The Radical Education Workbook, Part 2: Collectivity

Ultra-red, International
Radical Education Forum, UK
November 27, 2017

Arts Everywhere is republishing the Radical Education Workbook (Other sections published thus far: Part 1). The PDF with the entire Radical Education Workbook as it originally appeared, is available here.


Collectivity

Circle Time

History

When primary classrooms were organised around the focal point of the carpet – a large empty space where children could sit together – circle time was, I imagine, a more common and meaningful feature of many primary school teachers’ timetables. Since classrooms have become more functional spaces for a narrower type of target driven learning, the carpet as

a space for coming together throughout the day has been eaten up by tables and seating arrangements that are designed to organise children by ability; the focus has shifted from the class as a collaborative community to a room that holds a lot of individuals as they rise, or do not rise, up the ladder of personal achievement.

Recently, Circle Time has had a resurgence, largely due to the curriculum’s emphasis on Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL). However, Circle Time as it is wheeled out in many schools today, often focuses on developing the self-esteem of individuals through routines that have been produced and sold as corporatised learning packages, devoid of their original commitment to collective learning.

Over many years, a Tower Hamlet’s organisation called the Circle Works has developed an ideology and practice of circle time that aims to address the needs of the community, both the microcosm of community inside the classroom and the larger community outside it. The Circle Works grew out of teachers’ belief that this space for reflection was necessary, both for them and the students they worked with, many of whom arrived in Tower Hamlets through very difficult circumstances. This strand of Circle Time is less about a corporate methodology and more about enabling teachers to see themselves as facilitators, enablers of rituals that children make on their own – objects, stories and routines become symbolic of a togetherness that influences the workings of the classroom in every instance.

Practice

Circle Time

One hour a week:

  1. Ask everyone to make a circle.
  2. Introduce the objects one by one:
    • Conch (or equivalent) – an object that indicates who will speak at any given moment (symbolic of communication);
      Something else, special and intriguing, that comes with a story that can be owned by the group through its use (symbolic of ‘us’ – the collective);
    • A bottle or spinner that can do the choosing (symbolic of the role of the individual.
  3. Place the objects in the middle of the circle, spin the bottle to choose who will start. That person is given the special object and begins passing it around the circle to focus us together. Once it reaches the beginning again, place it in the centre as a focal point.
  4. The conch is there ready to be received by anyone who needs to say something.
  5. When issues are brought up, participants think about what could be done about this issue – developing rituals, games and concrete solutions for dealing with issues.
  6. At the end of circle time, again the bottle is used to choose someone to begin the rotation of the object again. I use a candle which can be lit and blown out to boundary circle time.

Reflection

In my time as a primary school teacher I have used circle times to build a dynamic community of people – children and staff. It is our shared strategy for dealing with difficult things. When someone dies, leaves, is unhappy, or has a big change or decision to make, we use circle time as the space to deal with it. Grounded in a set of familiar routines, this practice has got me and my class through some very tough times in a way that has felt genuine and thorough, sensitive and robust. It is not always an easy space, sometimes it is a space for challenge and confrontation, dealing with issues of sabotage, rejection or power. Sometimes it is simply a time to take stock or be still. There are many games which can be used to initiate discussion on these themes. Children love it; they rely on it and feel honoured by it.

Often you will hear children say, ‘we dealt with that in circle time so it’s sorted,’ or ‘I think we need a circle time.’ The children give circle time a different status to other times they spend in school, and I think this is because this time is demarcated through ritual and has a slightly different set of values attached to it. As the year rolls on I am less and less a leader in the circle and more and more an equal member, and so the children have to step-up and take responsibility for safeguarding the space in order that it can be what they want it to be. Both the self-expression of the individual and the inter-relations of the community are able to thrive.

Education Against Empire

History

Since the 1830’s, the British administration in India had been adjusting the education system to find native employees to work in low-level jobs around the empire. Acts such as the McCauly Minute had made it impossible to get a government job without a Western education; in practice, this meant attendance of a British run school, which taught the basics of a few academic subjects, including a pro-West history and English lessons. The minor funding available for these schools was outstripped by the demand; the lack of alternate employment encouraged parents to send their children to the facilities purely to secure jobs in the administration of the Empire. As a result, Bengal, where hundreds of millions of families survived through agriculture, found themselves with a centralized Western model of education, which taught no skills relevant to agricultural life and exacerbated the prejudices of the Caste system. With the death rate in Bengal rising, a series of independence movements began to develop. The radical education practice of Rabindranath Tagore was initiated in 1904, shortly before he was awarded the Nobel Prize for the Ginjali, his collection of poems. His school, Santiniketan, named after the village outside of Calcutta where it was based, deliberately rejected the British model in favour of rural Hindu principles and urban European high culture. The school’s ideals took form alongside Tagore’s involvement in the Swadeshi movement, which successfully defended Bengal against early partition by the British administration. Tagore, unlike Ghandi, promoted the empowerment of Indians through localised adjustment, as opposed to top-down legislative change. In terms of education, this meant focusing on the economic and cultural needs of a specific area, and fermenting an atmosphere of cooperative learning between community members and international outsiders. The practice of this 40 year project, outlined below, was funded by means which rendered it independent of the colonial administration. A self-imposed tax, collected by a network of villages; and agricultural bank; international fundraising and the development of marketable skills as a central part of the curriculum all helped keep the project going. In addition, practical help was requested from various state and international organisations, such as the Ministry of Public Health. Santiniketan, the school, grew into Visva-Bharati, the university, which still exists today – but the project never became a movement. Between Tagore’s death in 1941 and the partition of India in 1947, the efforts outlined below were either co-opted by the government or ceased activity. What follows is an outline of how the educational ideals of Tagore operated in practice.

Practice

From the outset, our aim was to awaken the villagers from their slumber and enable them to be self-reliant, self sufficient and economically independent. – Leonard Elmhirst.

The Institute for Rural Reconstruction, also known as Sriniketan (‘the Abode of Plenty’), was established in 1922 as an educational facility in the Bengal village of Surul. The district had been an outpost for the East India Company until their relocation in 1835, at which point the area began to spiral into poverty and social disintegration. In 1922, following the opening of Visva-Bharati university in nearby Shantiniketan, Tagore purchased a small farm in Surul, and sent a team of ten students, two Japanese carpenters and an Anglo-American agronomist called Leonard Elmhirst to create an Institute. Their brief was to conduct a systematic and detailed study of the village, rather than foist a ready-made system designed to fit every town and village in India. The project was initiated with awkwardness and inefficiency, the locals suspicious of the privileged outsiders who seemed unusually interested in their lives. Within 6 months, the team had identified impoverishment of the soil, endemic starvation, emaciated farm animals, malaria-infested jungles, dilapidated buildings and temples, a culture of suspicion and mistrust between the inhabitants, poverty, and the drain of brains from Surul to Calcutta. In addition, there were very few community activities undertaken, and no co-operation between villagers.

Over the following decade, the small team grew into a group comprising scores of foreigners and Bengalis. In addition to inaugurating a series of agricultural reforms, festivals, celebrations, markets and so on, numerous educational programmes were introduced to the village. Firstly, day and night schools were held for children. These were linked to nearby Shantiniketan and Visva-Bharati, which rejected the Western curriculum imposed by the British. Instead, in classes run by teachers and practitioners, boys and girls were exposed to a combination of technical skills, natural sciences and the arts. As an example, a male student of 8 or 9 years old would be taught to make and sell sun-dried mud bricks, cotton looms, vegetable dye, or to raise poultry. Through this work, largely conducted outside, students would be trained in geology, mathematics, botany, bacteriology or agricultural sciences. In addition, literacy in English and Sanskrit would be taught through exposure to English and Indian literature, with an emphasis on performance and recitation. At first, girls received an education that left them subordinated to the typical domestic roles of rural women; until they reached university, focus was put on their learning weaving and cookery. However, the Mahila Samities – Women’s Association – came to play a considerable role in the economic and social welfare of the community. From 1936, Mahila Samities were very active in Bolpur, Bandhgora, Bhubandanga, Surul and Goalpara. Information, education and communication material were prepared and distributed among the villagers for creating awareness and to develop a sense of solidarity. Indira Ghandi is perhaps the most famous female student of the Institute. As well as the creation of schools, a Bengali equivalent of the Scout movement was formed. Boys in the village were taught to organise into a corps to fight fires, combat malaria epidemics, fundraise and provide personnel for social events, or assist with repairs on damaged infrastructure. In addition, a Home Project was assigned to each student at the school; while at home working for their family, they were expected to begin an independent business, however small – the manufacture of condiments, straw sandals, cotton wicks and so forth, which they could sell to support their communities. They would be visited at home by teachers and tradesmen, whose role was to foster the skills and relationships necessary for the children to become independent earners.

Coupled to the programme available to farmers – for instance, a ‘Demonstration Plot’ was available to all in the village, who could learn modern agronomic techniques from international specialists – the Institute sought to “take the problem of the village to the classroom for study and the experimental farm for solution.” The institute ended with Tagore’s death in 1941, and was deemed at best a quaint experiment by the Independence movement, who took elements of the project and blended them with the Basic Training which they made mandatory to school children after Independence in 1947. The project moved with Leonard Elmhirst to Dartington village in the UK, where it became famous. Before he died, Tagore came to view the Srinitekan project as having drifted from its original intent, with the involvement of experts causing fragmentation and a weak sense of unity between the Institute and the villagers. Nonetheless, the infrastructure, prosperity and community of the villagers was markedly improved – the festivals and markets inaugurated in the 1920’s are still held today, and the university of Visva-Bharati attracts students from around the world.

Reflection

It was noted that, although the majority of educators are female, a large proportion of texts, movements and theories are often attributed to men. In Tagore’s case, ‘his’ institutes – although his involvement was crucial – were created and maintained by a team of hundreds of teachers, scientists, volunteers and their families. Leonard Elmhirst’s wife, Dorothy, for instance, largely funded the Institute of Rural Reconstruction. In 1922, Tagore’s daughter-in-law, Pratima Devi introduced lac work, calico printing and batik work to the Institute, in a small room with tin roof called the Bichitra Studio. In addition, the complexity of the programme, which sought to create a bridge between Western industrial modernism and rural India, saw attempted communication between British Officials, high and low, local farmers, children, public figures and politicians, potential donors, educationalists, Christian missionaries, artists and writers, agricultural scientists, zamindars, Tagore’s family, education staff at Shantiniketan, non-cooperators and Gandhians, among others. All belonged partially to each other’s camps; none could entirely encompass all. Perhaps it would be helpful to consider Tagore as a logo, behind which an inspiring cultural phenomenon can be examined – albeit a neglected one in current conversations about independence struggles. In schools today, dissidents are often presented as individualist, entrepreneurial figures to whom students can aspire; Martin Luther King or Che Guevara strike poses, refuse subordination and propose models of mass reform – it would be harder to put a postcard of the Institute of Rural Reconstruction on a classroom door.

It was noted during our talk that the modern Conservative ideal of the Big Society, where the state withdraws its support and expects ‘the Community’ to look after itself, has a similar terminology to some of the educational principles outlined by Tagore. It could also be argued that the ideals of the project have been taken over by the free market to exploit regions after the withdrawal of colonial powers. Today, there are numerous ‘Institutes for Rural Reconstruction’ – NGOs under the influence of private companies and international interests, using rhetoric of autonomy to capitalise on the needs of locals hoping to provide a high quality of life for themselves. In answer to these concerns, it is important to make clear that Shantiniketan, Visva-Bharati and Sriniketan was neither an outright rejections of state support, nor a top-down intervention by the forces of the administration. Instead, efforts were made to enable a particular village – Surul – to end its history of subordination and impoverishment and establish a more dignified relationship with the rest of India, and the world.

Collectivity

History

Although written forty years ago in the dynamic storm of the 1970’s second wave of feminist action and debate, both The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman and The Tyranny of Tyranny[1] by Cathy Levine continue to circulate today in print and online editions. Both texts have their origin in the enduring discussion and often heated arguments centered around the question

How do we organise politically?

Rather than simply posing the question of why do we organise, these texts bridge both socialist feminist and anarcha-feminist camps, attempting a practical investigation of what a non-elitist, non-patriarchal revolutionary organising might look like. Neither the socialist nor anarchist movements could be said to be free of elitist and patriarchal ways of doing politics and this was at the very heart of both Tyranny texts’ insistence on questioning the ‘how’.

The most famous quote from Levine’s text was that ‘men tend to organise the way they fuck – one big rush then that ‘wham slam, thank you maam’. In other words, with all the theoretical answers about revolution posed by men, Levine questioned whether they could organise the everyday slow, often mundane work of politics? Could they organise the processes of listening and dialogue? Could they even just make the tea and not feel the need to articulate complex but often abstract theoretical truths?

Freeman’s The Tyranny of Structurelessness arises at a point when women-only consciousness raising groups needed to direct themselves into on-the-ground movement building. She writes that groups without a sense of democratic structuring often have hidden power bases, foster elites and tend to thus be politically ‘impotent’. Freeman outlines certain principles for organising – delegation of internal authority, transparency of information, task rotation, open discussion etc.

Levine’s more anarchist response is sisterly but also sceptical and even scathing – ‘what we definitely don’t need is more structures and rules, providing us with easy answers’. Levine argues that consciousness-raising would always remain a vital part of any movement-making and would not be something to now leave behind in favour of numbers and strength. She writes that a mass movement itself does not make a revolution. What would be lost in this mass model would be the movement’s own personality, its local autonomy, its long fought decoding of internal power relations and its own sense of culture. She ends with a call to re-evaluate anarchism as a mode of practice with a nod to radical feminism as the best example of the ethos that anarchism preaches.

Practice

Time: Weekly

Black Frog is a squatted centre in Camberwell, South London. Every Monday night at 7pm is an open meeting to organise the building, deal with problems, discuss forthcoming events and to eat together. The meetings are open to anyone who wants to take part. Often people who are traveling through London come to the meetings. Their voices and ideas are just as important as anyone else’s.

  1. The meeting begins with everyone sharing food around a table. Someone will ask everyone present for items to be put on agenda for the meeting. This person usually reads through the agenda item by item and facilitates the discussion. Facilitation is not always easy and needs to be practiced. Each person speaks in the order that they have signaled although the facilitator might let small counterpoints or arguments happen if they feel it will help the discussion. The facilitator keeps track of who will speak next. They need to be aware of people dominating the discussion, people who haven’t spoken, the energy of the item under discussion and also of the meeting itself. They must also interject to move items on if they are taking too much time. It is also important to keep track of practical suggestions that have been lost in the discussions and to make sure that they are brought back in. Another vital task is to make sure latecomers are brought into the meeting space around the table and not left physically outside the debates.
  2. Decisions are made by consensus. Something that cannot be agreed by all will not happen but will come up again at a later meeting. Usually there is a way to find consensus through dialogue.
  3. Another person takes notes on the discussion including who has volunteered for which job or task. They will write up the notes and make sure everyone gets a copy.
  4. Facilitating or taking the notes often means that it is impossible to speak in the discussions.
  5. These notes of this meeting will be gone over at the start of the next meeting to follow up on who has done what.

Reflection

The Black Frog meetings sometimes lasted three hours. They were always passionate, argumentative, painstakingly slow, funny but rigorous. Despite the arguments and occasional outbursts, there was a lot of love in the room. Sometimes this only came out when the meeting was over with a few hugs. Three hours is a lot of time to put in on a weekly basis especially when you have a full time job. People thought that this way of organising a space meant that this time was worth the effort.

Organising this space with a long background in anarchist and feminist movements meant that we were familiar with and happy to take insights from both Tyranny texts. Neither one nor the other argument dominated. Things do have to be transparent. Tasks do have to be rotated. Elites or alliances are part of group dynamics. They have to be understood and dissolved. There is no quick way to do this.

With this in mind, not speaking in a meeting due to facilitating or note-taking is something you have to get used to. The same can be said when sometimes some things have not been done as promised. That’s just the way it is – for this is not a ‘job’ and we are not ‘staff’. We want to organise from the depths of affinity and love and to involve all those rebels who wish to organise in this way or who wish to learn, experience and contribute to this way of organising.

Doubt in Groups

History

This is an exercise that deals with doubt. It is from the Royal Court Theatre Young Writers’ Programme and it turns doubt into possibility. It works with any type of group, with all specialties and ages. Not just playwrights. All it takes is a cake-tin and some scraps of paper. Each participant writes two doubts about a subject on scraps of paper and puts them in the tin. The facilitator then spreads them all across a table, and asks the group to tick any they’ve experienced themselves. Those scraps with the most ticks are discussed first. Once the exercise is underway, the facilitator just keeps an eye on the pace, asks questions about the doubts, encourages conversation across the group and makes sure everyone gets a chance to speak. This exercise lets the class learn from each other. The facilitator is therefore encouraged to share their own doubts.

Practice

Let’s cross over to our group now. They’re a group of twenty young playwrights, and they’ve just put their doubts about their first drafts in the tin. Say hello.

Class: Hello!

Facilitator: Now. I’m going to spread all our doubts across the table. Come have a look. If you see someone else’s and agree with it, just tick it, OK?

[The class spend a few minutes ticking the doubts. There is some laughter and murmurs of recognition].

Facilitator: Now, let’s re-arrange them. Those with the most ticks up that end, those with the least down there. Gather round. Ok, so this is the most common doubt. Looks like all of us have marked it. [Reads] ‘My characters aren’t strong enough.’ Anyone want to start?

James: I think I’m not strong enough yet.

Facilitator: What, for your life or for your writing?

James: For my characters really. Like, to give them proper dialogue.

Facilitator: Anyone else feel that?

Sadiq: I dunno. Nah. I can make em talk. But they don’t do anything. They just sit around the kitchen table.

Facilitator: Anybody else?

Estelle: What Sadiq just said, I think … uh Sadiq.

Sadiq: Yeah.

Estelle: You said make, right? You said make my characters talk? Do you remember that thing about trusting the characters?

Sadiq: Yeah but you’ve got to have rules.

Facilitator: I think you’re both right. What are you saying Estelle?

Estelle: When Caryl Churchill came in, she said that a story fails because the characters get oppressed by the writer. By a nervous writer.

Sadiq: I don’t get what that means.

Daphne: I don’t know what my characters want either.

Facilitator: Do you want to say more Daphne?

Daphne: I know that ‘I am who I am cause of what I want’. But just because I know that, it doesn’t make it easier to write dialogue

Facilitator: Yep. You’re right. Anyone?

James: Pinter used to write down the things people said on the bus.

Estelle: Yeah I do that on the 149.

Tor: You can tell a lot about what people want from how they talk on the bus.

Class: Yeah.

Daphne: Do you know what your characters want?

Facilitator: Yeah, it takes me ages though. Normally I have to write a few drafts before I can see.

Tor: Do you know what we want?

Facilitator: I think we all spend too much time lying about it! Let’s move on. We can spend time talking about characters again in the next session. The next doubt is [reads] ‘The Ending’. So how do we get to the end? Anyone want to kick off this discussion?

Reflection

That’s enough from the class for now. We talked for about an hour about the doubts, but it could have been 3 hours. There were 20 people in this class and a lot of them had similar anxieties. We got all of them out in the open, as honestly as possible. At the end, people no longer felt so overwhelmed by their weak characters, or of the end of their plays. Most of the teaching came from other class members. The group realised that everyone has common doubts, and that they all have solutions, so long as they are shared rather than ignored. This makes the heroic, lonely struggle appear as the myth that it is.

People in groups have more power than individuals acting alone, so long as the individuals and the group find a way to support each other. This exercise works in a different way to having an individual lecture to a docile crowd.

I don’t always trust groups. There is too much murk between people that I don’t understand. Ideology can start to seep in and cover up the truth. That’s why I write theatre. The theatre is for groups of people who are also individuals. To conclude, this is an exercise that says it’s about doubts but is also about power – specifically, about social status and knowledge. My challenge is to learn how power works and how it passes between me and the others.

Democracy in Schools

History

Without dialogue there is no communication, and without communication there can be no true education. Freire 1970 :74

In schools in the radical democratic tradition – such as Summerhill (UK), Leipzig Free School (Germany) and The Albany Free School (US) – school meetings, where the children and teachers come together on equal terms to discuss and decide how they organise as a school community, are a central component of their philosophy. Away from state control, these ‘democratic schools’ seek to support the children and young people in exercising greater autonomy over, and understanding of, their lives: to help them see the world not as something static, but as something they can interact with and change.

Radical educators have long been critical of the way traditional schooling limits the autonomy of the child in this sense. In the eighteenth century, William Godwin advocated the rights of children, speaking out about the coercion and deception that he viewed as characteristic of adult interactions with them. The anarchist educator Francisco Ferrer asserted that in traditional schooling, ‘Children must be accustomed to obey, to think, according to the social dogmas which govern us’. (Smith 1983:89). Whilst in his critique, A. S. Neill told of the need for schools in producing a ‘slave mentality’ in order to reproduce the existing social system.

Practice

So what does it mean to be a democratic school? Although existing on the fringes, there are schools like this all over the world and how they interpret democracy can vary. In my own experience of working with children of primary age in a small democratic school, it translates into the children having much more freedom over what they do and how and when they do it. There’s no national curriculum to adhere to, and no external motivations such as rewards or sanctions are used to make the children yield to the expectations of the adult.

Inevitably then there is a renegotiation of the teacher – pupil relationship, yet as Neill reminds us, freedom is not the same as giving licence. Treating freedom as synonymous with licence means we risk handing all the power to the children: a situation that benefits no-one. In considering the power dynamic between the adults and the children, Smith’s description of the libertarian approach resonates with my experience,

…the abandonment of a fixed, one-style, managerial-type relationship between teacher and pupil loosens relationships generally and makes them more interactive. Relationships become a matter of individual negotiation within parameters set by the group. They become the expression of a group dynamic which itself is the product of a set of individual dynamics. Libertarians see this as a truer social base than one resulting from a teacher-imposed order.

(1983:98)

In our school, in those situations where adults still play key roles, such as facilitating meetings and assisting in conflict resolution (due to the children all being lower/mid primary age), the general ‘abandonment’ of the traditional teacher-pupil role in the school allows greater opportunity for a two-way dialogue between adult and child.

School meetings attended by children and adults play a crucial role in building day-to-day cohesion and understanding between us as individuals; it is where agreements are made on how we share the space in a way that everyone feels safe. It is a forum for all those participating to: let others know what they plan to do that day; make any announcements they feel the school community needs to be made aware of; to make decisions about how we use the space; share news and bring up concerns, including issues that relate to existing school agreements or to individuals. Agreements change as circumstances change and people, be it child or adult, bring new perspectives to the issue. We have found many situations where fixed rules are unhelpful since they carry the threat of taking priority over human beings: ignoring the nuances of our interactions. With some natural interjection, children and adults speak in meetings in the order they raised their hands rather than being invited or given permission to by the teacher.

We work mainly by consensus, talking issues through until no one has any strong objections, rather than by majority voting. Though sometimes we will agree to have a vote on a particular issue. This often leaves me feeling uneasy as the children experience voting as a competition that often leaves the ‘losers’ feeling bitter and the ‘winners’ triumphant.

Discussions are stimulated by the experiences of those in the meeting. Heated debates about fairness crop up incessantly. The children listen to and learn from each other, they give advice and support to others who express difficulties. They begin to empathise and consider that there may be deeper causes to antagonistic behaviours. In one meeting, a 7-year old urged us all to consider that one of her peers may be going through a hard time and to bear this in mind when responding to his recent aggression towards both children and adults.

In meetings it is agreed that everyone can do things that don’t distract others from the meeting. So whilst making funny noises is out, drawing is in. The quality of the artwork produced by the children, whilst still engaged in the discussion, makes me wonder about all the creativity that gets suppressed as children ‘sit up nicely on the carpet, looking this way’.

That the children have more autonomy in deciding how to spend their time at school means they are encouraged to follow their interests and gives time to develop their passions. Again the mind turns to thinking about traditional schooling: alas, how many talents or natural abilities fall by the wayside or are never discovered because they are not valued in the conventional classroom? An awful lot of time is spent there after all. Surely schools should be places where children and young people have time to explore and develop their passions, and where they feel supported in fulfilling their potential along these lines?

Reflection

Althusser (1971:7) identifies the education system as being part of the ideological state apparatus, which teaches knowledge and skills in a way that ensures subjection to the ruling ideology. This evokes a common criticism of alternative schools – ‘Yes, it all sounds very nice, but how do they get on once they leave school?’ In other words, how do young people ‘get on’ having not internalised the ruling ideology via the education system? Such schools don’t exist in a vacuum and so to suggest that those who attend them escape the ruling ideology completely would be absurd. Though certainly to experience an education that goes against the grain in this way can bring with it the unsettling realisation that life is indeed not like that. But this negates the fact that alternative education seeks to be transformative.

Whilst the aims of democratic schools oppose what Smith (1983:108) calls the ‘lesson in dependency’ taught by social institutions, it remains that many schools that exist within this tradition are private. Thus, despite employing radical pedagogies they remain rooted in the undemocratic stratification of education. As democratic schools challenge society’s norms, Alan Block argues that ‘the system permits alternative schools to exist and minimises their effect by marginalising them’ (1994: 67). This can mean they struggle financially and / or find themselves constantly having to defend their educational approach.

Many state schools now have some kind of student/school council, however the degree to which these give any real voice to the student body can be contested. There can be little doubt that the current neo-liberal plans for education will further seek to restrict opportunities for socially critical learning and democratisation within schools. Getting ‘student voice’ in order to tick boxes and decide the colour of the walls in the toilets is not the same as including students in any meaningful decision-making over their own lives: where young people can say what they really think rather than what school management expect them to say. Educators must be cautious against encouraging a false sense of empowerment. Colin Ward (1995: 131) recalls a BBC film on the financial crisis of the London Zoo, where a director, using what Ward called ‘management speak’ had this to say about the workforce” ‘Once you’ve given them empowerment you’ve got them in the grinder’. In his lecture, Ward warned that governments apply similar ‘management speak’ to teachers. I suggest this same rhetoric is being used to pacify young people.

Sources / further reading

Althusser, L (1971), On Ideology.

Block, A. (1994), Inside / Out: Contemporary Critical Perspectives on Education: Marxism and Education. Chapter 4.

Smith, M. (1983), The Libertarians and Education.

Freire, P. (1970), Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Fielding, M and Moss, P. (2011), Radical Education and the Common School. Ward, C. (1995), Talking Schools.


[1] The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman (Berkeley Journal of Sociology, 1970, reprinted by Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists and the Anarchist Workers Association, 1972) / The Tyranny of Tyranny by Cathy Levine (Black Rose No.1, Rising Free Collective). Both texts reprinted as Untying The Knot: Feminism, Anarchism and Organisation (Dark Star and Rebel Press, 1984).

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

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