Over the past month we’ve been reading We Make the Road By Walking. A bunch of us have been discussing it through blog posts here, on other folks’ blogs, on Twitter, through Google Docs, hacked images, data visualizations, and a meetup. This book club has worked through a very rich text and responded with ferocious thoughtfulness and creativity.
Here I’d like to reflect a bit further on the book and our collective reading experience.
You can read previous blog posts and comments discussing chapters 1-2, 3, 4, 5-6. There are also two posts exploring the book club’s creations: 1, 2. Here, too, is the post describing the reading’s plan, which we’ve actually followed.
- The book club dynamo
Before I go further, let me mention and link to the continuing creative and analytical work people have been doing.
Blogging: Alan Levine wrote about Road in the context of his year in reading. Grant Potter picked out great passages from chapters 3-6. Ken Bauer described teaching in a way that gives students more voice.
Adam Croom and Amy Collier created a joint, conversational piece inspired by the book’s design.
We had our first Horton/Freire meetup. Ken Bauer, G perales A, a third person whose name I sadly did not catch, and myself met in Mexico City, on that vast urban area’s Tecnológico de Monterrey campus. Here’s some photographic evidence:
Autumm Caines did some social network analysis on our readers and their interactions:
Once more, I’m astonished at this cMOOC-like, constructive experience.
2. One theme which resonates with me
Many concepts in We Make the Road appealed to me, from the small-d democratic politics to its internationalism. One in particular resonated, its anti-authoritarianism.
I don’t think I’ve blogged very much about my teaching experience. Maybe I should redress that in 2017. One aspect of my philosophy and practice was, is, always a commitment to anti-authoritarian pedagogy.
This comes from years of studying anarchism and other anti-authoritarian politics. Starting as a teenager I read and discussed with like-minded souls Bakunin, Stirner, Proudhon, Godwin, Kropotkin, Goldman, Bookchin, Bob Black, Ursula LeGuin, and Hakim Bey. Anarcho-syndicalism, mutual aid, libertarianism, anarcho-individualism, deep ecology, the Marxist-anarchist split: all of that and more, as they day. In 1989-1990 I did my undergraduate honor’s thesis on anarchist historiography. Opposing hierarchy made sense to my rebellious mind, not just because I was a teenager under Reagan and hung out with punks, but also because I thought people would be more creative and have richer lives the freer they were from authorities.
As I got older my interest deepened and remained. In the 1990s my wife and I participated in a great anarchist/ecological discussion group in Ann Arbor. I started teaching as a grad student, and explored ways of reducing my classroom authority: ceding lectures to discussion, letting students pick parts of the syllabus, students assessing each other’s work. I remember vividly being fiercely criticized by a professor who insisted that the instructor’s job was to build and extend, not reduce, their authority, and the ways she responded to my defenses. For me the crucial thing was for students to seize their learning and own it.
As a professor I continued this semi-anarchist pedagogical praxis, continuing the approaches I’d developed as a grad student, while also trying out new methods, like getting my first-year writing students to collaboratively write a composition textbook. I was fond of creating environments for them to explore, such as a simulation game, chat rooms, discussion boards, virtual spaces, and a mock-Gothic online space. Increasingly I listened to students to learn about their literacy and historical understanding before I began teaching, giving them space in the classroom and better informing my ability to connect with them. This is when I fell in with information literacy, and admired the approach for (among other reasons) the way it emphasized individual rather than institutional autonomy. This is when I really dove into technology in general, looking for further ways to bypass hierarchy and support learners and their self-organizing powers. And this shaped my politics, like celebrating people’s ability to self-organize in the face of disasters (cf Rebecca Solnit’s criminally underappreciated book).
When I left full-time teaching in 2002 to work in emerging technologies and the future of education… ah, the anti-authoritarian dimension of this is subject for a post on its own.
Having this background has made working within hierarchies, such as school boards, company boards, nonprofit organizations, and associations… interesting.
Now readers can see why Horton and Freire made to much sense to me. Their passionate efforts to listen to students, to help learners control their learning, to empower rather than discipline learners, to help support communities apart from state hierarchies – all of this was gold for me. How to sort out authority from authoritarianism (61-2, for example, or 186-8) is a classic problem, and I appreciated the educators’ insights from their experience.
This doesn’t play out simply in 2016, however. In the United States the stature of educators had taken hits, from anti-union activity in blue and red states to academia’s decision to turn the mass of faculty into adjuncts. It’s possible that an anti-expert feeling rising with Trump’s election victory will build hostility to teachers.
I don’t know how this will appear in the classroom, be it face-to-face or virtual. I do distinguish between the cultural and political status of teachers in a nation and the tactics of teaching. While the two overlap, they don’t equal each other. We should be able to grow instructors’ respect and cultural presence while also working towards anti-authoritarian pedagogy.
There’s a lot more to say along these lines, and I have a sequel post about Horton and Freire for the future, but will stop now in the interest of time. What did you make of the book’s discussion of instructors’ authority?