Anarchy in Normality: Old Skool as New Skool
Fun fact: When I was in undergrad I was a DJ at the campus radio station, my radio name was DJ Ann-archy. True story. My show played alternative, grunge, and industrial music (it was the early 90s) anything from Skinny Puppy, to NIN, to Front242, to Nirvana, to Blind Melon, to Alice in Chains. You get the picture. Would I have considered myself a true Anarchist? No. Was the theme and message of the music of that time skewed towards critical reassessments of structures? Definitely, and that was very appealing to someone who was studying chemistry and English (don’t ask, long story) at a post-secondary institution.
I have pretty much lived my life listening to “the rules” for the most part. The educational spaces I facilitate have “rules” but usually only two: 1. You must behave ethically and respectfully towards peers 2. Due dates for things are usually not flexible (this is part of the respect rule, for handing things in on time demonstrates respect for my time as an educator). And this is important for sometimes, ironically, doing things “as they used to be” makes you more of an anarchist in educational spaces today than ever before. I worry that this post is going to sound more like the lyrics to Huey Lewis and News’ “Hip to be Square” than my grunge roots but I promise I have a bigger point.
As an educator my main aim is creating/maintaining a space for individual empowerment and more importantly giving participants in the learning space the confidence to find the skills, information, and tools they need to feel empowered in society. It is not about imparting one specific nugget of information, a date, a theory, it is about supporting and nurturing that confidence so they can approach society, issues, and questions critically. I use texts and media as the starting point for this inquiry and critical engagement. This is my ideal and my reality. Sometimes that confidence switch does not get turned on all the way, but if I have managed to impart that confidence in at least 50% of the participants at the end of the 14 weeks I call that a successful term.
As I mentioned in a previous #moocmooc blog, the class I teach and programs that I coordinate when I have my admin hat on are often seen as alternative education structures and spaces on the basis of them being housed in a continuing education faculty and not a full-time program. Sadly this is often viewed as “lesser value” education which is complete bunk, and further serves to marginalize the older mainly immigrant demographic of the students. The pedagogical philosophy that underpins the courses I teach and the courses I coordinate is here are the course learning outcomes and however you manage to get the learners there by the end of week 14 is fair game. This seems to be somewhat novel and again “alternative” to what other educators like @nomadwarmachine mention go on in her department, where there seems to be a tendency to ask educators to teach a course in a box.
Critiquing structures and intuitions writ large is a necessary and important part of critical pedagogy and engagement. However, when you ask participants to make visible on social media specific institutionalized narratives (as one of the chat prompts for this week does, as I have done in some senses in the paragraph above) this can necessarily exclude the precariat who live a marginalized institutionalized existence in the first place and speaking to any institutional narrative may be a risky move in terms of the reality of economic stability (there’s mouths to be fed and bills to pay- for as much as it would help one’s waistline, one cannot live on air). Questioning structures is one thing, but voicing them publically is another. Anarchy as a philosophy seems to function at a base level on active public voicing of resistance. If you cannot do this (for whatever reason) then you cannot participate in this discourse. This is why I often question whether anarchy is necessarily exclusionary or more specifically how anarchy seems to actively exclude those it is would most often want to assist. This speaks much to the Twitter chat question the other day about leftist pedagogical philosophies. Shantz’s mention of anarchist salons which are described as “intentional conversational forums where people engage in passionate discourse about what they think is important” (129) seems to ignore the rather troubled class history of the development of salons and salon culture. All of this to say positions of anarchy need to be questioned from within as well.
So in some ways I choose to find my anarchy in normality (where normality functions as synonym for pedagogical practices that often engrained in educational spaces since the 19th century). Now the things I do or encourage in the classroom space would be understood as far from normal, but there are some things I choose to cling to for practical and philosophical reasons. One is using paper-based text which is an ethical and inclusionary pedagogical choice (as mentioned in a previous blog). The anarchist lending library that “fell into complete disrepair” (129) in Shantz’s article demonstrates on some level how the tactile exchange of ideas if often seen as less important than the communicative (F2F) exchange of ideas, and I want to make sure that both have equal value in educational spaces.
Another pedagogical choice I have been pondering lately is grading practices. I still assign final major papers (it is part of the course outline and though I could change it if I spoke to the coordinator, I choose not to because I feel it is a good exercise in information literacy and communicative fluency). I somehow feel like a rebel in doing this though. I often feel I see this thought bubble over other instructors’ heads when I mention the major paper assignment: “You still assign major papers, what have you been teaching since the 1970s (rolls eyes)?”. I also, brace yourself, think that the “one and done” grading philosophy does not help students (gasp). I correct every error on all pages (even if they are repeating the same error on every page). Why? Because we live in an era of skimming and if the student opens the paper and sees a bunch of purple ink (I grade in purple cause it’s a nice Victorian colour) on the first page, a bit more on the second, and then nothing for next 6 pages, I feel that suggests that you checked out and couldn’t be bothered to read the rest instead of the “I have given you one example now it is up to you to find the rest” philosophy that underscores the one and done practice. Does this make me some sort of pedagogical anarchist, hardly, yet maybe since I think I am part of a small minority of people who still seem to engage in such thorough grading practices.
Outside the formal educational institutions and that I interact with on a regular basis, I am a big believer in the public library as an alternative educational space and I happen to be blessed to live in a city with a strong public library system with workshops, talks, and resources (even maker spaces) at the public’s disposal for free. Like Shantz mentions in his article, these alternative spaces to mainstream education has an ethos that “runs counter to capitalist consumerism: play rather than work, gifts rather than commodities, needs rather than profits” (125). This is very much the same spirit seen in John Ruskin’s educational philosophy where he states that “no science can be learned in play; but it is often possible, in play, to bring good fruit out of past labour” (The Ethics of the Dust). I also think free lectures at post-secondary institutions can work as countersites, because society is so used to understanding knowledge as something that one needs to pay for or something that is gated (think of the beadle episode in Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, or pay-walled academic articles (shakes fist)).
Creating a space of unlearning is very fascinating to me and I have still not been able to wrap my head around how to make that truly work in theory or in practice in educational spaces. I love conversations about this because it gives me pause and allows me to question whether I am already doing this but calling it something different. This is going to be what I shall reflect on this week in #moocmooc.
Here I was thinking this week’s post would be short.