Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Utopian Realism and Anarchism in Education

David Halpin refers to “utopian imagination” as broadening the possibilities of education policy. He attempts to break free from the either-or ideology and envisage the and-also alternative to implementing change while adapting existing structures. I found this idea rather rewarding, for it allowed me to view utopia as something that was not impossible, but rather tangible and existent. The term, which Halpin believes carries a negative connotation due to its seemingly unattainable achievement, can rather be perceived as a rationale applicable to thirst or quest for hope in education. It does not necessarily have to depict a perfect or ideal situation or context that we will strive for and yet never achieve. I found it particularly rewarding that Halpin writes about Tom Bentley, who is sort of a neo-Ivan Illich. Bentley takes alternative education- the exposure away from school- into consideration, and much like Ferrer and Godwin seeks to provide students the ownership of their minds. In a way, utopian education theory and anarchism are relatable. Anarchism similarly carries a heavily negative connotation according to conservatives and even progressives. Why, however, do we not allow ourselves to at least consider its offerings? Anarchism is a logical belief system that has a large breadth of validity. There is even a certain aesthetic beauty in a society not organized by a coercive state. It sounds like modern conceptions of democracy, doesn't it? Anarchism perhaps carries the weight of thematically free democracy far more than a hierarchal empire should. We don’t necessarily internalize this, because we were taught otherwise; we rather internalize that our domestic efforts in public education are as much a noble cause as the foreign act of going to war (conflict) with a defenseless nation to instill a puppet government they wish not to support (Vietnam). Noam Chomksy states, “If you quietly accept and go along no matter what your feelings are, ultimately you internalize what you’re saying, because it’s too hard to believe one thing and say another” (Chomsky, 1992). The whole “for God and country American dream” idealism appears crippling, if not useless; it is an alternate utopia that I have grown quite weary of over the years. However, I am guilty for formerly making it familiar and idealistic. Can I step away from this now and scrutinize the dominant paradigm, allowing for ideas like anarchism to be applicable? Can I apply those ideas to social hierarchies such as public education? A coercive nation yields coercive teaching. It is in the very indoctrination of children that radical education reformists such as Godwin, Illich and Ferrer crafted their work. Anarchism is said to potentially free the minds of the people, provided that reason could be solely possessed above the domination of any ruling class. Halpin points out that Bentley believes that “more and more learning…will have to take place in the contexts where knowledge is actually used and valued, rather than, as is the case mostly now, in recognizable sites of instruction" (Halpin, 1999). Halpin is perhaps making the connection between instructional spaces and dominion. To radical anarchist education reformers, any mass schooling was discouraging and controlling, because the power of the state rested on a submissive population. Public education in America today is only a slight exception to this idea, as best illustrated by Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy who claimed America’s public education system to be “the least bad” attempt to mass-school children (Spring, 1998). Spanish anarchist Francisco Ferrer recognized that the hierarchical structure of capitalism requires certain types of character traits in individuals to conform to monotony and boredom in an obedient manner. In The Origins and Ideals of the Modern School, Ferrer stated “Children must learn to obey, to believe, and to think according to the prevailing social dogmas. If this were the aim, education cannot be other than such as it is today” (Spring). This implies that it is unrealistic to believe that national schooling would be a means of significantly changing the conditions of the lower classes. Since it was the existing social structure which produced the poor to begin with, poor urban/rural public education stigma matriculates by making the culturally submissive class believe that economic improvement depends completely on the individual effort within the existing structure. Meanwhile, the state covertly exists to protect the interests of the rich middle/upper classes. The utilization of extrinsic motivation and anonymous authority provide that children won’t even know who to rebel against if they decided to do so. Marginalized poor children and special needs children in Urban areas are essentially inept in the stratagem of external (Federal and State) influence on education. Presently, accountability and standardization raise the bar for students to globally compete, as teachers are forming their lesson plans to fit the demands of forged policy rather than to meet the minds of their students. Critical analysis is giving way to cognitive factuality, and children are simply not applying their feeling and emotions into their research and writing. Similarly, poor children and “needy cultures” that are geographically bound to urban and rural areas desperately need more funding and are clawing at the facility of public education rather than fighting to own their own education. It is a conundrum of sorts- the very puzzle that plagues the efforts of educators- the more you know, the more dominant you are. However, this separation of knowledge is proportional to the amount of power between two opposing forces. Knowledge in this context is anti-utopian; it is actually oppression. Sources: *Chomsky, Noam. Anarchy in the U.S.A. Interviewed by Charles M. Young. Rolling Stone. May 28, 1992. *Halpin, David. Utopian Realism and a New Politics of Education: Developing a Critical Theory without Guarentees. Journal of Education Policy, 14(4), 345-361. *Spring, Joel. A Primer of Libertarian Education. Black Rose: 1998

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