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The American Junto

submitted for partial completion

of Education 576, Washington State
University, Fall Semester, 1980

By: Nancy Macduff and Floyd Bunt, Jr.

January 12, 1980
Call them study clubs, research clubs, roundtables, or groups.

Benjamin Franklin named it the JUNTO. No matter the name, it is a gathering

of adults for a sharing of political, social, religious, or intellectual

discussion. The roots of the uniquely American institution flourished with

the new nation.

Benjamin Franklin is the "father" of the American junto, but the idea

for it came from Cotton Mather. Mather, an influential colonial clergyman

and Pastor and Associate Pastor of North Church from 1683 - 1728, referred in

his writings to the "neighborhood benefit societies" he formed in Boston to

promote religion and morality. Benjamin Franklin formed his junto in Phila-

delphia among his acquaintances to discuss any point of morals, politics, or

natural philosophy.
In the junto, Franklin had the group establish ground rules. Each

member was required to present one or more inquiries every three months. The

other members did their own research on the various subjects. The group was

a secret society limited to twelve members. Meetings were held every Friday

evening for several hours. Franklin described these meetings as "debates

under the direction of the president, sincere spirit of enquiry after truth,

without fondness for dispute or desire of victory, and to present warmth

all expression of positiveness or openess or of direct contradiction."l

The first meeting of Franklin's junto was held in 1727. After a

time, the members wished to increase the size of the group. The method

chosen was for each member to set up their own secret junto with twelve members,

Five other juntos were set up thus expanding the influence of Franklin and

1Ben Franklin, The Autobiography of Ben Franklin, Labaree, Leonard,

Ketcham, Ralph L., Boatfield, Helen C., and Fineman, Helene H., editors,
(New Haven, Yales University Press, 1964), p. 171.

the original junto. The power base became a constructive influence in local


Six areas that the junto influenced included: 1) formation of the

Union Fire Department which was founded as a result of discussion about the

lack of any organization for extinguishing fires in the city; 2) the establish-

ment of the first free public lending library in the colonies came as a

result of discussion concerning the lack of books for members of the junto to

read and research topics that were brought up by the other members; 3) the

creation of paper currency in America came as a result of discussion initiated

by a paper presented by Franklin titled "The Nature and Necessity of a Paper

Currency"; 4) the founding of the University of Philadelphia in 1753 as a

result of a paper presented to the junto by Franklin titled "Proposals

Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania"; 5) the establishment

of the American Philosophical Society; and 6) the establishment of the

Franklin Institute.

Franklin's founding of the junto was only one of many contribu-

tions he made to American attitudes about adults as learners. "Benjamin

Franklin ingrained deeply into the American stream of thought a compul-

sion toward self-improvement that has exerted a dominant influence on

the American attitude toward continuing education. Franklin .••has claim

to being a patron saint of adult education.,,2

The pervasive influence of Franklin's notions about continu~ng:

education can be seen throughout the United States. Non-cred[tradtilt

education centers operate nationwide, study clubs tackle every imaginable

2Malcolm Knowles, Adult Education Movement in the United States,

(New York, Holt, Rinehart ,Winston, 1962), pp. 10-11.

topic, and churches continue to be a major adult education supplier.

The junto lives on also. A dramatic example of the strength of the junto

method of adult education can be seen in Missouri.

In Fayette, Missouri, a town of 3500, a junto was organized in

1910 for a "little intellectual stimulation".3 Operating today, the member-

ship is limited to thirty-two. Members who miss more than three meetings

without an excuse are dismissed. Also, each member must present a paper

and host the group in their home at least once every two years. There is

an unwritten rule that papers are not written about politics or denom-

inational religion. Some of the subjects that have been included are

"Holistic Medicine","The Contributions of Pigs to Mankind", and "The

Effects of Darwinism of the 20th Century Thought". The common thread

that seems to be shared by all of the members is a broad diversity of


Malcolm Knowles, a foremost adult educator, established two

juntos similar to Franklin's in the Chicago area in the early 1950's.

The first, called the Forum, was a composite of civic, educational,

and social services leaders who met once a month to discuss the educa-

tional needs that should be available in Chicago area institutions like

colleges, YMCA, and high schools. The result of this informal group

was the formation of the Adult Education Council of Chicago. The second

junto was established in an Evanston Unitarian Church. Eight to ten

couples gathered each Friday in one home to discuss the hosts' selection

of religious readings, bible passages, or religious thought. This junto

3Walla Walla Union Bulletin, 1 December 1980.

was rotated each week to a different home. The group was still meeting

regularly after Knowles left the Chicago area.

Individuals are not the sole initiators of juntos. During the

middle 1960's, the city of St. Louis, Missouri used a variation of the

junto to gain citizen input about a variety of local issues. A topic

for discussion was identified by the Board of Commissioners. The local

media, television, radio, and newspapers, would produce series presenting

the facts on the issue. Pro and con debates on the subject were conducted

for about ten weeks. The last two weeks, neighborhood groups, civic

organizations, and service clubs would sponsor juntos that focused on the

topic. The results of these discussions were recorded. At the end of

the ten week period, the Board of Commissioners would hold a live

television and radio discussion on the topic. The juntos could then

either telephone inthe results of their discussion or present it in person.

This grassroots input assisted the Board of Commissioners in the decision

making process.

In the Fall of 1980, it was decided to convene a junto in the city

of Walla Walla. The purpose of this group was to facilitate discussion

of adult education topics of interest to the members of the group;

facilitate the movement of the group from one where the leadership was

identified, to a leaderless group; to evaluate the methodology used to

establish the group; and evaluate the techniques required for the main-

tenance of the group.

Persons who had a wide range of experiences as professional

or volunteer adult educators were selected. There were three identi-

fiable areas of expertize: 1) individuals working directly in the

field of adult and continuing education, 2) individuals whose profes-

sional responsibility includes an adult education component, and


or volunteer adult educators were selected. There were three identi-

fiable areas of expertize: 1) individuals working directly in the field

of adult and continuing education, 2) individuals whose professional

responsibility includes an adult education component, and 3) individuals

who volunteer as adult educators. The background of individuals in the

original junto included a volunteer trainer for the Rural Fire Depart-

ment, PTA Leader, Boy Scout Trainer, CPR Instructor/Trainer, Camp Fire

Executive Director, Director of a seven county youth employment pro-

gram, Director of Housing and Food Services at a college, Director of

Continuing Education at a community college, the instructor for in-

service education of members of the local police department, and a

current person who has returned to college in their adult years.

Five men and five women were selected for membership in the

junto. Personal telephone calls were made by the founders to each

person. Only one person begged off due to a continuing meeting time

conflict. A replacement was found. Reminder notes were sent to

each member for the first meeting(see Appendix).

Individuals in the junto are busy people. They all expressed

agreement with the founders of the group that little time was spent

theorizing about adult education principles or methods. Most felt

that they never took the time to think about the why or wherefore

of their adult education endeavors. They further stated an interest

in being able to share their views with others in similar volunteer

or professional jobs.

In a study by Kaplan, it was found that better educated parti-

cipants in a group resent a leader who dominated the group.4 Therefore,

the first agenda focused on two goals: 1) moving the group focus away from

the founders, and 2) brainstorming on the subject of adult education.

The second goal was achieved by asking each person to write down three

things done to them, or that they had observed, or that they did in

adult education that they thought was effective and three things that

they thought were ineffective. The group then shared these experiences

with the positive things recorded on newsprint for all to see. This

particular techn±que served two specific purposes. First, members

were expressing their views about adult education from their own lifes.

Second, it was a way for the group to become better acquainted with

each other. For example, one member returned to college three years

ago to obtain his doctorate. He spoke of the difference between his

reactions and those of his much younger fellow students in the department.

Several questions ensued and the group was better informed about his

background and experience.

The junto also had to deal with the usual housekeeping tasks

of a group. Where would the group meet? How often? Because the time

selected was at lunch hour, did the group want food brought in? The

junto, by consensus, elected to meet twice a month during the lunch hour

with each member, in turn, bringing some kind of snacks. Initially, the

agenda was a thorough exploration of those items enumerated at the first

meeting. There was some discussion of future direction, but the consensus

4J.R.Kidd, How Adults Learn,(New York, Association Press, 1969),p.254.


indicated a desire to explore fully the issues outlined in the brain-

storming session before moving into new areas.

Prior to the second meeting, the founders sent out reminder

notices with a copy of those items listed at the previous meeting. At

this second meeting, there was the introduction of a member who had not

been present earlier. It was necessary to bring her up-to-date with the

progress of the group and also include some comments she wished to make

on the list of adult education generalizations arrived at during the

first meeting. The challenge for the founders of the group was to

facilitate the move away from being responsible for the leadership and

thereby attempt to achieve the first goal of the initial meeting.

Verner and Newberry in Adult Education Theory and Motivation make a

strong case for adult educators relinquishing their leadership roles

so that participants can become active members with a good attendance

record. "It is evident that the key to the problem of participation

lies in the relationship of the individual to the group,,5 They continue

with the hypotheses that active members understand and agree with the

purpose of thegroup and therefore feel a responsibility to the group.

Techniques for achieving these objectives include personal parti-

cipation in agenda setting, encouraging individual contribution, turning

over all responsibilities to the junto(ie. housekeeping tasks, replace-

ment of members), and the ability to let the group go where it wishes

and not where the founders want it to go. Success of the junto will

be measured by two criteria: 1) participation by attendance over a one

5Coolie Verner, John s. Newberry,jr.,Curtis R. Ulmer, Wilbur c.

Hallenbeck, Andrew Hendrickson, Elizabeth Foster, Wilma Donahue, Adult
Education: Theory and Method(Washington, D.C., AEA of USA, 1965), p.7.

year period, and 2) leadership functions being performed by members of

the junto other than the founders.

Stretching behind the group is the history of Franklin's junto

as a model for the small discussion group. While Franklin stamped his

junto with his passion for continuous learning, he in no way controlled

the group. That is the objective of the Walla Walla junto. To become,

in the model of Franklin, a leaderless group with active and interested

participants, that meets the needs of each individual member.


Ford, Paul L., The Many-Sided Franklin, New York: The Century Co" 1899

Franklin, Benjamin, The Autobiography of Ben Franklin,Labaree, Leonard,

Ketcham, Ralph L., Boatfield, Helen C., and Fineman, Helen H.,
editors, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964

Franklin, Benjamin, A Biography in his Own Words, Volume 1-2, Edited by

Thomas Fleming, New York: Newsweek, 1972

Houle, Cyril 0., The Design of Education, San Francisco: Jossy-Bass, 1974

"Intellectual Club in Continuous Operation after Seven Decades", Walla Walla

Union Bulletin, 1 December 1980, p. 12

Kidd, J.R., How Adults Learn, New York: Association Press, 1969

Knowles, Malcolm S., Emeritus Professor of Adult and Continuing Education

at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina,
Interview, 16 December 1980

Knowles, Malcolm S., Adult Education Movement in the United States, New
York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1962

Knowles, Malcolm S., The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species, Houston: Gulf, 1973

Morse, John T., American Statesman: Ben Franklin, Cambridge: Houghton,

Mifflin, and Co., 1889

Verner, Coolie, Newberry, John s. jr., Ulmer, Curtis R., Hallenbeck, Wilbur C.,
Hendrickson, Andrew, Foster, Elizabeth, Donahue, Wilma, Adult
Education: Theory and Method, Washington D.C.: AEA of USA, 1965