How to Study



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NewYork 11, N. Y. 

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In its ten years of service to the American people, the Jefferson School has had more than 100,000 enrollments�adult workers in shop and office, housewives, students and professionals.

The Jefferson School is a school for all working people, Negro and white. It is dedicated to meeting their needs and advancing their interests. It is open to everyone, regardless of color or nationality, creed or political belief�no matter how much or how little their previous schooling.

The Jefferson School is a Marxist school. It teaches Marxism as the philosophy and social science of the working class. It emphasizes the distinctive features of the development of the United States, its democratic traditions, its cultural heritage, and the militant history of the American working class and the Negro people.

It is the aim of the Jefferson School to encourage students to think for themselves and to reach their own reasoned conclusions.

A Guide for Students


"Socialism, having become a science,
must be pursued as a science, that is,
it must be studied."

                             FREDERICK ENGELS

NO ONE emphasizes and insists on study as do Marxists. Why is this so?

Only Marxists insist that the social questions we face�poverty and wealth, exploitation and profits, oppression and liberation, war and peace�can be approached in a scientific way, that they can be understood and therefore can be solved.

Marxism is the science of society. First developed by Marx and Engels a hundred years ago, it has been advanced by Lenin, Stalin and other working class leaders throughout the world.

The capitalist rulers of our country deny that there can be a science of society. They deny such a science because they fear it. They know that it exposes their brutal robbery and exploitation of the people, that it stands in the way of their drive for war and profits. They know, moreover, that a scientific view of social development foretells their own passing from the scene and the rising of a new society run not for profit, but for the welfare of all working people.

Marxism is the science of the working class. It gives workers and their allies clarity and understanding in their fight for peace, democracy and a decent life. It helps them to. see where they are going. That is why the need to master Marxism is crucial for all advanced workers and progressives.


ONE BIG DIFFICULTY standing in the way of study is the notion that theory is only for the select few, that Marxism is too difficult to be mastered by the average person.

This notion is completely false. Stalin said, "It is a mistake to think that only a narrow circle of people can master theory. Marxist theory can be mastered by anybody. . . . To master the theory of Marxism one has only to desire to do so and to display persistence and firmness of will in the achievement of this aim." It has been mastered by millions of people the world over. You, too, can do it.

To master Marxism you need three things: (1) a firm resolve to do so; (2) the habit of study; (3) certain methods of study. The following pages can help you to form the habit of study and to acquire effective methods. But the firm resolve must come from you.

The first step after you have resolved to master Marxism is to be convinced that you can do so. The capitalist class does not want you to gain this self-confidence. They have a saying which they like to have repeated widely by workers: "You can�t teach an old dog new tricks." The truth is that adults, and especially workers, have the basis for learning things that the child cannot begin to learn.

You must, therefore, get rid of the idea that "I�m too old to learn." There are perhaps some things which children can learn more readily than adults; but in many respects adults have the advantage. They have had experience of life to bring to bear on what they are learning. They can connect what they read or hear in class with what they have themselves experienced, in a way that is impossible for children and many young people. Especially is this so with Marxism, the social science, the most vital of all the sciences and the most intimately connected with our daily lives. Workers, especially, have a solid basis of experience in struggle and therefore have an advantage in the study of Marxism.

The people have a saying of their own: "Never too old to learn."


THE ADULT�S CHIEF DIFFICULTY is not that his capacity for learning is less, but that he has to form again, or perhaps for the first time, the habit of study; and it is this that he finds so hard. The temptation is to study irregularly, to attend a few classes, to read a few books and pamphlets, but with no system and no sustained and continuous effort.

The biggest hurdle for the adult is to form again the habit of study.

Therefore, if you are to carry through your resolve to master Marxism, you must make a determined effort to form the habit of regular study. Habit is a matter.of constant repetition. Thus to form the habit of study you must set aside a definite rime each day or week. If you carry out this study schedule week after week, you will be surprised how quickly study will become so habitual that it will be an essential part of your routine life.

To study regularly you will have to reorganize your activities to fit in a regular study period, either one night a week or twenty minutes to half an hour a day. If you are not accustomed to study, do not attempt too much at first. Start with a short period and gradually extend it as you get more accustomed to the work and as the habit becomes more firmly established. A common mistake is to try to do too much at first, to force one�s nose on the grindstone too hard and too long. The result is discouragement and eventual abandonment of the project entirely.

Forming the habit of study means repetition, but it also means starting slowly, and only gradually expanding the amount of time and energy spent.

The habit of study is the only way to master Marxist theory. There is no short-cut. It is the way Marxists for a hundred years and throughout the world have mastered it. The habit Ieads from reading a page or so at a sitting to a chapter or more. In this way you can master the great classics of Marxism and the current indispensable books, pamphlets and periodicals.


MANY PEOPLE think that the best way to read a book is to sit back in a comfortable chair and just let the words soak in. This might hold good for a light novel, but it won�t take you far in the study of Marxism. The successful reader is an active reader: He reads with a pencil in his hand and a notebook or paper by his side.

It has been found that the best place to study is at a table or desk, sitting in a straight-back chair. There should be a light over your left shoulder or at the left side of the table. Of course the closer you can come to privacy and quiet the better. For most people the radio should at least not be blaring. Late evening or early morning have certain obvious advantages in meeting these conditions for study.

As you establish the habit of study other members of your family will very likely come to respect your concentration and may themselves follow your lead.


AS AN AID TO STUDY you will need a good standard dictionary. Keep it at hand when reading and consult it for the meaning of words which are unfamiliar.

Words are the means of thinking, speaking, reading and writing. They belong to the people, not to the capitalist class. Therefore you must, in the process of learning, acquire an ever increasing knowledge of words. This can only be done by persistently looking up the "new" words you come across..

The.ruling class does all it can to keep our vocabulary limited and thereby limit our ability to read and understand, to think and learn. We must defeat this attempt and master language so that we can acquire the knowledge which will make us more effective in the class struggle.


TO STUDY does not mean simply to read through an assignment as rapidly as possible. It means digging out the meaning and wrestling with it, making it your own, applying it to your own experience and to the problems you face. Books are the tools for mastering theory. You must learn to use them skillfully.

Experience shows that the best plan is to read the assignment through rapidly from beginning to end to grasp the general outlines of the subject. Then turn back for a second, more thorough reading, section by section and page by page.

Don�t spend too much time trying to figure things out at the first reading. If you find it hard to understand certain passages, don�t hesitate, go straight ahead. Very often what comes later helps to clear up what comes first. The second reading is the time to grapple with the subject in real earnest. Don�t pass over anything which is not clear at this stage. If the dictionary and your own experience can�t help you solve the problem, talk it over with more experienced friends, or raise it with your teacher either in class or afterward.

A book is a tool. Don�t be afraid to use it, mark it up, make it yours�providing of course that it is yours and is not a library book. You should try to own the books you are studying so that you will be free to use them fully as tools. There will be occasions, especially for students in more advanced courses, to use library books. In that case it is clear that they must not be marked up.

On the first reading it is best not to use a pencil. But on the second reading use your pencil freely. Underline key passages, check important paragraphs and sections. Put your reactions, the meaning of the paragraph to you, in the margin. Put a question mark where you do not fully grasp the meaning after wrestling with it, so that you can raise them with friends and the teacher later. For particularly importantant sections that you want to be able to find readily at a later time, it is good procedure to jot down the page and a reminder of the subject matter on one of the blank pages in the back of the book. In this way you build up your own working index.


TO read A BOOK or article or assigned passage means to grasp its basic meaning, the true essence of the work. This requires that you distinguish what is of first importance from what is of minor importance in the contents.

In any book, or any chapter or section of a book, there are certain basic ideas the author is trying to convey. They usually take the form of generalizations or conclusions. For example, a book on the labor movement might make this assertion: "The U.S. working class has a great heritage of militant struggle." This is a generalization, one of the basic ideas the author wants to get across.

Either before or after such a generalization, the author will present a certain amount of factual evidence or arguments in support of his assertion. An important task of the reader is to single out the generalization or conclusion, to distinguish between it and the factual evidence, illustrations, or arguments given in support. Your first effort should be to try to see just what is the general idea the author is trying to get over.

Once this is clear, you must examine the supporting facts or illustrations to see whether they fully justify the author�s generalization or conclusion. You should try to think of examples of your own which seem to support or contradict the author�s assertion.

For example, the above statement about the militancy of the U.S. working class may bring to mind supporting illustrations which you have experienced or read about elsewhere. You may also think of illustrations which tend to contradict the assertion, situations in which the working class did not act at all in a militant manner.

Now you face a problem. It is not enough to say that "sometimes the working class is militant and sometimes it is not," and let it go at that. You must try to account for the facts which appear to contradict the author�s generalization. In this example, you may consider the misleadership of the labor movement at a particular time or place, or the influence of temporary prosperity on the moods of workers, or other factors. These may account f or the situation which apparently contradicts the author�s general statement, while leaving intact the conclusion that "the U.S. working class has a great heritage of militancy."

This effort to single out the author�s generalizations and conclusions, and to examine them in the light of his supporting evidence and your own experience, is the reader�s first task; but it is not enough. You must also look for inferences, or lessons, which the author draws from his generalization. This is especially important in reading Marxist literature.

For example, what further conclusions does the author draw from his generalization that "the U.S. working class has a great heritage of militancy?" Granting this is true, so what? What does this heritage mean today? Reading on, you may find the author drawing the further conclusion that, in the light of this militant heritage, the U.S. working class can, with proper leadership, be depended on to struggle militantly for social progress today�in time, to achieve its historic mission of establishing socialism. You must train yourself to look for these over-all, "practical" inferences or lessons based on previously stated generalizations. They abound in Marxist literature.

The principal task of the student is to search out these central ideas in the form of statements and make them his property. The central ideas are the structure, the bones,of the section, chapter or book. The examples and illustrations and arguments are the meat on the bones. You must get to know the bone structure and must be able to put your own meat on it, in the form of your own illustrative material from your own experience and knowledge. In this way you will be able to master the meaning of the author.


A COMMON ERROR of inexperienced students is to pay too much attention to secondary matters, illustrations, etc., at the cost of not grasping the real point the author is making. This error is what is commonly called "not seeing the woods for the trees."

For example, Lenin�s Imperialism contains a wealth of detailed data which support and illustrate his general conclusion that imperialism is a new stage in the development of capitalism. It is quite easy for an inexperienced reader to become lost in the maze of facts and figures and fail to grasp the important conclusions.

Sometimes the author himself provides us with the means of avoiding such mistakes. Either in an introduction, or the chapter-headings, or perhaps in a summary, he tells us the plan of his book, its central theme, or what are the main arguments put forward. Always look out for and take advantage of such assistance.

In addition, you should get help from the teacher. He should tell you what to look for in the assignments he makes. If your teacher does not do this, you should remind him to do so.

The most successful reader is not the one who merely tries to memorize the author�s conclusions, or remains satisfied with the illustrations used by the writer. The good student will test the author�s conclusions against his own knowledge and experience. He will search for alternative, or perhaps supplementary illustrations to those used by the writer. He will ponder assertions and conclusions that seem out of line with his experience, and will try to resolve apparent contradictions.

This is the only path to a real grasp of theory. It is the only way to master the living spirit of Marxism, and not merely the printed word.


NOTE-TAKING can become a valuable aid to learning and remembering. In addition to using your pencil on the book itself, it is a good idea to have a notebook or paper on the table to jot down those passages of special importance, or maybe, those things which are not quite clear.

But most important in note-taking is to outline the structure of the book or chapter or section. This structure will be the conclusions as they build up to the general, over-all conclusion of the text. Only the fundamental ideas of the author should be outlined, not the illustrative materials.

It is a common mistake for beginners to take far too many notes, to copy out whole paragraphs or even pages from the book. This very laborious method defeats the whole purpose of note-taking, which is to put on paper the bare, basic essentials of the subject. Certainly the mere act of copying from the book helps the reader to memorize a certain amount of the material, but it does not help to develop his powers of discrimination, his ability to distinguish what is of primary importance from what is of secondary importance. Try therefore to restrict your note taking to bare essentials.

For example, suppose you are studying the Negro Nation in Harry Haywood�s Negro Liberation. A portion of your outline might be:

1. Obj. conditions for Negro nationhood.

a. Common territory (5 mil. in Black Belt).
b. Common language (English).
c. Common economic life (integrated capitalist econ. of Black Belt).
d. Common psychological make-up & culture (arising from long struggles against oppression).

2. Negro people in "Black Belt" have all characteristics of nationhood�are a nation.

The principle of this kind of note taking is that the notes are set out in such a way that the distinction between principal headings and sub-headings is clearly made. The distinction is further emphasized by the use of different kinds of symbols: numbers for main headings and letters for sub-headings.

As can be seen, the ordinary rules of grammar are disregarded. What has to be said is said in as few words as possible, and even these are abbreviated, but not to the extent that they become unintelligible.

No skill, and certainly studying is no exception, is learned over night. But by following the methods and hints in these few pages, and by refining them and devising your own, you will without the slightest doubt make great progress in learning the skill of studying and reading. You will be well on your way to the mastery of Marxism.


The Jefferson School Library is an important aid to study at every level. Its collection�25,000 books and pamphlets and 200 current magazines and newspapers from all over the worId�provide all the material you are likely to need for special projects or research as well as for study of current assignments.

Equally important is the Library staff with its long experience in assisting students in searching for special information.

Browsing through new and recent magazines, pamphlets and books is an important aspect of systematic study and the Library is the place to do it.

The Library is open from noon till 10:00 weekdays (9:00 on Fridays) and until 5:00 on Saturdays.


The Book Shop makes available for purchase by students and the public the books, pamphlets and periodicals used in the classrooms. Also available is a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction, the Marxist classics, many of the standard classics, children�s books, literature of the Soviet Union and the People�s Democracies, and selected recordings. Any book not in stock may be ordered through the Book Shop.

Books and pamphlets will be mailed anywhere in the United States.

How to Study: A Guide for Students. Attributed to Harry K. Wells and dated by internal evidence. New York: Jefferson School of Social Science, 1954. Pamphlet, 16 pp.


Gettleman, Marvin E. "'No Varsity Teams': New York's Jefferson School of Social Science, 1943-1956", Science & Society, vol. 66, no.3, Fall 2002, pp. 336-359.

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