Week four of #MOOCMOOC – A librarian reads anarchist pedagogies

Listen.  Week four of #moocmooc is a real doozy!  Let me confess that I had to look up Hakim Bey, Max Stirner, Francisco Ferrer, Paul Goodman, and the Free Space/Free Skool.  But I knew exactly what heterotopia was as I had created several of them over the past several decades – it was the only way I was able to survive in a hostile world. In fact, I am in a heterotopia as we speak, my refuge in the North Carolina mountains…

I had read Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience as a somewhat precocious teenager and it inspired me to write a piece for the high school newspaper on student rights, entitled “The Student is the New Nigger,” which did not make many of my teachers happy though my father found it quite entertaining.  It was, after all, the Watergate years.  Needless to say, the re-reading of Thoreau’s masterful essay brought back warm memories of those years of my youth…(who knew that was all it took?)…

But let’s get down to brass tacks. I had never really thought of Thoreau (and, by extension, his intellectual lineage, Gandhi and King) as an anarchist, but in close proximity to the Shantz article, it all becomes somewhat clear.  “Anarchists seek freedom from internalized authority and ideological domination,” sounds very similar, to me, to “The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think is right.”  The sentence “This American government – what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity” resonates as truthfully today as it did in 1849.  And the classic, oft-quoted lines, “Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?” have launched many a protest movement since being prophetically penned on the eve of the American Civil War and brings to mind the haunting Herman Melville poem about, perhaps, America’s greatest anarchist:

The Portent

Hanging from the beam,
Slowly swaying (such the law),
Gaunt the shadow on your green,
Shenandoah!
The cut is on the crown
(Lo, John Brown)
And the stabs shall heal no more.

Hidden in the cap
Is the anguish none can draw;
So your future veils its face,
Shenandoah!
But the streaming beard is shown
(Weird John Brown),
The meteor of the war.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175173

But back to critical pedagogy (oh must we?).  There are surely shades of Freire and hooks in the sentiments that “learning should contribute to independence of thought and action and contribute to capacities for self-determination” and that traditional teacher/student relationships “can inhibit students and reinforce authority structures of command and obedience.” But we also see where The Free Skool’s adherence to anarchist principles, simply stated, resulted in the loss of administrative power to accomplish political or even cultural goals.  At one point in the reading I scribbled in the margin, “are anarchist pedagogies only for spoiled rich kids?” Conclusion:  I have a lot of reading to do.  Good thing I’m retired.  Except I do have this new day job that I love.  So I guess I’ll be phoning my local independent bookseller in the morning.

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4 thoughts on “Week four of #MOOCMOOC – A librarian reads anarchist pedagogies

  1. Thanks for this, Ray! I love your high school activism (and I wonder if at least some of your teachers were applauding….)

    I have been thinking something similar: “At one point in the reading I scribbled in the margin, ‘are anarchist pedagogies only for spoiled rich kids?’

    Not to simplify, but Ghandi and King were working against governments that oppressed their people, and in the end, while we are far far from equity under the law, I had to wonder whether many of the people at the Skool have ever needed protection from a majority who “believe that it is right” that “others” are inferior beings and deserve to have rights constrained, and that we’ll ever get to equity by insisting on consensus among unequals.

    I’m hoping to read other pieces in this book to better understand.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: #Rhizo15 week two: brief thoughts on assessment | Shifting Gears – Living in Multiple Worlds

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