Striving to Become an Anarchist Educator: Why a “Walk the Talk” Approach Matters

It is complicated, frustrating, and yet enriching to be an educator in last-stage capitalist societies. Anybody who defines themselves as an anarchist educator, in fact, gets to experience constant pressure and sometimes even threats due to their ideology and worldview.

These come not from what we believe in and think about, but rather from the fact that anarchism stands for values that pose a direct threat to power structures, whose mode of operation is to oppress and control. This oppression has as its main goal to enslave us in order to keep this dreadful system alive. An anarchist educator’s role is to both expose these oppressive structures for what they are, but also to do so while maintaining the full autonomy and freedom of learners. Doing both things brings out some of the key difficulties in moving anarchist education from theory to practice.

Anarchist educators agree on some core pedagogical principles. These principles are freedom, mutual aid, rationality, and a complete rejection of hierarchies and rulers. These principles have a huge practical impact, since they stand in complete opposition to the globalized neoliberal colonizing idea of education that has been dominant throughout the last centuries. Where anarchists stand for freedom, state education chooses authoritarian methods, such as the authority of the teacher and the submissive position of students in the classroom; where anarchists stand for mutual aid, state education insists on an individualistic approach that puts competition and singular achievement on a pedestal, while separating us and rejecting free associations in communities of care.

But we have a problem we must consider. 

…Continue reading at Anarchist Pedagogies Network

Catalyzing the Internal Click

This is a remarkable clip from an interview that Vicki Hearne did on NPR in 1986. The point she is making here about teaching is, I believe, crucial to an anarchist conception of education and, indeed, to any liberatory teaching practice worthy of the name.

Vicki Hearne was an animal trainer. The phrase “internal click” may conjure up images of Pavlov’s conditioning manipulations of dogs. So, it is important to mention that Hearne was in fact vehemently anti-behavioralist. On the contrary, she believed that animals, human and non-human, have the capacity to respond to their environments, and to others, with intelligence, creativity, and emotional depth. Conditioning of sorts is always an option. And that is all the more reason to counter it in educational practices.

Appreciation to Uli Baer for sharing this interview with me.

You can watch the entire interview at NPR.

How to Love Your Students

Let’s create some contrast and tension at the outset and first say how not to love your students. Or, put otherwise, let’s say:

How to Hate Your Students

Hate: from Proto-Germanic hatis, to treat with hostility.

That’s easy: lecture; grade; assign papers; offer the scantiest of feedback on assignments; break down the student’s “performance” into percentages; limit contact to office hours; stand at the front of the classroom; dominate discussions; make the students sit in tight little desk-chairs; create an atmosphere of emotional discomfort and verbal silencing; foster competition between students; give midterm and final exams; make students call you “Professor” or “Dr;” do not respond to emails, or, if you do, only cursorily. And did I mention: lecture? In short, at all times maintain an authoritarian bearing. You are, after all, only exercising the rights and privileges granted you by the university in your role as professor to place yourself apart from your students.

Is labeling these actions “hostile” not a bit overblown? After all, these practices are commonplace in college classrooms. In fact, they seem definitive of college teaching. As such, they are performed in good faith by well-meaning actors. So, what are you talking about? That’s just how it’s done!

Well, on this site, we are presenting ideas that challenge basic assumptions about the very nature of the college classroom. So, much will depend on whether you are willing to consider the merits of a given challenge. Here, we are challenging the assumption that the college classroom is necessarily a place apart from everyday life; one that, as such, requires a sui generis social relationship like that of professor/student.

A down and dirty way to see where you stand in relation to this challenge is to ask yourself questions like the following: Would I treat these people like this outside of the classroom—would I lecture to them, for instance, and evaluate their performance if the encounter were occurring in a bar or at a dinner party? How would I convey my knowledge in those settings? How would I respond to them there? How would I conduct myself there; what would my bearing be? Do the projects of teaching and learning necessitate the particular relations and practices sketched above? Might a more natural relationship to our students better accomplish our aims as teachers?

The Revolution is in Everyday Life or Nowhere At All

If such a thought experiment shifts your view, then you just might begin to perceive the hostility inherent in the status quo classroom relationship between professor and student. If so, we are ready to talk about what such a “natural” relationship might look like. In other words, we are ready to talk about love.

In The Revolution of Everyday Life, Raoul Vaneigem writes:

People who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints, such people have corpses in their mouths.

This quote is relevant here for several reasons. Vaneigem (b. 1934) was a member of the Situationist International, a group that, among other socially transformative events, “detonated” the student protests of May 1968 in Paris and beyond. (“We will only organize the detonation,” proclaimed the Situationists.) In the above quote, Vaneigem is condemning institutionalized leftists (read: liberal and progressive professors), who are content with radical-sounding theories and piecemeal reforms that ultimately serve to perpetuate the status quo, to defer fundamental change, and, of course, to leave their careers intact. Vaneigem argues that unless we act directly within the sphere of “everyday life,” where life is actually lived, then we are dealing in lifeless gestures.

As a life-giving revolutionary action, Vaneigem recommends “the refusal of constraints.” I understand this to mean a refusal to respect and abide by the endless rationales for caution among “reformers” and other “sensible” people. No grades? You can’t do that! No syllabus? You can’t do that! Most intriguingly of all, he insists that vital action must includeunderstanding what is subversive about love.”

The quote from Vaneigem is used as an epigraph in the Introduction to Richard Gilman-Opalsky‘s recent book, The Communism of Love: An Inquiry into the Poverty of Exchange Value (AK Press, 2020). As a way of crafting an applicable resource for educators, I will present Gilman-Opalsky’s treatment of love in this book.

(One parenthetical matter before I do. I feel that Gilman-Opalsky’s “communism” is pervaded by the same spirit as Peter Kropotkin’s anarcho-communism. What is this spirit? It is the spirit of “love,” love as the animating force of what Marx called our Gemeinwesen, our shared, communal life. This spirit is “the beating heart of communism.” So, for both Gilman-Opalsky and Kropotkin, “communism [is] understood as a human yearning and way of life, not as a form of government.” “The communism I speak of,” he clarifies, “is always about forms of life, not forms of government. The communism I speak of aims at revolutionary transformations of life, including and especially the creative production of new forms of life.” I don’t see how anyone who embraces anarchist values would have the slightest disagreement with Gilman-Opalsky on this point.)

Love as a Practical Resource for Higher Education

Now, let’s create a practical resource. Here’s how you might proceed. First of all, start viewing your college classroom as what Gilman-Opalsky calls “a precarious little commune.” View it, that is, as a “refuge for love and community in a liquid, chaotic world.” Do the classroom features sketched above not reflect the values of our hyper-accelerated techno-consumerist capitalist world? Of course they do. Rather than replicating that, can you image creating a refuge from that world? Can you imagine creating an atmosphere, relations, and values that prefigure a saner world? Both this imagining and this doing begin with love.

So, what is “love”? Let’s first say what it is not. Saying so, we will also allay some of the anxiety that, I imagine, must arise in reading a title like “How to Love Your Students.” Love is not “wingless Eros.” This term is used by Alexandra Kollontai in her 1923 article “Make Way for Winged Eros.” Although Gilman-Opalsky ultimately finds Kollontai’s views on love “in various ways markedly outdated and wholly unaware of the issues of the twenty-first century,” he nonetheless finds value in her reflections on the socio-political ramifications of a “communism of love.”

Kollontai takes up her reflections on love because the prevailing notion, that of “wingless Eros,” “contradicts the interests of the working class.” We can adapt this claim to our purpose and say that our current societal notion of love contradicts the interests of a re-imagined higher education.

In the first place [wingless Eros] inevitably involves excesses and therefore physical exhaustion, which lower the resources of labor energy available to society. In the second place it impoverishes the soul, hindering the development and strengthening of inner bonds and positive emotions. And in the third place it usually rests on an inequality of rights in relationships between the sexes, on the dependence of the woman on the man and on male complacency and insensitivity, which undoubtedly hinder the development of comradely feelings.

“Winged Eros,” Kollontai insists, “is quite different.” Essentially, it is different in precisely the social and political consequences flowing from communist, communally-oriented, love. It is different primarily in the fact that “the person experiencing love acquires the inner qualities necessary to the builders of a new culture—sensitivity, responsiveness and the desire to help others.”

The only stipulation is that these emotions facilitate the development and strengthening of comradeship. The ideal of love-comradeship, which is being forged by proletarian ideology to replace the all-embracing and exclusive marital love of bourgeois culture, involves the recognition of the rights and integrity of the other’s personality, a steadfast mutual support and sensitive sympathy, and responsiveness to the other’s needs.

Kollontai actually begins this quote with the claim that “Obviously sexual attraction lies at the base of ‘winged Eros,’ too.” But Gilman-Opalsky makes it clear that this feature is, in fact, not at all obvious and not at all necessary to communist love. So, let’s turn now to what he does say about it. We will do so by enumerating several points he makes concerning “what love is against (and what is against love),” and conversely, “what love is for (and what is for love).” Gilman-Opalsky’s statements stand in for a tight, overly determinant definition of “what love is.” I will offer some brief input to each point based on my own classroom application of the principle. But I hope you will use these statements to give thought to how you might enact such a communism of love in your own “little precarious commune” of the classroom.

What Love is Against (and What is Against Love)

1. “Love is against the isolation of the human person.”

What practices do you engage in that serve to create a sense of separateness in your classroom? Obviously, the mere proximity of bodies does not mitigate isolation. What, then, is standing in the way of a sense of togetherness? I would suggest as basic, relatively easily-fixable culprits such elements as technology, harsh lighting, and classroom configuration (with the professor at the head). What else? How about isolated reading and preparation? Why? Might, for instance, communal reading of a text better accomplish the aims of comprehension and discussion? To actively work against the isolation that seems to be endemic to the college classroom is an act of love.

2. “Love resists its common reduction to sex.”

One of the reasons that I imagine the reader might be reading this post with a certain caution is that we “mistakenly think that the locus of love is in the sexual relationship,” as Gilman-Opalsky writes. Not so with an anarchist/communist conception of love. A good reason to dig further into The Communism of Love is that Gilman-Opalsky offers a sweeping survey of love across disciplines (philosophy, psychoanalysis, feminism, political science, the Black radical tradition, etc.) in order to recover lost resources and to construct a more inclusive synthesis of what might count as “love.” So, rest at ease that you may speak of, indeed, may feel, your classroom actions as “love.”

3. “Love works against the privatization and commodification of life and relationships.”

My post “The Perverse and the Generic” offers thoughts on this issue. The seemingly intractable fact is that such commodification is woven into the very fabric of the classroom. After all, your classroom is inseparable from the university itself; the university is inseparable from our capitalist economic system; and that system is inseparable from the neoliberal policies and values that have infected virtually every facet of our lives. The degree to which you work against this collusion is the degree to which you enact love for your students. Remember, we are viewing our classroom as a “little precarious commune,” a temporary shelter from the storm.

4. “Love acts against the complex hierarchies of white supremacy, nationalist imperialism, and sexism, as well as their normalization in society and politics.”

This might seem like an obvious facet of every twenty-first century classroom, right? But I don’t think it is obvious at all. I will have to refrain from going on too long here because this point touches a major nerve with me. Probably the most exasperating of all my frustrations with college professors, born out of conversations and observations, is this: Virtually all of them sincerely see themselves as champions of social justice. And virtually all of them replicate the oppressive hierarchies above. This is so predictably the case that I have simply concluded that the normalization referred to is a mode endemic to liberal and even progressive pedagogy. Leaving it at that, I ask you to reflect on how you might lovingly upset this normalization in your classroom.

5. “Love works against insecurity by establishing other securities.”

On course evaluations, students commonly report that they don’t “feel comfortable” speaking up, offering their opinion, taking a chance. The classroom becomes just another insecure space in an insecure world. I always address this issue directly with my students, and work with them on making everyone feel welcome to speak their mind. The material we are reading (philosophy, critical theory) is dangerous enough in that it often leads to serious doubts and reevaluations of life on the student’s part. So, we establish the nourishing security of open communication and shared vulnerable risk-taking.

6. “Love is opposed to alienation and to the passivity that comes from depoliticization.”

Another exasperating moment in conversation with college professors comes when they inevitably insist that “politics should not enter the classroom.” Education is never politically neutral! Yes, you may avoid literal reference to the political issues of the day. But what unfolds in your classroom, what sorts of practices you engage in as a teacher, what kinds of relations you form with your students, yes, even whether or not you lecture, all have profound political ramifications. The classroom is permeated by, infused with, saturated in, the political. There is no escape! (This argument is a major feature of How to Fix Education.) The illusion of political neutrality ultimately serves to obscure the political nature inherent in every educational act. If, as Henry Giroux insists, “Education, in the final analysis, is really about the production of agency,” then let’s consider, for instance, what kind of political agent is being created when you subject your students to one-directional lectures; when you incessantly “evaluate” them via exams and points; when you have them use a title in front of your name, and so on. By perpetuating the illusion that their classrooms are politically neutral, professors exacerbate students’ alienation from precisely the inevitably political nature of whatever it is they are learning. By the way, contrary to the dogmatic assertions of STEM professors, this point applies to them no less than it does to the humanities.

What Love is For (and What is For Love)

1. “Love is for the Gemeinwesen.”

Acting out of the “common being” (Gemeinwesen in Marxist terminology) that is, or that should be, the college classroom, is, by our emerging definition, an act of love. Current practices, such as those listed at the beginning of this post, are, by contrast, for the “individual being.” Those practices are designed for students to measure themselves against one another, in individualized differentiation. And at the end of the course, professors themselves are evaluated for their individual “performances” and pitted against one another in the marketplace of course registrations. Might we rather create an atmosphere of togetherness? I spend a good deal of time discussing this issue with students. Over the course of the semester, it becomes apparent that they have developed heightened consciousness of how and when they are or are not contributing to the common being that is the class. Given students’ all-too-common experiences with dull, uninspiring classes, it takes surprisingly little to impress on them the idea that excitement and stimulation increase in proportion of their active engagement.

2. “Love aims for the supersession of sex.”

GIven the ubiquitous equation of love with romantic love, hence with sex, this point bears repeating, this time as a positive value. “Love” as you are being asked to consider and practice it here, necessarily supplants sexual love. As Gilman-Opalsky puts it: “every durable being-together that supersedes sexual bodily pleasure is for love” (emphasis added). As an example, he notes that it is love that holds a relationship together long after sexual desire has waned. It is this quality or binder of togetherness that we are calling “love.”

3. “Love makes value beyond exchange value.”

In today’s university, it is, of course, impossible to disentangle ourselves from the capitalist logic of exchange value. What does it cost a student to sit in your classroom? A couple of thousand dollars? To attend your university? Tens of thousands? And what does the student receive in exchange? Knowledge? Well. In terms of the economic value that is bound up in a diploma, the answer is: credits. A credit is a kind of cryptocurrency whose value fluctuates with the reputation of the minting institution. (When I taught at an “elite” East Coast college years ago, students were up in arms because the college had fallen from #4 to #7 or something in one of the ranking guides. Students literally talked about this “decrease in value” using the language of the stock market. ) Educational practices that replicate this exchange mentality are, simply put, hateful. They reveal hostility toward the values that capitalism cannot commodify. The “value” you will be creating in your “little precarious commune,” then, is like that of friendship or of playing the piano in your living room or of spontaneously aiding a stranger in need. Its true value is impervious to economic exchange.

4. “Love is for health, yours and mine.”
5. “Love is for radical equality.”
6. “Love is for the creation of precarious little communes.”

Here’s what we are generating in our little precarious commune: open conversation; courageous dialogue; responsiveness; a sense of belonging; a relaxed atmosphere; engagement for the sake of others as well as for oneself; participation for the sake of learning and growth in of themselves; non-hierarchical relationships based not on titles and degrees but on on mutual respect and a desire to learn; a culture of self-care that is interdependent on the care of others and on the whole (Gemeinwesen); the creation of values that, like friendship, cannot be quantified or commodified. Just imagine such modes of being extrapolated out to the social-political whole. This is what health is, health for both the individual and for society.

7. “At a social level, love seeks the abolition of alienation.”

How might a professor actively seek an end to the sickening alienation that pervades the halls and classrooms of higher education today? And let’s be clear, we are not speaking here of a mere alienation for the products of our labor. We are speaking of a far-reaching alienation: alienation from one’s own passions and abilities (art, philosophy, etc., are too impractical!); students’ alienation from one another (the competitiveness inherent in grading); the professors’ alienation from students (egalitarianism is wholly inappropriate!); the class’s alienation from social reality (no politics!). Indeed, based on my own interactions with discipline-bound academics, I believe we can even speak of an alienation from creative thought itself.

Because love seeks the abolition of alienation, my recommendation for how to get going has proven as effective as it is simple: present these new classroom values to your students, and open a discussion about how to best realize them together. It really isn’t that hard. All it takes is love.

The Perverse and the Generic

The Perverse

Based on my personal observation, I think it’s generally fair to characterize the student-professor relationship in higher education as: perverted. I mean this in the sense of twisted, contorted, abnormal, corrupted. Picture an image in a hall of mirrors. That grotesque figure captures that of the generic person mutated into the institutional role-player. So, while the term perverse is typically used to name that which deviates from the norm, I am using it to name that which conforms to the norm—the norm, that is, of institutionalized education.

In How to Fix Education, I analyze this perverted relationship in terms of particular values found in our common neoliberal ideology. So, for instance, I consider perversion as the effect of economic and emotional vulnerability, the compulsion to be resilient, the manufactured stakes of disciplinary conformity, obedience to administrative authority, and the dual imperatives of affirmation and positivity. I also considered it through ideas found in Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, especially proposition #16:

The spectacle is able to subject human beings to itself because the economy has already totally subjugated them. It is nothing other than the economy developing for itself. It is at once a faithful reflection of the production of things and a distorting objectification of the producers.

In short, both the neoliberal and spectacle analyses place the drive of the perverted instructor-student relationship within unavoidable economic necessity. What is ultimately at stake for both figures is livelihood and survival. The subjugation referred to thus imperceptibly produces actual subjects, that of “instructor” and “student.” I assume that my readers know what these roles entail. But you may be less willing to admit that anything like perversion defines them.

Here, I’d only ask you to give thought to the effects of but one element on the human relationship between the student and the instructor: that of the contractual syllabus. (Let’s put aside the several pages of boilerplate concerning expectations and responsibilities, grading policies, university policies, and so on.) Consider: the syllabus’s smothering, spontaneity-killing semester-long work plan; its overdetermining rigidity; its top-down decision-making; its coerciveness via the threat of punishment (points deducted) and promise of a potential reward (a good grade); its final payoff in “credits earned,” a spectral value no more substantial than the shadiest crypto-currency. Add to this the fact that the form of the course syllabus is overdetermined by pre-established norms (originating when and where—medieval Europe?—and to what end—selection and control?). Let’s not forget, too, what is lost in this practice of syllabus creation, namely, the ideas and intelligence of the students. (You may think that this is an illegitimate point—what do students know?!—but I will argue precisely this point in a future point.)

Henry David Thoreau remarked that education makes a straight canal out of a meandering brook. The same is true for the syllabus. It forces a rigid trajectory that necessarily hinders the serendipity, surprise, and spontaneity that always unfold within, indeed, are definitive of, a genuine learning environment. The perverted effects of the overly-scripted, straight-jacketed feature of status quo education called the syllabus is compounded by many additional features, such as grading, assignments, percentages, rubrics, and exams. (Topics for future posts!)

As someone who has lived this scenario semester after semester for years, it could not be more plainly obvious to me that such practices twist, contort, and render impossible a genuine human relationship between student and instructor. Why? Because what inevitably ensues is, at best, a relationship based on power differentiation, competition and hierarchical ranking, coercive authoritarianism, the desire to please (both student and instructor get evaluated at the end of the semester). At worst, what ensues is a disingenuous relationship founded on mistrust, dishonesty, coercion, cheating, and trickery.

I am not speaking of trickery, etc., as an act committed only by the student. Both the student and the instructor, recall, are implicated in “the production” of this thing called the neoliberal classroom, and hence equally suffer the distorting objectification of the producers,” that is, of “student” and “instructor,” each playing their institutional role. Let’s be honest, how many assignments amount to mere tricks by the instructor to “get the student to do the reading”? And how much student cheating typically goes on, these days in particular, with the proliferation of term-paper factories and the easy Googling of exam answers?

Is this not a farce? None of this happens within the context of a genuine human relationship. A genuine human relationship is the very foundation for the creation of an education-rich environment, one where learning happens as a matter of course—no coercive assignments required! Without this basic condition being met, something is going on in the classroom (preparation for the capitalist juggernaut?), but it is not learning.

The Generic

I would like to present a resource that can help you think about how to create a more genuine relationship with those people whom, once they pass through the threshold into the classroom, we call students. The idea is the generic. Although I mean it in the technical sense derived from contemporary thinker François Laruelle (b. 1937), I stumbled on the basic reality behind the idea on my own.

When I was young, my mother, a therapist, had her private practice in our home. Fascinated, I would sometimes sit as near as I could to the door during a session. Because of the white noise machine, it was hard to make out what was being said. But I caught enough to have this realization: it’s just two people sitting in a room having a face-to-face conversation. Of course, behind this simple conversation lay a vast apparatus that potentially compromised that “just:” the social reputation of therapy and psychology; the thick cultural representations of “patient” and “therapist;” the American tyranny of positivity and paranoia of sadness; the necessity of advanced university degrees; the baroque Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; the capitalist imperative to “function” at all costs; the labyrinth of insurance companies and their categories for billing, and so on. All of these elements increase the likelihood that the genuine relationship between two people sitting in a room having a face-to-face conversation contorts into the perverse one of “therapist” and “patient/client.” I’m sure my readers can imagine the pretensions, strain, and role-playing involved in the latter. My mother, by contrast, maintained the primacy of generic human dialogue. The result was that she had a widespread reputation as a uniquely gifted “therapist,” one who deeply affected the lives of others.

So, how does any of this amount to a resource for educators? The basic idea is this: a necessary condition for a genuine educational environment is for “instructor” and “student” to operate as generic humans. In simple language, if you want learning to happen, you have to trash your expensive institutional masquerades.

The terms genuine and generic are related. Each derives from the Proto-Indo-European root *gene-, “to give birth, to beget, to produce.” Derived from the Latin  genuinus, English genuine has the additional connotation of “natural, not acquired.” And, derived from Latin genus, English generic additionally implies “not special.”

A pharmacological example presents itself. Like the considerably less expensive generic allergy medicine at the pharmacy (which, recall, has the exact same active ingredient as the expensive brand version), a genuine relationship is one whose cost is minimized. How? Because it has been stripped of the cost-bearing additives of display, hype, branding, aggrandizement, fantasy, etc. Such additives are not only wholly superfluous to the goal at hand, they are perverting. They mutate the product out of its “natural” element (as basic remedy) into a kind of fetishized object (as magical medicinal cure), and, in so doing, they serve to corrupt consumers, and their wallets, via the illusion of added value.

What might the additives be that “the instructor” brings to the classroom? (Maybe: authoritarian, managerial, unassailable expert, one who knows best, person in charge, etc?) What are the additives that accrue to “students” once they pass the threshold into the classroom? (Maybe: immature, uninterested, concerned only with a good grade, knows little, even ignorant, etc?) I believe that, whatever they are, these superfluous qualities will be largely invisible. They are invisible because they appear to us as natural and inevitable—that’s what a teacher is! that’s obviously true about a student! They are hallucinations rendered real through representation, social agreement, and repetition.

From the perspective of the generic, instructor and students are just people in a room discussing x-material. With this view in mind, imagine one of those people lecturing all the others for, say, an hour and a half. Imagine one of them so utterly dominating the course of things that all the others stop even trying to speak up, or, indeed, to think at all (much less offer criticisms and counterpoints). Imagine virtually all of those people becoming bored by the semester-long exercise, so bored that they become disinterested and disengaged, and must resort to trickery to endure. A farce, don’t you think?

I mentioned the thinker François Laruelle. Though devoted to issues closer to philosophy, religion, aesthetics, and politics, Laruelle’s thought, I believe, has much to offer an anarchist conception of education. His idea of the generic, for instance, asks us to empty out the overdetermining universalized forces at work in the figures of “instructor” and “student.” What makes such a move essential is the fact that “the generic is capable of supporting a multiplicity of heterogeneous acts or predicates.” That is, on the basis on the mere human being or person we might hoist a para-infinite number of potential predicates, for instance, those many representations that characterize “teacher” and “student.”

All evidence points to the fact that, in social relations, the arising of representations is inevitable. This fact does not invalidate the generic stance. On the contrary, it makes it all the more necessary. For while “the generic is endowed with extension“—that is, with infinite potential descriptorsit is ultimately “without totality or singularity, thus underdetermined, non-absolute.” (François Laruelle, from The Generic Orientation of Non-Standard Aesthetics.)

So, the next time the distorting specters of “professor” and “student” loom in a learning relation, revert to the generic. I predict that something wonderful, something genuine, will be emerge. The only price to pay is that you, the professor or teacher or instructor, become nothing special.

Utopia and Hope

Despite the brutalist Soviet-era images it evokes, the term “concrete utopia” has nothing to do with architecture. Rather, it names an organizational process. It makes an intentional play on the term from which “concrete” the Latin concrescere, “to grow together,” originates. As the standard connotation of concrete as solid, actual, real indicates, concrete utopia signifies a material growth, or a growth with and out of our present material conditions. For this reason, it is to be distinguished from the idealized utopias found in literature, beginning with Thomas More’s Utopia. “Concrete utopia,” by contrast, is a dynamic practice that “contains within it the forward surge of an achievement which can be anticipated.”


Simone Weil: Attention as Generosity

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.

Simone Weil (1909-1943; pronounced vay) was an extraordinary person. If you do not know her life story, I highly recommend watching Julia Haslett’s moving and deeply personal movie, “An Encounter with Simone Weil” (at the bottom of this post). The movie opens with the filmmaker channelling Weil to ask, “What response does seeing human suffering demand of us?”


Judith Suissa: Anarchism and Education

My decision to go public as an anarchist educator was catalyzed by reading Judith Suissa’s book Anarchism and Education: A Philosophical Perspective in 2006. Reading this book made me realize to what a profound extent I had been formed at the anarchist free school I attended as a young man. Page after page, the book vividly reminded me of the values that, it turned out, would so form me as an educator as well. So, I am deeply grateful to her. You can order this wonderful book directly from PM Press.

The Higher Education Review writes:



Change life! Change society! These precepts mean nothing without the production of an appropriate space…New social relationships call for a new space, and vice versa. —Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space

This blog aims to be a resource for educators who desire to realize a new space within their very classrooms. The new educational space that is envisioned and fostered here is one of intelligence, creativity, justice, inclusion, courage, openness, and, perhaps most importantly, equality. It is a space, moreover, that consciously extends out into life and society.