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Practice What You Teach Facilitating Anarchism in and Out of the Classroom

Practice What You Teach Facilitating Anarchism in and Out of the Classroom

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Practice what you TeachL Facilitating Anarchism In and Out of the Classroom
Practice what you TeachL Facilitating Anarchism In and Out of the Classroom

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Published by: Radical Geography Weekly on Oct 17, 2012
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11/25/2012

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Practice What You Teach:Facilitating Anarchism In and Outof the Classroom
Farhang Rouhani
Department of Geography, University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, VA, USA;frouhani@umw.edu 
Abstract:
In recent years, human geographers have criticized the increasingcorporatization, commodification, and objectification of knowledge production, and havelooked to critical pedagogical frameworks that seek to counteract these forces. Anarchism,as a body of theories and practices, has a long history of engagement with radicalpedagogical experimentation. Anarchism and geography have much to contribute toone another: anarchism, through its support for creative, non-coercive, practical learningspaces, and geography, for its critical examination of the spaces of education. In thispaper, I evaluate the prospects for anarchist-geographic pedagogies theoretically, aswell as through my own experiences teaching and learning about anarchism over thepast decade in a liberal arts, higher education US environment. I argue for a combinedcritical anarchist-geographic pedagogical approach that appreciates the challenges of building alternative learning models within existing neoliberalizing institutions, providesthe necessary tools for finding uniquely situated opportunities for educational change, andemplaces a grounded, liberating, student-led critical pedagogy.
Keywords:
critical pedagogy, radical geography, anarchism, education
Critical Pedagogy and Radical Geography
The set of approaches referred to as critical pedagogy have significantly expandedpossibilities for critical thinking by critiquing objectivist accounts of learners andthe world in which they live and questioning the status quo of pedagogic power relations (Freire 1970; Giroux 1997; hooks 1994). Instead, supporters of criticalpedagogy view education as a political act that can empower all agents involved,encourage social activism, challenge social problems and repressive ideologies, andcreate the conditions for participatory, public democracy (McLaren 1998; Kincheloe2008). Approaches to critical pedagogy are not uniform, however. McLaren, for example, argues that they have become tempered and domesticated over the yearsand argues for a re-revolutionized critical pedagogy that stresses the continuitiesin capitalist exploitation and seeks to create spaces “where students can imagine adifferent world outside capitalism’s law of valueand “where [they] can learn, andlearn from their learning” in individually and socially transformative ways (McLaren2008:477, 478).In the past two decades, radical geographers have turned to critical pedagogy,especially by means of feminist, poststructural, and postcolonial perspectives onteaching that critique binaries in knowledge production, rethink traditionalist
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models in inventive ways, develop new models of learning that do not simplyadd new people and places into old ways of learning, and move beyond thediscrete portioning of the world into places and regions. In the process, they havetransformed how we think, teach, and learn in ways that stress the significanceof the classroom as a socially transformative space and assert the urgency of critical pedagogy under conditions of neoliberalization. While influenced heavily bycritical pedagogy, this work is also configured within the post-1968 radicalization of geography and the desire among some scholars to integrate teaching, research,and activism. Rich Heyman, for example, frames his call to geographers foapproaching the classroom as a site for social action within a discussion of theDetroit Geographical Expedition and Institute’s radical pedagogy (Heyman 2007;also see Merrifield 1995). While providing wider access to knowledge productionwas central to the institute’s goals, Heyman argues that geographers tend to ignorethis pedagogical aspect in favor of an emphasis on its radical research methods.This leads him to a wider argument of how radical geography continues to neglectteachingasapartofasociallytransformativepraxis,evenwhilecritiquingthefailuresof traditional pedagogies.The Autonomous Geographies Collective identifies a connection between thisavoidance and the emergence of a false dichotomy between academics andwider society (2010). Even in more radical forms of participatory research thatperceive knowledge production and research to be deeply interconnected, scholarsemphasize the need to go “beyond the classroom” in ways that reify the classroomand “the outside” as separate spaces. Such a perspective does not consider thecritical ways in which the classroom itself can be a location of participatory politicalaction (Heyman 2007). In considering the role of participatory practices in learningspaces, Kye Askins, for example, concludes that such an approach enables studentsto engage with research ethics as social relations and to deconstruct the boundariesbetween spaces of learning and spaces of research (Askins 2008). The work of thesescholars seeks to compel radical geographers to take the politically transformativepower of pedagogical spaces seriously. A connected critique concerns the “ivory tower syndrome” of identifying theuniversity and research as separate sets of spaces. This syndrome has curtailedthe development of action-oriented research on the neoliberalizing university andits related education systems (Autonomous Geographies Collective 2010). Whilethe corporatization, neoliberalization, and clientelization of education spaces havereceived some attention, Castree argues that our focus on “out there” has preventedus from critically considering what goes on “in here” (Castree 1999, 2000). Giventhe contested, dynamic processes of change within the university, activist teachingspaces deserve renewed critical attention (Heyman 2000). We need to theorizea pedagogy capable of counteracting these trends. In this context, Kirsch urgesus to view “the university as a site for different kinds of production, while atthe same time remaining a viable, albeit circumscribed, public space open toheterogeneous educational practices and critical perspectives.” (Kirsch 2000:3) JohnKitchens’ notion of “situated pedagogy” is useful here (Kitchens 2009). He arguesthat current trends in education, especially the persistent demands for universal,standardized information and knowledge delivery systems, have led to the pervasive
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problem of a pedagogy of placelessness. If we define “place” in human geographicterms through characteristics that foster senses of attachment, belonging, anduniqueness in particular, material locations, then these systems can have the effectof erasing some of those characteristics. Instead, Kitchens looks to the SituationistInternational for inspiration in creating a place-based curriculum that connects theeveryday lives of students to modes of self and social transformation. In this way, hisconcern is not simply for students and teachers to feel a sense of place again,but to gain that sense in a politically empowering way. “A situated pedagogyattends to place, not only as the focus of student inquiry or academic study, butas the spaces for performative action, intervention, and perhaps transformation”(Kitchens 2009:240). Geographers have been talking for decades about how “placematters”; now, in this time of neoliberalization and its effects, we specifically needto appreciate how the places of teaching and learning matter as well.In sum, radical geography can draw from an extensive, critical toolkit founderstanding the effects of neoliberalization on places of education and how theseeffects can be fought. Such a move requires critical attention to the false separationofteachingandresearch,bringinganendtothevalorizationofresearchasasuperio form of activism to teaching, and a much more extensive engagement with theclassroom as a socially transformative place. While rich in theoretical development,discussions of pedagogy in geography, with a few exceptions, tend to be abstract,underdeveloped, and not particularly imaginative when it comes to the practices of teaching. For insight into the practical, creative, liberatory possibilities, geographerscan draw inspiration from the long history of anarchist perspectives on education. While much of the work of anarchists, like much of the work in critical pedagogy,is focused on elementary and secondary education, it can be adapted in the higher education context.
Anarchism, Pedagogy, and Possibilities
 Anarchist pedagogies actively seek out possibilities for new and different ways of learning and relating to others (Suissa 2010). This initial refusal to settle for existinginstitutional arrangements is, in itself, an essential difference that anarchism makesin education. Armaline identifies three characteristics for an anarchist approachto pedagogy: an approach to truth and knowledge production that is humble innature,thecreationofspacesforthedeconstructionofoppressivesystems,practices,and ideologies in favor of horizontal ones, and an understanding of everyone ascapable of curiosity, learning, teaching, and creation (Armaline 2009:139). Humilityisessentialtoenableustotalkopenly,honestly,andreflectivelyaboutthelimitationsof the spaces and roles we occupy, and the complexities inherent in any projectof trying to create a new world in the space of a hierarchically organized, oftenoppressive institution. Shannon, for example, states that “it does no good to ignorethe fact that careers are sometimes built out of radical politics
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” and so to admitto our own self-interest and the nature of our work adds possibilities for reflectionand knowledge-building in the classroom (Shannon 2009:185). Second, in relationto the analysis of power relations, Suissa writes that “we must question the verypolitical framework within which we are operating, ask what kind of society would
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