Sometimes it seems like we can only talk about education in the positive, but Henry Giroux also gives a name to what we want to leave behind, and for that reason he talks about the “pedagogies of repression.” “Education is not just about empowering people, the practice of freedom, it’s also in some ways about killing the imagination,” affirms Giroux. “We often see pedagogies that teach to the text, simply about accountability, objective standards, that are designed to undercut the possibility for students to be critical thinkers.”
As an educator, he is concerned about the fact that today, many of the debates on education are, above all, methodological. He considers this “pedagogical stupidity,” since focusing exclusively on methods ignores the fundamental question of education.
Education, in the final analysis, is really about the production of agency. What kind of narratives are we going to produce that students can understand, that enlarge their perspective not only on the world but on their relationship to others and themselves? To begin with methods is to completely ignore, probably, all the most fundamental questions about education: ideology, culture, power, authority.… How are these things constituted? What’s the basis for knowledge? In what way does it speak to a particular kind of future? Because all education is an introduction in some way to the future. It’s a struggle over what kind of future you want for young people.” Methods, he concludes, “contain a kind of silence on the side of the worst forms of repression… because they deny the very notion that students are alive.
Critical pedagogy puts on the table the idea that an education that can be considered ideologically neutral does not exist, but rather that the notion of neutrality hides what education really involves.
This defence of neutrality has always seemed to me to be the basis for a kind of fascist politics because it hides its code for not allowing people to understand the role that education plays ideologically, in producing particular forms of knowledge, of power, of social values, of agency, of narratives about the world… It is impossible for education to be neutral so those who argue that education should be neutral are really arguing for a version of education in which nobody is accountable. The people who produce that form of education become invisible because they are saying it’s neutral. So, you can’t identify the ideological, processes, politics, modes of power at work. That is precisely what they want, because power at its worst makes itself invisible, and the notion that education is neutral is one way of people who have dominant power making it invisible and making propaganda itself incapable of being seen.
A concept that permits understanding the importance of what is invisible is what is called the “hidden curriculum,” everything that is being taught in classrooms and not explained in the curriculums. “There are things that are taught but that are never talked about, and the real message is invisible,” Giroux tells us.
When you put children into a series of rows and tell them that they cannot talk and that they have to listen to you as teacher, the hidden curriculum that is being transmitted is that they do not have the right to talk, that they do not have the right to be part of the way of educating. When a teacher gets up and says that they have the authority in class and that nobody can question that, they are not saying that they are teaching them to be passive and not demand responsibilities of the powers, but that the hidden curriculum is very clear. If you examine what is really being taught there, you see that education is a way of silencing.
Henry Giroux experienced this in the first person at the start of his career, when he was a secondary school teacher. In the classroom, he would make his students sit in circles until one day a deputy headmaster told him to stop doing so, that he should make them sit in straight rows and teach them what authority was. “I couldn’t give a theoretical answer to what I was experiencing on a pedagogical level,” he laments. This changed a short time later when he was able to read Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire: “It changed my life…”
It seems to me that the situation we are in, as educators, is that like most people we are having a terrible time taking care of ourselves and taking care of each other, in really really basic ways. The “crisis” of higher education is not really a crisis of education. It’s the same crisis that’s going off everywhere. It’s the crisis of what David Harvey calls “accumulation by dispossession” up to including the dispossession of the planet’s ability to support and nourish life itself. We know this.
Our institutions are being ruined by this process, and we all know something about the power and potency of ruins. My question is, how do we thrive in the ruins together? I’ve actually started thinking about this as a form of honest piracy, or honorable body snatching. We’re marooned together, here in the ruins of capitalism, on a devastated earth. We are in a situation of total war by the 1% against everyone and everything else. So let’s not be naive about that. Let’s not think that this is a good moment to engage in “social entrepreneurship,” or “social impact investing,” nor, I think, is it a time to “build” anything. It’s a time to learn to play and find sanctuary among the ruins. This is the only honest way to confront the reality of the situation, which is that there are massive, massive, MASSIVE stockpiles of wealth, energy, resources, capacities that are being hoarded and from which most people are being excluded. Then the very poverty and abandonment to which people are subject becomes a site of reinvestment, surveillance, control, domination, and further extraction. This is basically the situation of today’s indebted college student.
The answer to all this is not more accountability, better assessment, more oversight, clarity, clearer “outcomes,” or any of the other things being imposed on academic to try to make college look reasonable (it’s just participating in the insanity of derivative finance). We know this.
We know that education is not about outcomes. It’s about inputs. It’s not about what happens after we study but while we are studying. It’s not about who the students become. It’s about how scholars, teachers, wisdom keepers became who they are, and the way they are able to survive long enough to transmit, perform, and offer what they have received. It’s not about the fruits. It’s about the seeds and the seed carriers.
What educators need, what scholars need, is refuge, is sanctuary. And we simply need wealthy patrons—the equivalent of endowments—to directly support the livelihood of educators. Full stop. No questions asked.
All Cambridge University is, I realized when I went there, is some basic shelter and places to eat together. That’s it. And, literally, it’s a bunch of ruined stones.
So this is it. We need to find wealthy patrons who will pay top dollar for intimate study sessions with us, which in turn will enable us to study with others for free. Period. That’s it. There’s no curriculum, no credentialing, no degrees. Just people studying together. The Rogue Scholars Sanctuary @ Incite Seminars. No social media campaign, no advertising. “For your father in heaven sees what you have done in secret, and rewards you.” Secrecy, stealth, piracy. Exile, silence, and cunning. Peer to peer, word of mouth, honor among thieves as we plunder the surplus together.
Anyone who wants to study together should have access to the means of subsistence needed. Yes, we’ll have to decide who needs what and who is able to do what. We can figure out how to do that as we go along. We don’t have to worry about scale until there is scale, and when it gets too large we can just STOP. We don’t have to grow this web indefinitely. Other webs can be other webs. Anarchist principles at work. Mutual aid.
We can start with ourselves and a few others we know, with what we need. These can be people who want to teach who are in precarious positions within or without or on the margins of the academy, it doesn’t matter. We can find wealthy patrons who believe in us. There are people who trust educators, who know firsthand what it is to study with us, who know that’s what they want. That’s where it starts. From there it can grow as little or as much as is needed.
Right now, I don’t think we need new institutions. It think the minimal setup of Incite is great (maybe we can find some other spaces to do it in, but we really don’t need much).
We need to figure out how to hide within and dance among the ruins as the earth renews itself in a process that is more catastrophic and more subtle than any of our perceptions can keep up with. Sure, we’ll need more and other language than this to help the wealthy release the surplus they are hoarding. But hoarding hurts. They don’t want to hoard, they want to give. And we can help them.
Here’s how I see it:
The basic function of sanctuary is to protect. What are we trying to protect here? It is not simply ourselves as teachers and philosophers and our bio-lives, though it is that for sure. It is also something less tangible, and perhaps in the end – who knows about ends these days? – more powerful: the deeper understanding and critical transmission of the high cultures of the world across time and space.
I am saying high cultures deliberately. What we do is not about popular culture, though that can be studied with profit and pleasure. Nor is it about the latest environmental research or the newest neuroscience or the most well strategized career path, though God knows these are legitimate fields of inquiry or at least legitimate concerns.
What we do is about the texts and bodies of knowledge, ancient and modern, that have generated the consciousnesses through which our world has been created and, yes, through which it has been brought to the edge of extinction. And we are here to critique those texts and knowledges and to generate new ones. Above all, we are here to “read, study and plan” if I may adapt a phrase from The Undercommons in the face of an unimaginable future, but one we intend to enter with power and grace. Nothing more, and nothing less.
To unpack that a little, we are here toread slowly, to study in company with others, and to discern a plan for going forward based on that reading and study. We are here for the joy of these activities as ends in themselves and also in the faith that out of them will come ideas and practices, both personal and social, that will help us to heal our minds and bodies, care for our families, and participate with grace and power in the “struggle which is ours against the powers and principalities, against the rulers of this world of darkness and the spirits of evil in high places” as the great prayer to St. Michael goes.
As we have said, we are not here to build new institutions, or develop more adaptive pedagogies, or open up new markets, nor to figure out more and more artful ways to collaborate with current power structures and economies. We are not even engaged, at least in this context, in the reactive process of finding alternatives to these, or not directly. All of these are legitimate projects to one degree or another; they are just not ours here. We are here to think, and to think in the company of others of vision and eminence, past and present. And if I may make one other point, perhaps more sharply than needed, we are a not a democratic formation, though such may well be our politics in other contexts. We do not operate on monolithic egalitarian principles. We do not pretend that all that has been said or done in any domain is of equal value or equally worth our time, nor do we take the position, at least a priori, that every idea that arises is equally worth having. We are, in a sense, classicists. We look to engage only and exclusively with thought that is rigorous, engaged, original and productive. We read, study and plan in the full knowledge that time is short. We’d rather struggle with hard texts than ones that happen to suit our book, and we’d rather read what challenges our understanding than what simply echoes it.
It is in the service of these ends and projects and these only, and in the light of our long-term commitment to them (and we all have skin in this game) that we claim both our authority as teachers and guides and our right to the respect and support, both material and affective, of our patrons, our students and our communities. We call in Socrates here, and others whose names are also too august to cite, to insist that we are not in service to the state, nor to the economy, nor to the private ends, egos and consumer needs of individuals, nor even to projects of social uplift per se, but only to the truth of what we have received, such as we at our best discern it to be, and of the critical thought we can generate from it for the repotentiation of our own lives and those of others.
::ROGUE SCHOLARS :: What do you need? email@example.com
Laboria Cuboniks is currently a group of six women working together online to redefine a feminism adequate to the twenty-first century. They collectively wrote XenoFeminsim: A Politics for Alienation in 2014. Download text. Excerpts:
Ours is a world in vertigo. It is a world that swarms with technological mediation, interlacing our daily lives with abstraction, virtuality, and complexity. XF constructs a feminism adapted to these realities: a feminism of unprecedented cunning, scale, and vision; a future in which the realization of gender justice and feminist emancipation contribute to a universalist politics assembled from the needs of every human, cutting across race, ability, economic standing, and geographical position. No more futureless repetition on the treadmill of capital, no more submission to the drudgery of labour, productive and reproductive alike, no more reification of the given masked as critique. Our future requires depetrification. XF is not a bid for revolution, but a wager on the long game of history, demanding imagination, dexterity and persistence.
XF seizes alienation as an impetus to generate new worlds. We are all alienated – but have we ever been otherwise? It is through, and not despite, our alienated condition that we can free ourselves from the muck of immediacy. Freedom is not a given–and it’s certainly not given by anything ‘natural’. The construction of freedom involves not less but more alienation; alienation is the labour of freedom’s construction. Nothing should be accepted as fixed, permanent, or ‘given’–neither material conditions nor social forms. XF mutates, navigates and probes every horizon. Anyone who’s been deemed ‘unnatural’ in the face of reigning biological norms, anyone who’s experienced injustices wrought in the name of natural order, will realize that the glorification of ‘nature’ has nothing to offer us–the queer and trans among us, the differently-abled, as well as those who have suffered discrimination due to pregnancy or duties connected to child-rearing. XF is vehemently anti-naturalist. Essentialist naturalism reeks of theology–the sooner it is exorcised, the better.
Xenofeminism is a rationalism. To claim that reason or rationality is ‘by nature’ a patriarchal enterprise is to concede defeat. It is true that the canonical ‘history of thought’ is dominated by men, and it is male hands we see throttling existing institutions of science and technology. But this is precisely why feminism must be a rationalism–because of this miserable imbalance, and not despite it. There is no ‘feminine’ rationality, nor is there a ‘masculine’ one. Science is not an expression but a suspension of gender. If today it is dominated by masculine egos, then it is at odds with itself–and this contradiction can be leveraged. Reason, like information, wants to be free, and patriarchy cannot give it freedom. Rationalism must itself be a feminism. XF marks the point where these claims intersect in a two-way dependency. It names reason as an engine of feminist emancipation, and declares the right of everyone to speak as no one in particular.
XF rejects illusion and melancholy as political inhibitors. Illusion, as the blind presumption that the weak can prevail over the strong with no strategic coordination, leads to unfulfilled promises and unmarshalled drives. This is a politics that, in wanting so much, ends up building so little. Without the labour of large-scale, collective social organisation, declaring one’s desire for global change is nothing more than wishful thinking. On the other hand, melancholy—so endemic to the left—teaches us that emancipation is an extinct species to be wept over and that blips of negation are the best we can hope for. At its worst, such an attitude generates nothing but political lassitude, and at its best, installs an atmosphere of pervasive despair which too often degenerates into factionalism and petty moralizing. The malady of melancholia only compounds political inertia, and—under the guise of being realistic—relinquishes all hope of calibrating the world otherwise. It is against such maladies that XF innoculates.
Xenofeminism is gender-abolitionist. ‘Gender abolitionism’ is not code for the eradication of what are currently considered ‘gendered’ traits from the human population. Under patriarchy, such a project could only spell disaster—the notion of what is ‘gendered’ sticks disproportionately to the feminine. But even if this balance were redressed, we have no interest in seeing the sexuate diversity of the world reduced. Let a hundred sexes bloom! ‘Gender abolitionism’ is shorthand for the ambition to construct a society where traits currently assembled under the rubric of gender, no longer furnish a grid for the asymmetric operation of power. ‘Race abolitionism’
expands into a similar formula—that the struggle must continue until currently racialized characteristics are no more a basis of discrimination than than the color of one’s eyes. Ultimately, every emancipatory abolitionism must incline towards the horizon of class abolitionism, since it is in capitalism where we encounter oppression in its transparent, denaturalized form: you’re not exploited or oppressed because you are a wage labourer or poor; you are a labourer or poor because you are exploited.
Xenofeminism indexes the desire to construct an alien future with a triumphant X on a mobile map. This X does not mark a destination. It is the insertion of a topological-keyframe for the formation of a new logic. In affirming a future untethered to the repetition of the present, we militate for ampliative capacities, for spaces of freedom with a richer geometry than the aisle, the assembly line, and the feed. We need new affordances of perception and action unblinkered by naturalised identities. In the name
of feminism, ‘Nature’ shall no longer be a refuge of injustice, or a basis for any political justification whatsoever!