by Alex Cruse
Maximum Rock N Roll
In his essay “Ends and Means,” Italian Anarchist Errico Malatesta wrote, “All of us, without exception, are obliged to live more or less in contradiction with our ideals.” This philosophy both haunts and challenges the authors of Anarchist Pedagogies: Collective Actions, Theories, and Critical Reflections on Education, a collection that frames radical education reform in the contexts of historiography and political theory. Throughout, the authors (among them, David Gabbard, Isabelle Fremeaux, and Alex Khasnabish) take on the onerous task of enacting Anarchist praxes from within “institutionalized” academia—a space in which such theories may never be functionally realized.
This text throughly and elegantly explains the project of tyrannical educational establishments: they hermetically seal-off the production and consumption of information to an elite—who also mediates the valuation process of this information. By working symbiotically with other State-run institutions, certain social and economic narratives are reinforced and normalized. Thus, activists and students of Radicalism/Anarchism may find themselves suspended in and disempowered by the dominate ideological complex and, in the words of Stephen Shukatis, “re-incorporated into the workings of state and capital… creating the image of subversion.” This compelling tension is one that contributors revisit in chapter after chapter.
As Nathan Jun notes in his section, “Paideia for Praxis,” university-level curricula are insidiously designed by the joint edifices of State and Capital: they codify, organize and promote social hegemony. Academic institutions, then may be read as closed systems, in which agendas strategically (though covertly) replicate the conditions which allow these hierarchies to thrive. Using the logic of Kropotkin, Jun calls for transformative university programs (as opposed to outright abandonment of them) which could unite theory and practice and retain a humanist ethos at their core. Here, he echoes Ivan Illich, who stated that traditional schools are mired in social ritual—and it is the ritual which must be changed before radical reform can be enacted.
While these analyses should not be revelatory to most readers, the authors’ proposed educational alternatives may prove more so. A new, Anarchist pedagogy, as described by these authors, entails: (1) the promotion of a type of learning that necessitates self-directedness and autonomy; (2) the production of spaces that emphasize community participation and social/political progressiveness, whose architecture is (3) lateralized and decentralized, as are the power dynamics therein.
Yet, I found that this framework only generated more questions. Is it tenable with the notion of a liberated, atomized self? How can Radicals socially constitute themselves in a way that would satisfy Anarchist telos—that would not simply replicate the top-down authority model of the current system? If we are ontologically defined by our social relationships, can true “autonomy” ever be achieved?
In her chapter, “Anarchism, Pedagogy, Queer Theory, and Post-Structuralism,” Lucy Nicholas addresses such fundamental problems using Foucault-dian theory. She argues that, “autonomy can be understood not as a natural proclivity, but as a situated capacity,”or potentially (italics hers.) Additionally, she re-valorizes knowledge, distinguishing basic knowledge0transmission from authoritarian practices. I found such (re-)definitions to be crucial in understanding the structural and semiotic barriers which we, as Radicals, must negotiate.
The text additionally succeeds in its characterization of Anarchy as a workable, embodied approach to existence. Multiple examples of liberated educational spaces within myriad countries were provided in order to demonstrate how new infrastructures of resistance can and have been engineered. In his chapter on “The Anarchist Free Skool,” Jeff Shantz discusses the concept of a “temporary autonomous zone.” His account of this “heterotopic” environment (a counter-site, or alternative space) echoes the comments made by Jun. Rebuilding programs, rather than dropping out of extant ones, is key to evading capitalistic conferment and debunking the “myth of social mobility,” to which advanced educational credentials contribute. However, while such theories are persuasive and eloquently relayed, he comments, “[t]he persistent lack of analysis and vision along with a failure to assess the political context for action and develop useful strategies for meeting stated goals consistently undermined the collectives’ capacities to do political work. Clearly good intentions were not enough” (141). Yet Shantz optimistically alludes to the reinvigoration of similar spaces; he too emphasizes that effective resistance must be lived.
Other sections explicate disparate issues such as intersectionality, academic privilege, anarcho-feminims, and the actual mechanics of “free skools,” such as Escuela Moderna and the Really Open University (ROU). But because the individual authors return to the philosophies of lived-resistance and collective action, the chapters feel thematically well-integrated; marked tonal shifts do not disorient the reader so much as they create a textual metaphor for the box populi.
As a whole, Anarchist Pedagogies functions as a hybrid manifest/historical anthology/field guide—while it does not ignore the daunting complexities of revolutionizing our education system, each experience and infrastructural critique lead one to conclude that such revolution is irrefutably needed now. Appropriately, the afterword is entitled, “Let the Riots Begin.”