Whoever wants to know a thing has no way of doing so except by coming into contact with it, that is, by living (practicing) in its environment… If you want knowledge, you must take part in the practice of changing reality. If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself… If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution. All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience.
Mao Tse Tung “On Practice” (July 1937), Selected Works, Vol. I, pp. 299-300.
American Socialist Pedagogy and Experimentation in the Progressive
Era: The Socialist Sunday School,
by Kenneth Teitelbaum and William J. Reese. History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Winter,
1983), pp. 429-454.
This was another piece identified in the HEQ 50-Year
Retrospective. This piece jumped
out at me, not because of any familiarity I had with the authors, but with the
specific subject matter it dealt with—Socialism in American Schools. In this case, this sweeping overview of
a segment of the socialist movement in the United States (and the U.K.)
outlines the foundation of and development of curriculum, as well as the impact
of these relatively informal, small, niche institutions had on the culture of
the United States in the opening decades of the 20th Century.
I suspect that there exists a much longer, more detailed
book by Mr. Teitelbaum and Reese on this topic, but this essay provided an
excellent taste. This is much
closer to the sort of history I envision myself writing, but with a stronger
reliance on individual teacher data—a diary, or set of letters relating to the
actual conditions “on the ground” so to speak at school. But the way this essay foregrounds
individual texts like excerpts from the Socialist
Sunday School Songbook, against broader demographic data—numbers of
schools, student enrollment figures, and the economic and government structures
underlying the foundation of these schools is very much in line with the type
of writing I’d like to do for my dissertation.
Ultimately, Teitelbaum and Reese are able to make a much
broader claim about the influence of Socialist Sunday Schools by locating them
in the broader cultural milieu of the time—figures like the progressive public
intellectual and educationalist John Dewey, as well as Eden and Cedar Paul, who
are new figures to me, but who seem to have been doing their part to agitate
for communist education in the English-speaking world of the inter-war
period. Reese and Teitelbaum’s
most powerfully resonant claim in the present day is that socialist education
in the United States in the first half of the 20th century were
something of a “counter-hegemony” in a “war of position,” as described by the
Italian anarchist thinker, Antonio Gramasci in his Prison Notebooks.
Great resource from The Internet Archive, itself a great resource! Looking forward to digging into this, which was referenced in a 1989 History of Education Quarterly Article by Kenneth Teitelbaum, and William Reese. Reference to this work, or possibly to the Russian institution with a similar name (spelled, of course, with a K) lives on in podcast form under the auspices of The Antifada, which, I have to credit for making me aware of this particular portmanteau word, and the phenomena it points to.
In her 2009 book, The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Kline described the propensity for capitalism to make use of the power vaccuums created by large-scale disasters to open new markets, coopt commons, and consolidate its hold existing markets. The case of the closure of New Orleans public schools and the transformation of schools in that community to Charter Schools operating as private-public “partnerships” in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, is one outstanding example of the phenomenon she describes, “disaster capitalism,” as it has applied to the educational sector of the economy. And now, with the spread of COVID-19, Google seems to be acting quickly to promote its suite of apps for education with a “training program” specifically aimed at the school closure in Japan.
I had previously signed up for and partially completed one of the training courses Google offers on how to make use of its applications in educational contexts. But it is a program that doesn’t really seem to work at the individual teacher level (at least in the Japanese public school context, where teachers can be transferred on a whim). Use of these Google Apps in Japanese schools seems to require a school-wide or system-wide adoption for them to work. Google is fighting against the dominance of companies like Microsoft and even Japanese hardware makers like Toshiba. But they pounced on the recent school closure, offering lap-top PCs for rent, and a program apparently tailored to the current period of school closures.
Ideally, I suppose, an enterprising school principal or school board official would see this as an opportunity to increase the productivity of an otherwise student-less teacher/worker population, in limbo unti the start of the next school year in April. They would sign their teachers up, or otherwise induce them to sign up, perhaps dangling promises of work-from-home, or more likely further rationalizing and increasing control over said telework. This in turn, would give Google a leg up in marketing their various applications and subscription services (cloud computing, webmail, etc.) to schools and school systems across Japan.
There was a fantastic review of Ursula K. Le Guin’s ouvre in the summer edition of Dissent by Sarah Jones. This was by no means the first time the author’s name has come up for me. She has been in the background of my political consciousness for some time, peeking out most recently with this piece and and the interview of Kim Stanley Robinson that was on the antifada earlier this year.
So, I was excited to dig into a copy of The Dispossessed, Le Guin’s 1974 SciFi classic last weekend after wrapping up the sometimes sentimental collection of short stories by Toshio Mori in Yokohama, California. It is always reassuring to me to be reminded that brilliant artists such as Le Guin have always been wrestling with ideas like the abolition of state-violence, sexual liberation, and radical forms of education and government. I expect to continue being inspired by what has started off as a genre-defying bit of genre-fiction.
Le Guin’s work is distinctive not only because it is imaginative, or because it is political, but because she thought so deeply about the work of building a future worth living.
I am just beginning to dive in to some of the details of this ongoing series of actions in Hong Kong. But I am excited to have been able to use a bilingual interview with an activist (Agnes Chow Ting) spokesperson for the “Scholarism” group in Hong Kong for one of my English expression classes. Scholarism eventually merged into the Demosisto group which is I believe at the center of the current actions. It was a bit of a sensitive issue in class because there is one student who is Chinese in that class and I wasn’t sure how she would react. Japanese media (and as a result, my students) tend to focus on the unrest as a means to criticize the Chinese government in a kind of superior jingoistic fashion. And my Chinese student has often But I think I made it clear that the reason why I brought this text into the class was out of respect for the Chinese student activists and their connecting politics with their education in a meaningful and powerful way.
Exactly what is the connection between education and radical politics in this situation is still something I want to investigate. Obviously the connection that this NYTimes headline suggests of a 1-to-1 process of “radicalization,” doesn’t ring true because it ignores the underlying contexts of that education as it takes place. Anyway, more soon…
We need to learn, or re-learn, how to build comradeship and solidarity instead of doing capital’s work for it by condemning and abusing each other. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we must always agree – on the contrary, we must create conditions where disagreement can take place without fear of exclusion and excommunication.
I kept hearing again and again about this 2013 essay on some of the socialist podcasts I subscribe to– The Majority Report family of podcasts, but also Chapo Trap House, and Best of the Left too. The Antifada podcast has aparently created a vampire-centric spin-off inspired, in part, by this article as well. I’m glad I finally got a chance to read it. Though I am unfamiliar with the particular comedian and the imbroglio that was the impetus for the article, it certainly seems to ring true. The final caution about how social media ought to be used for revolutionary aims is particularly clarifying. And Mark Fisher’s call to resist the erasure of class in whatever form that erasure may take is essential.