Friday, April 11, 2014

Teaching: an anarchist perspective

A question received via email:

"I am currently struggling with how to develop thoughtful activities that promote the ideas of anarchism for not only our son but the community that I serve of children and families. How do you manage to find balance between all the ec pedagogues in your work and with your children?"

In Aotearoa we are fortunate to have a national curriculum that is built upon a Māori worldview - so it's already challenging dominant western ideas right from the word go - with a framework that allows for a myriad of interpretations as to how these are reflected in practice.

The title, Te Whāriki, refers to a woven mat and is meant to represent the holistic way children learn. We have the overarching Principles: Empowerment, Holistic Development, Family and Community and Relationships.

These are then woven with the 'Strands': Well-being, Belonging, Contribution, Communication, and Exploration.

Within each of these there are goals to guide our practice that range from "an ability to determine their own actions and make their own choices" to "the ability to enquire, research, explore, generate, and modify their own working theories about the natural, social, physical and material worlds."

So for a Western curriculum, it's foundered on some great ideas! The key factor in turning all these fluffy left-wing platitudes (as the authors were) into practice that is more radical in its intent, is that the document is descriptive and really offers no 'how to' advice, but instead relies on individual interpretation. This is a double edge sword of course as it relies on teachers personal discourses etc to shape the outcome - and there is talk of the neoliberal Govt (1980's) at the time accepting it because they believed that their neoliberal rhetoric was now strong enough within society to covertly determine how the curriculum looked in practice. (They still fight today to get it more prescriptive and more defined in its intentions (esp numeracy and literacy) as lefty teachers continue to spin it their way).

So as an anarchist I'm fortunate to have such a guiding document (which is a legal requirement of all licensed centres) that allows me to flavour it my way - to "reflect the local community context" as they say.

From this base it's simply a matter of adding on those pedagogical extras to fine-tune the curriculum - hehe.

Emmi Pikler and her 'freedom of movement' philosophy draw upon people like Tolstoy, Francesco Ferrer's Modern Schools, and other European educationalists (esp the anarchists) with their radical notions on the rights of the child.

This 'image of the child' as a competent leader of their own learning who is living in the 'now' rather than preparing for some distant goal like school is now widely accepted in Aotearoa. Children are seen as equals with the same rights as adults to determine what happens to them.

I also draw heavily from the Reggio Emilia approach which was born out of opposition to Fascism and is again a coming together of radical ideas about the image of the child and their rights as an equal member in society. They build on these foundations with there enquiry/project approach to learning. It's highly critical and promotes observation, hypothesing, reflection, re-representation, and that the 'hundred languages' of a child are valid and to be respected.

For me, widely respected and accepted ECE Pedagogies such as these which are empowering, liberating, child and community centred are further supported by educational luminaries such as John Holt, Matt Hern, Ivan Illich etc who all offer radical new thinking to how children learn, and how we as teachers can help this process.

So building a working pedagogical base for my practice as an anarchist teacher is not really that difficult. At the core: I always promote the notion of interdependence over independence (a powerful western neoliberal concept if there ever was) and always include cooperative work/activities/challenges that get children working/playing in groups with problems to solve.

To argue for this approach pedagogically I draw upon Vygotsky and the ZPD ideas - we learn so much more with the help of another.

Art is an area where it is shown that working in small groups is one of the best working environments to learn. We talk, share ideas, model skills, copy, modify, refine, reflect etc in a manner that truly reflects the ideas of socio-constructivist thinkers - have a read of 'Why Art' on this blog. Art should be at the heart of your centre.

Caring for the environment, growing and preparing food, maintenance, art, tidying, recycling, up-cycling, music, dance, conversation etc are all core activities to be a member of society and are things I model all the time. I give my time, my energy, my heart ... freely to the children.... our relationships are unconditional.

Steiner (a nutcase and dodgy in all sort of areas) talks about this 'good work' and this type of being with children. We are not 'teaching' but being with them as guides, mentors, facilitators, memory-banks...

Anarchism is all about relationships - respectful, reciprocal, honest and real. That's easy. Teaching as an anarchist does not require any extra effort - it's simply what I've come to expect in my world.

Dealing with management however requires a little more effort...

I hope this has been of some help! Feel free to ask me to expand on any ideas.


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