Education: Farm Boy No. 2

It began in a musty Victorian house in Manhattan's Chelsea 'district. But there was nothing else musty about the New School for Social Research. Among its founders in 1919 were four intellectual mavericks: Historians Charles A. Beard and James Harvey Robinson, Philosopher John Dewey and Economist Thorstein Veblen. The New School was for adults who had learned the wrong things in college, or not enough, or had never been there.

Within three years it got a director who has been there ever since: foot-shuffling, pipe-puffing Alvin Saunders Johnson, a Nebraska farm boy and an educational iconoclast. He made it a unique adult...