New job, new projects, new prospects

It’s been a while since I’ve made regular posts to this blog, which began in 2013 as a series of posts on my career transition. Let me catch you up…

Late last May I started as a program analyst at the DC Office of Public Records. The job was supposed to be primarily about planning the move of DC Archives to its new site, but so far a site has not been established, so the move is likely several months if not years away. Anyway, being there, and me being me, I decided to take advantage of the lull in activity to learn something about the operation of the place.

DC Archives has a rich history of neglect and under-appreciation. Read this 2003 Washington Post article by Sewell Chan @sewellchan to get a taste of it (not much has changed). This series of letters from officials of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) @archivists_org ‏ provides reactions from the profession, and this 2015 article by Matthew Gilmore @MatthewBGilmore provides useful updates. This DC CityPaper article from 2000 written by Elissa Silverman @tweetelissa is also revealing. Here is a Vision Paper by prominent archivist Dr. Gregory Hunter that was not easy to locate. So I will take this opportunity to archive it here!

The place is dusty and moldy, but such is the way of archives. At least I don’t have to “dress up” for work. In my first month I couldn’t take the total clutter of the supply room, and volunteered to give it an overhaul. Not exactly in my job description, but it was clearly affecting operations at every level. So I took it on, and got it done, dead rats under the palates and all. In my second month, I complained about the backlog of donated collections and scheduled records deliveries piled up everywhere and took them on. After making a list and a POA&M (plan of attack and milestones: that Navy training is the gift that keeps on giving!), I offered to “do” the largest collection, processing over 250 boxes in six different locations of the personal and professional papers of a retired (and now deceased) member of the city council that had been around for almost two years, unprocessed. It took me from July to mid-October (not counting the month we took off for vacation), but I got the initial inventory done. Now we are in the description and arrangement phase (as an aside, it helps that I’m taking a course in archives management at my alma mater (CLSC 646). Anyway, for the course we had to choose a type of archives for a lit review and site visit and I chose oral histories of foreign service offices at the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training  @ADSTnews ‏. See the paper that resulted here. I have fallen in love with oral histories!).

I wrote a sonnet that captures some of my initial impressions of the “spirit” of the place. Give it a try:

Back to the subject. With the initial inventory complete, I was unsure of the next step and we hadn’t at that point gotten that far in class. So I was talking with a colleague over lunch and he told me that with large collections of personal papers, one allows the main themes to emerge from the inventory, then organizes the papers along those themes in a second run. So that’s what I did. I started with about 40 themes that covered the whole collection, then consolidated them down to about 20 themes, then assigned numbers to those themes and put those numbers into the original inventory spreadsheet. Then sorted, and presto! We had a plan! (The royal “We,” mind you, it is only me). So each theme is now a group and as of today,  October 27, I have completed arranging the two largest groups at the folder level. The first two groups were both large, and lucky for me, concentrated pretty much over some 70 boxes, so it made sense to move the boxes from their temporary storage on the second floor to the processing area I mapped out on the ground level (not having an adequate processing area has been an excuse not to attack the backlog, but I was new and didn’t yet know the ropes…). But for subsequent groups that are significantly smaller and less concentrated, I will change my operational model and dive boxes directly at their temporary storage site on the 2nd floor. (p.s. I had arranged the bulk of the boxes in numerical order is what I thought to be a safe place (basically where they had been for over 18 months) but in a miscommunication due to some infrastructure work, all the boxes got moved by contractors without my knowledge, losing all the numerical order. Luckily, the boxes were numbered, but it makes the task slightly more tedious when numbered boxes are stacked on top of one another outside the original order).

This weekend’s readings for class this Monday focus on arrangement and developing finding aids, so it’s pretty cool that there is this alignment between my coursework and what I am doing at work.

Simultaneously, the course requires a 50-hour practicum, which I am doing at DC Public Library. Slightly different, this project is an item-level collection where I am documenting every piece of paper in a single box and doing the complete accession using ArchivesSpace. More about that in a subsequent post…

DC Archives has a small library attached, some 1500 books on shelves (not counting several boxes of books already accessioned as archives that will need to be transferred to the library whenever a librarian can be hired). The boss asked me to draft a collection policy (since I am a librarian by trade), which we got approved downtown, so a project in the near future might be to weed out the collection and whip the library into shape.

The third part of the operations is the records center. I went out to Suitland, MD to do a one-day training at the Federal Records Center in my first month on the job. At some point we will have to tackle the big problem of storage of DC records at several federal repositories that dates back to pre-1985, when DC records were considered federal records managed by National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Our present facility doesn’t have the space to consolidate all our holdings, so stuff remains all spread out and incurring huge monthly rent expenses for DC Government.

OK. Finally, there is a local organization, Friends of the DC Archives @FDCArchives, the present iteration of which emerged from a shadowy origin about the same time as the beginning of the Mayor Bowser administration. They claim no ties to the original Friends group formed in 2006, and they behave more like a citizen’s oversight group than an advocacy group, cross-examining employees at their infrequent and unannounced meetings. Here is their Weebly website (note: not updated since November 2016) and here is a link to their Facebook page, though they have no record of official incorporation as a not-for-profit organization and again, they make no reference to the original Friends of DC Archives that was legitimately incorporated in 2006. See more here: The Founding of the Friends of the DC Archives.

When I worked part-time I missed being a part of a team. But now I am working full time and missing days off during the week to do other interesting things like long lunches with old friends, movies and museum/gallery visits with Filomena, grocery shopping when checkout lines are short, and the possibility of long weekend road trips whenever. Oh well, save those thrills for when I really retire!


DigiWriMo – November 1

OK. This is not a novel. It’s just that it has been so long since I posted anything to this blog. Today that all changes. For the rest of November, at least. Maybe.

Someone landed on my poetry blog last night and “liked” a poem I wrote during August Postcard Poetry Month.  So I took a closer look at that poem, wondering what made it attractive to said anonymous person.  It is a sonnet, non-modern perhaps because it has some internal rhyme and consistency, maybe post-modern.  I was thinking these thoughts this morning when I got to my docent class.  That’s when it dawned on me: focusing on art and architecture history in my docent class is altering the way I look at poetry. Is that a bad thing? Before you answer, I think it is a pretty cool thing.

OK.  Before we get too deep in the weeds about the whys, here is the sonnet in question:

Bus stop (the 31 to Tenleytown)

I neither wanted nor needed freedom
in my youth. My brain, on fire, needed
a container with lots of oxygen
to cool and feed its insatiable thirst
for truth. Older now with vision clouded
by smoke & smog, I seek that same freedom
I once disdained, forsook, refused, denied.
Older now with knees that ache at the thought
of bridging the divides that hide inside
my conversations – – wait! My bus arrives
at its destination at last! One more
shuttle to catch, one more chapter to read,
one more sonnet of love or fate to extract.
And one more thirst, across the years, to quench.

It was one of those rare days when I chose to ride the bus instead of the subway to work. My knees need a break from those subway station escalators every now and then. I started writing the poem on the bus, but finished it at work.  My colleague at work read and liked it, especially the line about “the divides that hide inside,” but I know she is just a sucker for rhymes. Maybe. And that is not a bad thing on most days. So I added it to the collection and forgot about it.

Then today, this morning, I noticed my poetry blog had a hit. Hmmm. Then I went to docent training class and we had a videocast of an art historian/professor, Thomas Somma, about DC statuary, except only the audio worked, so we had to focus on the words and see the images he described in our imagination, sort of like poetry, right? Anyway, here is a pertinent paragraph of his talk:

“That’s basically the aesthetic language that the American Renaissance artists adopt.  And certainly, by the time we get into the 20th century, that’s seen as very conservative.  And this is actually one of the reasons why the art that we see in the Library of Congress for a long time was not studied by American art historians, it was not taught by American art historians, it was not emulated by American artists, because they were modernists.  And modernism means a number of things, but one of the things that modernism means, the modernist sensibility, is to disconnect from the past; a sort of assumption that the way things were done in the past are no longer relevant to the present.  That’s always been a fundamental aspect of modernism, beginning in the middle of the 19th century and carrying right through the 20th century.  So, a style that is so dependent on looking back to the past is something that was just out of vogue with the art establishment throughout the 20th century. 

Now that we’re in a post-modern period, so-called post-modern period, we’re past modernism.  We’re in a more pluralistic, even a globalistic cultural period.  And so many artists, many art historians and so on, are reevaluating the past, are reevaluating styles in the 20th century, artists in the 20th century that were more dependent on the past.  And so we’ve got a renewed interest in buildings like the Library of Congress, like the Pennsylvania State Capital, like the courthouse — Appellate Courthouse in New York, and on and on, because the art of these buildings, you know, was ignored for so long, and now we’re going back to look at them; they’re taking on new values.  Okay, so this two-headed approach, looking back to the past for role models upon which to build a foundation off of which we’re moving to the future; a turn for influence back through the Italian Renaissance, back to ancient Greek and Roman Art.”  (From transcript of Thomas Somma 2006 webcast of lecture to Library of Congress docents.) 

So I am thinking about art and wondering if American poetry has a similar renaissance that got buried by the modernists. And I am feeling pretty good, for once, about liking sonnets, about trying to write sonnets, even though they don’t always have a rhyming scheme “as classified by those who classify.” And I am thinking it might be time to re-evaluate the poetry past. And I am thinking that perhaps there was an American Renaissance in poetry, but because the poets were black for the most part, they sort of got buried in the so-called Harlem Renaissance. Later in his talk Somma mentioned Matthew Arnold, but he was British (Back in the day I memorized portions of his poem, Dover Beach).  I gotta go back and check out Matt Arnold!

So what else is up? My participation in ModPo has stalled. I’ve missed some webcasts because of work. I haven’t kept up. Work is cool, but I haven’t done any classroom teaching like before, and I feel that part fading out a bit, though I still get psyched and excited about Freire and hooks, about ethnography, and about the rhizome as it applies to everything educational. As soon as the docent training is done I’ll get back to some of these other pursuits. But for now, the docent training is thrilling, and fulfilling, and everything I had hoped for in this chapter of my life story.

I think I’ll log off on that note.  Peace out, y’all!

what does the agile librarian do between library jobs? Pt. 2

No longer between library jobs. Big Yay! Started a new part-time library job last week. But continuing the discussion of Agile application to HR issues.  (Don’t fret, we’ll bring the Agile discussion back to librarianship soon enough. In the meantime, taking this HR detour might eventually be instructive). Today, we are going to take a brief look at the history of Agile methodologies.  Later in the week we will look at some considerations when converting or transforming existing processes to Agile ones.

Agile History

It is easy to trace the history of Agile to the Agile Manifesto of 2001 and the twelve principles that followed in its wake.  Easy but far from sufficient.  We need to look at a few of the antecedents to that 2001 gathering to know what is really going on.

Lloyd Wilkinson, in Agile Development: A Brief History, traces the roots of agile project management thinking to Toyota process in the 1950’s, more specifically, kaizen, or continual improvement in automotive manufacturing processes.  In case you haven’t already clicked on the link, kaizen is a Japanese word that is translated as “continuous improvement.”  In lean, or just in time manufacturing systems, the process itself must “continuously change in order to deliver value to the customer.” Before we take a deep dive, it is necessary to say that one might make an argument that HR systems bound by rigid rules and regulations are not capable of continuous change.  I would argue (1) that the multiplicity of rules and regulations, all overlapping, is precisely what opens the door to flexibility and dynamism and (2) what manufacturing process was more rigid that automotive assembly line production, and yet, Toyota’s introduction of Kaizen practices made it a world leader in the automotive industry.  But back to the subject…

Kaizen has a few foci that are particularly relevant to HR processes.  First is the Kaizen 5S concept: sort, or removing anything from the space not needed for daily operations; straighten, or placing the essential things in the right place for optimum operations; sweep, or removing anything that is clutter and repairing anything broken; standardize, or codifying best practices; and sustain, or establishing new, more efficient standards and resisting the tendency to return to old ways of doing things.

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 08.33.10

Second is the concept of employee involvement supported by employee trust. Specifically, this concept has as its antecedent, the work of Elton Mayo and the Hawthorne Effect (please click and read!).  Very briefly, Mayo concluded that

  • The aptitudes of individuals are imperfect predictors of job performance.
  • Informal organization affects productivity. The researchers discovered a group life among the workers.
  • Informal organization affects productivity. The researchers discovered a group life among the workers.
  • Work-group norms affect productivity.
  • The workplace is a social system.

A moment here on James Martin and Rapid Application Development (RAD). James Martin, nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for his 1977 book, The Wired Society: A Challenge for Tomorrow, introduced in 1991 an approach to RAD that involved iterative development and the construction of intermediate prototypes. These two elements would play a critical part in Agile project management thinking in subsequent years.

For extra reading, this article also looks at the history of Agile thinking: The roots of Agile project management.

Later in the week we will look at some of the challenges and possible pitfalls of adopting Agile thinking to existing processes.  And to raise eyebrows, we will call the next post: “The Road Less Taken, or, People are software in any production process.”

In the meanwhile, a bit of Sarah Vaughan for the Labor Day Weekend:

Blogging 101 – Day 11: Blogging around a prompt – community service

Today’s assignment is to build a blog post around a prompt, and the prompt provided is community service:

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 10.52.39

Part of my post (a big part, quite possibly the only part) is going to be to define my community.  Where to start?  I have my birth communities: my families (the Maxwells primarily of Guilford County, NC, along with the Rankins, and the Hairstons of Rockingham County, NC and Pittsylvania County, VA); and the churches and church-sponsored activities in Greensboro where I grew up; and my racial community, African-Americans, expanded later to include all people of African descent of whatever race.  Then I have educational communities that I am presently involved in: the Woodberry Forest Alumni group; the Stouffer Scholars group; the NC Governor’s School Foundation group.

pause …. catch breath…

College alumni communities’ fundraising efforts won’t let me forget them, and frankly, I love my alma maters: FAMU (BS), SOAS (MA), CUA (MSLIS).

“And reverence the wombs that bore you; surely God watches over you. ” Holy  Qur’an 4:1Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 11.34.04

One finds oneself connected socially and even politically to professional communities, which, in my case, include submarine, and in general, Navy veteran groups, and foreign affairs groups like AFSA and ADST, and Diplopundit readers and supporters. And most recently, by virtue of my recent entry into the library and information science profession, an entire new librarianship community emerges, a community of practice that also includes instructional designers, information architects, critical (and hybrid) pedagogues, and rhizomatic practitioners.

And finally, there are hobby communities that last a lifetime.  These include the community of poetry lovers (and writers and readers), the related community of life-long learners and MOOC enthusiasts, the community of gardeners and beekeepers, the community of art museum devotees and, in general, artists of all stripes.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 10.10.43

Blogging 101 – Day 6: Brushing up the About page

OK.  Brushed up the about page.  Tightened up the verbiage, and added some hyperlinks and photos.  Check it out if you get a chance, please!

p.s. Excruciating pain in my right heel has put the kabbash on morning walks for the time being.  And I have fallen behind on my postcard poetry as I use the walks to get inspiration for writing.  Oh me!  Oh Life!  But I am doing leg lifts and stretches to keep the exercise regimen going.

Good chat with a colleague today on the job search scene. Patience is the highest virtue for us oldsters in the job market.  See the Epictetus quote for today…

p.s. Epictetus quote for today:

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 15.34.57

Blogging 101 – Day 4: Identifying my audience – poetry lovers

I think this may be fun!

Today’s assignment is to publish a post you’d like your ideal audience member to read, and to include elements never used before.

My love of poetry is a bit of an obsession at times, so I am going to aim my post at blog readers who read, write, and enjoy all aspects of poetry. I’ve never embedded video clips, so I might just try it. OK, here we go!

Here are three favorites from the 19th century:

And here are three favorites from the Beats:

Hope there is something here for everybody. But just in case, more of my favorites are here on Pinterest:

Finally, Epictetus quote for today

Finally, Epictetus quote for today

Blogging 101 – Day 1: Introducing myself to Blogging U

First assignment: Who am I and why am I here? We like to define ourselves in terms of who or what we used to be, what we do on our jobs, what schools we went to, and where we hope to be in the future. It works if it works, but it doesn’t interest me right now. I want to introduce myself in terms of the things that I am passionate about, the things I have always been passionate about, the things/thoughts that bring me pleasure and peace of mind. Those things/thoughts will identify both who I am and why I am here.

It is really quite simple, quite uncomplicated. I like reading poetry. I like writing poetry. I like seeing things grow in dirt. Art inspires me. All art. Music inspires me (which is also art). A package of seeds inspires me. Science is the ultimate turn on for me. Physics. Astronomy. Botany. Biology. Mathematics and reasoning. All the stuff you get in high school. I had all those merit badges in the Boy Scouts. It goes way back, that far back.

I never made Eagle Scout. I wouldn’t go for the “right” merit badges. Curiosity was my only, truest motivation. Then sports became important for me. Football and track, middle distances. I came late to cross-country, substituted it for football in the fall and loved it, loved the team, loved the interaction with nature, running through the woods, watching the seasons change. Rushing back to my room to write it all down in poetry.

After high school I decided I wanted to do something radically different, to break away from the pack. I joined the Navy, requested submarine duty. I got it. It was definitely different. I dug it, but I wasn’t seeing the world, just dials and pressure gages and thermometers. So I applied for a commissioning program at my enlistment’s end. I got it. Went back, finished school and got a reserve commission. Fell in love with the sea. Four years passed quickly, I took a test, and landed in the Foreign Service, where I spent 20 years. But there was no change there, just a smooth transition from one deployment to a series of deployments. And lest I leave it out, more poetry, more poetry, and in different languages, in Portuguese, in Arabic.

Took an early retirement. Time for a real change. Did a Master’s in Library and Information Science. Learned HTML. Learned a lot of stuff. Got a job as a librarian, and a second job, and a third job. Took a MOOC poetry course, and a second, and a third. Fell in love with Whitman, and Dickinson, and Brooks, and many others. At last I recognized and acknowledged “the ambrosia that nourished my soul.” There is more poetry to be written, more souls to save. More gardens to plant, to weed, to pick what grows. Blogging is keeping notes, chronicling the ofttimes imperceptible changes that occur.

#Rhizo15, week six: If an antelope is a document, then anything can be an artifact…

Every librarian-student gets exposed to the Library Luminary Suzanne Briet and her assessment regarding antelopes and documents: “An antelope running wild on the plains of Africa should not be considered a document, she rules. But if it were to be captured, taken to a zoo and made an object of study, it has been made into a document. It has become physical evidence being used by those who study it. Indeed, scholarly articles written about the antelope are secondary documents, since the antelope itself is the primary document.”

So what does this have to do with the end of #Rhizo15?

In our final weekly assignment, we are looking at/for artifacts that provide a handy guide to rhizomatic learning. Hell, we might as well be looking for a needle in a haystack, in a sense. Potential artifacts are like antelopes running wild on the African plains (and I say that as a certified Africanist with years of experience on the African continent and a graduate degree from SOAS…Suzanne Briet also spent some time in the “wilds of Africa.”). Briet’s statement is viewed as one of the early expressions of actor-network theory.

Aha! Here the plot doth thicken:

From Wikipedia: “As the term implies, the actor-network is the central concept in ANT. The term “network” is somewhat problematic in that it, as Latour notes, has a number of unwanted connotations. Firstly, it implies that what is described takes the shape of a network, which is not necessarily the case. Secondly, it implies “transportation without deformation,” which, in ANT, is not possible since any actor-network involves a vast number of translations. Latour, however, still contends that network is a fitting term to use, because “it has no a priori order relation; it is not tied to the axiological myth of a top and of a bottom of society; it makes absolutely no assumption whether a specific locus is macro- or micro- and does not modify the tools to study the element ‘a’ or the element ‘b’.” This use of the term “network” is very similar to Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomes …”

And again from Wikipedia: “Deleuze and Guattari introduce A Thousand Plateaus by outlining the concept of the rhizome (quoted from A Thousand Plateaus):

  • 1 and 2: Principles of connection and heterogeneity: “…any point of a rhizome can be connected to any other, and must be,”
  • 3. Principle of multiplicity: only when the multiple is effectively treated as a substantive, “multiplicity” that it ceases to have any relation to the One
  • 4. Principle of asignifying rupture: a rhizome may be broken, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines
  • 5 and 6: Principle of cartography and decalcomania: a rhizome is not amenable to any structural or generative model; it is a “map and not a tracing” “

Again, a needle in a haystack.  I rest my case / my document / my artifact / my antelope…

#Rhizo15 week 5: completely mobile (invasive species and community learning)

In Chocolate City this weekend to march across the stage in cap and gown to receive my MSLIS at CUA (which I actually received last October by mail, but THIS is the annual ceremony). Several of us who started together in 2013 will be finishing together, a community of learners.

In this week’s submission we are to address, among other things, community learning as an invasive species from the rhizomatic perspective we have been discussing. My first thoughts go to my garden that I planted too soon.  Late frosts killed the early sprouts, but the weeds, some them actually quite beautiful, and possibly edible in a tossed salad, keep on sprouting and running and sending their roots deeply (and quickly) into the freshly turned topsoil mound.  Are these weeds the invasive species, crowding out the seeds I’ve planted and sucking all the nutrients from the soil, or are my heirloom seeds the true invaders?  We won’t push that too far because we know the answer to that question.


I live in a neighborhood called Foggy Bottom, so named because it was built on top of a malaria-infested swamp.  Many people say it is still a swamp, though concrete and asphalt cover all the traces.  But sometimes, late at night when everything is quiet and still, you can smell it, the swamp beneath us… So, is the swamp the invasive ecosystem, or are my neighbors and me the invaders?

But we digress.  One of our colleagues posted a link to a site explaining the relationship between the history of architecture and the future of website design.  This resonated with me, being an information architect by training.  A few weeks ago someone from a different learning community posted a link to an article about a person who wanted to live inside a Frank O’Hara poem.


Some architecture that would be! (I’ll come back later and install all the links.). Then, last week, it all came together for me with a post to a librarian list describing the significance of words to website design.

From architecture to website design to poetry, and from education to gardening, the true invasive species is the collection of words, in a different configuration than before, that sets off a thought mutation that replicates itself and creates a new and different ecosystem than before. I know, it’s all a gross over-simplification, and I have probably left off some important steps. But you see the pattern.  Maybe.  As a community of learners (and teachers), we may be the invasive species, or maybe more appropriately, we may provide the mutative spark that moves our students (and ourselves) to the next level of thought and thinking.

I am going to miss these weekly blogposts when #Rhizo15 ends next week.  Maybe let’s keep it going?

p.s.  This e.e. cummings poem seems somehow appropriate to this discussion, “when faces called flowers float out of the ground,” (best read aloud):

when faces called flowers float out of the ground
and breathing is wishing and wishing is having-
but keeping is downward and doubting and never
-it’s april(yes,april;my darling)it’s spring!
yes the pretty birds frolic as spry as can fly
yes the little fish gambol as glad as can be
(yes the mountains are dancing together

when every leaf opens without any sound
and wishing is having and having is giving-
but keeping is doting and nothing and nonsense
-alive;we’re alive,dear:it’s(kiss me now)spring!
now the pretty birds hover so she and so he
now the little fish quiver so you and so i
now the mountains are dancing, the mountains)

when more than was lost has been found has been found
and having is giving and giving is living-
but keeping is darkness and winter and cringing
-it’s spring(all our night becomes day)o,it’s spring!
all the pretty birds dive to the heart of the sky
all the little fish climb through the mind of the sea
all the mountains are dancing;are dancing)

postscript #2.  I traveled to Ramadi in 2008 with a CODEL as part of my supervisory responsibilities.  We had won the peace, or so we convinced ourselves, even though we on the civilian side all knew the “surge” was a crock.  Anyway, I am a bit saddened today that Ramadi has fallen to ISIS, though it has absolutely nothing to do with me or my life.  I am still saddened.

Better days,  Visiting the Ramadi Museum with a CODEL.

Better days, Visiting the Ramadi Museum with a CODEL.

On the good news side, I was happy to see so many of my classmates over the weekend, graduating together under the hot May sun.  Many have remained in the DC area, but many have returned home, or to their alma maters, all over.  We are spreading out like little rhizomes, tending to rhizomatic libraries that in turn spread out through books and things throughout the universe of information.  Here’s another image, feast your eyes!


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,
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,
But the streaming beard is shown
(Weird John Brown),
The meteor of the war.

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.