Notes on What A Radical Pedagogy Might Feel Like (Part 1 of ☞)

It seems to me as if we don’t know what a radical pedagogy might feel like, we have forgotten or never knew. Or, in the moments we do experience it we do not recognize it as being anything like pedagogy, learning, understanding: the collective and collectivizing transmission and production of ideas, ways, strategies and practices. What we need to find out then, is what a radical pedagogy, now, in the face of an exponential and accelerating marketization of thinking, thought, research and radical practice, might be like; how a radical pedagogy might be germinated; propagated so that it might become everyday, viral and voracious, unceasing and unstoppable. In other words, how might we learn with and from each other to become something inherently inimical to things as they are; caustic even to those technologies of capitalism that seek to recoup value at every node, at every instant, even from those, and those things, that seek its downfall, destruction.

Whatever is meant here I do not mean exclusively the school, the university, the nursery, the workplace training centre. What is of interest is when learning starts to take place elsewhere. When the classroom is revealed to be moribund by the collective learning, mobilized and on the move, invigorated by having a point, enervated when struggle becomes pointed. I have only ever known I was learning in this way after the fact. These moments have been few and fleeting, but the flash of a liberatory social power experienced at Millbank gives an example of what I think radical pedagogy might feel like. True, this was something of a high water mark in terms of the student movement, but the accompanying rupture of the classroom as the place of learning briefly signaled something like a learning not contained by, not held within, the classroom.

The recent period has seen a proliferation of experiments with alternative forms of educational institution and radical critique of educational institutions: The Really Free School, Edufactory, The Bank of Ideas and Tent City University, and the University for Strategic Optimism to name a few. Despite being unaligned or outside of The University proper these groups have struggled to avoid reproducing the contradictions of the classroom in a more makeshift and minimally less hierachialised way. Beyond the standard lecture format, the only thing seemingly to be found is the decapitated seminar, sometimes called workshop. It is not only these formal aspects that remain intact in the move beyond the classroom – more accurately, moving the classroom outside: the content of the classroom remains much the same also. By this I mean that the people who take part in these experiments are most usually the same disgruntled grunts from the classroom proper. As such we bring the classroom with us intact, try as we might to deface its walls.

partial dialectical tl;dr

The need to bring people excluded from the classroom in, as the only possible means of breaking down the walls of that classroom, stumbles on precisely the ‘radical’ move outside. For instance, when the Marxist Historian Eric Hobsbawm visited a prison to give a lecture, he acknowledged the unstable foundations of his status by suggesting to his audience that they probably knew more than he did. The prisoners reacted angrily to what they perceived as false modesty and castigated the professor along the lines of ‘you are the one with all the learning, don’t pretend you aren’t, teach us.’ The attempts to radicalize pedagogy often only serve to address some of the issues of those who already have access to the classroom, as well as what they suppose might be the interests of those excluded, rather than the interests or concerns of those people themselves. My point here is dual. Firstly, that we need to put a stop to the handwringing over our status as intellectuals, academics and students, and secondly that we need to find out from those excluded from the classroom what they might want from us, and how (or if?), we can be of use. An advanced understanding of dialectics may not be as obviously useful to some as the ability to change a gearbox, but neither is there any reason to be embarrassed about a specialization of learning like this. I would make a shit mechanic, communism cannot live on bread alone.

This stumbling block, a pedagogy that replicates the classroom but with less resources, feeds into, and is fed by, something of a crisis of conscience and confidence of those in the university. On the one hand we see that the university has become like any other factory, now informatics firm, but the niggling concern of class privilege means we know we are not cleaner or coal miner. Neither one nor the other, we believe the lie that the ‘student movement’ is bracketed off from something called ‘the workers’ proper. Swinging precariously from the union jack, we are closer to Bullingdon Club than NHS Nurse. This, combined with the collapse of the student movement, has led many to claim that there is no radical possibility left in the university. It is important, I agree, not to privilege the educational sector as some type of more radical hope, but to think of it as more hopeless than any other part of society misses the point.

Education, conceived broadly as learning, is not something accidental to the struggle, or some privilege to be thought about after some future victory. It is a necessary part of the reproduction of ourselves, our lives, and any thought of social flourishing is unthinkable if it does not include thinking and learning for everyone. It is not as if capital has not noticed how important education is to its own interests, both as a way of externalizing the cost of worker training and discipline, and increasingly to provide terrain for capital’s constant need for expansion. Education must now produce surplus value for the capitalist in the same breath as it trains workers for them. As a managerial class further and further colonises the university, value is produced through an arbitrary institutional calisthenics and the managerial measurement of that performance. Welcome to the factory of an absent future!

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