In 1966, Princeton professor Martin Duberman had enough of the soul-killing, mechanical instruction taking place at universities across the country, including his own. A whole “superstructure of authoritarian control in our schools,” he believed, was distorting higher education into a cookie-cutter process that demeaned the young and blocked learning. Grading was but one of the many ways in which professors “turn potentially creative individuals into data-processing machines.” The whole system had to change.

Duberman devised a new course as an antidote. It would have no grades, no tests, no papers. Readings would come from a list of books he had compiled and from which students would choose what they wanted to read and ignore the rest. Duberman’s goal was a “permissive, non-judgmental atmosphere”; students would call him by his first name and meetings would follow a group therapy model of expression and freedom.

Princeton approved the course, including the no-grade policy. The experiment failed, however, despite the good intentions. Duberman wasn’t the problem; he was sincere and dedicated. Instead, it became clear that the students weren’t nearly as troubled by the professor’s authority as he was. The ones who signed up for the course preferred that he choose the readings. A glum Duberman reflected afterwards, “In short, they preferred

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