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Creating a Pedagogy in Common: Excerpt From "Toward a New Common School Movement"

Thursday, 27 February 2014 00:00 By Noah De Lissovoy, Alex Means and Kenneth Saltman, Truthout | Book Excerpt

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Classroom.(Photo: Angel Valentin / The New York Times) In this excerpt from their new book, Toward a New Common School Movement, the authors argue for defending a not-yet-realized public in the public schools that should be the privileged territory for a movement to invent democracy, against a schooling system that has historically parodied and persecuted it.

An excerpt from the new book, Toward a New Common School Movement (Paradigm Publishers 2014):

From the natural world to the social world, the commons appear everywhere in peril. The all-encompassing drive for profit and endless commodification is despoiling the shared basis of life on the planet, and as a set of global crises widen and deepen, demands for authentic democracy and community become the minimal demands for the survival of humanity. Any adequate effort to overcome these challenges will have to start from the premise of our belongingness, globally, to each other. This fundamental social condition of interrelation and entanglement sets the parameters for any meaningful global community. What we refer to as a new common school movement is the form of education that sets its sights on the development and democratization of this condition. 

Like the commons, the very idea of democratic education is everywhere under assault. Within public schooling, this takes the form of for-profit educational management, charters, vouchers, standardization of curriculum, high-stakes testing and the integration of corporate managerialism into the fabric of teacher education, educational leadership, and schools themselves. We suggest that engagement with the notion of the global commons opens a different space for reimagining public schooling outside of the false choice between either market imperatives or state domination, and instead locates questions of educational value and organization within the principles of human equality and global commonality. We don't merely need to defend public schooling; we need to remake it for a genuinely democratic society beyond failure of neoliberal capitalism. We believe that engagement with the theory and practice of the global commons provides a set of creative and ethical referents suitable to this task.

The Struggle Over the Global Commons

When land, labor, and other social and natural resources necessary to sustain life are held and valued as collective property they can be said to form a commons. As Nobel economist Elinor Ostrum has detailed, communities have historically developed ingenious strategies for governing access and usage of common property resources in order to maintain their collective value and benefit over time.1

What is important to understand here is that neoliberal schooling represents not merely better or worse school reform - adjusting pedagogical methods, tweaking the curriculum, on so on. We argue that it is crucially about redistributing control over social life and as such is part of a much broader trend - the enclosure of the global commons.

Commons cannot be separated from the notion of enclosure, which signals efforts to transfer aspects of the commons from collective management for common benefit to private ownership for private gain. At the end of the first volume of Capital, Marx extended the perspectives of Adam Smith who, in his Wealth of Nations, described the enclosure of the commons in feudal Europe as a form of original or primitive accumulation. Whereas Smith argued that this was largely a peaceful historical passage, Marx detailed how the enclosures constituted a form of theft and violence that made the original development of capitalism possible. 

Building on Marx's observations, historians like Peter Linbaugh have detailed how the forces of primitive accumulation and the enclosures of the commons in feudal Europe gave birth to modem economic, legal, administrative, and military systems of sovereignty that have operated to legitimate European colonial and imperial domination over the world's land and people.2 Silvia Federici has also highlighted how women have always been central to this story. From the European witch-hunts to the current neoconservative "war on women," women's bodies and their labor have been longstanding historical targets of enclosure and control.3

As a system defined by endless growth, capitalism is prone to crisis and stagnation. Therefore it must continually incorporate new territories, markets, and laborers into its orbit in order to expand and thrive. In relation to the commons, this underscores the idea that capitalism must periodically convert shared social resources that have previously existed outside its domain into sources of private property and profit. This process of enclosure has reemerged on a planetary scale since the onset of neoliberal globalization in the 1980s and 1990s. 

How can the struggle against neoliberal school reform not simply demand limits on testing and a cessation to privatization in all its guises but also demand that public education be the basis for reimagining a truly democratic society?

The philosopher Slavoj Zizek argues that there are four central antagonisms in the contemporary enclosure of the commons - 'the commons of nature as the substance of our life, the problem of our biogenetic commons, the problem of our cultural commons ('intellectual property'), and, last but not least, the problem of the commons as the universal space of humanity from which no one should be excluded'.4 Increasingly, as global capitalism faces new constraints to profitable expansion, produces surplus populations globally, and pursues the endless commodification and exploitation of the planetary bios, all of humanity potentially becomes excluded 'bare life'. 

Crucially, efforts to enclose the commons have always been defined by extensive contestation. So it is with the new global enclosures. Whether it is the privatization of public water in Bolivia, the displacement of tens of millions of indigenous people from the land in rural India to make way for transnational mining companies and agri-businesses like Monsanto, or efforts to defund and further privatize secondary and higher education in Santiago, Chicago, or Montreal - the new enclosures have been met by extensive opposition from commoners seeking to retain democratic control over common resources for collective benefit.

The Enclosure of Public Schooling in the United States

Schooling is a key site in present struggles over the commons as it represents a shared resource of democratic potentiality. At all levels of the educational endeavor, neoliberal policy architectures have sought to convert public schooling into a marketplace, to subordinate educational value to economic value, and to open all facets of education to profit making and corporate control. This has only intensified in the post-2008 period of economic decline and generalized social insecurity and austerity. 

Despite claims to efficiency and innovation, neoliberal school reforms have only added to dysfunctional bureaucracy through the top-down management of decision-making. Demands for an end to privatization and for a reinvigoration of public education should thus be combined with a path toward opening up greater flexibility, autonomy, and democracy in the public system in order to spur progressive innovation, enrichment, and democratic creativity.

In the United States, educational enclosure has been lubricated by the strategic devaluation of the public educational system. Since 2008 and the onset of economic crisis, states have laid off hundreds of thousands of teachers and staff, cut back curriculum and extracurricular programs, expanded class sizes, shortened school days and weeks, and even closed many schools altogether. For example, Illinois has cut $152 million, New York $1.3 billion, Pennsylvania $422 million, Washington $1 billion, and Arizona $560 million in yearly funding to k-12 schools, early childhood education, and child development services.5 This has paved the way for closing public schools in economically devastated communities and creating networks of charter, contract, and for-profit schools. The strategic devaluation of the public sector presents business with opportunities to institute draconian reforms that enable the transfer of public resources like schools from the public trust to private interests. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, for instance, market reformers presented the storm as a "golden opportunity" to "clean the slate" and to privatize the historically neglected New Orleans public schools.6 Similarly in Michigan, a state devastated by deindustrialization and the financialization of the economy, 80% of its rapidly expanding base of charter schools is now run for-profit.

The vanguard of the educational enclosure movement includes venture philanthropists, Wall Street financiers, hedge fund managers, opportunistic politicians from both major political parties, and corporate CEOs. This alliance has used the altruistic language of educational reform and equity to garner support for privatization. In 2007 there was $78 billion in venture capital invested in US educational startups. In 2011, it had reached a staggering $452 billion.7 Wall Street has projected that in just the K-12 online learning market alone, profits are expected to soar 43% by 2015 as states are being coerced into lifting the cap on cyber-charter schools allowing public money that would be going to public schools to instead go to deregulated online learning mills.8 Major Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch have dived into for-profit education alongside major hedge funds and wealth management groups all clamoring for a piece of the $600 billion estimated to be at stake each year in the educational marketplace. 

Part of what is wrong with educational privatization is that it involves expropriating from the educational process part of the educational resources to generate profits for owners and investors.

These financial and corporate interests are seeking to capitalize not only through private management of schools, but also directly on processes of teaching and learning. This is the underlying reality driving the proliferation of corporate contracts for educational technology services, standardized curriculum programs, scripted lessons, value-added assessments for teachers, big data surveillance systems in education, and incessant high-stakes testing embodied in the new "common core" curriculum. Efforts to "teacher proof" education vastly extend the scope of profiteering and repressive bureaucratic authority in schools. This disables the capacity of educators to connect broader issues of public concern such as child poverty and homelessness, neighborhood instability and unemployment, institutional racism and mass incarceration, and the destruction of the environment to learning and thus to possibilities for social change. Instead learning is reduced to a set of anti-intellectual procedural skills that enclose the imaginative and democratic potential of educational experience.

Toward a Common Vision for Schooling 

What is important to understand here is that neoliberal schooling represents not merely better or worse school reform - adjusting pedagogical methods, tweaking the curriculum, on so on. We argue that it is crucially about redistributing control over social life and as such is part of a much broader trend - the enclosure of the global commons. It is this struggle, we believe, that is underway in schools in the present. The question is whether we will continue to suffer the distorted and truncated forms of community that mainstream educational policy and practice impose on us, or whether we will fight against the limits of the neoliberal imagination to realize authentically democratic forms of teaching and learning.

Critical education teaches alternative values, social relations, and identifications that are contrary to those of schooling for capitalist reproduction – critical rather than dogmatic, egalitarian rather than hierarchical, collective rather than individualizing, emancipatory rather than exploitative.

The task ahead is to imagine pedagogical practices, curriculum, and school organization that enact the global commons. What path should teachers and students take together with communities in recovering control over the work of teaching and learning? How can the struggle against neoliberal school reform not simply demand limits on testing and a cessation to privatization in all its guises but also demand that public education be the basis for reimagining a truly democratic society? To begin, it is important to note that a new common school movement has an inevitably hopeful dimension to it. The common can be built and expanded, and it can never be fully enclosed because there are parts of human experience that cannot be turned into property and have to be held in common. Compassion, ideas, social relationships, and the planet itself must be held in common. In what follows we provide a series of broad proposals for orienting a new common school movement. To speak of the commons is to speak of a struggle over universal claims on the future. If we consider neoliberal schooling in terms of the commons, we can ask the question of how to formulate a response that recognizes the need for alternative school reform and also how such reform might provide a basis for a new commonwealth open to all. 

Four Proposals for a New Common School Movement

Commoning Public Control

A first proposal for a new common school movement is the project of commoning public authority and control. This involves becoming clear on how public control differs from private control. Privatization enables for-profit educational companies to skim public tax money that would otherwise be reinvested in educational services and transfer it to investor profits. These profits take concrete form in the limousines, private jets, and mansions that public tax money provides to rich investors. These profits also take symbolic form as they are used to hire public relations firms to influence parents, communities, and other investors to have faith in educational privatization and the corporation. This is a parasitical financial relationship that maximizes the potential profit for investors while cutting educational services (the expansion of primary and secondary online cyber-charter schools is the best example). This has tended to result in anti-unionism, the reduction of education to the most measurable and replicable forms, assaults on teacher autonomy, and so on. 

There is no evidence that the siphoning of public wealth to capitalists has improved public education. Moreover, such redistribution shifts collective control over the processes of teaching and learning to private educational management operators. It captures educational labor and channels it toward profit making for owners in the short term and future exploitable labor relations in the long term. Last, despite claims to efficiency and innovation, neoliberal school reforms have only added to dysfunctional bureaucracy through the top-down management of decision-making. Demands for an end to privatization and for a reinvigoration of public education should thus be combined with a path toward opening up greater flexibility, autonomy, and democracy in the public system in order to spur progressive innovation, enrichment, and democratic creativity.

Commoning Public Finance

A second proposal for a new common school movement would be to rethink school finance as a common as opposed to a private matter. In a financial sense, the history of the US public system has been privatized since its inception in that public funding has been tied to local property taxes and local real estate wealth. We might call this the original privatization of the public school system. The task of expanding a commons in public school finance involves countering both the original privatization of real estate and taxes and the more recent neoliberal privatizations. One initial solution to countering these trends is extremely simple. It would involve the United States following other industrialized nations and putting in place a federal system that ensures funding equity for all public schools and students. Importantly, schools and communities ravaged by poverty and historical neglect require more investment than others. This requires progressive distribution not equal distribution. 

Commoning Educational Labor and Governance

A third proposal for a new common school movement would involve expanding common teacher and common administrator labor within a framework of common governance. As we have stated above, part of what is wrong with educational privatization is that it involves expropriating from the educational process part of the educational resources to generate profits for owners and investors. This setup not only replicates the private sector workforce but results in the devaluation of the teacher's labor and in deteriorating working conditions for teachers. It has also been part of an expansion of corporate culture into educational policy that seeks to downwardly distribute "accountability" while upwardly distributing rewards. 

We believe education can become a powerful force for the production of alternative forms of community and enactment of the global commons.

A crucial aim of working in common must be to establish participatory democratic governance over public educational institutions. This must involve ending the divide between teachers and administrators and schools and communities. Teachers must have professional autonomy at the same time that schools must be made transparent and open to the community. To put it differently, educational leadership ought to be primarily teacher leadership that is embedded within a framework of collective governance and community decision-making. The existing educational leadership establishment and district management justifies itself through the discourses of measurable accountability and disciplinary threat. To rethink accountability means the measure of educational progress should no longer be testing and standardized matrices, which are really just a performance of efficacy. Instead, accountability in common is realized through the extent to which schooling furthers and reflects public values and interests - that is, collective benefit, shared democratic forms of control, and improvements in communities. A new common school movement would facilitate public schooling by actually strengthening the public through the professional autonomy of teachers in a system of common values and shared responsibility.

Commoning Collective Livelihoods

A fourth proposal for a new common school movement is that it must be connected to reclaiming a public commons that can ensure social as well as economic justice. At the core of this proposal is the need to create a new social compact that would include the right to dignified work and a guaranteed basic income; the right to a decent and affordable home; the right to medical and health care; the right to protection against economic dislocation, old age, and sickness; and the right to a free, equitable, and enriching public education. Reviving, renewing, reimagining, and agitating for such a commitment to public rights and protections would provide a foundation for ameliorating some of the most immediate and pressing issues facing working people and marginalized populations across the United States. In the long term, they could provide an educational and organizational basis for radical democratic alternatives to present economic and political arrangements. 

The push-out phenomenon, in which "low-performing" students are encouraged to quit for the sake of raising test scores, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the racist coding of students of color as irremediable convert education into a process of violation. In this context, the first task of the teacher is to refuse to act as the agent of injury.

Current global enclosures of culture, land, and labor are enacting a future of deepening inequality, human insecurity, and environmental catastrophe. Our current historical moment thus demands a broader conversation that can connect education and the imagination to radical democratic alternatives to capitalism. The commons of the school includes not just the commons of the building but also more importantly the common labor of teaching and learning. The most important task ahead is to rethink the relationship between the common labor of teaching and learning and the common labor people do throughout all institutions of the society. This is an educational as well as a cultural challenge. To reproduce the capitalist labor force students have to learn to accept their places in the hierarchy. This is a matter of teaching values wrapped in capitalist ideology that appear as natural and uncontestable. Critical education teaches alternative values, social relations, and identifications that are contrary to those of schooling for capitalist reproduction - critical rather than dogmatic, egalitarian rather than hierarchical, collective rather than individualizing, emancipatory rather than exploitative.

Conversation can suggest a superficial exchange of opinions. But it can also be understood in a different way: as a collaborative investigation of reality, and as a mobilization of collective imagination against power.

A new common school movement must establish fundamentally new ways of learning and thinking in relation to our global commonality and our shared fate. This necessarily means rethinking curriculum, teaching and learning in ways that recover the radical impulse of the progressive and critical tradition and that push beyond this tradition as well. We imagine this global horizon as pedagogy in common. In what follows, we elaborate on how a new common school movement must make pedagogy in common central to the reconstruction of schooling.

Toward a Pedagogy in Common 

A new common school movement must be able to envision new forms of pedagogy and curriculum, both in school settings and in the context of struggles for democracy, at the same time that it critiques the landscape of politics and policy. Teaching is a fundamental moment in the becoming of selves, understandings, and relationships. A liberatory education, what we call here a pedagogy in common, foregrounds the commons as a site of both contestation and social production. We believe education can become a powerful force for the production of alternative forms of community and enactment of the global commons. In this way, rather than radical hope confronting a deadening reality, an emergent emancipatory reality (the collective production of the common) confronts power's own desperate hope: to cling to the impossible limits of the given. 

We propose here three figures or modes of pedagogy and praxis in common:

1. Rupture. Contemporary scripted curriculum, test preparation, and classroom management regimes demand that teachers do more than endorse a set of values; they must also act as the effective instrument of schooling as procedure. In this way, neoliberal education aims to reconstruct not only beliefs but even subjectivity itself - for both teachers and students. The push-out phenomenon, in which "low-performing" students are encouraged to quit for the sake of raising test scores, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the racist coding of students of color as irremediable convert education into a process of violation. In this context, the first task of the teacher is to refuse to act as the agent of injury. Rupture, in this case, means a difficult turn away from given habits and procedures. For instance, the accountability regime: Should teachers work around the edges, and make the best of the space that is left to them outside of testing and test preparation, or should they undertake a more radical break? In our view, ultimately teachers will need to refuse to participate in the scripting of pedagogy as simple preparation for assessment. 

2. Project. The emphasis on projects in teaching is a familiar progressive educational idea. However, progressive project-oriented approaches generally fail to explore the underlying political assumptions that set the terms for teaching. By contrast, a radical thinking of pedagogy as project involves the production of new teaching and learning subjects - and new subjects of democracy. We should reframe our sense of the projective in pedagogy - highlighting this category as a radical opening up of the possibilities of politics and subjectivity, within a shared responsibility to the commons. In a pedagogy in common teaching and learning construct new political and agentic communities. The recent struggle over the ethnic studies program in the Tucson, Arizona, schools illustrates the reaction provoked by community-based and projective pedagogy. In an active rather than a reactive stance, the Raza Studies program in Tucson aimed to create an affirming, critical, and rigorous educational space for Latina/o students. Nevertheless, its delinking from dominant frameworks was portrayed by white officials as an attack.

Politics should be a process of teaching and learning, rather than a static system of ideas.

3. Conversation. The notion of conversation, understood in a militantly democratic frame, can be useful in constructing a pedagogy in common. Conversation can suggest a superficial exchange of opinions. But it can also be understood in a different way: as a collaborative investigation of reality, and as a mobilization of collective imagination against power. In this sense, conversation can be thought of as a polycentric dialogue that seeks to awaken the outrage and creativity of a community. Challenging the theory/practice binary, this model proposes a model in which these poles partly overlap. Thus, conversations on the terrain of cultural politics can affect the parameters of struggles on the ground, and on the other hand material struggles can crucially impact the framing of political narratives. For instance, the 2012 strike by Chicago teachers succeeded in stalling the corporatist attack on working conditions for educators in the city. At the same time, it was a crucial intervention on the terrain of political discourse and discussions of the labor movement, as the union demonstrated its strength, its concern for students, and its commitment to public schools. 

Globalization, The Common, and Curriculum

Understanding the itinerary of the common that we have described - from the historical moment of enclosure to the contemporary horizon of the global - has important implications for the curriculum as well, especially where this means not simply the manifest content of education, but also the ideological and epistemological foundations of this content. In the first place, being sensitive to the emergence of the condition of transnationalism implies an unraveling of national identifications that anchor student and teacher subjectivities, and which are painstakingly constructed through the experience of schooling - in the U.S. case, in the rituals of the pledge of allegiance, the celebrations of the so-called "founding fathers", and in the often perfunctory gestures of multicultural inclusion. This means a political project of alliance, and an intellectual project of discovering the purposes that determine shared, and different, situations. Progressive approaches neglect the conceptual and political unraveling of the authority and autonomy of the so-called "center" that is implied by a global perspective. The allegiance to U.S. exceptionalism that is mandatory in public discourse, and in education as well, is an expression of the defensiveness that characterizes a declining global hegemon. Within a pedagogy in common, it is a discourse we should crucially contest. 

A new common school movement should struggle as much for new decision-making processes as for the specific content of policy or curriculum.

In addition, in contrast to the retrospective orientation of John Dewey's reconstructionism, which sought to reorder and improve existing knowledge and social relationships, our curricular approach involves a forward-looking constructionism that is motivated by the emergency of responding to the crises of neoliberal globalization. The focus of curriculum within such an approach is less to initiate students into the understandings and practices of society, and more to provoke them to the discovery of the knowledge and society of the future. This approach does not just respect but even depends upon the autonomy and intelligence of students.

There are several important practical implications here. First, teachers can create space in their classrooms for the investigation of emerging forms of alternative and youth cultures and movements, as they are lived in and out of school. For instance, not just hip-hop - the favorite case - but also the global diaspora of rock en español recodes and transnationalizes working class culture. Likewise, as youth begin to participate in efforts to reclaim public space for a new urban cultural and ecological commons - as they have begun to do in many inner city community gardens - they can be helped to investigate the connections between these efforts and international ones to defend collective space and resources from appropriation and privatization. In addition, the history of the "market," so touted in the popular media, can be retold from the standpoint of the victims of enclosure. And in response to official and reductionistic forms of teaching and learning, the senses of the global common that we have described suggest site-specific investigations of local educational conditions in relationship to larger contexts. For instance, in order to explore the way that administrative rationality and privatization efforts come together in neoliberal social policy, teachers can foreground (as crucial examples) the pervasive accountability regimes that they themselves confront along with their students. Rather than simply trying to elude these constraints, teachers and students might systematically investigate their origins, meanings, and effects. 

Politics should be a process of teaching and learning, rather than a static system of ideas. In other words, if we want to build a new and more democratic global society, the point is not to produce a blueprint that we then simply execute, but rather to begin a collective and organic process in which the social body teaches itself a new way of being. Progressive pedagogies emphasize the experimental character of education, on the basis of which the teacher creates the parameters within which the intelligence of students can investigate the world. But our sense of experimentation today should be broader, extending to the collective investigation and practice, by teachers and students together, of new democratic values, norms, and practices - ones which do not reside at the core of existing society, but rather press against it from the outside, as premonitions of a different order of collective life. 

Steps Forward: Organization and Action

In contrast to those who advocate a guerilla tactics of subversion, we believe that an organized movement is necessary - which seeks not just to evade the status quo but to challenge it directly and to construct alternatives that can replace it. This implies that a new common school movement will need to think of ways to occupy and reorganize - on a collective and system-wide scale - the infrastructure of public schooling, and to do so on the basis of the distributed leadership of the community. Below we suggest some key organizational principles for such a movement.

1. Educational advocacy and activism currently aim to influence the crafting of legislation or the implementation of policy. By contrast, we argue that a new common school movement should struggle as much for new decision-making processes as for the specific content of policy or curriculum. Such a movement should depend on the power of people involved in schools - students, parents, teachers, community members - rather than on the good will of elites. The time has come to move from discontent to action, and this shift should be coordinated among communities. Such a shift is already beginning to take place. New groups have formed to resist excessive testing of students. Alliances of parents and teachers exist in many locations to challenge the corporate schooling agenda - as expressed in the closure of neighborhood schools, the proliferation of charters, and gentrification. In addition, many university-based projects and protests have developed, which challenge the commodification of knowledge and the mortgaging of students' futures. Connecting this work to K-12 campaigns can reveal more fully the corporatization of education within capitalism's "knowledge economy" while also building bridges between differently affected communities.

The public should be defended as the privileged territory for the opening of a movement that would need to invent democracy, against a system of schooling that has historically parodied and persecuted it.

2. For a movement to transform education to move forward, there has to be a forum for dialogue. Collective discussion and debate that occurs across communities already begins the pedagogical process in itself and suggests models for formal approaches to pedagogy that might be instituted in schools. A useful precedent is the Zapatista encuentro: a popular, non-hierarchical gathering of diverse communities and organizations focused on advancing discussion around a particular issue. A series of large-scale, community-based meetings, taking place at first outside the schools, could bring together parents, students, teachers, scholars, and activists. The question of curriculum and instruction ought to be opened at a basic level in these encuentros: Recognizing the colonial determination of what counts as knowledge within the traditional disciplines, what do we think - starting from scratch - students ought to learn, and what do we think learning is? Diverse communities have crucial knowledges and ways of knowing that should be centered within a new common school movement. A radical dialogue needs to move through these basic questions, engaging regular folks in producing what would be no less than a contemporary radical-popular philosophy of education.

3. Ideologically, an important part of neoliberalism is its foreclosure of alternatives - the sense it gives that there are no other options. This twisted "realism" is not new to capitalism, but neoliberalism seeks to make good on this old promise: to subsume social life entirely and to make the market the sole model and measure for doing and being. In this way, accountability in education, and neoliberalism more generally, works as a kind of fantasy, as Zizek describes, that structures reality for subjects, whether or not they "believe" in it. A common school movement needs to introduce a break in this fantasy. One tactic that would be useful is the curricular strike. In the curricular strike, teachers refuse (for a set period) to follow the official curriculum, and instead implement projects and conversations not already given by the standards but instead answerable to the goals set by the community and the imagination of the educator. If these strikes are successful in building courage and resistance, in a further step educators and community members might undertake school occupations, understood not in the sense of the Occupy movement but rather in the sense of the Argentine worker occupations of abandoned factories: that is, as a process of appropriation in which those already at work at a site restart it and redirect it through a collective and democratic process. In the school occupation, teaching and learning would be not be stopped but rather reimagined. 

Starting from the interventions just described, a larger movement might then be built, within and beyond schools, as part of a broader reconstruction of society against neoliberalism and capitalism itself. What distinguishes the organizing effort that we describe, and gives it a special energy, is its focus on basic educational meanings and purposes. We often lapse into an easy dialectic in which schools are characterized as, alternately, sites of domination or sites of emancipation. While it is true that schools have been sites in which oppressed and marginalized groups have struggled for a limited degree of access and inclusion, at the same time schooling has been largely determined - in the past and in the present - by the imperative of class-racial domination. The public in the public schools that we argue should be defended is not quite an existing reality of the common, but rather the site itself of struggle: That is, the public should be defended as the privileged territory for the opening of a movement that would need to invent democracy, against a system of schooling that has historically parodied and persecuted it.

 

RELATED CONTENT

The Failure of Corporate School Reform Toward a New Common School Movement

 Review of Henry Giroux's Twilight of the Social: Resurgent Publics in the Age of Disposability

When Schools Become Dead Zones of the Imagination: A Critical Pedagogy Manifesto

 

ORDER THE BOOK

Truth Out readers can now order the hardcover edition of Toward a New Common School Movement for a special price of $20 by entering the following code when prompted on the publisher's website: TOTONC

This offer is good unti April 1. Click here to link to the book on the publisher's site. 

 

NOTES

1 Elinor Ostrum, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

2 Peter Limbuagh, The Magna Carta Manifesto Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008

3 Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body, and Primitive Accumulation Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2009

4 Slavoj Zizek, Demanding the Impossible New York: Verso, 2013.

5 Jeff Bryant, “Starving America’s schools” (2011). National Education Association.

6 Kenneth J. Saltman, Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, “Chapter 1: Silver Linings and Golden Opportunities”.

7 Harper’s Index, Harper’s Magazine (April 2012)

8 Lee Fang, “How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools” The Nation, (December 2011).

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Noah De Lissovoy, Alex Means and Kenneth Saltman

Noah De Lissovoy is associate professor of cultural studies in education at the University of Texas. He is the author of Power, Crisis, and Education for Liberation: Rethinking Critical Pedagogy, which won the Critics’ Choice Award from the American Educational Studies Association.

Alexander Means is assistant professor of social and psychological foundations of education at SUNY Buffalo. He is the author of Schooling in the Age of Austerity (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

Kenneth J. Saltman is professor of educational policy studies and research at DePaul University in Chicago. He is the author most recently of Failure of Corporate School Reform (Paradigm Publishers 2012), The Gift of Education: Public Education and Venture Philanthropy (Palgrave Macmillan 2010) and Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools (Paradigm Publishers 2007). His edited collection, Education as Enforcement: the Militarization and Corporatization of Schools, Second Edition has just been released (Routledge 2010).


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Creating a Pedagogy in Common: Excerpt From "Toward a New Common School Movement"

Thursday, 27 February 2014 00:00 By Noah De Lissovoy, Alex Means and Kenneth Saltman, Truthout | Book Excerpt

Truthout doesn’t take corporate money, and we don’t shy away from confronting the root causes of injustice. Can you help sustain our work with a tax-deductible donation?

Classroom.(Photo: Angel Valentin / The New York Times) In this excerpt from their new book, Toward a New Common School Movement, the authors argue for defending a not-yet-realized public in the public schools that should be the privileged territory for a movement to invent democracy, against a schooling system that has historically parodied and persecuted it.

An excerpt from the new book, Toward a New Common School Movement (Paradigm Publishers 2014):

From the natural world to the social world, the commons appear everywhere in peril. The all-encompassing drive for profit and endless commodification is despoiling the shared basis of life on the planet, and as a set of global crises widen and deepen, demands for authentic democracy and community become the minimal demands for the survival of humanity. Any adequate effort to overcome these challenges will have to start from the premise of our belongingness, globally, to each other. This fundamental social condition of interrelation and entanglement sets the parameters for any meaningful global community. What we refer to as a new common school movement is the form of education that sets its sights on the development and democratization of this condition. 

Like the commons, the very idea of democratic education is everywhere under assault. Within public schooling, this takes the form of for-profit educational management, charters, vouchers, standardization of curriculum, high-stakes testing and the integration of corporate managerialism into the fabric of teacher education, educational leadership, and schools themselves. We suggest that engagement with the notion of the global commons opens a different space for reimagining public schooling outside of the false choice between either market imperatives or state domination, and instead locates questions of educational value and organization within the principles of human equality and global commonality. We don't merely need to defend public schooling; we need to remake it for a genuinely democratic society beyond failure of neoliberal capitalism. We believe that engagement with the theory and practice of the global commons provides a set of creative and ethical referents suitable to this task.

The Struggle Over the Global Commons

When land, labor, and other social and natural resources necessary to sustain life are held and valued as collective property they can be said to form a commons. As Nobel economist Elinor Ostrum has detailed, communities have historically developed ingenious strategies for governing access and usage of common property resources in order to maintain their collective value and benefit over time.1

What is important to understand here is that neoliberal schooling represents not merely better or worse school reform - adjusting pedagogical methods, tweaking the curriculum, on so on. We argue that it is crucially about redistributing control over social life and as such is part of a much broader trend - the enclosure of the global commons.

Commons cannot be separated from the notion of enclosure, which signals efforts to transfer aspects of the commons from collective management for common benefit to private ownership for private gain. At the end of the first volume of Capital, Marx extended the perspectives of Adam Smith who, in his Wealth of Nations, described the enclosure of the commons in feudal Europe as a form of original or primitive accumulation. Whereas Smith argued that this was largely a peaceful historical passage, Marx detailed how the enclosures constituted a form of theft and violence that made the original development of capitalism possible. 

Building on Marx's observations, historians like Peter Linbaugh have detailed how the forces of primitive accumulation and the enclosures of the commons in feudal Europe gave birth to modem economic, legal, administrative, and military systems of sovereignty that have operated to legitimate European colonial and imperial domination over the world's land and people.2 Silvia Federici has also highlighted how women have always been central to this story. From the European witch-hunts to the current neoconservative "war on women," women's bodies and their labor have been longstanding historical targets of enclosure and control.3

As a system defined by endless growth, capitalism is prone to crisis and stagnation. Therefore it must continually incorporate new territories, markets, and laborers into its orbit in order to expand and thrive. In relation to the commons, this underscores the idea that capitalism must periodically convert shared social resources that have previously existed outside its domain into sources of private property and profit. This process of enclosure has reemerged on a planetary scale since the onset of neoliberal globalization in the 1980s and 1990s. 

How can the struggle against neoliberal school reform not simply demand limits on testing and a cessation to privatization in all its guises but also demand that public education be the basis for reimagining a truly democratic society?

The philosopher Slavoj Zizek argues that there are four central antagonisms in the contemporary enclosure of the commons - 'the commons of nature as the substance of our life, the problem of our biogenetic commons, the problem of our cultural commons ('intellectual property'), and, last but not least, the problem of the commons as the universal space of humanity from which no one should be excluded'.4 Increasingly, as global capitalism faces new constraints to profitable expansion, produces surplus populations globally, and pursues the endless commodification and exploitation of the planetary bios, all of humanity potentially becomes excluded 'bare life'. 

Crucially, efforts to enclose the commons have always been defined by extensive contestation. So it is with the new global enclosures. Whether it is the privatization of public water in Bolivia, the displacement of tens of millions of indigenous people from the land in rural India to make way for transnational mining companies and agri-businesses like Monsanto, or efforts to defund and further privatize secondary and higher education in Santiago, Chicago, or Montreal - the new enclosures have been met by extensive opposition from commoners seeking to retain democratic control over common resources for collective benefit.

The Enclosure of Public Schooling in the United States

Schooling is a key site in present struggles over the commons as it represents a shared resource of democratic potentiality. At all levels of the educational endeavor, neoliberal policy architectures have sought to convert public schooling into a marketplace, to subordinate educational value to economic value, and to open all facets of education to profit making and corporate control. This has only intensified in the post-2008 period of economic decline and generalized social insecurity and austerity. 

Despite claims to efficiency and innovation, neoliberal school reforms have only added to dysfunctional bureaucracy through the top-down management of decision-making. Demands for an end to privatization and for a reinvigoration of public education should thus be combined with a path toward opening up greater flexibility, autonomy, and democracy in the public system in order to spur progressive innovation, enrichment, and democratic creativity.

In the United States, educational enclosure has been lubricated by the strategic devaluation of the public educational system. Since 2008 and the onset of economic crisis, states have laid off hundreds of thousands of teachers and staff, cut back curriculum and extracurricular programs, expanded class sizes, shortened school days and weeks, and even closed many schools altogether. For example, Illinois has cut $152 million, New York $1.3 billion, Pennsylvania $422 million, Washington $1 billion, and Arizona $560 million in yearly funding to k-12 schools, early childhood education, and child development services.5 This has paved the way for closing public schools in economically devastated communities and creating networks of charter, contract, and for-profit schools. The strategic devaluation of the public sector presents business with opportunities to institute draconian reforms that enable the transfer of public resources like schools from the public trust to private interests. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, for instance, market reformers presented the storm as a "golden opportunity" to "clean the slate" and to privatize the historically neglected New Orleans public schools.6 Similarly in Michigan, a state devastated by deindustrialization and the financialization of the economy, 80% of its rapidly expanding base of charter schools is now run for-profit.

The vanguard of the educational enclosure movement includes venture philanthropists, Wall Street financiers, hedge fund managers, opportunistic politicians from both major political parties, and corporate CEOs. This alliance has used the altruistic language of educational reform and equity to garner support for privatization. In 2007 there was $78 billion in venture capital invested in US educational startups. In 2011, it had reached a staggering $452 billion.7 Wall Street has projected that in just the K-12 online learning market alone, profits are expected to soar 43% by 2015 as states are being coerced into lifting the cap on cyber-charter schools allowing public money that would be going to public schools to instead go to deregulated online learning mills.8 Major Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch have dived into for-profit education alongside major hedge funds and wealth management groups all clamoring for a piece of the $600 billion estimated to be at stake each year in the educational marketplace. 

Part of what is wrong with educational privatization is that it involves expropriating from the educational process part of the educational resources to generate profits for owners and investors.

These financial and corporate interests are seeking to capitalize not only through private management of schools, but also directly on processes of teaching and learning. This is the underlying reality driving the proliferation of corporate contracts for educational technology services, standardized curriculum programs, scripted lessons, value-added assessments for teachers, big data surveillance systems in education, and incessant high-stakes testing embodied in the new "common core" curriculum. Efforts to "teacher proof" education vastly extend the scope of profiteering and repressive bureaucratic authority in schools. This disables the capacity of educators to connect broader issues of public concern such as child poverty and homelessness, neighborhood instability and unemployment, institutional racism and mass incarceration, and the destruction of the environment to learning and thus to possibilities for social change. Instead learning is reduced to a set of anti-intellectual procedural skills that enclose the imaginative and democratic potential of educational experience.

Toward a Common Vision for Schooling 

What is important to understand here is that neoliberal schooling represents not merely better or worse school reform - adjusting pedagogical methods, tweaking the curriculum, on so on. We argue that it is crucially about redistributing control over social life and as such is part of a much broader trend - the enclosure of the global commons. It is this struggle, we believe, that is underway in schools in the present. The question is whether we will continue to suffer the distorted and truncated forms of community that mainstream educational policy and practice impose on us, or whether we will fight against the limits of the neoliberal imagination to realize authentically democratic forms of teaching and learning.

Critical education teaches alternative values, social relations, and identifications that are contrary to those of schooling for capitalist reproduction – critical rather than dogmatic, egalitarian rather than hierarchical, collective rather than individualizing, emancipatory rather than exploitative.

The task ahead is to imagine pedagogical practices, curriculum, and school organization that enact the global commons. What path should teachers and students take together with communities in recovering control over the work of teaching and learning? How can the struggle against neoliberal school reform not simply demand limits on testing and a cessation to privatization in all its guises but also demand that public education be the basis for reimagining a truly democratic society? To begin, it is important to note that a new common school movement has an inevitably hopeful dimension to it. The common can be built and expanded, and it can never be fully enclosed because there are parts of human experience that cannot be turned into property and have to be held in common. Compassion, ideas, social relationships, and the planet itself must be held in common. In what follows we provide a series of broad proposals for orienting a new common school movement. To speak of the commons is to speak of a struggle over universal claims on the future. If we consider neoliberal schooling in terms of the commons, we can ask the question of how to formulate a response that recognizes the need for alternative school reform and also how such reform might provide a basis for a new commonwealth open to all. 

Four Proposals for a New Common School Movement

Commoning Public Control

A first proposal for a new common school movement is the project of commoning public authority and control. This involves becoming clear on how public control differs from private control. Privatization enables for-profit educational companies to skim public tax money that would otherwise be reinvested in educational services and transfer it to investor profits. These profits take concrete form in the limousines, private jets, and mansions that public tax money provides to rich investors. These profits also take symbolic form as they are used to hire public relations firms to influence parents, communities, and other investors to have faith in educational privatization and the corporation. This is a parasitical financial relationship that maximizes the potential profit for investors while cutting educational services (the expansion of primary and secondary online cyber-charter schools is the best example). This has tended to result in anti-unionism, the reduction of education to the most measurable and replicable forms, assaults on teacher autonomy, and so on. 

There is no evidence that the siphoning of public wealth to capitalists has improved public education. Moreover, such redistribution shifts collective control over the processes of teaching and learning to private educational management operators. It captures educational labor and channels it toward profit making for owners in the short term and future exploitable labor relations in the long term. Last, despite claims to efficiency and innovation, neoliberal school reforms have only added to dysfunctional bureaucracy through the top-down management of decision-making. Demands for an end to privatization and for a reinvigoration of public education should thus be combined with a path toward opening up greater flexibility, autonomy, and democracy in the public system in order to spur progressive innovation, enrichment, and democratic creativity.

Commoning Public Finance

A second proposal for a new common school movement would be to rethink school finance as a common as opposed to a private matter. In a financial sense, the history of the US public system has been privatized since its inception in that public funding has been tied to local property taxes and local real estate wealth. We might call this the original privatization of the public school system. The task of expanding a commons in public school finance involves countering both the original privatization of real estate and taxes and the more recent neoliberal privatizations. One initial solution to countering these trends is extremely simple. It would involve the United States following other industrialized nations and putting in place a federal system that ensures funding equity for all public schools and students. Importantly, schools and communities ravaged by poverty and historical neglect require more investment than others. This requires progressive distribution not equal distribution. 

Commoning Educational Labor and Governance

A third proposal for a new common school movement would involve expanding common teacher and common administrator labor within a framework of common governance. As we have stated above, part of what is wrong with educational privatization is that it involves expropriating from the educational process part of the educational resources to generate profits for owners and investors. This setup not only replicates the private sector workforce but results in the devaluation of the teacher's labor and in deteriorating working conditions for teachers. It has also been part of an expansion of corporate culture into educational policy that seeks to downwardly distribute "accountability" while upwardly distributing rewards. 

We believe education can become a powerful force for the production of alternative forms of community and enactment of the global commons.

A crucial aim of working in common must be to establish participatory democratic governance over public educational institutions. This must involve ending the divide between teachers and administrators and schools and communities. Teachers must have professional autonomy at the same time that schools must be made transparent and open to the community. To put it differently, educational leadership ought to be primarily teacher leadership that is embedded within a framework of collective governance and community decision-making. The existing educational leadership establishment and district management justifies itself through the discourses of measurable accountability and disciplinary threat. To rethink accountability means the measure of educational progress should no longer be testing and standardized matrices, which are really just a performance of efficacy. Instead, accountability in common is realized through the extent to which schooling furthers and reflects public values and interests - that is, collective benefit, shared democratic forms of control, and improvements in communities. A new common school movement would facilitate public schooling by actually strengthening the public through the professional autonomy of teachers in a system of common values and shared responsibility.

Commoning Collective Livelihoods

A fourth proposal for a new common school movement is that it must be connected to reclaiming a public commons that can ensure social as well as economic justice. At the core of this proposal is the need to create a new social compact that would include the right to dignified work and a guaranteed basic income; the right to a decent and affordable home; the right to medical and health care; the right to protection against economic dislocation, old age, and sickness; and the right to a free, equitable, and enriching public education. Reviving, renewing, reimagining, and agitating for such a commitment to public rights and protections would provide a foundation for ameliorating some of the most immediate and pressing issues facing working people and marginalized populations across the United States. In the long term, they could provide an educational and organizational basis for radical democratic alternatives to present economic and political arrangements. 

The push-out phenomenon, in which "low-performing" students are encouraged to quit for the sake of raising test scores, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the racist coding of students of color as irremediable convert education into a process of violation. In this context, the first task of the teacher is to refuse to act as the agent of injury.

Current global enclosures of culture, land, and labor are enacting a future of deepening inequality, human insecurity, and environmental catastrophe. Our current historical moment thus demands a broader conversation that can connect education and the imagination to radical democratic alternatives to capitalism. The commons of the school includes not just the commons of the building but also more importantly the common labor of teaching and learning. The most important task ahead is to rethink the relationship between the common labor of teaching and learning and the common labor people do throughout all institutions of the society. This is an educational as well as a cultural challenge. To reproduce the capitalist labor force students have to learn to accept their places in the hierarchy. This is a matter of teaching values wrapped in capitalist ideology that appear as natural and uncontestable. Critical education teaches alternative values, social relations, and identifications that are contrary to those of schooling for capitalist reproduction - critical rather than dogmatic, egalitarian rather than hierarchical, collective rather than individualizing, emancipatory rather than exploitative.

Conversation can suggest a superficial exchange of opinions. But it can also be understood in a different way: as a collaborative investigation of reality, and as a mobilization of collective imagination against power.

A new common school movement must establish fundamentally new ways of learning and thinking in relation to our global commonality and our shared fate. This necessarily means rethinking curriculum, teaching and learning in ways that recover the radical impulse of the progressive and critical tradition and that push beyond this tradition as well. We imagine this global horizon as pedagogy in common. In what follows, we elaborate on how a new common school movement must make pedagogy in common central to the reconstruction of schooling.

Toward a Pedagogy in Common 

A new common school movement must be able to envision new forms of pedagogy and curriculum, both in school settings and in the context of struggles for democracy, at the same time that it critiques the landscape of politics and policy. Teaching is a fundamental moment in the becoming of selves, understandings, and relationships. A liberatory education, what we call here a pedagogy in common, foregrounds the commons as a site of both contestation and social production. We believe education can become a powerful force for the production of alternative forms of community and enactment of the global commons. In this way, rather than radical hope confronting a deadening reality, an emergent emancipatory reality (the collective production of the common) confronts power's own desperate hope: to cling to the impossible limits of the given. 

We propose here three figures or modes of pedagogy and praxis in common:

1. Rupture. Contemporary scripted curriculum, test preparation, and classroom management regimes demand that teachers do more than endorse a set of values; they must also act as the effective instrument of schooling as procedure. In this way, neoliberal education aims to reconstruct not only beliefs but even subjectivity itself - for both teachers and students. The push-out phenomenon, in which "low-performing" students are encouraged to quit for the sake of raising test scores, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the racist coding of students of color as irremediable convert education into a process of violation. In this context, the first task of the teacher is to refuse to act as the agent of injury. Rupture, in this case, means a difficult turn away from given habits and procedures. For instance, the accountability regime: Should teachers work around the edges, and make the best of the space that is left to them outside of testing and test preparation, or should they undertake a more radical break? In our view, ultimately teachers will need to refuse to participate in the scripting of pedagogy as simple preparation for assessment. 

2. Project. The emphasis on projects in teaching is a familiar progressive educational idea. However, progressive project-oriented approaches generally fail to explore the underlying political assumptions that set the terms for teaching. By contrast, a radical thinking of pedagogy as project involves the production of new teaching and learning subjects - and new subjects of democracy. We should reframe our sense of the projective in pedagogy - highlighting this category as a radical opening up of the possibilities of politics and subjectivity, within a shared responsibility to the commons. In a pedagogy in common teaching and learning construct new political and agentic communities. The recent struggle over the ethnic studies program in the Tucson, Arizona, schools illustrates the reaction provoked by community-based and projective pedagogy. In an active rather than a reactive stance, the Raza Studies program in Tucson aimed to create an affirming, critical, and rigorous educational space for Latina/o students. Nevertheless, its delinking from dominant frameworks was portrayed by white officials as an attack.

Politics should be a process of teaching and learning, rather than a static system of ideas.

3. Conversation. The notion of conversation, understood in a militantly democratic frame, can be useful in constructing a pedagogy in common. Conversation can suggest a superficial exchange of opinions. But it can also be understood in a different way: as a collaborative investigation of reality, and as a mobilization of collective imagination against power. In this sense, conversation can be thought of as a polycentric dialogue that seeks to awaken the outrage and creativity of a community. Challenging the theory/practice binary, this model proposes a model in which these poles partly overlap. Thus, conversations on the terrain of cultural politics can affect the parameters of struggles on the ground, and on the other hand material struggles can crucially impact the framing of political narratives. For instance, the 2012 strike by Chicago teachers succeeded in stalling the corporatist attack on working conditions for educators in the city. At the same time, it was a crucial intervention on the terrain of political discourse and discussions of the labor movement, as the union demonstrated its strength, its concern for students, and its commitment to public schools. 

Globalization, The Common, and Curriculum

Understanding the itinerary of the common that we have described - from the historical moment of enclosure to the contemporary horizon of the global - has important implications for the curriculum as well, especially where this means not simply the manifest content of education, but also the ideological and epistemological foundations of this content. In the first place, being sensitive to the emergence of the condition of transnationalism implies an unraveling of national identifications that anchor student and teacher subjectivities, and which are painstakingly constructed through the experience of schooling - in the U.S. case, in the rituals of the pledge of allegiance, the celebrations of the so-called "founding fathers", and in the often perfunctory gestures of multicultural inclusion. This means a political project of alliance, and an intellectual project of discovering the purposes that determine shared, and different, situations. Progressive approaches neglect the conceptual and political unraveling of the authority and autonomy of the so-called "center" that is implied by a global perspective. The allegiance to U.S. exceptionalism that is mandatory in public discourse, and in education as well, is an expression of the defensiveness that characterizes a declining global hegemon. Within a pedagogy in common, it is a discourse we should crucially contest. 

A new common school movement should struggle as much for new decision-making processes as for the specific content of policy or curriculum.

In addition, in contrast to the retrospective orientation of John Dewey's reconstructionism, which sought to reorder and improve existing knowledge and social relationships, our curricular approach involves a forward-looking constructionism that is motivated by the emergency of responding to the crises of neoliberal globalization. The focus of curriculum within such an approach is less to initiate students into the understandings and practices of society, and more to provoke them to the discovery of the knowledge and society of the future. This approach does not just respect but even depends upon the autonomy and intelligence of students.

There are several important practical implications here. First, teachers can create space in their classrooms for the investigation of emerging forms of alternative and youth cultures and movements, as they are lived in and out of school. For instance, not just hip-hop - the favorite case - but also the global diaspora of rock en español recodes and transnationalizes working class culture. Likewise, as youth begin to participate in efforts to reclaim public space for a new urban cultural and ecological commons - as they have begun to do in many inner city community gardens - they can be helped to investigate the connections between these efforts and international ones to defend collective space and resources from appropriation and privatization. In addition, the history of the "market," so touted in the popular media, can be retold from the standpoint of the victims of enclosure. And in response to official and reductionistic forms of teaching and learning, the senses of the global common that we have described suggest site-specific investigations of local educational conditions in relationship to larger contexts. For instance, in order to explore the way that administrative rationality and privatization efforts come together in neoliberal social policy, teachers can foreground (as crucial examples) the pervasive accountability regimes that they themselves confront along with their students. Rather than simply trying to elude these constraints, teachers and students might systematically investigate their origins, meanings, and effects. 

Politics should be a process of teaching and learning, rather than a static system of ideas. In other words, if we want to build a new and more democratic global society, the point is not to produce a blueprint that we then simply execute, but rather to begin a collective and organic process in which the social body teaches itself a new way of being. Progressive pedagogies emphasize the experimental character of education, on the basis of which the teacher creates the parameters within which the intelligence of students can investigate the world. But our sense of experimentation today should be broader, extending to the collective investigation and practice, by teachers and students together, of new democratic values, norms, and practices - ones which do not reside at the core of existing society, but rather press against it from the outside, as premonitions of a different order of collective life. 

Steps Forward: Organization and Action

In contrast to those who advocate a guerilla tactics of subversion, we believe that an organized movement is necessary - which seeks not just to evade the status quo but to challenge it directly and to construct alternatives that can replace it. This implies that a new common school movement will need to think of ways to occupy and reorganize - on a collective and system-wide scale - the infrastructure of public schooling, and to do so on the basis of the distributed leadership of the community. Below we suggest some key organizational principles for such a movement.

1. Educational advocacy and activism currently aim to influence the crafting of legislation or the implementation of policy. By contrast, we argue that a new common school movement should struggle as much for new decision-making processes as for the specific content of policy or curriculum. Such a movement should depend on the power of people involved in schools - students, parents, teachers, community members - rather than on the good will of elites. The time has come to move from discontent to action, and this shift should be coordinated among communities. Such a shift is already beginning to take place. New groups have formed to resist excessive testing of students. Alliances of parents and teachers exist in many locations to challenge the corporate schooling agenda - as expressed in the closure of neighborhood schools, the proliferation of charters, and gentrification. In addition, many university-based projects and protests have developed, which challenge the commodification of knowledge and the mortgaging of students' futures. Connecting this work to K-12 campaigns can reveal more fully the corporatization of education within capitalism's "knowledge economy" while also building bridges between differently affected communities.

The public should be defended as the privileged territory for the opening of a movement that would need to invent democracy, against a system of schooling that has historically parodied and persecuted it.

2. For a movement to transform education to move forward, there has to be a forum for dialogue. Collective discussion and debate that occurs across communities already begins the pedagogical process in itself and suggests models for formal approaches to pedagogy that might be instituted in schools. A useful precedent is the Zapatista encuentro: a popular, non-hierarchical gathering of diverse communities and organizations focused on advancing discussion around a particular issue. A series of large-scale, community-based meetings, taking place at first outside the schools, could bring together parents, students, teachers, scholars, and activists. The question of curriculum and instruction ought to be opened at a basic level in these encuentros: Recognizing the colonial determination of what counts as knowledge within the traditional disciplines, what do we think - starting from scratch - students ought to learn, and what do we think learning is? Diverse communities have crucial knowledges and ways of knowing that should be centered within a new common school movement. A radical dialogue needs to move through these basic questions, engaging regular folks in producing what would be no less than a contemporary radical-popular philosophy of education.

3. Ideologically, an important part of neoliberalism is its foreclosure of alternatives - the sense it gives that there are no other options. This twisted "realism" is not new to capitalism, but neoliberalism seeks to make good on this old promise: to subsume social life entirely and to make the market the sole model and measure for doing and being. In this way, accountability in education, and neoliberalism more generally, works as a kind of fantasy, as Zizek describes, that structures reality for subjects, whether or not they "believe" in it. A common school movement needs to introduce a break in this fantasy. One tactic that would be useful is the curricular strike. In the curricular strike, teachers refuse (for a set period) to follow the official curriculum, and instead implement projects and conversations not already given by the standards but instead answerable to the goals set by the community and the imagination of the educator. If these strikes are successful in building courage and resistance, in a further step educators and community members might undertake school occupations, understood not in the sense of the Occupy movement but rather in the sense of the Argentine worker occupations of abandoned factories: that is, as a process of appropriation in which those already at work at a site restart it and redirect it through a collective and democratic process. In the school occupation, teaching and learning would be not be stopped but rather reimagined. 

Starting from the interventions just described, a larger movement might then be built, within and beyond schools, as part of a broader reconstruction of society against neoliberalism and capitalism itself. What distinguishes the organizing effort that we describe, and gives it a special energy, is its focus on basic educational meanings and purposes. We often lapse into an easy dialectic in which schools are characterized as, alternately, sites of domination or sites of emancipation. While it is true that schools have been sites in which oppressed and marginalized groups have struggled for a limited degree of access and inclusion, at the same time schooling has been largely determined - in the past and in the present - by the imperative of class-racial domination. The public in the public schools that we argue should be defended is not quite an existing reality of the common, but rather the site itself of struggle: That is, the public should be defended as the privileged territory for the opening of a movement that would need to invent democracy, against a system of schooling that has historically parodied and persecuted it.

 

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NOTES

1 Elinor Ostrum, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

2 Peter Limbuagh, The Magna Carta Manifesto Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008

3 Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body, and Primitive Accumulation Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2009

4 Slavoj Zizek, Demanding the Impossible New York: Verso, 2013.

5 Jeff Bryant, “Starving America’s schools” (2011). National Education Association.

6 Kenneth J. Saltman, Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, “Chapter 1: Silver Linings and Golden Opportunities”.

7 Harper’s Index, Harper’s Magazine (April 2012)

8 Lee Fang, “How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools” The Nation, (December 2011).

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Noah De Lissovoy, Alex Means and Kenneth Saltman

Noah De Lissovoy is associate professor of cultural studies in education at the University of Texas. He is the author of Power, Crisis, and Education for Liberation: Rethinking Critical Pedagogy, which won the Critics’ Choice Award from the American Educational Studies Association.

Alexander Means is assistant professor of social and psychological foundations of education at SUNY Buffalo. He is the author of Schooling in the Age of Austerity (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

Kenneth J. Saltman is professor of educational policy studies and research at DePaul University in Chicago. He is the author most recently of Failure of Corporate School Reform (Paradigm Publishers 2012), The Gift of Education: Public Education and Venture Philanthropy (Palgrave Macmillan 2010) and Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools (Paradigm Publishers 2007). His edited collection, Education as Enforcement: the Militarization and Corporatization of Schools, Second Edition has just been released (Routledge 2010).


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