31 January 2013

History, Culture and Schooling


Education, Part 3

Ancient classroom at Sumer

History, Culture and Schooling

Professor Michael Cole’s long essay “Cross‐Cultural and Historical Perspectives on the Developmental Consequences of Education” has been divided for the CU’s purposes into three parts.

It begins by asking fundamental questions about the place of schooling in society, the nature of education, and whether schooling and education are ever, or could ever be, the same thing.

Mike Cole undertakes to “venture into a brief synopsis of historical variations in the ways that adults organize the lives of the young so that they acquire knowledge and skills deemed essential to communal life.”

Early in the essay, Cole writes: “It was widely assumed [‘in the 19th century’] that cross‐cultural comparisons were simultaneously cross‐historical. So-called primitive societies were taken as evidence about early stages of history for all human groups.”

This is a reference to the views, not so much of anthropologists (who were always divided), as of Hegel, Marx and Engels and their successors, the communists of today, who have an explicit, scientific, philosophical and historical theory of development, which is always human development.

Note that the first line of the Communist Manifesto, after the preamble, is: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” to which Frederick Engels, in the 1888 edition, added: “That is, all written history.” Engels proceeds to refer to his work “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.”

This view of development is not actually “19th century” but is at base simply humanist, and as such, it is as old as recorded history, as much as reactionary, anti-humanist ideas have always and up to the present time, been part of the same history.

Cole mentions some of the more recent anti-humanist ideologies such as the “post-modernism” that attacks all (what they call) “master narratives” (also, elsewhere, referred to as “grand narratives”). Cole claims to be prepared to be inconclusive about this, but we in our course will not be content to leave the matter like that.

For one reason, theories of “diversity” are not easily distinguished from theories of racialism. For that reason alone, in South Africa, the option for humanism is not in doubt from the point of view of the liberation movement.

This brings us close to the heart of the question of education: Whether it has a moral content or not? And whether it can be revolutionary, or not?

We will proceed, during this part 3 of our course, after reading Cole, to touch on Hegel, and on the way in which a conscious morality can be conceived of as integral to the theory of human development, and consequently, of education, and therefore, of schooling.

Cole’s reservations do not prevent him from making a firm distinction between the pre-historic societies wherein education is indistinguishable from life in general, and what he refers to as the “sea change” of civilization, starting in the Middle East, when schooling becomes a separate institution, and very clearly an instrument of class-division that elevates the ruling class, while subordinating the exploited classes.

From this base Cole proceeds, in our second division of his essay, to “Consequences of Schooling in Post‐Colonial Societies”. We will take this as the next item of this week’s part of the course. Suffice it to note at this point that Professor Cole, based at the University of California in San Diego, appears compelled to discuss education as a whole in terms of the problems of Imperialism, in what he refers to as “Post‐Colonial Societies”.

And indeed the problems of Imperialism and of education cannot be separated from the general human struggle for freedom.

29 January 2013

Man made by labour


Education, Part 2c

Frederick Engels

Man made by labour

Human beings create themselves

As well as being short, the attached essay of Engels’ (“The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man”) is very easy to read and to understand. Yet it explains a lot that is hardly covered by the conventional education of a “Western” bourgeois or bourgeois-dominated person.

What is there to disagree with in it? Very little. But some. Engels used his Germanic language in the manner of his time. So it becomes “Man”, even if what is meant is “Woman and Man”.

Man, or Woman the Creator?

Evelyn Reed added to Engels’ understanding, by pointing out (in “Womens’ Evolution”) that it was women who invented and perfected the technologies upon which we continue to rely today. The increase of wealth occasioned by the technological advances made by women, brought pre-historic humans to the brink of history.

The pre-history of society, according to Engels, is “social organisation existing previous to recorded history”, while recorded history is also and inevitably “the history of class struggles”. These quotations are from the Communist Manifesto, Bourgeois and Proletarians, first line, and Engels’ footnote to it. Engels wrote more extensively about history and pre-history in “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”.

At the dawn of history, several things happened at the same time. Property, the state, class struggle, the oppression of women, and writing, all came about at once. The new system of class division required all of these things, and we will, in the next part, see that it required schooling (i.e. an institutionalised and professional education system), as well.

“The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man” proceeds to mention capitalism, before it breaks off.

Engels returned to the question of pre-historic human development, and the historical development of class struggle, seven years later after the death of his friend Karl Marx. In Marx’s papers, Engels found work, based partly on studies by the US writer Henry Morgan, and composed these into the full book called “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”.

Not only Marx and Engels, but also one of the great founders of philosophy, Baruch de Spinoza, wrote about the self-development of human beings through learning. In the following widely-quoted passage, Spinoza wrote:

As far as the 'method for finding out the truth' is concerned, 'the matter stands on the same footing as the making of material tools.... For, in order to work iron, a hammer is needed, and the hammer cannot be forthcoming unless it has been made; but, in order to make it, there was need of another hammer and other tools, and so on to infinity. We might thus vainly endeavour to prove that men have no power of working iron.

'But as men at first made use of the instruments supplied by nature to accomplish very easy pieces of workmanship, laboriously and imperfectly, and then, when these were finished, wrought other things more difficult with less labour and greater perfection. . . . So, in like manner, the intellect, by its native strength, makes for itself intellectual instruments, whereby it acquires strength for performing other intellectual operations, and from these operations gets again fresh instruments, or the power of pushing its investigations further, and thus gradually proceeds till it reaches the summit of wisdom.’

B. de Spinoza (1632-1677),
Improvement of the Understanding, Ethics and Correspondence

We can usefully note here that Lev Vygotsky was familiar with all of these writings (i.e. those of Engels and those of Spinoza).

27 January 2013

Phylogeny and cultural history in ontogeny


Education, Part 2b

Phylogeny and cultural history in ontogeny

As can be seen from the title of this article, Mike Cole is never afraid to use long, unfamiliar words, which makes it not to be ideal for use as a reading. It is also a bit too long. But there are good reasons for including it.

One is that like Vygotsky’s article, it shows an educationalist at work who refuses any boundaries to the work of an educationalist. Not even the “Arrow of Time” is sacred for Cole. Education is involved in “Phylogenesis” (the creation of the human type, including the physical type), as well as “Ontogenesis” (the creation of the individual human life-trajectory).

Another reason for using this article is because it is an available example of Cole’s writing, with Professor Cole being a major figure in education theory, and the principle challenger to the hegemony of the ideas of the late Jean Piaget.

Another reason is to show the continuity between Engels, Vygotsky and Cole. We will in due course discover that this continuity embraces other educationists. None of these thinkers is an isolated case. There is a strong school of educational theorists with sufficient worked-out theory, based on empirical research, and tested in practice, to support a revolutionary education system in South Africa, or anywhere else on earth. Jean Piaget’s utilitarian-bourgeois ideas are not the end of educational history.

Something else to look at in this essay is the comparison between Japan and the USA in motherhood behaviour, early schooling, baseball and corporate culture. All of that is in Part 5.

In particular, the preference of the Japanese for (early childhood) classes of 15 or more corresponds with the experience of the CU, where dialogue is the means of learning, and “keeping the pot boiling” is the main practice. In the CU, we relax when attendance reaches the level of 15, because at that level of attendance it is not at all difficult to sustain a discussion for the given period, and so to leave with more questions than answers, as we should.

What one might want to discuss using this article as a common stock, could be the outer boundaries of educational theory, or lack thereof. In South Africa, the view presented for public discussion by the bourgeois mass media is that school education is a limited thing, watched over by anxious parents and bossy teachers, that produces a narrowly-restricted result, or at best a sparse set of “outcomes”, the whole being gauged by the matriculation examinations.

25 January 2013

The socialist alteration of man


Education, Part 2a

The socialist alteration of man

Lev Vygotsky was a Soviet scientist, educational researcher, theoretician and practitioner. At the present time his is one of the most recognised names in the history of pedagogical studies, and his fame appears to be growing.

A text by Andy Blunden, explaining Vygotsky’s Theory of Child Development, was distributed prior to the commencement of this course, and it will be used again later in the course. That paper underlines Vygotsky’s attention to detail, based on close observation of children. Vygotsky’s reputation rests upon his collection and organisation of empirical data, as much as upon the theoretical science that rests upon these data and upon wider and revolutionary science of his time.

In today’s attached and downloadable text it becomes clear that Vygotsky found it necessary to place his work within an overviews of education, and of the place of education within the most comprehensive view of humanity and of humanity’s historical and prehistorical development.

In a SADTU document that we will return to later in this course, a diagram is used which shows the field of education as bounded on four sides by a band that contains the words “Political”, “Cultural”, “Social” and “Economic”.

But in fact these four are not distinguishable from each other in any organic sense. Taken together, they do not represent any kind of unity-and-struggle-of-opposites. Actually, “Political”, “Cultural”, “Social” and “Economic” are all words for the same thing.

To place education within a context external to the “classroom”, and so to find a broad, and not a weak, contingent and utilitarian definition of education, one needs to go to wider concentric spheres. The separation into virtual bullet-points of “Political”, “Cultural”, “Social” and “Economic” tells us nothing. They all represent one thing, which is “Politics”.

Acknowledging this allows us to develop the context, not as a list, but as a wider set of concentric spheres. This is what we are doing in this part of our course on “Education”, starting with Lenin, and moving to Vygotsky, Cole, Engels and Spinoza. Later in the course we will come to Hegel, whose philosophy of human development is the one that is to this day still the most advanced, most extensive, and most concrete philosophy available. Hegel’s philosophical system is the one that was used by by Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Lenin and Vygotsky.

The first external sphere would be the politics of the country and of the moment, or in other words what is called the “conjuncture”, made up of the balance of class forces and the specific, material circumstances. In bourgeois education, consideration of this context is to a large extent, if not entirely excluded. History, for example, as taught in school, stops short of the present moment. The Constitution might be taught, but in a conservative way, so as to present it (falsely) as separate from the politics of the moment.

As we have seen with Paulo Friere, a pedagogy that would suit the oppressed majority of the people must refuse to exclude the facts of daily political life from education in this way.

Moving further out, Lenin helps us to see education in a general context of class conflict. Lenin places education within a full political-theory context, thereby allowing it to be understood as part of human history in general.

The text given here shows that Vygotsky felt the need to recognise both of these concentric spheres, namely the political struggles of the moment (i.e. the formation of the revolutionary proletarian republic, the Soviet Union), and the revolutionary theory upon which those struggles were based. He needed to place education within the lived, political society, and within in the on-going development of human beings as a whole.

Which leads Vygotsky to insist that there must be a theory of human development that is not only spiritual and subjective, but that is also material, and even biological. We will look further at this question in the next item within this part. Suffice it here to read Vygotsky’s own words, and to note that this most famously experimental and empirical of educationists (in the sense of basing his understanding on observation of real children) found it necessary to reach out to the furthest margins of pre-history, and out into the disciplines of biology, evolutionary science, and philosophy, so as to be able to locate and to brace his work in a firm fashion.

Humanism is that kind of philosophy that says that human beings create themselves, and that the more they do so, the more socially conscious (i.e. scientific) they become of what they are doing. The more conscious is human development, the faster is the rate at which it proceeds. As Engels and Spinoza both remarked: Freedom is the recognition of necessity. Having understood necessity, humans are free to grasp it. This is the only kind of freedom that they have.

Without a sight of this wider context, the educator is proceeding as if blindfolded.

All education is political


Education, Part 2

Lenin, writing

All education is political

All education is political. Education prepares the individual child and each entire new generation to take its place within the polity. Education confirms the existing polity, reproducing it.

In 1983 somebody wrote:

“At the base of the modern social order stands not the executioner but the professor. Not the guillotine, but the (aptly named) doctorate d’├ętat is the main tool and symbol of state power. The monopoly of legitimate education is now more important, more central than the monopoly of legitimate violence” [Gellner, Nations and nationalism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 1983, p. 34].

“Political Education” becomes a category separate from education in general, only because education belongs to the ruling system, under a certain ruling class. Even though it is a society in revolution, and its government is formed by a revolutionary liberation movement, it is not possible to teach what we call political education, in schools, in South Africa.

Nothing illustrates the nature of class power more clearly than this. The political education given in schools confirms the status quo. It is conservative and it is bourgeois. It does not even admit to being political.

“The taxpayer” is a bourgeois, and will only pay for political education that preserves the position of the bourgeoisie. In the nineteenth year after the first universal-franchise election in South Africa, this fact stares at us, but few of us stare back. The common critique of education is rather that it is not bourgeois enough.

Even those “radicals” who, for example, would expropriate land from white farmers on a large scale and without compensation, give little thought to the nature of education. The people who would settle on that land, if any, would be educated as bourgeois, would only be capable of reproducing a bourgeois economy on that land, and would demand the installation of bourgeois schools on that land. This would not be radical change, but it would be confirmation of the status quo.

Is there any conception of what a revolutionary school might be? This second part of our course on education looks at some past conceptions of what it might be, starting with Lenin.

Lenin on Education

“...we have to abandon the old standpoint that education should be non‐political; we cannot conduct educational work in isolation from politics.”

“That idea has always predominated in bourgeois society. The very term “apolitical” or “non‐political” education is a piece of bourgeois hypocrisy...”

“In all bourgeois states the connection between the political apparatus and education is very strong, although bourgeois society cannot frankly acknowledge it.”

“We are living in an historic period of struggle against the world bourgeoisie, which is far stronger than we are. At this stage of the struggle, we have to safeguard the development of the revolution and combat the bourgeoisie in the military sense and still more by means of our ideology through education, so that the habits, usages and convictions acquired by the working class in the course of many decades of struggle for political liberty ‐ the sum total of these habits, usages and ideas - should serve as an instrument for the education of all working people. It is for the proletariat to decide how the latter are to be educated. We must inculcate in the working people the realisation that it is impossible and inexcusable to stand aside in the proletariat’s struggle...”

“We must re‐educate the masses; they can be re‐educated only by agitation and propaganda. The masses must be brought, in the first place, into the work of building the entire economic life. That must be the principal and basic object in the work of each agitator and propagandist, and when he realises this, the success of his work will be assured.”

The above words are taken from Lenin’s speech to the 1920 All-Russian Conference of Political Education Workers, our main text for this part.

Lenin does not leave his audience in doubt as to his intentions.

19 January 2013

Use Your Head


Education, Part 1c

Use Your Head

The fourth item in the first part of the ten-week Communist University “Education” course is our own “conspectus” (overview or synopsis) of Tony Buzan’s book, “Use Your Head” (download linked below).

We have sometimes been defensive about the inclusion of this book in a Communist course. The author Buzan does not propose, or proceed from, any overt political premises. If anything he appears at first sight to resemble a utilitarian bourgeois “management guru” or “motivational speaker”. What makes his work stand out from the others of that kind is its great practical effectiveness, and not any obvious political aspect.

Yet, after all the years of forcing Buzan’s work to cohabit with Marxist texts, it becomes clearer to this VC why it fits in so well: It is dialectical! And it is intentional! Therefore it is Freirean, whether consciously or unconsciously.

From a practical point of view, Buzan’s appeal is that he offers assistance with faster, more purposeful reading; with memorising; and with note-taking, particularly using his invention, the “mind-map” technique, of which an example is given above. These techniques are just what students need to help them get through their studies, and just what conventional education often failed to give them.

Students used to be obliged to try to learn before having learned how to learn. Buzan filled this gap very well.

But what underlies Buzan’s approach? It is not that he was lucky to stumble upon three techniques, like a prospector discovering diamonds. No. What distinguishes the mind-map, in particular, from other forms of note-taking characterised by lists and bullet-points, is that it begins and ends as a “unity and struggle of opposites”. It is a representation, in one glance, of the way in which any phenomenon is the product, or resultant, of many abstract dynamic forces, or vectors, pulling in different directions.

The mind-map is a very good illustration of exactly what is meant by “dialectics”.

The other main characteristic of Buzan’s approach is its “intentionality”, to borrow a term from Paulo Freire’s vocabulary. Towards the end of Chapter 1 of Freire’s “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, Freire quotes Alvaro Vieira Pinto saying that intentionality is “the fundamental property of consciousness”, remarking that this concept is “of great importance for the understanding of a problem-posing pedagogy”.

Buzan’s approach is full of intentionality. There is no question, for Buzan, of wandering about, learning for learning’s sake, in a random, eclectic way. Buzan says that you must be looking for a result.

Karl Marx, in the 11th Thesis on Feuerbach, said that while the philosophers have interpreted it, the point is to change the world.

Thus intentionality, as well as dialectics and dialogue, are common and basic themes in Freire, Buzan and Marx.

18 January 2013

Not Activism, Not Blah


Education, Part 1b

Not Activism, Not Blah

Action / Reflection = word = work = praxis
Sacrifice of action = verbalism
Sacrifice of reflection = activism

What separates humanist philosophy from other kinds of philosophy is that we humanists see life as an interaction between the human Subject and the Objective universe. Others either believe in pure (subjective) will, or in pure (objective) fate.

This philosophy is not a compromise or an arbitrary “middle way”. Instead, it represents a real dialectical unity-and-struggle-of-opposites.

The human Subject defines the universe, and the universe contains the human Subject.

In Chapter 3 of the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire manages to express all of this with great power, and then to develop it into an educational “praxis” (theory-and-practice), which is dialogue.

Here are the first few paragraphs:

Verbalism without action is idle chatter

“As we attempt to analyze dialogue as a human phenomenon, we discover something which is the essence of dialogue itself: the word. But the word is more than just an instrument which makes dialogue possible; accordingly, we must seek its constitutive elements. Within the word we find two dimensions, reflection and action, in such radical interaction that if one is sacrificed - even in part - the other immediately suffers. There is no true word that is not at the same time a praxis. Thus, to speak a true word is to transform the world.

“An unauthentic word, one which is unable to transform reality, results when dichotomy is imposed upon its constitutive elements. When a word is deprived of its dimension of action, reflection automatically suffers as well; and the word is changed into idle chatter, into verbalism, into an alienated and alienating “blah." It becomes an empty word, one which cannot denounce the world, for denunciation is impossible without a commitment to transform, and there is no transformation without action.

Activism is action for action’s sake, and it makes dialogue impossible

“On the other hand, if action is emphasized exclusively to the detriment of reflection, the word is converted into activism. The latter - action for action's sake - negates the true praxis and makes dialogue impossible. Either dichotomy, by creating unauthentic forms of existence, creates also unauthentic forms of thought which reinforce the original dichotomy.

“Human existence cannot be silent nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true words, with which men and women transform the world. To exist humanly is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new naming. Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection.

“But while to say the true word - which is work, which is praxis - is to transform the world, saying that word is not the privilege of some few persons, but the right of everyone. Consequently no one can say a true word alone - nor can she say it for another, in a prescriptive act which robs others of their words.”

  • The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Pedagogy of The Oppressed, Chapter 3, 1970, Freire, Part 1 and Part 2.

17 January 2013

Down with the Banking Theory!


Education, Part 1a

Down with the Banking Theory!
It was Paolo Freire who gave us the word “conscientise”.

It was Paulo Freire, more than any other, who showed how the bourgeois education system, with its “banking” theory of pedagogy (please read today’s text, attached, and downloadable via the link at the bottom of this document), is not well designed to educate learners in the true sense of the word “educate”, but is principally and intentionally designed to reproduce the class relations that suit the ruling bourgeois class.

Education, which should by nature liberate the student, is made by the bourgeoisie into a means of repression, said Freire.

How can we make sure that education becomes part of the building of people’s power? To ask such a question is to “problematise” education. To ask such a question is to begin a “dialogue” about education.

Freire thought that the education of the oppressed, if it was patronising, would be counter-productive. It would reproduce and reinforce the features of the oppressive bourgeois state. The method for avoiding the reproduction of oppression through education would have to be different and new, he thought.

So in the dialogical method that Paulo Freire devised and called the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, or otherwise Critical Pedagogy, there is no elementary, junior, senior, matriculation, undergraduate, post-graduate, doctorate or professor level. Teachers are learners and learners are teachers; all are free-willing subjects, capable of leadership at any moment.

As much as there may be a room and a gathering of individuals, each known by name, and a “codification” which is the text or other object prepared for the occasion, yet the dialogue admits no imaginary limits. The Freirean gathering is not sheltered. It is one of the essentials of Freirean Pedagogy that we refuse the fiction of the sheltered classroom, and instead recognise that the oppressor is around us and even within us, while we strive to liberate ourselves through our mutual, pedagogical dialogue.

In Freirean practice, there is no such thing as a basic level, or an advanced level. All that we can do is to practice a common process of “problematising”, beginning with education itself.

For the late Freire (pictured here and at the top), and for the Freireans of today, all education is a political act and a social act, an act of liberation and an act of self-liberation.

In Freire’s work, philosophy, politics and education are considered together without any sharp borders between them.

Chapter two is the shortest and the easiest of the four chapters of Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. Please download it and read it.

People’s education for people’s power


Education, Part 1

People’s education for people’s power

Our method is to take a text, and discuss it. This method is modelled on the theory and practice of the late Paulo Freire. It is appropriate, then, to begin our course on Education itself, with Freire. (Later in the course, we may look at some of Freire’s critics.)

In the first place, Freire can assist us greatly in defining what we are pursuing in this course on Education. We are looking for a pedagogical theory: a theory of teaching and learning. What is it for? What is education for? What is educational theory for? Paulo Freire is an example of one who explored such questions, and he did so within a liberation-struggle context, akin to our own.

In the first sentence of Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of The Oppressed” (attached, pleased find Chapter 1, or use the link below) Freire “problematises” what he calls “humanisation”. That sentence says:

“While the problem of humanization has always, from an axiological point of view, been humankind's central problem, it now takes on the character of an inescapable concern.”

Axiology is the philosophical study of value. Freire declares his principle value. It is humanisation. It corresponds directly to the South African concept of “ubuntu”.

“But while both humanization and dehumanization are real alternatives, only the first is the people's vocation,” says Freire, asserting this political and moral principle as a starting point.

In doing so, Freire stands side-by-side with Karl Marx, who, in his masterpiece “Capital”, and all his life, wanted to restore humanity to itself.

This is what education is for.

Let us look at some more of Marx’s, and Freire’s words.

In his 1844 Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, at the gestation, if not quite the  birth of “Marxism”, Marx wrote: “Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.”

Above all, Marx wanted humans to be human. Criticism was not to crush, but to set humans free.

Similarly, Freire’s educational method is called “critical pedagogy”. It rests on the fundamental question of philosophy: the relation of mind to matter (Subject to Object). It asks to be judged according to that principle. So on page 3 of Chapter One of the “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, Freire writes:

“… one cannot conceive of objectivity without subjectivity. Neither can exist without the other, nor can they be dichotomized. The separation of objectivity from subjectivity, the denial of the latter when analyzing reality or acting upon it, is objectivism. On the other hand, the denial of objectivity in analysis or action, resulting in a subjectivism which leads to solipsistic positions, denies action itself by denying objective reality. Neither objectivism nor subjectivism, nor yet psychologism is propounded here, but rather subjectivity and objectivity in constant dialectical relationship.

Explicitly embracing his connection with Marx, Freire continues:

“To deny the importance of subjectivity in the process of transforming the world and history is naive and simplistic. It is to admit the impossible: a world without people. This objectivistic position is as ingenuous as that of subjectivism, which postulates people without a world. World and human beings do not exist apart from each other, they exist in constant interaction. Man does not espouse such a dichotomy; nor does any other critical, realistic thinker. What Marx criticized and scientifically destroyed was not subjectivity, but subjectivism and psychologism.”

The significance of the human Subject in Freire’s theoretical scheme is clear. Education as the refreshment and renewal of humanity is declared by these words from the last paragraph of his Chapter 1:

“Teachers and students (leadership and people), co-intent on reality, are both Subjects, not only in the task of unveiling that reality and thereby coming to know it critically, but in the task of re-creating that knowledge. As they attain this knowledge of reality through common reflection and action, they discover themselves as its permanent re-creators.”

The Communists, in their own minds and in their intentions, seek to educate, organise and mobilise, not so as to command the working class and the general masses, but help to set them free.

The problem of how to do so is exactly the problem that Freire addresses in “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” It requires the formulation quoted above: “World and human beings do not exist apart from each other, they exist in constant interaction.”

Freire writes about leadership and people both being human Subjects, “co-intent on reality”. This is what gives meaning both to education, and to politics. Leadership (teacher) and masses (learners) are “co-intent on reality”, coping together with the open reality of human life within an objective material universe.

We are talking here of revolutionary pedagogy. We are talking here of teaching with a purpose and a reason that anyone can understand, i.e. we are teaching with “intentionality”. The students can understand it.

We are talking of liberation. In South Africa this concept is called “people’s education for people’s power”.

In the next chapter we will dwell upon the dreadful mistakes that can be made if we fall into the errors of what Freire calls “the banking theory of education”.

09 January 2013

Introduction to “Education”


Education, Part 0, Introduction

Introduction: “Education”

Education is the means by which children are brought fully into society. The original Latin, from which the English word education is derived, means “leading out”.

The ruling ideas of any class-divided society are the ideas of its ruling class. Modern society is bourgeois, and so education in modern society is set up to transfer the ruling, bourgeois ideas to each new generation.

Because bourgeois society frames the individual as the basic productive economic unit of society, in the form of commodity labour-power for sale in the labour market, education for bourgeois society must validate this anti-human, anti-social self-understanding of the individual, and the similar understanding of each one by the others.

In bourgeois society, people are supposed to be “alone together”.

Two principles, first, the social imperative of education in general, and second, the commodification of the individual person, are at odds in bourgeois society. They co-exist, they cannot be reconciled, and they conflict.

In parallel with this contradiction, is another contradiction. The method of education is dialogical interaction between people. The educational process is a human relationship of the most tender, compassionate kind. It is social.

Yet the obligatory formation of commodity labour power as a function of bourgeois education renders the loved and loving human into an item for sale. In the exchange of commodity labour-power for money, the social relationship is hidden away under the appearance of a relationship between things.

The formation of commodity labour power is a process which renders the teacher into a transient part of the process. The human relationship is abandoned, leaving the student with skill, or knowledge, an abstract quality which is no longer human. This is an attribute that is commensurable with the same attribute if present in other individuals. It can be measured. Students in South Africa can be compared with students in Japan, North or South America, India and Sweden, or any other place.

This is done by what are known as examinations.

As with torture, the results of examinations are unreliable. Yet, like torture, they continue to be used everywhere. The practice of examination is increasing in bourgeois society, not decreasing. In Britain, children as young as five are being required to pass examinations, and if they fail the examinations, there are consequences for those little children.

Revolutionary education

A revolutionary form of education would reverse the priority of bourgeois education so that the socialisation of the children was given priority over the rendering of each child into a piece of commensurable commodity labour-power.

The prerequisites for such revolutionary education would include a strong ideology of education within the teaching corps. In South Africa this ideology is tacit, not explicit. It is not that there is an overtly bourgeois pedagogy of the bourgeoisie. It is rather that there is a scarcity of openly-expressed educational theory.

Reactionaries and progressives combine to affirm the necessity of being professional, measured by an eclectic mixture of empirical criteria. But there is little dialogue about the fundamental theory of education: What is it for? What is it about?

Education in South Africa is supposed to be “societal”, but “societal” reverts instantly to “parents-and-teachers”, to narrow concerns about career prospects, and so it inevitably re-enters the confines of bourgeois utilitarianism.

Ours is a political course that explores the place of education within the polity of human society. It may draw the conclusion that there is no dividing line between education and politics, as Lenin, for example, thought.

It should at least discover the prerequisites for a revolutionary education.

First iteration

In the Communist University suite of courses this will become the thirteenth of an eventual total of sixteen.

As we begin, the course is not yet in a final form, although there is some prepared material and a draft outline. The course will be written as it is rolled out. Its development can be influenced by the feedback of the recipients, yourselves, who are the subscribers of the SADTU Political Education Forum.

Like the other CU courses, the Education course will be in ten parts, serialised over ten weeks. There will be a main item in each part, supported by up to three additional or alternative items. Each item will be an original text, sent out with a brief introduction or “opening to discussion”.