Anarchist Reading Group #2 write up

London Anarchist Federation held their second reading group looking on anarchism and education.  We read: Colin Ward, Schools no longer, Judith Suissa, Anarchism goes to school, Jeffery Shantz, Learning to Win: Anarchist Infrastructures of Resistance, Justin Mueller, Anarchism, the State, and the Role of Education.

Below we present some of the talking points during the discussion, hastily jotted down as notes by one of our members.


The talk was roughly split into two parts: the first where we talked about union/community education discussed in Shantz’ piece and the second where we discussed education of children.

Part 1

Shantz seems to be nostalgic for an earlier time of union organising where everyone had one boss, one workplace. The world simply isn’t like this anymore. His suggestions on the need to include non-workers, non-union members etc are valid and seem to fit with what Unite are doing with community memberships. He seems to focus on space at the expense of any online organising- is he being optimistic in how well groups using the same space will cross-pollinate? Where do you draw the line on groups you’ll share space with?

The idea of structures of resistance that the community can go to with their problems and which achieve ‘small victories’ seems to be what SolFed are working towards with their pickets of landlords and employers. Utopia is indeed far off so we do need to be reminded what it’s like to win. Similarly, these types of project are good at developing a collective memory of how to organise and past victories.

Part 2

School is an efficiency machine for capital- it allows workers to be at producing for the boss rather than looking after kids. What would an anarchist syllabus look like? Even if directed by the child would we need to establish what is worthwhile? Hierarchy of knowledge seems unavoidable (In the matter of boots, I defer to the authority of the bootmaker: Bakunin), however we need to be careful that this is not abused and methods and knowledge are still questioned. Perhaps all we can say is that educating to question and challenge authority is all we can do for certain. Ivan Illich proposed that we should get rid of the school altogether and instead rely on learning webs, apprenticeships and the like. Is this desirable or is there still a role for the teacher as facilitator and the school as a physical place (albeit open to the community)?

If we opened an anarchist school tomorrow, who would come? Would it be working class people or those who have a safety net so are not so worried about getting qualifications for jobs? Ideally we would not be teaching to A-Levels and uni entrance exams, but if we gave this up would that change who came even further? The Social Science Centre in Lincoln is accrediting degrees in an experiment of free education which is self-directed. This could be a model to follow.

We agree that better ratios of students to teachers and the encouragement of independent and critical thinking are important- is this not what UK public schools do? (Yes, says the bloke who went to one- except they also tell you that you are born to rule and encourage upper-class solidarity) So perhaps we need Eton but with working-class solidarity and a focus on mutual aid rather than competition.

Practical examples- Freire and critical pedagogies, feminist consciousness raising (although not necessarily anarchist). Both to an extent have been forgotten but were huge in their day- another lost memory of a victory? The Antiuniversity in London is a good example of anarchist educational organising but is only one week a year- the time and money required to actually run a school are so vast the only groups capable outside the state are likely the bigger unions and the church. There is a risk of recuperation once they’re running and need money to stay afloat (Red University in Germany relies on big pharma now). Perhaps simple ways forward are to focus on books that can change how students operate in the current system (Little Red School Book- anarcho version?) and kids’ books which challenge the dominant ideology.


Reading group will continue on the 3rd Tuesday of each month (17th July), 7pm Freedom Bookshop. Details of the next text to follow.

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