Out of the Ruins: The Emergence of Radical Informal Learning Spaces

Out of the Ruins: The Emergence of Radical Informal Learning Spaces


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Contemporary educational practices and policies across the world are heeding the calls of Wall Street for more corporate control, privatization, and standardized accountability. There are definite shifts and movements towards more capitalist interventions of efficiency and an adherence to market fundamentalist values within the sphere of public education. The important news is that emancipatory educational practices are emerging. In many cases, these alternatives have been undervalued or even excluded within the educational research. Out of the Ruins sets out to explore and discuss the emergence of alternative learning spaces that directly challenge the pairing of public education with particular dominant capitalist and statist structures.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781629632391
Publisher: PM Press
Publication date: 07/01/2017
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Robert Haworth is an assistant professor in the Department of Professional and Secondary Education at West Chester University, Pennsylvania. He edited the book Anarchist Pedagogies: Collective Actions, Theories, and Critical Reflections on EducationJohn M. Elmore is professor and chairperson in the Department of Professional and Secondary Education at West Chester University, Pennsylvania. His research and publications have focused on education for social justice, democracy, atheism, and antiauthoritarianism.

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Out of the Ruins

The Emergence of Radical Informal Learning Spaces

By Robert H. Haworth, John M. Elmore

PM Press

Copyright © 2017 PM Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62963-239-1


Miseducation and the Authoritarian Mind

John M. Elmore

Historical examples of education — and more specifically, compulsory schooling that is defined and controlled by dominant political, theological, or plutocratic groups — being employed as a tool of hegemony, are numerous and well documented. As I tell my students regularly when discussing and comparing systems of education throughout history and around the globe, it can feel like identifying exemplars of liberatory education requires dedicated and detailed examination, while spotting systems of authoritarian education requires only the casual opening of one's eyes. Education has clearly proven to be an invaluable instrument in the production of despotic systems and institutions. The obvious reason for this fact is that the more rigid and domineering a social system becomes, the greater the perceived need to produce minds and personalities that are compatible, if not welcoming of control and domination. This chapter will consider this concept of authoritarianism and the ways that authoritarian personalities are reflected and fostered in traditional, compulsory schooling via traditional teaching methods, curricular materials and school structure. While I will acknowledge the other cultural institutions and socializing forces which account for a population's levels of authoritarianism (such as the existence of particular political, economic, and theological systems, and traditional family structures and parenting practices), I contend that mass schooling is in the unique social position of assembling the overwhelming majority of a society's young and influencing their development via an extended, and increasingly specific, common experience. In short, even in today's world where the young are continuously bombarded with the messaging of mass media throughout their formative years, compulsory schooling maintains a very powerful influence over the development and validation of consciousness. Changing the nature of consciousness serves as a critical prerequisite to achieving the type of society that we, as individuals and collectively, wish to construct and support. If we seek a more just society, where freedom is sought, protected, and valued — the development of critically conscious, biophilic citizens is fundamental. Therefore, within a volume dedicated to considering alternatives to traditional forms of popular schooling, for the purpose of advancing freedom, an examination of those traditional aspects of school life and structure, which are reflective of authoritarian practices and orientations and can be tied to the development of authoritarian dispositions, seems especially pertinent. In other words, as we attempt to move out of the ruins of traditional schooling, it is important that we first clearly define those ruins and diagnose their failures in fostering freedom in order to produce genuine and affective alternatives.

The Tradition of Miseducation as Control

Critical educators have long challenged the structures, practices, and purposes of traditional schooling. In fact, it is fair to describe critical pedagogy itself as originating first and foremost as a rejection of popular and traditional education methods and the domineering structures and practices they demand. Declaring much of traditional education as anti-democratic, if not outright anti-human, critical educators labor to transform educational spaces into seedbeds for freedom and independent thought. In seeking to manipulate, if not outright commandeer, the role that education plays within the superstructure, we acknowledge that the maintenance of a society's base always demands the development of a specific human character and, in turn, a specific "form of social conscience" — informed by what Marx and Engels (1996) described as the "ruling ideas" that represent the "ideal expression of the dominant material relationships" (p. 61). As Erich Fromm (1941) indicated, there is a dynamic correlation between the structure of human character within a given society and the economic base of that society. In other words, the maintenance of any particular "way of life" requires a compatible, if not mirrored, version of human consciousness and character. Fromm (1941) argued that even intellectuality itself "aside from the purely logical elements that are involved in the act of thinking, [is] greatly determined by the personality structure of the person who thinks" (p. 305). This, Fromm (1941) continued, "holds true for the whole of a doctrine or of a theoretical system, as well as for a single concept, like love, justice, equality, sacrifice" (p. 306).

What Fromm (1956) suggests is that an overt structure, dedicated to the task of shaping the thoughts and beliefs of a populace, is a fundamental apparatus within authoritarian societies. This apparatus allows for an official means of indoctrinating a citizenry — shaping consciousness and human character for the purpose of adaptation. In short, authoritarian social systems do not generate oppressive settings out of thin air but instead are slowly validated in the context of authoritarian nurturing in various social and cultural institutions and practices; they ultimately reflect the dispositions of the people. While one can point to multiple agencies well positioned to nurture the transition to authoritarian political systems, such as dogmatic and faith-based institutions, popular compulsory schooling has historically offered much potential in this regard.

Education therefore, when carefully shaped and crafted, can serve the pernicious goal of providing those in power with an invaluable tool for nurturing and shaping a particular human character, consciousness, and epistemology that is tuned to the specific needs of a respective base. Should one require further convincing, one need look no further than the desperate efforts to control education by some of the most authoritarian regimes in history, from Hitler to Stalin to Kim Jung-un. As Anton Makarenko (1955), architect of Stalin's educational system, wrote, "It was clear to me that many details of human personality and behavior could be made from dies, simply stamped out en masse ... although of course the dies themselves had to be of the finest description, demanding scrupulous care ... by the communist party" (pp. 267–268). Conversely, when education is conceived as an act of liberation, illuminating systems of oppression, it becomes an equally powerful threat to the dominant. For such liberatory education, as Marx (1843) contended, "our motto must be: reform of consciousness not through dogmas, but by analysing the mystical consciousness that is unintelligible to itself, whether it manifests itself in a religious or a political form" (para. 12). In short, a liberated mind has never been the outcome of dogmatic training — regardless of its source.

When there exists a deprivation in the development of criticality within a given society, in concert with other forms of socio-psychological manipulation, a "cultural hegemony" is produced that "manufactures consent," which Antonio Gramsci (1971) argued is maintained at:

two major superstructural "levels": the one that can be called "civil society", that is, the ensemble of organisms commonly called "private", and that of "political society" or "the State". These two levels correspond on the one hand to the functions of "hegemony" which the dominant group exercises throughout society and on the other hand to that of "direct domination" or command exercised through the State and "juridical" government. The functions in question are precisely organizational and connective. The intellectuals are the dominant group's "deputies" exercising the subaltern functions of social hegemony and political government. They comprise:

1. The "spontaneous" consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group [and] ...

2. The apparatus of state coercive power which "legally" enforces discipline on those groups who do not "consent" either actively or passively. (p. 12)

As superstructural institutions fail to inspire such "spontaneous consent," the consciousness attuned to domination is disrupted. As a result, the imposed definitions of social, political, and economic life come to be viewed as mere social constructions, perspectives that can be challenged rather than merely consumed. In such a transformative period it is often the super-structure itself, rather than the base that is first brought into question. In the 1960s, for example, the political unrest in the U.S. was not due to a rebellion of the working class against bourgeois domination, but an intellectual and youth revolt against what Engels (1893) labeled "false consciousness" and a "new spirit of the age" where endless consumerism was to define the human experience (Chomsky, 2000, p. 39). From the perspective of the '60s youth movement, society was to be transformed not by directly attacking the capitalistic base, but by deconstructing the superstructural institutions producing its ideological hegemony. It can be reasonably predicted that had the youth movement been sustained it would have eventually expanded its critique from superstructure to base — and some elements within the broader movement had already begun to do so by the time of the Kent State shootings (Clancy, 2007). More recently, the Occupy movement demonstrated the potential of liberated consciousness; the taken-for-granted assumptions about the way the world has to work were replaced with the clear contradiction between democracy and capitalism. As in the case of the '60s youth movement, and of many revolutionary movements, the first gasp for freedom demands the critique and destruction, or radical transformation, of the socio-political institutions that malform the collective social conscience, via the planting of what Stirner (1842/1967) described as "wheels in the head," which produce the illusion of free choice. It is this transformation of human consciousness that is always at the core of the renovation of social, economic, or political structures. As Godwin claimed in 1783, "Let the most oppressed people under heaven once change their mode of thinking, and they are free."

The transmission model of education, or what Freire (1974) termed the "banking model," has defined education within the U.S. from the outset and it continues to the present day. This authoritarian, top-down approach to education has pervaded our society and culture, and come to be taken for granted, suppressing alternative perspectives, values, interests, and discussion about what Guttman (1987) termed "the good life." This actuality has only been exasperated in recent years with the rise of so-called core curriculum and the essentialist standardization movement. There has long been a view of traditional education, like John Stuart Mill (1951) argued, functioning as:

a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another; and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the dominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, an aristocracy, or a majority of the existing generation; in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by a natural tendency to one over the body. (p. 88)

This tradition was clearly carried over from the "old world" in establishing mass schooling in the U.S. — and its influence reverberates to the present day. To this point, Zhao (2014) issues a warning to U.S. education policymakers about continuing to function under what he calls "the spell of authoritarianism." As Zhao (2014) argues:

high-stakes testing is one of the many symptoms of a virus threatening America's future. That virus is the rising tide of authoritarianism in the United States. In exchange for the comfort of knowing how their children are doing academically and that their schools are being held accountable, Americans welcomed high-stakes testing into public education. Without the benefit of historical experience with these kinds of high-stakes tests, however, Americans failed to recognize those benign-looking tests as a Trojan horse — with a dangerous ghost inside. That ghost, authoritarianism, sees education as a way to instill in all students the same knowledge and skills deemed valuable by the authority. (p. 3)

The centerpiece of authoritarian education — and any societal march toward systems and structures of hegemony — is the development of a specific form of consciousness. Although sometimes lacking pre-meditated intent, traditional schooling environments have consistently fostered the development of structures, perspectives, and dispositions that are aligned with hierarchal social arrangements.

Introduction to Authoritarianism & the Authoritarian Personality

In spite of how they are often portrayed within popular culture, totalitarian societies rarely arise from the mere existence of a single despot. To the contrary, any serious analysis of the myriad of authoritarian examples throughout human history demonstrates a gradual amassing of circumstances, which eventually overwhelm any resistance or alternative narrative. Historians, sociologists, and psychologists have deliberated at length in attempting to understand and diagnose the political and social occurrences that produce authoritarian cultures. While the question of what social forces and phenomena produce a Hitler or a Kim Jong-il are relevant, most researchers have acknowledged that comprehending what circumstances produced populations desirous of and supportive of such political dictatorships is far more critical. At the core of this issue has been the question of what has been termed "the authoritarian personality," which has been seen as resulting from factors such as particular family influences, dogmatic and absolutist training (religious or otherwise), economic systems and structures, and jingoistic nationalism.

In The Authoritarian Personality, Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sanford (1950) described authoritarians as individuals who were rigid thinkers, obeyed authority, and demanded strict adherence to social rules and hierarchies. Additionally, as they reported, the authoritarian personality maintained an inflexible and fixed worldview, a strong desire to be directed by the superior, an equally strong desire to direct the inferior, and a strong tendency to view everything in absolutist, black-or-white terms. As such, authoritarian people are more likely than others to harbor prejudices against low-status groups. Adorno et al. (1950) also discovered a connection between racism/fascism and the authoritarian parenting style. His studies led him to propose a personality framework that may be described as follows:

While finding comfort in the identification of submissive behavior towards authority, the authoritarian person directs his/her aggression towards other groups, often racial minorities. This is an attempt to relieve the feeling of personal weakness with a search for absolute answers and strengths in the outside world. (p. 12)

It is this consistent exclusion of others that has proven to be one of the most poisonous exports of the authoritarian personality. According to Fromm (1957), "What they have in common, what defines the essence of the authoritarian personality is an inability: the inability to rely on one's self, to be independent, to put it in other words: to endure freedom" (p. 3). From the lack of confidence in oneself a lack of confidence in others naturally follows, which serves as fertile ground for condemning anyone who is different from what has been deemed ideal by those in power. Such a negative view of others leads to the conclusion that harsh laws and a strong police or army are necessary. Also, it leads people to the pessimistic certainty that humans would devolve into narcissistic debauchery and be totally immoral if they were left to govern themselves free of external control. Ultimately, because they lack the confidence for self-governance, authoritarian personalities believe it is important to have a powerful leader and to be part of a powerful group. To declare the incompatibility of such personalities with freedom broadly and social democracy specifically, is both obvious and accurate. Adorno et al. (1950) made a special effort to explain that the authoritarian personality is not a singular personality type. There are different, even contradictory, aspects of authoritarianism.


Excerpted from Out of the Ruins by Robert H. Haworth, John M. Elmore. Copyright © 2017 PM Press. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Thoughts on Radical Informal Learning Spaces Robert H. Haworth 1

Section 1 Critiques of Education

Chapter 1 Miseducation and the Authoritarian Mind John M. Elmore 16

Chapter 2 Don't Act, Just Think! David Gabbard 35

Section 2 Constructing Theoretical Frameworks for Educational Praxis

Chapter 3 From the Unlearned Un-man to a Pedagogy without Moulding: Stirner, Consciousness-Raising, and the Production of Difference Rhiannon Firth Andrew Robinson 56

Chapter 4 Creating Transformative Anarchist-Geographic Learning Spaces Farhang Rouhani 74

Chapter 5 The Wretched of the Network Society: Techno-Education and Colonization of the Digital Petar Jandric Ana Kuzmanic 86

Section 3 The Emergence of Radical Informal Learning Spaces "Using the Institutional Space without Being of the Institution"

Chapter 6 What Do We Mean When We Say "Democracy"? Learning towards a Common Future through Popular Higher Education Sarah Amsler 106

Chapter 7 The Space Project: Creating Cracks within, against, and beyond Academic-Capitalism Andre Pusey 126

Chapter 8 Anarchists against (and within) the Edu-Factory: The Critical Criminology Working Group Jeff Shantz 139

Chapter 9 Teaching Anarchism by Practicing Anarchy: Reflections on Facilitating the Student-Creation of a College Course Dana Williams 153

Section 4 Of the Streets and the Coming Educational Communities

Chapter 10 Toward an Anti- and Alter-University: Thriving in the Mess of Studying, Organizing, and Relating with ExCo of the Twin Cities Erin Dyke Eli Meyerhoff 174

Chapter 11 What Is Horizontal Pedagogy? A Discussion on Dandelions David I. Backer Matthew Bissen Jacques Laroche Aleksandra Perisic Jason Wozniak Christopher Casuccio ("Winter") Zane D.R. Mackin Joe North Chelsea Szendi Schieder 195

Chapter 12 Street Theory: Grassroots Activist Interventions in Regimes of Knowledge Sandra Jeppesen Joanna Adamiak 223

Chapter 13 Theory Meet Practice: Evolving Ideas and Actions in Anarchist Free Schools Jeff Shantz 245

Contributors 261

Index 266

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