what future for education: on trust, protection, and community

This video was created for
– Coursera’s “What Future for Education,” a reflective and open-ended application of online learning technology,
– the “Free/Libre Technologies, Arts, and the Commons Unconference,”by the University of Nicosia and hack66, an event that investigates the political need to think, learn, and collaborate outside of  typical academic, creative, and community limitations and formats,
– the School of TropicalBurn Brasil 2019, an event where people gather to build a temporary community based on principles of gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy.

With this I put forward my priorities or the conclusions of my effort to preserve my child’s “happiness in learning” or his delight in the world. These priorities build on work that is critically deconstructive of schooling while it also demonstrates what I think of as a radical sort of “kindness”.

I wish to put forward three key ideas as priorities in how we might re-conceive of schooling:

The first idea is the importance of trust towards learning as a natural process: a free process, without need for intervention, where all we need to do is what Ken Robinson calls ‘climate control’[1] or a kind of protection.

This is the second key idea. Protection of a kind approach to learning: protection from unnecessary limitations or warnings, from frameworks that are closed-ended or anxious, or fearful. Protection from misguidance, from “testing,” from undue comparison, from the stresses that characterise a lot of contemporary education.[2]

The third key idea is integration in community. The need for a view of education as part of life, as embedded rather than distinct, as continuous rather than walled off in purpose-built secure locations. Silvia Federici gives a meaningful example about a community of women called Mujeres Creando in Bolivia who started with a kindergarten: They developed a practice of daycare that went against the model of “parking” our children while we go to work.[3] This reveals how the dominant segregation between the working life of adults and the learning life of children, is a side-effect of lifestyles and labour conditions that go against our instinct to protect and guide new generations towards the common good, or to give them the tools for their own quests towards such a good, or indeed trust them to freely find their own tools.

Applying trust, protection, and community integration could be part of what Robinson calls a *necessary revolution in education. And further yet, they could be part of what Federici argues is our duty of resistance. She argues that education, health, and war, are all connected battlefields, and that we need to bring these struggles together and transform communities of reproduction into communities of resistance: “to reconstruct society, … to construct new forms of being, new structures – even if they are small.”[4]  

I would like to connect this with the work of Anne Pirrie that exemplifies with humour, this type of trust, protection and kindness in education, by zooming in on the dominant values in the academic community. Pirrie performs a beautiful regrounding, or a philosophy of the virtues of the university, while keeping its limitations in sight. Pirrie is interested in what our current education system leaves out, and works to “provide scope for dimensions of life that are frequently suppressed in the quest for a convincing, consistent and comprehensive ‘grand narrative’ rooted in a particular disciplinary tradition or professional practice.” She “calls for an alternative aesthetic of academic practice, one that foregrounds lived experience,” and she encourages the celebration of alternative ‘epistemic virtues’.[5] Perhaps of the kind explored by the one year old in this video..

To conclude, my aim with this video is to add my voice to a growing movement that struggles to apply what we have learned about learning as a primarily fluid, independent, community activity. And to apply what we have learned about learning as something that happens best beyond enclosures in terms of walls or paywalls, and that requires trust, protection, and working together with those around us in radically meaningful ways, through the formation of new kinds of co-ops, new kinds of socially engaged apprenticeships, or informal systems of peer to peer learning, and so on.

There’s a lot more to be said regarding the idea of a necessary revolution or resistance in connection to the need to reclaim the university, and by extension to reclaim the educational system as fundamental commons. One that needs to radically re-engage with our lived experiences, and community needs.

This is certainly a tall order and an intimidating task. But at the same time we are no doubt surrounded by the most wonderful examples of best practices that we could hope for. And we can trust that we are already equipped with the best of tools to approach and realise this future for education, perhaps as beautifully and simply as a one year old teaching himself basic motor skills through play with leaves and sticks.



[1] I am referring, in the first instance, to what Ken Robinson describes as a necessary revolution, of moving from the factory model of education to one that offers institutional or policy respect and, protection perhaps, for the conditions under which humans are ‘free to learn’. A model that is more organic and positive in its recognition that learning is a default, non linear, organic process, that is too easily stifled by structures that attempt to command and control.

[2] This has to do with an idea I encountered in the work of Ina May Gaskin: in order to labour with the best chances to deliver a healthy baby, what a woman needs most of all, is not medical supervision or checks, as the very presence of the medical gaze can cause delay and thus complications, nor does she need ‘support’ which denotes that she may be incapable or lacking in her own ability or in her nature to do what must be done. Instead what she needs is protection. She must feel safe, she needs protection from fears, stresses, and influences that would have her question that she is capable, whole, and perfect in her labour.

[3] According to Federici, Mujeres Creando questioned the dominant practice of ‘parking’ our children in order to get to our ‘real’ work, with the awareness that this is about raising a new generation. It therefore becomes appropriate for all of us to ask questions like “what do we want the children to learn? How do we want them to relate to each other?” She describes how this questioning of daycare or the early function of showing ‘the ropes’ to our young, so to speak, led Mujeres Creando into community discussion and mobilisation about childhood that lead into a community restaurant and a meeting place for archives and cultural activities.

[4] An article written by Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis entitled “Notes on the edu–factory and Cognitive Capitalism” (2007; in EIPCP – Transversal) addresses the role of the university as “a key space of conflict, where the ownership of knowledge, the reproduction of the labour force, and the creation of social and cultural stratifications are all at stake [and] a crucial site in which wider social struggles are won and lost.” Federici and Caffetzis bring up how the university -and, by extension, the education system- plays a part in the military-industrial complex, and discuss the “strategic role of knowledge in the production system in a context in which the “enclosure” of knowledge (its privatization, commodification, expropriation throughthe intellectual property regimes) is a pillar of economic restructuring.”

[5] In her book entitled “Virtue and the Quiet Art of Scholarship” (2018) Pirrie discusses alternatives to the dominant conceptualisation of scholarly work, and of education more broadly, as the pursuit of goods like ‘knowledge, truth, and understanding’ (p.7). In one instance, she suggests, after Italo Calvino’s take on literature, that a conceptualisation of scholarly work in celebration of ‘lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility and multiplicity’ can help in the defense of the ‘quiet art of scholarship’ and towards ‘reclaiming the university’ from the privatising forces and the managerial culture that are breeding competitive and exploitative academic environments.

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