The Radical Education Workbook, Part 1: Challenging Imposed Curricula

Ultra-red, International
Radical Education Forum, UK
November 20, 2017

Republishing the Radical Education Workbook

Introduction by Alessandra Pomarico

The Radical Education Workbook was produced in 2010 by the Radical Education Forum and the art and political collective Ultra-red, at the onset of the movement against the austerity programme laid out at the time by the Coalition Government in Britain. Seven years later, with the neoliberal agenda openly and globally permeating every sector of life, including education institutions and the pedagogy they apply, the workbook constitutes a relevant tool in today’s struggle for social justice, and in the way art can contribute or challenge processes of organization. “Organizing” is intended by the authors as a way in which people create social relations and processes that constitute, in themselves, aesthetic forms.

The workbook includes voices from diverse educators and social movements, some entries being derived from workshops, others based on more historical research, while some are foundational references, “articulating new vocations and possibilities.

Every month artseverywhere.ca will republish one chapter of the original five that form the workbook. We have retained the original format, organized around:

  • Challenging Imposed Curricula
  • Collectivity
  • Self-Organization
  • Using the Pedagogies of the Oppressed
  • Reading list

In many ways, each entry touches on all of these themes. The sections are also interestingly subgrouped around ‘History,’ ‘Practice,’ and ‘Reflection,’ offering contextualized learning methods that not only help analyse, but also offer tools to organize and calls for action in the present political constellation. The introduction, which serves as a preface for the group’s methodology and intentions, is paired with the first chapter. The table of contents, whose order we are respecting, reads as following:

Introduction
The Making of the Workbook
How to Use the Workbook?
Who Made the Workbook?

Challenging Imposed Curricula
Anti-Imperial Education
Sex and Relationships Education
Citizenship Education
L’Ecole Moderne

Collectivity
Circle Time
Education Against Empire
Collectivity
Doubt in Groups
Democracy in Schools

Self-Organization
Free University of Liverpool
Worker Education
Self-Reliance: Discussion on the University of Islam
Open Archive: 56A Infoshop
Funding
X-Talk

Using the Pedagogies of the Oppressed
Popular Education and Guerilla War (El Salvador)
The Image
Power / Occupation
A Freirian Pedagogy for the Esol Classroom
Body Pedagogy

Reading List

The PDF with the entire Radical Education Workbook as it originally appeared, is available here.


Introduction

The Need for Radical Education Today

The production of this workbook began at the onset of the movement against the austerity programme that had been laid out by the Coalition Government in Britain in 2010. In this moment, and in the years and months since, students, teachers, nurses, doctors, migrant people, firefighters and many others have begun to invent and re-engage with practices of organisation: questioning measures of austerity, and more fundamentally, the process of neo-liberalisation that preceded them.

This UK dimension of a global movement, including occupations, street protests, strikes, people’s rebellions and anti-capitalist co-operatisation has consistently struggled with the need to move beyond spontaneous actions. It has attempted to move away from big speeches and A to B marches, towards broader consciousness-raising initiatives, community and grassroots organising practices, consideration for the politics of speaking and listening, and attention to the dynamics of teaching and learning within our movements.

As a collective of students and educators working in a diversity of settings, from primary schools to universities, social centres to swimming pools, and straddling this work with our involvement in struggles on the Education front, we found ourselves poorly educated in the histories of radical education that have circulated in the UK and elsewhere. This, we understand, is not by any particular mistake or ignorance but because of the systematic erasure of questions of radical pedagogy from curriculum and, to a certain extent, from social movements themselves.

In the making of this workbook we have recounted our own experiences of teacher training – increasingly focused on behaviour management and test score achievement. Where radical education has been introduced, it is often marginalised to the theory section of our courses, divorced from our experiences, removed from the practical aspect of the teaching that constitutes the majority of our time as educators. The staff room, the only place for teacher congregation – where it has not been removed following current managerial trends, provides neither the physical space nor the time to allow for discussion of critical approaches to curriculum. This leaves teachers and teachers of teachers attempting to make even minor changes within the current system stigmatized if they propose critical or radical strategies.

This absence of critical approaches to curriculum also exists within social movements themselves. Where many radical bookshops have extensive sections of political analysis they rarely have sections on community organising, popular education, radical research or their histories. Many movement organisers are not aware of these practices, used in revolutionary and everyday struggles for social justice around the world and focus more on readings of key theoretical texts. For others, these histories of radical education are implicit in practice, but are rarely valorised as bodies of knowledge to be understood alongside key analytic debates. For a new generation of activists entering into struggles for a non-coercive, anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist education, there is often a feeling that one is beginning from scratch.

Initiated in 2010, the Radical Education Workbook has been an attempt to rectify these different absences. It was created through collective readings and workshops exploring practiced concepts. These spaces have provided moments of solidarity between students and educators across many practices, and support for those bearing the physical and emotional stress of the Education system as it currently stands. In creating these spaces, we have been careful not to re-assert a new professionalized ‘radical education’ sector or subjectivity, but proceeded with the idea that Education (and radical education in particular) is not only the domain of teachers and students – it is fundamental to the production of life, as opposed to production of workers and ‘good’ citizens. In this, practices of education are central to social and political organisation.

The ‘Radical’ in Radical Education

Our use of the term radical is not meant to make grand claims of political purity, nor to be off-putting for those who don’t think of themselves as ‘radicals’. It is used provisionally to mark

out a terrain that includes many very regressive forms of practices including popular education and research, militant or co-research, collective practice, popular theatre, critical literacy, participatory action research, social justice education and many others. We felt it important to encompass these practices with a more jarring and questionable term to counter the very nice language that can be used when speaking about education and to suggest that a focus on social justice is most definitely at radical odds with the forms of Education we are forced to work in today.

The Making of the Workbook

We have moved slowly in making this first version of the Radical Education Workbook. It was not assembled by people sitting at desks alone and imagining what the education of the masses could be, nor through a call to a select group of friends to write entries and gain marks for institutional validation, but rather through group encounters, readings, meetings and events. The earliest of these took place in the student occupations at the onset of the anti-austerity movements. There, different generations of students and teachers shared tools, histories and strategies with one another. We have since met in an anarchist bookshop, squatted social centres, art galleries and in locally focused community centres.

Taking Paulo Freire’s suggestion of ‘reading the word and the world together’, each session – and subsequently each workbook entry – is divided into three parts.

  • Key Concepts within radical education and their histories
  • Practices associated with the concept in classrooms and other less conventional educational settings
  • Reflection about the relevance of the concept to our struggles today.

This three-fold approach was to ensure that concepts were not dissociated from practice and that practices were not dissociated from their contexts and commitments, as has been the case with many radical educational methods enabling them to be turned into tools of neo-liberal managers. Our focus on the contemporary relevance of concepts was to ensure that we did not settle into nostalgic and overly idealized conversations about past movements, but ignited our present with what has come before while acknowledging the complexities into which they must enter today.

Many practices and histories in the workbook resonate with current tensions in the discursive field of education: between conservative educators on one side and well intentioned but seldom emancipatory reformists on the other; between dogmatic, top-down leftist party educators and universal humanists; between neo-liberal charities and de-colonising forms of education produced in and from various global sites of struggle. It is with the latter of these that we ideally align ourselves, knowing that we are sometimes forced to borrow from the others.

How to use the workbook?

This first version of the Workbook includes contributions from diverse educators and social movements. Some entries are derived from workshops, others are based on more historical research and some are foundational, articulating new vocations and possibilities.

They are organized into four sections:

  • Challenging Imposed Curricula
  • Collectivity
  • Self-Organization
  • Using the Pedagogies of the Oppressed

Given that what often distinguishes critical or radical education from mainstream approaches is that it is based on commitments to social justice rather than strict disciplines, in many ways each entry touches on all of these themes. We have nonetheless divided them to provide possible entry points and categories for future expansion. Within these sections, each entry is based on a concept that can be used. We encourage you to try them out and let us know how it goes.

This is the first of many editions and we hope that it will inspire others to come forward with concepts, practices and histories of radical education used in their communities. It is in that sense completely incomplete, and more of an invitation to others.

Who Made the Workbook?

The Workbook was initiated by the Radical Education Forum with members of the sound art and political collective Ultra-red. It received a small amount of funding for printing from the Drawing Room as part of the exhibition, Best Laid Plans curated by Cylena Simonds in 2010. It was designed by Jackson Lam and printed at Hato Press. Contributors to the book include:

56a Infoshop, Alice Robson, Anna Wolmuth, Ashley L. Whitfield, Chris Jones, Colin Waugh, Dont Rhine, Feminist Fightback, Free University of Liverpool, Greggory Vass, Janna Graham, Jorge Goia, Laura Rogers, London Coalition Against Poverty, Michael Harding, Nelly Alfandari, Onni, Val Archer, Victoria Harris, Ultra-Red, the X-Talk project, and all those involved in the Radical Education Forum.

The Radical Education Forum is a group of people working in a wide range of educational settings in the UK. We meet monthly to discuss radical pedagogical theories and techniques, and contemporary issues of interest to those involved or interested in education. We explore and enact how these theories and questions can inform our practice. The Forum supports social justice in education, linking practitioners within mainstream educational institutions, community education initiatives, social movements, arts organisations and self-organised groups. Meetings are held on the first Monday of every month from 7–9pm and are open to all at Freedom Books (through side door rather than main shop entrance, meeting room on 2nd floor), Angel Alley, 84b Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 (nearest tube Aldgate East).

radicaleducationforum.tumblr.com

Ultra-red are a sound-based art and political collective founded in 1994 by two AIDS activists. Originally based in Los Angeles, the collective has expanded over the years with members across North America and Europe. Members in Ultra-red range from artists, researchers and organizers from different social movements including the struggles of migration, anti-racism, participatory community development, and the politics of HIV/AIDS. In 2008 they began working explicitly with practices of popular education, setting up learning experiments for students, artists and community organisers under the name the School of Echoes.

www.ultrared.org

No one received remuneration – apart from some free food – in the making of the guide.


Challenging Imposed Curricula

Anti-Imperial Education

History

What is history for? What historical events should every child know? Should history be used to promote national identity? Or should history be focused on teaching skills and concepts?

The National Curriculum currently sees history as a means of helping students to develop their own identities through exploring the ‘dilemmas, choices and beliefs of people in the past’. It sets out key concepts that every student studying history should understand: chronology; cultural, ethnic and religious diversity; change and continuity; cause and consequence; significance; and, interpretation.[1] In the current curriculum, due to be revised in 2014, national identity is relatively low-key but it appears set to have a much greater role in the future as the current government looks to conservative historians to re-shape the curriculum. According to Niall Ferguson, professor at Harvard University and Harvard Business School and author of Empire (2003) and Civilisation (2011) school history fails to give children a knowledge of the ‘important’ events in Britain’s past. Ferguson, alongside the Better History group, believes that between ages five and fifteen children should begin with the Romans and ‘progress’ through to the Magna Carta, the Tudors, the ‘Glorious’ Revolution of 1688, through Industrial revolution and up to the twentieth century.[2]

The plans for the history curriculum appear as a re-invention of a nineteenth-century imperial teleology, the story of how wealthy, white Englishmen (later with a few Scottish collaborators) came to rule over everybody else. Niall Ferguson calls it the story of ‘civilisation’ and sees the baton having been passed to the USA and, in the future, China. His unapologetic capitalism spills over into racism and sexism. Take this quote from an interview in which he praises British imperialism, for example: ‘I’m sure the Apache and the Navajo had all sorts of admirable traits. In the absence of literacy we don’t know what they were because they didn’t write them down. We do know they killed a hell of a lot of bison. But had they been left to their own devices, I don’t think we’d have anything remotely resembling the civilisation we’ve had in north America.’ I think many of us would see Ferguson’s narrative as the story of how capitalism enslaved, violated and annihilated the vast majority of people living on this earth. If introduced to school-children as ‘their’ history, it will alienate the vast numbers of school children in England who live between multiple cultures, religions, languages and countries. History, already seen as an ‘academic’ subject for ‘high-achievers’ in schools, will remain a white dominated, middle class discipline. If this debate is reflective of wider society, then it stands to perpetuate the structures of prejudice (racism, classism, sexism and ableism) that we are fighting against today.

Practice

History through storytelling:

  1. Begin with a photograph or picture of a small group of people in the past and generate questions from it – Who are they? Where are they? Why are they there? When were they there?
  2. The group gives each person a name and begins to build up a story about each of the characters. The example in mind is a photograph of street children in Victorian London. The names and stories must fit with the time, which might mean looking up popular names in the nineteenth century or researching poverty in order to think about about why children might be homeless. As the story builds up so do the questions and the subjects for research. What games might they have played? What food would they have eaten? Why might they have become orphans?
  3. As the story builds up, so the group takes on the identities of the individuals in the photograph and thinks about their relationship to that character. More complex questions become possible. If my own ethnic heritage is South Asian, does that mean that I wouldn’t have been there, or were there South Asian people in London? What kind of lives did poor South Asian people live in London? This might lead to research and discussion of lascars (sailors) or of ayahs (nannies) and the relationship between London, Britain and the empire in India.

Reflection

Visions for History?

Aside from general outrage, our discussion explored the question of using history to shape identity and whether this could ever be desirable. We largely agreed that history should not be used to promote national identity, although it is difficult to understand historical narrative without the framework of the nation state. Is it possible to elide a national narrative and still study history in a coherent form that is accessible to young people? Perhaps, if we explicitly shape our study of the past according to questions that we raise in the present (which we do anyway, whether acknowledged or not). With care and nuance, thinking historically can be a creative way to think through situations that look similar but may turn out to be different or have resonances with our own world. We shared times that history has been inspirational for understanding our own worlds better and situating ourselves within them. Women’s struggles against patriarchy and constructions of gender in the past, for example, might help us to think through our own positions and struggles today, as well as the demands that society makes in terms of gender conformity.

Our discussion generated more questions than answers – can the ability to think historically about contemporary questions only come about if a knowledge of the past is already extensive? As teachers, how much ‘telling’ do we need to do before we can begin to help our students formulate questions and answers for themselves? Yet we also agreed that with different methods, finding creative ways of exploring the past and not worrying when, as teachers, we do not have the answers, history can help students to explore their own identities.

Sex and Relationship Education

History

Feminist Fightback is an anti-capitalist feminist collective for self-defining women. With sex and relationships education (SRE) back in the spotlight following MP Nadine Dorries’ terrifying attempt to introduce abstinence training for girls, we have been considering what feminist sex education might look like and how resources for teaching it could be made available. Although teenagers can only expect 6 hours of SRE a year, it is one of the most hotly contested issues in young people’s’ education, and is becoming increasingly crucial as a site of feminist struggle. In addition to Nadine Dorries’ lobbying for abstinence classes for girls, 2011 saw Richmond Council outsource its SRE provision to a Catholic charity, and parents in Tower Hamlets encouraged to participate in meetings called by East London Mosque and the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child to a rally against the provision of SRE in primary schools. All of these developments are moving us further away from comprehensive SRE for young people, which has always been inconsistent in quality and quantity of provision.

Following discussions about our own experience of SRE, Feminist Fightback set about thinking about what we wished we had been taught, told, made to think about and allowed to ask. Acknowledging the pitfalls and inadequacies of our own experiences both in school and in our adult lives, we asked ourselves: ‘what is feminist sex and relationship education?’

Our collective experience was mainly characterised by scientific and medical approaches. Anecdotes included human reproduction being learnt about alongside plant reproduction, and nurses coming in to run sessions about disease prevention. The emotional aspect tended to be dealt with in negative terms – the emphasis on waiting until the ‘right time’ and ‘saying no’ etc. made it all feel very scary, and left no avenue open for what to think, feel or do if someone wanted to say yes. Overall, it was clear that provision was patchy – different people got different amounts of SRE at different levels, but all of us felt we were missing the same things: discussion of sexuality; relationships; non-reproductive, non-heterosexual sex; self-pleasure and, in some cases, any discussion of sex outside marriage. This chimes with the findings of the UK Youth Parliament’s survey of 20,000 young people (‘SRE: Are you getting it?’ London: UK Youth Parliament, 2007, www.ukyouthparliament.org.uk/sre).

The neglect of pleasure in school-based SRE, or the ‘missing discourse of desire’, has particular consequences for young women. This is because they are already socially constructed as having lower levels of sexual desire and being able to experience sexual pleasure less easily than young men. The image of women as passive recipients of active male desires is reinforced through curricula which take girls off to learn about periods and sanitary towels while boys are free to ask lots of questions about erections and wet dreams. Male orgasms are present in the curriculum, while female orgasms are not. In this way, SRE fails to convey a sense of empowerment and entitlement to sexual pleasure for young women. At the same time, for young men, although SRE is more likely to provide a discourse of sexual desire, it offers them limited ways of understanding their sexuality. As dominant expressions of male sexuality require young men to exercise power over women, such discourses limit alternative expressions of male sexualities, including homosexuality.

After all, SRE lessons are only one of the many sources from which young people can learn about sex and relationships, with peers, television, films, the internet and social media playing a much more prominent role. Without a discourse of erotics, SRE cannot contest discourses of ‘erotica’ in mainstream pornography, which present women as objects of male desire rather than subjects of their own. We believe schools should be supporting young people to think critically about these messages, challenging them rather than imposing an agenda, such as abstinence, that would in practice work to reinforce them.

With the rise of right-wing and religious groups organising to limit access to any kind of SRE and promoting a narrow and moralistic agenda in the classroom, it seems more important than ever that those concerned with education for liberation go on the offensive and envision and practice something better.

Practice

As many of us work in education and health, have brought up children and are part of a group of feminist activists that have experience of contributing to workshops in and out of schools, we felt able to put together some resources aimed at young people in and out of formal schooling. We created two resource packs: the primary pack is a looser collection of ideas for discussion, activities and everyday practice, while the secondary pack is a more structured scheme of work. Both are available on our website: www.feministfightback.org.uk.

These materials aim to offer educators tools and exercises for teaching about sex and relationships in an honest and positive way. They deal with relationships from an emotional perspective as well as a physical one, acknowledge diversity and individuality and enable open discussion of gender and sexualities. They help students to consider respect and consent in a way that is relevant to their own experiences. They provide activities and resources for teaching about the language, social myths and media messages surrounding sexuality, as well as for confronting the prejudice surrounding female sexuality and non-heterosexual relationships. They aim to give teachers practical tools to add to their SRE teaching, to help address what we felt was missing from our own experiences of learning and teaching SRE.

Reflection

Pockets of good practice are a starting point. Educators who promote values of sexual and gender equality and empowerment can often feel like they are fighting a losing battle. An hour a week six times a year of progressive SRE is easily drowned out by the atmosphere, behaviour and language prominent across the rest of the timetable or institution, and of course in life. Teachers are acutely aware that the standards regime allows no time or space for dealing with the day to day instances of sexist, homophobic or any other kind of harassment. If we want to precipitate a cultural shift rather than just presenting an alternative to mainstream ideas, a holistic approach is essential; opportunities for exploration and discussion of issues of equality and choice with regards to gender, sex and relationships need to be recognised and exploited throughout the curriculum, timetable and institution.

We are now at the stage of promoting the resource packs to educators, inviting suggestions and additions to the materials and discussing the opportunities and challenges of putting them in into practice. This involves making the case within our workplaces and communities for a feminist approach to SRE. It also involves continuing to challenge the idea, prominent in current attacks on SRE, that young people should not be empowered to think about, and make decisions about, their own sexualites.

We invite you to reflect on this process with us.

[email protected]      www.feministfightback.org.uk

Citizenship Education

The struggle between rich and poor is not social reality, which politics then has to deal with. It is the actual institution of politics itself… Politics exists when the natural order of domination is interrupted by the institution of a part of those who have no part.

(Ranciere 1995, p11)

History

Citizenship Education was introduced as a compulsory element of the National Curriculum in primary and secondary schools in 2002. It is essentially political education, with a focus on active involvement – supporting students to develop the knowledge and skills needed to become active citizens in communities ranging from local to global. The ‘light touch’ curriculum includes three conceptual areas: ‘democracy and justice’; ‘rights and responsibilities’, and ‘identities and diversity – living together in the UK’. The key skills included are: ‘critical thinking’; ‘advocacy and representation’, and ‘taking informed and responsible action’. In primary schools, these curriculum requirements are generally addressed as a cross-curricular theme, whereas in secondary schools it has been common practice to introduce ‘Citizenship’ as a discrete subject, often in combination with Personal, Social and Health Education.

The unfortunate title of Citizenship Education evokes the government’s notorious ‘Citizenship Test’, designed to limit access to the UK for asylum seekers. We would hope that the two are very different in nature. However, although Citizenship Education is clearly not about having a British passport or learning the names of the longest rivers in the UK, there are still significant ambiguities in its aims. Is it about being a ‘good citizen’, as envisaged by the state? Pykett (2007) suggests that one of the government’s motivations for Citizenship Education was to police student autonomy through the creation of ‘a certain political subjectivity’. Or is citizenship about being an active citizen? This could look very different from the government’s ideal. The Ofsted report on the subject alludes to this tension with the question – ‘the purposes of citizenship: compliance or challenge?’ Indeed, there are reports of students being suspended after skipping school to protest about issues they have learnt about in Citizenship lessons – from the Iraq War to student fees and education cuts.

The most frequently quoted aim of Bernard Crick’s 1998 report, which laid out recommendations for Citizenship Education in the UK, is that the subject would offer ‘no less than a shift in the political culture of this country’. The intention of a ‘political shift’ came hot on the heels of low voter turnout, especially amongst 18 to 26 year olds, as well as concerns about ‘social exclusion’ and ‘Islamic extremism’. Interest in Citizenship Education in the UK must be seen in the context of New Labour’s political project of the ‘Third Way’. This has a particular vision for the relationship between citizens and state – it accepts the economic inequality resulting from a capitalist economy, and sees the role of the state as providing support and opportunities for empowered citizens to ‘help themselves’.

Despite its origins in this context, Citizenship Education offers a unique space for critical educators within the state education system to explore political issues with young people. The fact that the curriculum is ‘light touch’ allows it to be responsive to students’ interests and their own relationships with the world around them. For example, ways to protest against the cut to Educational Maintenance Allowance, legal rights during stop and search, the causes and consequences of the riots.

Given the character of our education system, there are challenges being made for the space opened up by Citizenship Education. This is largely caused by intense pressure on schools to compete against each other in league tables for their 5 A*-C GCSEs (including English and Maths). This lowers the status, time and resources available for Citizenship teaching. In addition, with the current government’s explicitly conservative views on the purpose of education and schooling, it is unsurprising that Citizenship Education has come under attack. It is likely to become non-compulsory, replaced with a more fixed and traditional set of subjects. Michael Gove’s ‘English Baccalaureate’ (5 A*-C GCSEs, including English, Maths, Science, History or Geography and a Modern Foreign Language) is already squeezing out Citizenship Education, alongside the arts and sport. It is an important struggle to fight for all young people to have an entitlement to Citizenship Education in their schooling. If Michael Gove doesn’t like it, it must be a good thing, right?

Practice

Below are a series of examples from educators who have used Citizenship Education or the values and approaches it can embody to facilitate critical education in a school and college.

Pressure Groups:

We have found it possible to introduce some of the active aspects of Citizenship to an A-Level politics course. This hasn’t engaged students directly in their communities through volunteering or projects – rather it has taken each topic and provided active engagement between the key concepts and ideas about authority and rights, mainly through the development of simulation activities. In a module on pressure groups, a campaigns officer from a large environmental organisation was invited to come and do a campaigning simulation with the students. This engaged them directly in the relationships that exist between MPs, corporations, lobbyists, the media, lawyers, ‘the people’, activists and campaigning organisations. The students were allotted to a group, which had a different set of rules, money, and ‘powers’. We devised a scenario where oil had been discovered outside the college and the Government and an oil company wanted to extract it. The aim of the game was for all groups to successfully complete their objectives; they either wanted the oil to be extracted or to be left alone. Each group’s power was a token or ‘bonus’ that they got to use as the game went on. For example, ‘the people’ had to give their vote to one of the MPs, while the lobbyists could gag the media once. The more media coverage the groups got, or the more they stopped the actions of the other groups, the more points they were awarded. Ultimately a winner was decided. Beyond entertainment, this game highlighted to the students the disparity in access to power between public and private interests, and also that collective action (between the campaigning and direct action groups, sympathetic journalists and MPs) could limit the actions of government and ultimately lead to secured rights.

Who Owns the News?

Students can be encouraged to look at the media with a more critical eye once they have had the chance to be editors themselves. Each group of students (‘editorial team’) is given a selection of current headlines and a brief. The briefs range from ‘People’s’ TV’ – (‘a small independent channel that is broadcast on the internet. You try to broadcast important stories that are left out by mainstream channels’) to Popular TV (‘the channel relies on money from advertising. The more viewers, the more companies will pay to advertise their products – so you are desperate to be the most popular’) and ‘Government TV’ (‘your owner is good friends with the Prime Minister and is looking forward to her knighthood. She likes to make sure that the editors present the Government in a good light’). Each channel broadcasts its chosen headlines to the class and this opens up discussion about why certain stories make it to the top of news bulletins, and others don’t.

Local and Global Solidarity in the Classroom

Links with local groups taking action, such as those involved in London Coalition Against Poverty, can introduce students to the principle that ‘through solidarity and direct action, ordinary people have the power to change their own lives’ (LCAP principle). After all, what goes on inside school should not be seen as separate from the community outside the gates. Developing links between schools and grassroots struggles in other countries can keep an international perspective and challenge the ‘Comic Relief’ approach and accompanying discourses of charity / dependency. These in particular can dominate global Citizenship Education in schools. Many of the mainstream educational resources for this area of Citizenship Education are produced by the big NGOs, who see Citizenship lessons as a way of marketing their work to young people. For example, after learning about the Eurozone crisis and what teachers and students in Spain were doing to protest against cuts to education – which left blackouts in schools and slashed salaries – students from London wrote questions to students in Valencia. They asked them about its impact on their lives and how they felt the protests were going.

Student-led Campaigns

Citizenship lessons can be planned to give students the opportunity to take action on an issue they care about, and to support them in the campaign planning process. Setting an aim, breaking it down into measurable and achievable targets, identifying who has the power to help, or how power could be built up amongst people who currently have too little, and so on. Despite its terrible methods of assessment (which mainly assess literacy), the GCSE Citizenship ‘controlled assessment’ active Citizenship project led to students running their own campaigns on tuition fees, Education Maintenance Allowance and anti-fascism, to give some examples. These were worth 60% of the qualification.

A Space For Reflection

When invited to create an action for an issue they care about, students will often resort to the standard examples to which they have been exposed, such as cake sales or sponsored sporting events. The kinds of questioning and reflection we do in Citizenship lessons can lead students to think for themselves about whether these are in fact the best ways of tackling issues such as war and poverty, while developing their ways of taking action for next time.

Likewise, engaging with the political establishment, for example by writing to local councillors or MPs, or inviting them in for meetings, can offer richer learning about politics in the post-action discussions than in the acts themselves. When a local councillor ‘mislaid’ a class’ letters about local issues they were concerned about, and then wrote an unsatisfactory response back to the teacher, this was discussed in class – and this will inform their approach to future problems.

Reflection

There is an ongoing tension for critical educators working in the state education system. Citizenship Education brings these tensions to the fore, in the classroom – how much space is available for an education that empowers students to criticise the structure that provides their education? Can we really engage in education for social change in this context?

In our experience, the subject does have the potential to provide a space for students to reflect upon the world around them, its structures and relationships. It is important that all young people have access to this kind of education – not just those whose parents and carers are politically active or interested themselves. Ideally this kind of education would not be limited to (often less than) one hour a week, squeezed out by the ‘core subjects’ of English, Maths and so on. It would be a theme running through a much more holistic and socially critical curriculum. Meanwhile, as we continue to fight for a socially just and critical education system, the small concession of Citizenship Education will need to be defended.

L’École Moderne

Presented at the Radical Education Forum in London in Autumn, 2010

History

Elise and Celestin Freinet were communist educators active in France from the 1920s until Celestins’ death in 1966. A member of the French Communist Party (who met with Party Education Minister N. Krupskaya in 1925) Celestin Freinet broke from traditional party education processes to produce practices of cooperative learning with children of the working classes in rural areas. The Freinet’s work inspired a movement that spread from France to Italy and Germany throughout the twentieth century, first known as the Secular Education Co-operative and then as the Institute Moderne Education. While some of Freinet’s ideas regarding ‘learning by doing’ and his belief in natural processes as the basis for Education are in keeping with the pedagogies of Piaget, Decroly, Montessori and others, Institute teachers prefaced their work with a commitment to a pedagogy against capitalist exploitation and for the liberation of the poor. As opposed to specialized private schools for the middle and upper classes, their work took place in rural and later urban state schools.

The core feature of every Freinet school was a collectively owned and operated printing press. Students learned to read and write by making collaborative newspapers based in their observations of the world. Freinet felt it important that students and teachers have a very material relation to the language that they produced so that this language would not become detached from the practices with which it was associated. This relationship to language did not end at the school walls, but created a connection between the inside of the school and the wider community. He called the printing press and other teaching practices developed in the popular schools, ‘techniques for living’.

Texte libres or ‘free texts’ were points of departure for newspapers and group discussions. Free texts began with free-form student and teacher observation of their environment. They helped to inspire student wonder, and from there to articulate desires for transformation. Students and teachers would begin to organise terms into categories or themes relating to what they observed and what they felt should be transformed. They refined the language of terms into a story or treatise or question and then set the text on the press to produce a publication. Publications were read and responded to by people in the immediate milieu but also by students in other regions of France, through the Institute’s inter-school correspondence programme. Freinet teachers, who co-operatively owned their own publishing house for the production of pamphlets reflecting on educational practice, used a similar process to share experiences of teaching and learning toward liberatory aims. Each school had a Council comprised of teachers and students who used the opportunity to invent the school and its functions through collective decision making.

Practice

Freinet as adapted as a collaboration between artists, activists, teachers and students in a West London School:

Time: Six days

Day One

  1. The group goes for a walk in their school with a central question such as: what is the sound of the future of this place? Each student must choose a place to visit on the walk.
  2. The group walks in silence, with one student guiding at a time. They are equipped with papers and pens, cameras and audio recorders.
  3. At each stop, the group makes a recording for a set amount of time (1-2 minutes).
  4. On returning to the classroom, the group shares their recordings, asking other students to respond in a uniform fashion i.e. by asking fellow students: what did you hear?
  5. Notes are taken based on observations.
  6. These notes are then organized into a series of questions.

Day Two

The group uses these questions to go through the same process as Day One – making recordings and noting observations – but in relation to sites in their surrounding neighbourhood.

Day Three

Looking at the notes from their conversations on days one and two, the group(s) begins to examine the relationship between the future of the school and the neighbourhood. What is this relationship? Are there contradictions between the school and the outside? Are there consistencies? How do the themes operate in each location? How and in what way might students imagine participating? What questions and observations might be concluded about each?

Day Four

Students write texts in small groups and pass their text on to another group for feedback and editing.

Day Five

Students lay out the texts graphically. Final editing.

Day Six

Students visit a printing press committed to social justice work, learn about how the press works in relation to these commitments. There they print their material. Final Proofs. (See Elephant Press, Calverts, the London Print Studio, Hato Press, among others).

Day Seven (one week later)

Students distribute print to other student groups, organizing discussions of the content.

Reflection

It is little known that the Freinet’s methods were influential for hundreds of students in France. Many of those who occupied the Ministry of Education in 1968, for example, studied using updated versions of Freinet’s school methods.

Where these processes are no longer visible, concepts such as ‘Learning Through Work’ and ‘Co-operative Education’ have survived, but, much as they have in the UK, have been used to support the movement of (often poor) students into vocational education and to enter into the exploited classes of labour. In 2005 prime minister Dominique de Villepin, announced the ‘law on equality of chances’, creating the First Employment legislation allowing apprenticeships for people as young as 14 years old at which time students would be allowed to quit the compulsory school system in order to quickly learn a vocation. This was met by opposition from trade unions and students including protests of over 3.1 million people, university occupations and strikes.

In London, where we find the de-funding of schools and the rise of youth unemployment covered up by a similar push towards ‘work experience’, internships, apprenticeships and other forms of free labour, student ‘work experience’ programmes often prepare students for a life of poor working conditions such that being paid appears to be a privilege. Additionally, new Workfare programmes have been introduced, making it mandatory for people to work for free when receiving social assistance or ‘benefit’. Campaigns such as Boycott Workfare suggest that host organizations (many of them NGOs and public sector organizations) refuse such a policing of social benefit. This becomes increasingly important within policies of the Big Society that promote the use of unpaid work to cover up the massive gaps resulting from public funding cuts. However, at a moment when it is difficult to find time to work with students outside of the insidious regimes of testing and short encounters and to engage in investigations of life, could we think of ways to use ‘work experience’ to create more liberatory forms of ‘learning by doing’ in the school and other aspects of public life?

Students in the school activity – on such a work experience scheme – identified a number of key issues to impact upon the future of their school and the neighbourhood: increasing surveillance, the privatisation of housing and of public space and the feeling that the school is detached from the neighbourhood. Through their work experience they brainstormed campaigns and actions that might directly intervene.[3] [4]

Click here to continue to part 2 of the Radical Education Workbook.


[1] History: programme of study for key stage 3 and attainment target, www.qca.org.uk/curriculum [24/08/2011], pp. 111–113.

[2] Niall Ferguson, History has never been so unpopular http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/mar/29/history-school-crisis-disconnected-events [29/03/2011]

[3] Quarterly Review of Comparative Education, Paris: UNESCO: International Bureau of Education, vol XXIII no ½ 1993.

[4] Beattie, N. The Freinet Movements of France, Italy and Germany 1920-2000 by Edwin Mellon Press, Ontario: 2002.

Radical Education Forum

The Radical Education Forum is a group of people working in a wide range of educational settings in the UK. We meet monthly to discuss radical pedagogical theories and techniques, and contemporary issues of interest to those involved or interested in education. We explore and enact how these theories and questions can inform our practice. The Forum supports social justice in education, linking practitioners within mainstream educational institutions, community education initiatives, social movements, arts organisations, and self-organised groups. radicaleducationforum.tumblr.com

 

Ultra-red

Ultra-red

Ultra-red are a sound-based art and political collective founded in 1994 by two AIDS activists. Originally based in Los Angeles, the collective has expanded over the years with members across North America and Europe. Members in Ultra-red range from artists, researchers, and organizers from different social movements including the struggles of migration, anti-racism, participatory community development, and the politics of HIV/AIDS. In 2008 they began working explicitly with practices of popular education, setting up learning experiments for students, artists, and community organisers under the name the School of Echoes. www.ultra-red.org

3 thoughts on “The Radical Education Workbook, Part 1: Challenging Imposed Curricula

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *