminars, because there was nobody telling me I had to do this or that and why. But I gave up on it. It was difficult to handle all that freedom. I didn’t want to be told and yet I had nowhere to go; I had nothing to rebel against, and nothing to follow.

“But it’s so necessary to go through this. If I’d confronted this void as a schoolgirl and had had to take responsibility for myself, it wouldn’t be happening now, this flailing around looking for directions and interests.

“I didn’t do anything academically for five months. But it wasn’t wasteful. I more cr less sat around and talked to people, learned to get along with others, how to manage human relationships. I read an awful lot.”

Mary Trew is now working as a waitress in the college restaurant to earn her keep and has plugged back continued on page 75

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into the philosophy and sociology seminars. She says she has a self-imposed regimen; that she doesn’t care about getting education for a job; that she just wants to be a good human being and that Rochdale will help.

EDUCATION was to have been by seminar. The “resource person” — philosopher, economist, sociologist, academic — would provide the information and cover the areas chosen by a consensus of students. A dozen seminars started.

There were no plans for diplomas; no degrees. The hope was simply that, over the years, Rochdale “graduates” would so amply demonstrate their abilities that attendance alone would earn any recognition desired.

By Christmas, most seminars had failed, or were in limbo. “They were too democratic,” says Registrar Jack Dimond. “Students don’t know what there is to know and must have some direction. There was no discipline: anyone could join in at any time. Then everyone got caught up in the growing pains of the building.”

By March, however, things had looked up. Some seminars were reviving. Others had come into being spontaneously. These included groups studying music, real estate (for a back-to-nature movement), film making, ceramics, witchcraft, primitive religions, revolution, drama, yoga, cooking and something called The Utopian Research Institute.

Democracy wasn’t the only thing to kill seminars. As Bernie Bomers says: “Before Rochdale, it was easy for people to say that external conditions prevent your genius from blossoming. Then they come here, get the freedom and discover they still can’t write like Mailer or paint like Pollock or blow horn like Miles Davis and it’s a big disappointment. It’s hard to cope with.”

HE IS ABOUT 24, broad, wears jeans and has a big head and a lot of curly hair. Leonine is a good word. He also has his hand still stuck through the glass front of the food-vending machine when Bernie Bomers, the manager, catches him.

Why did you do that?

Silence while he looks at the blood.

Well ... I put about two dollars’ worth of quarters in and nothing came out. I wanted that one. It’s chicken and lettuce, I think, but nothing kept coming out.

Why did you hit it?

I didn’t. About 10 minutes ago someone came by and told me to tap it. So I tapped it.

Can you pay for the damage?

I certainly will. Send me the bill.

I’m giving you the bill now — $25.

Well, I’ve got a dollar and some.

Where do you live? Identification?

He produces a U.S. draft card and a driver’s license with a Rockcliffe, Ottawa, address.

The crowd now consists of six prophet beards, two tidy ones, an acre of sideburns, three bell-bottom trousers, one milli-skirt, a glitter of granny glasses. Consensus begins. Let him go, Bernie, he was only doing his thing. Hey, Bernie, call the cops.

Enter Joel.

Joel is well fleshed, with nice sideburns, blue shirt, jeans too tight for his diet. He strides through the bellbottoms.

You pay, fella, or we will lay an information against you for malicious damage and attempted robbery.

You can’t hold me. I’m leaving.

Oh, no you’re not.

Joel extends a pinkly authoritative paw.

I am placing you under citizen’s arrest for malicious damage to the property of Rochdale College, to wit, this food-vending machine.

The crowd is silent. Joel is a leader of men.

The accused blinks through his granny glasses and observes that, actually, he lives in Bermuda. He still has dignity. Leonine is the word.

The crowd, mumbling, moves as a prophet-beard in sandals and beads elbows his way through, wielding a large blue broom and begins to sweep up the broken glass.

Sorry to tamper with the evidence but this stuff is dangerous.

His sandal soles are very, very thin.

Joel tells someone to call the police and he says: Like hell. Someone else goes.

Waiting . . . waiting. The silence stretches and twangs, and the accused says they had no right to take his identification away.

Thus cued, Joel says: When you are under arrest you may be searched unless you produce a card of diplomatic immunity. Any citizen may make a citizen’s arrest if he has good reason to believe a felony has been committed. 1 must warn you anything you say will be taken down and may be used in evidence.

A second prophet-beard leans his head in the ring. Hey, you also gotta tell him he don’t have to say anything.

A small French Canadian in jackboots speaks. Will you work for the damage? Will you work for Rochdale? Eh?

French Canadians really do wave their hands a lot.

The accused blinks.

That’s all right. I’ve got some very good Jewish lawyers.

The police arrive, very oddball in collars and ties, and Joel puffs.

I placed this man under citizen’s arrest and duly cautioned him. In my

opinion he is not high, though I’m not a qualified medical practitioner.

A lanky, cadaverous prophet-beard in floor-length overcoat, moves too close to Joel.

What d’you want?

Some bell-bottoms from the rear says it’s no good asking him anything because he doesn’t answer anyone this month. He doesn’t either.

ROCHDALE SET UP no qualifications for entry beyond: Can you pay the rent? and: Do you know anyone in the old Rochdale College (which consisted of about 100 people)?

Three months and a bacchanalia later, the college council decided that next year there will be some criteria for admission. At the time of writing they were still trying to decide how to decide what those criteria should be.

It all involves the question: what is Rochdale? Federal officials seem to have accepted that Rochdale is an educational institution and have rebated the 11-percent tax on building materials. Toronto City Council doesn’t agree, and the college is suing the city in the Ontario Supreme Court for a tax remission on the grounds it is, so there, an educational institution.

The first tenants moved in before the kitchens were finished. For two months, the college provided about 600 TV dinners a day. A total of almost 41,000 TV dinners was consumed before the kitchens and cafeterias opened. When they did open freeloaders caused chaos. Rents are inclusive, so residents don’t pay. Neither did the gate - crashers. The manager finally appointed a crasher as cafeteria custodian. A woman of about 65, she sat at the door, asking for proof of residence. As payment, she ate free. She was the most efficient screener the cafeteria ever had, but residents objected on the grounds that it was a contradiction of the freedom on which the college is based.

They took a consensus and fired the old girl. She stuck around freeloading for a week, then vanished. No one ever knew her name.

SUPER PARADOX: Rochdale was, in a sense, inspired by that pillar of the uptight establishment world of capitalism — the real-estate developer. Revenue Properties, which sometimes seems to own half the apartment buildings in Toronto, assembled the land, then suggested it would be a good place for a student residence.

Campus Co-Operative Residence Inc. agreed and contributed $200,000, raised with its other residences (old houses) as security, plus the idea that Rochdale should also be a “free” college. The developer took back a second mortgage for about $400,000.

continued on page 77

ROCHDALE from page 75

Central Mortgage and Housing Corp. put up 90 percent of the $5.7 million total cost on the same terms as those under which they finance university building. Ownership is vested in a company called Co-Operative College Residences Inc.

Beginning March 1, they started repaying CMHC at the rate of around $26,000 a month. The second mortgage and other debts amount to about another $6,000. Provided they have a 98 percent occupancy in school year and 65 percent in summer, they can pay the mortgages, expenses and then some. Rents range from about $80 a month for a single furnished room with shared kitchen and bath, through slightly higher rates for full board, to $130 a month for an unfurnished onebedroom apartment. All residents pay $25 a year membership dues in the college itself.

THE WAY THE newspapers tell it, Rochdale is in a constant state of orgy, which is only partly true.

At first, no one was quite sure how to handle all that heady, frightening freedom: indeed, many still aren’t. There was a three-month freak-out, involving mostly the 300 or so fulltime Rochdale students and just a few of the residents, who are mostly straight.

In the early days you could readily buy almost any drug. Now it’s hard to get anything but pot, hashish or LSD and its cousins. By consensus, habit-forming drugs, such as speed (methedrine) are deplored. Vigilante groups have ordered three pushers who trade in speed to move out of the building. Users’ committees have been set up to police the use of drugs, and anyone caught turning on in public is warned against a repeat of such irresponsibility. Giving drugs to teenagers is also frowned upon.

All LSD that comes into Rochdale can be — and usually is — analyzed at what one official described as student-run acid-test laboratories: like

bootleg booze, badly made acid can be dangerous.

And sex?

“There is lots of opportunity,” says one 20-year-old girl. “But I doubt whether there’s more promiscuity here than elsewhere. People who live in Rochdale do it in beds, and people who live in ordinary university residences or with their parents do it in cars. Beds are more comfortable.”

Remember, Rochdale is part of a generation that regards pot much as their parents regarded drink. As for sex, nothing’s changed much beyond the climate.

O CONSENSUS, consensus!

Soon after the college opened, crude graffiti in Magic Marker ink appeared on stairway walls. Says one council member: “We held meetings about it constantly. Some people were fed up with four-letter words and bits of anatomy all over the walls. But others thought it was a valid, spontaneous art form, so no one could decide what to do.” In February, in another outburst of spontaneity, a group of tenants went around washing walls, which was rather arbitrary of them.

AT FIRST, the management council consisted of any college members who wanted to help make decisions by consensus. Result: no decisions.

In January a new 12-man council set out to hold open meetings at which college members could vote.

The first was in a lounge on the second floor. About 100 people drifted in and out, so there were always about 60 people present, mostly on the floor. It rambled along for the better part of five hours and at some point everyone spoke, except for a fat girl in slacks and sweater who wasn’t wearing a bra and munched about a dozen candy bars as she leaned against the piano, which had the sheet music for Claire de Lune and the Royal Conservatory grade-four exams on the stand.

The assembled beards and beads, bell-bottoms and Boston accents dedicated to draft-dodging produced a nonstop parade of “points of order, Mr. Chairman,” and mini-debates over who had been recognized by the chairman as the next speaker — though it wasn’t always clear who the chairman was.

By invoking much democracy and rule of consensus, it was decided to decide not to decide anything, except for a few conditions of tenancy slightly more stringent than those in the average apartment building. Registrar Jack Dimond was moved to observe:

“Christ — it’s the same tired old story. Look, if we want to get things done, we have to do unpleasant things, like writing things down and submitting them in advance to council meetings. Let’s not kid ourselves that we’re building a new and better world by getting 80 people together and embarking on interminable debates.”

He then announced his resignation.

Later, he said he was not giving up on Rochdale; that he was not leaving a sinking ship; that his resignation had no significance beyond the fact that he was fed up with being bogged down in the detail of trying to run the college without the aid of an active, decisive council.

He also said he has the beginnings of a stomach ulcer.

WILL ROCHDALE stay anarchist? Will it develop a structure flexible enough to adjust to future generations? Will it develop an Establishment, become as reactionary as the world it rejects? Will the college fail and become just another student residence?

Rochdale wonders, too.


This apartment is protected by a 40-megaton nuclear device which will be triggered by the entry, or attempted entry, of any unauthorized person, chicks included. So watch it.

— Fourth-floor apartment sign

Midway through February there was ominous talk that Rochdale was failing. In exasperation, some people quit the building — but remained in the college, attending seminars. You could hear people say, “Let’s burn the goddamn building down” — the problems of housekeeping and co-existence while doing your own thing are infuriating.

Denis Lee mourned in the college newspaper: “There is a minority with fairly desperate emotional needs which the rest of us can’t meet, and trying to do so ties us into a syndrome of crisis/letdown, which frustrates the slower and more organic processes of education.” He wrote of social, organizational, psychological and economic crises so dominating college life that the educational process had no time to take root. “This week it’s the garbage chute and fire alarms, last week it was the crasher problem. The week before, the necessity of getting a council elected. And so on, ad nauseam.”

As i SAID at the start, the trouble with freedom is that someone has to put the garbage out. The trouble with educational freedom is that first you have to learn how to learn.

Judgment on Rochdale, or others it has inspired, cannot be passed for years. Perhaps 20 years. Deep down, perhaps obscured by the need to make sure the dishes get done, is the fact that what Rochdale is trying to do is change the world, or, more precisely, change the people in it.

Perhaps it can, perhaps it can’t. Perhaps Rochdale won’t stand a chance until the kids from Allandale Heights get there.


Celebrate it.

— Sign on door, Apt. 1610, Rochdale College. □