Title: “Anarchism … is a living force within our life …” Anarchism, Education and Alternative Possibilities
Subtitle: Educational Studies, Volume 48, Issue 1 (2012)
Date: 2012
Source: Retrieved on 2020-12-11 from https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/heds20/48/1
DOI: 10.1080/00131946.2012.641847
DOI: 10.1080/00131946.2012.641849
DOI: 10.1080/00131946.2011.637258
DOI: 10.1080/00131946.2011.637259
DOI: 10.1080/00131946.2011.637256
DOI: 10.1080/00131946.2011.637261
DOI: 10.1080/00131946.2011.637257
DOI: 10.1080/00131946.2012.641873
DOI: 10.1080/00131946.2012.641875
DOI: 10.1080/00131946.2012.642283

  Editor’s Corner

    “All this Boundless Multitude:” Rereading Mikahail Bakunin for EcoJustice Education


  Guest Editor’s Introduction

    “Anarchism…is a living force within our life…” Anarchism, Education and Alternative Possibilities

      Anarchists resist hierarchical orderings and arrangements

      Anarchists Seek to Subvert Authority Through Direct Action

      Anarchism has addressed the formation of identities and subjectivities

      Anarchists have engaged education and helped rethink educational/pedagogical/curricular realities

      Anarchism is unapologetically utopian and rooted in a collective social imagination

      In this issue



    Loving-Teaching: Notes for Queering Anarchist Pedagogies



      A note on methodology

      Queering Anarchism

      Queering Anarchist Pedagogies

      From Recruitment to Connection



    “We Teach All Hearts to Break”: On the Incompatibility of Education with Schooling at All Levels, and the Renewed Need for a De-Schooling of Society



      Schooling the Proletariat: Mass Production Demands a Better Skilled Workforce

      You Want Me to Wear More Flair? Emotional and Affective Labor and The Manufacture of “Transferable Skills” for Work

      Communizing Knowledge is to Overwhelm the Limits of its Enclosure—Contesting Knowledge in the UK Academy


    In Defense of Mathematics and its Place in Anarchist Education



      Antianarchist Mathematical Activities in Society

      Antianarchist Activities in Mainstream and Marxist Math Education

      Defining Anarchist Math Education

      Mathematics’ Role in Anarchist Society


    “Love and Rage” in the Classroom: Planting the Seeds of Community Empowerment


      Anarchisms: A Brief Overview

      “Rage” and the Demonstration of a Just Society

      “Love” and the Construction of the “Fully Liberated Self”

      Religion, Spirituality, and the “Fully Liberated Self”

      Ending Our Imprisonment Using Love/Rage

      Education and Anarchism

        Out of Anarchist Theory and Into Practice: Challenging the Structures of Formal Schooling

        Out of Anarchist Theory and Into Practice: Challenging the Curricula and Pedagogies of Formal Schooling

        An Anarchist Pedagogy in Contemporary US Schools

        Contemporary Anarchist Educators: Connecting to Ecology

        Contemporary Anarchist Educators: Connecting to Spirituality

        Example of Anarchist Teaching/Learning in the Public School Classroom



    Anarchist, Neoliberal, & Democratic Decision-Making: Deepening the Joy in Learning and Teaching




      Democracy and Inequality?

      Differences in Anarchist and Neoliberal Ideological Frameworks

      Anarchism and Deep Democracy

        A More Equal Distribution of Resources

        Each Person Directly Participates in Decisions Affecting Her or His Life (Autonomy)

        Authentic Communication

        Celebrating the Joyful Exercise of Each Person’s Creative Individuality

        Promoting Love, Care, and Respect of Others

      Neoliberalism is Antithetical to the Essential Characteristics of Deep Democracy

        Double-Speak and Obfuscating Communication

        Refutes an Equal Distribution of Educational Resources

        Abrogates the Autonomy of Students, Parents, and Teachers

        NCLB Opposes Students’ Unique Exercise of Creative Individuality

        NCLB Inhibits the Development of Love, Respect and Care of Others

      An Anarchist Guide for Educational Decision-Making

        Anarchist Educational Decision-Making Guidelines

        Students, Parents, and Teachers, as Educational Decision-Makers

        Why Limit the School to 300 in the Geographic Area?

        Failed Attempts at Integrating Parents Into School Decision-Making

        Schools are ‘Doing Their Own Thing’: How Will Society Hold Together?



  Book Reviews

    A Review of “Contemporary Anarchist Studies: An Introductory Anthology of Anarchy in the Academy”


    A Review of “Anarchism and Education: A Philosophical Perspective”


    Time Exposure

Editor’s Corner

“All this Boundless Multitude:” Rereading Mikahail Bakunin for EcoJustice Education

Rebecca A. Martusewicz

One hundred thirty years ago or so, my great-grandfather, an employee in this country’s booming logging industry, was helping to wipe out the great pines in the northern Midwest of the United States to re-build Chicago. To accomplish this feat in Northern Michigan, the government first had to dispossess the Ojibwe tribes of their relationship to the land and rivers that they had depended upon for centuries, sending them to live on reservations, never to provide for their families in the same way again. It took a mere thirty years to completely wipe out those ancient forests. Imagine what it must have been like for the native people to experience such massive destruction of the rich living world they had lived within. Today you can still see the effects of my grandfather’s work north of Grayling, MI, where fields of stumps preserved by their own pine pitch stretch out like graveyards, stark reminders of what this modern industrial culture is capable of.

Around this same time during the nineteenth century, Karl Marx and others were developing an important critique of the processes of industrialization enslaving the lives of masses of people in Europe laboring under the relatively new mantel of capitalist ideology. A critical historical crossroads was unfolding.

Mikhail Bakunin, a Russian exile, was also working to arouse in the hearts and minds of the workers of Europe the desire and means with which to oppose the conditions of developing capital and the authoritarian cultural forms associated with it. Often referred to as the father of collectivist socialism or anarchism, Bakunin was both a colleague and major rival of Marx in this struggle. Although he considered himself a student of Marx’s economic analysis, the major reason for their rivalry was Bakunin’s critique of what he believed to be a fundamental authoritarianism in both Marx’s ideas and the bureaucratic organization of which he was the leader. Bakunin believed that all authority and hierarchy in human social life, no matter what the size of the organization in question, but especially that claimed by the State and including the so-called “dictatorship of the proletariat,” amounted to a fundamental assault on human liberty and on what he called the “natural laws” underlying its possibility.

I have been particularly interested in Bakunin because, challenging age-old hierarchies separating humans and the natural world, he believed that “man is nothing but nature,” and nature is “the result produced by the simultaneous action of particular causes, the combined unity of which is created by the infinite totality of the ceaseless transformations of all existing things … this boundless multitude of actions and reactions … nature is created and creator of these things” (Bakunin 1953, 53–54). Any attempt to dissassociate “man” from this connection would be nothing short of suicidal.

All this boundless multitude of particular actions and reactions, combined in one general movement, produces and constitutes what we call Life, Solidarity, Universal Causality, Nature. Call it, if you find it amusing, God, the Absolute—it really does not matter—provided you do not attribute the word God a meaning different from … the universal, natural, necessary, and real but in no way predetermined, preconceived or foreknown combination of the infinity of particular actions and reactions which all things having real existence incessantly exercise upon one another. (Bakunin 1953, 53)

Bakunin’s thought about humans’ relationship within this complex system arose from his primary disdain for all notions of hierarchy, including those being used to legitimate power in the labor movement underway in Europe. Ultimately, Marx used his power in the Alliance to his strategic benefit, expelling Bakunin and his followers, and ultimately undermining Bakunin’s influence in the movement. He effectively used his authority in the organization to kill off his ideological competitor, enacting exactly the kind of coercion that Bakunin argued was the basis of human political and ultimately evolutionary failure. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.

So here’s something to think about as we ponder our historical “evolution” as a weedy species and as a dominator culture: What if Marx had listened to Bakunin’s ideas regarding the destructive nature of all authority, including the authority embedded in the so-called dictatorship of the proletariate accurately predicted by Bakunin to lead to nothing better than the accumulation of power to be wielded over the very people it supposedly was created to liberate? Bakunin also criticized Marx for not including in his analysis of the socioeconomic conditions of human liberty, a fuller understanding and anaysis of the larger life forces enveloping human and nonhuman species, a position I believe to be radically out of synch for his time, but crucial to our survival as a species.

I wonder if, as a civilization, we had paid attention to Bakunin’s understanding of the essential relation between human freedom and our interdependence with larger life forces (or nature), and his critique of the use of authoritarian ideologies to disregard this essential relationship, we might find ourselves in a very different position than we are today. Standing at the crossroads poised to choose between Bakunin and Marx, what would have happened if the movement against capitalism had chosen a different path, a path founded upon a fundamental understanding of mutuality, cooperation and collective alliance grounded in an understanding of and respect for the complex and magnificent processes and forces of nature?

We are at another crossroads, now even more critical to our survival. It is a crossroads that asks those of us participating in dominator cultures of the West to become different from who we have been. Will we pay attention to what Bakunin was trying to teach us over a hundred years ago?

I offer you these musings as I welcome you to this special issue on Anarchism and Education. I actually wrote most of the previous paragraphs several years ago, and now realize how important the questions raised by anarchist philosophers of education are to the development of my own interests in EcoJustice Education. I’m not sure why I left my study of Bakunin behind, but I want to thank Abe Deleon for reawakening this line of thinking again, and bringing me back to anarchist theory. There are so many incredible convergences with the work of poststructuralists I’ve been interested in for years (Deleuze 1990), with the work of Gregory Bateson (2000), with ecofeminists (Plumwood 2002), and EcoJustice (Martusewicz, Edmundson, and Lupinacci 2011). I’m excited to dive back in and draw these together!

But enough of my own interests; this issue is wonderful and you all just need to get on to the articles and reviews that Abe and the contributors have waiting for you. I don’t think we pay enough attention to the key ideas in anarchism. Maybe it’s time.

My best to you all on this grey November day! Perhaps just one more cup of coffee before going out to tackle the growing mound of leaves. Do you remember piling them up and jumping in them as kids? Oh to be that carefree again!


Bateson, Gregory. 2000. Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bakunin, Mikhail. 1953. The Political Philosophy of Bakunin: Scientific Anarchism., Edited by: Maximoff, G. P. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1990. Difference and Repetition, New York: Columbia University Press.

Plumwood, Val. 2002. Environmental Culture., London: Routledge.

Martusewicz, Rebecca, Edmundson, Jeff and Lupinacci, John. 2011. EcoJustice Education: Toward Diverse, Democratic, and Sustainable Communities, New York: Routldge.

Guest Editor’s Introduction

“Anarchism…is a living force within our life…” Anarchism, Education and Alternative Possibilities

Abraham P. DeLeon

Often represented as lawless, chaotic, and oppressively individualistic, it appears that anarchism has bore the brunt of a host of problematic assumptions about its tactics, methodological approaches, and aims, ignoring its rich intellectual and activist history. The “living force” of anarchism in the title to this special issue is evoked from the words of one particular anarchist; a beautifully incorrigible woman by the name of Emma Goldman who believed anarchism provided new ways of thinking and acting in the world, what she called “building and sustaining a new life” (Goldman 1969, 49). Goldman was acutely aware of the revolutionary and utopian potential that anarchism provided. Because of this, State agents have diligently taken notice of anarchism, constructing it as a “threat” and highlighting its subversive and problematic existence for the police and other State agents (Borum and Tilby 2004).

Despite these negative perceptions, anarchists have forged scathing critiques of capitalism and the State. Anarchism has influenced art, social theory, education, justice studies, critical animal studies, and cultural studies, making anarchist critiques trans-disciplinary encounters (Amster et al. 2009; Jun and Wahl 2010). At the same time, anarchism has also escaped the academy and has inspired activists and other social movements grounded in the streets of Empire (CrimethInc Worker’s Collective 2008). This multidimensional existence comprises the strengths of anarchism, while at the same time posing a challenge for interpreting it in a way that resists domestication. Anarchists can never underestimate the recuperative nature of rhizomatic capitalism, with its networks that span time, territory, and epistemological frameworks (Vandenberghe 2008).

Luckily, anarchism is highly adaptable to our current historical conjuncture. In the academy for example, other theoretical paradigms have been combined with anarchism, like poststructuralism, demonstrating its potential for collaboration (Call 2002; May 1994). It has also garnered strong reactions from Marxist discourses that tend to be hostile or less open to anarchist critiques and practices, possibly steeped in the history between Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin at the First International (McKay 2008). This last point is not to be underestimated because of the primacy that Marxist theory has had in radical educational discourses like critical pedagogy (McLaren and Jaramillo 2010). This leads us to a better understanding of why such a cold response has fallen on anarchism in educational theory (Suissa 2010).

It seems imperative, then, to map key goals/tactics/approaches toward social problems that have derived from a variety of anarchist sources, texts, and practices. These anarchist themes directly apply to education, renewing why those that consider themselves radicals in education should begin to take anarchism more seriously; exploring what it can offer an imaginative rethinking of contemporary social and pedagogical realities (DeLeon 2008). Describing and defining what anarchism is becomes problematic, as it also encompasses a plethora of historical legacies, subjectivities, identities, and other positionalities that has lent it to be being interpreted from a wide intellectual spectrum situated in anti-State actions, insurrectionary movements, identity politics, and protest culture. Its wild spirit pushes us to not think of anarchism in terms of prescribed truths, but instead recognize multiple anarchism’s that can exist simultaneously. Although a variety of traditions have been combined with contemporary anarchist thought and practice, I cannot omit the history of class struggle that formed the core of nineteenth- and twentieth- century anarchism. What follows are some of the major themes that have emerged from a diverse body of anarchist theory and praxis.

Anarchists resist hierarchical orderings and arrangements

A main concern for anarchist resistance has been directed towards the State and global capitalism, especially the hierarchies these two realities sustain that represent pernicious forms of power (Sartwell 2008). Although hierarchies are a pervasive aspect of the ways in which governmentality has been imagined, they are also found in other social realities, like the social construction of knowledge (i.e., discourses of science for example). Hierarchies must be dismantled because of their ties to practices of domination enacted on political dissidents, the poor, prisoners, and other marginalized populations. Hierarchical orderings of humanity, for example, were at the forefront of how Europeans became racialized subjects and, in turn, created more to sustain these formations (Smedley 2007). Anarchists are invested in struggles that force us to rethink how our lives are controlled, structured, and governed hierarchically.

Anarchists Seek to Subvert Authority Through Direct Action

Authority is another technique aimed at producing docile and compliant bodies, easily managed by surveillance technologies and the allure of consumer capitalism. For anarchists, authority must be resisted, deconstructed, and eventually dismantled. From the streets of Seattle in 1999 to the anarchist that has infiltrated an animal testing laboratory or a public school classroom, authority is met with skepticism, resistance, infiltration, and subversion (Guérin 1970). However, anarchists have historically moved beyond just critique. They have produced direct action strategies that allow them to intervene in the world directly, circumventing State structures of authority for permission or justification (DeLeon 2008).

Anarchism has addressed the formation of identities and subjectivities

Although anarchism has been concerned with States and resisting global capitalism, it has also been more recently engaged with the formation of identities and subjectivities. In the realm of sexuality, for example, anarchists have been concerned with issues like heteronormativity and have pushed for more open relationships based upon respect and radical forms of love (Heckert and Cleminson 2011). Identity is at the heart of anarchism because it appears anarchists have recognized the relationships of power invested in constructing subjects during certain historical conjunctures. Power is at the heart of subjectivity and taking a poststructural cue, they have recognized that resistance must also cross the political to those of the personal; exploring how it operates through bodies, perceptions of reality, and the construction of self.

Anarchists have engaged education and helped rethink educational/pedagogical/curricular realities

Education has been a concern for anarchists globally and they have served a variety of roles in educational movements (Gribble 2004; Suissa 2010). Like Marxists who have critiqued schooling for its reproductive role (Cole 2008), anarchists have also been involved in schooling in various ways: from critiquing its structures to experimenting with nonauthoritarian models of education. These experimental forms of deschooling have occurred globally at different historical conjunctures (Gribble 2004). The role that State forms of education play in the transmission of the status quo and the Truths it engenders produces specific outlooks, frameworks, dispositions, and relationships to authority structures. Most anarchists recognize that education will have to play a major role in social transformation.

Anarchism is unapologetically utopian and rooted in a collective social imagination

Often shunned in mainstreamed discourses surrounding educational theory and research, anarchists have engaged the imagination by examining its role(s) in building and sustaining resistance (Shukaitis 2009). The imagination “is not a roadmap or blueprint set out beforehand where sentences and pages unfold logically from one location to the next. It is a series of gestures, a means without ends” (Shukaitis 2009, 9). This imaginative spirit has driven many of the critiques, actions, and visions that anarchists have been instrumental in creating for their collectives and affinity groups. The utopian impulse found in anarchism helps shape resistance strategies that cross boundaries; physical, metaphorical, conceptual, and epistemological. The imagination must remain unfettered and escape the confines of dominant ideologies and discourses of the State.

In this issue

Anarchism’s spirit can be found in each of the provocative articles found in this special issue. The transdisciplinary nature of anarchism is best represented in the first article, authored by Jamie Heckert, Deric Shannon, and Abbey Willis. The authors examine anarchism utilizing an autoethnographic approach, calling upon queer, feminist, and anarchist theories to present the concept of freedom and love, set in the context of a society centered in hierarchical domination. Anarchist pedagogies allow us to celebrate in the multiplicity of life, refusing to conform to authority that evokes legal and scientific discourses for legitimation and normalization. Playing with identities and recreating what it means to be teachers would heavily subvert pedagogical norms. This would, in theory, open up pedagogies to include other voices and alternative histories. Knowledge must be destabilized and the classroom space must be open to new experiences and ways of looking at the world.

Christian Garland looks at the potentialities of anarchist thought and practice (with a Marxist influence) situated in the UK context. Examining the institutional nature of education, students are forced to submit to a hierarchical authority structure that tries to find one singular approach to educating all students; i.e., standardization. This reproduces the institutional nature of education and is enveloped it seems, in the subjectivities of student experiences. However, this does not stop at primary school, but also transcends to university institutions. For Garland, the university acts as the culminating experience in producing market-focused laborers that force students to pay exorbitant fees to receive a degree. Recent student movements against this demonstrates that students still have the desire and capacity to reappropriate knowledge from structures of power.

Mark Wolfmeyer turns his attention toward a disciplinary subject and analyzes math education, a context that has previously received little attention from anarchists. Historically, math has been a tool of appropriation and a discourse steeped in exclusion. In this way, math education has been used to work against anarchist values like collectivism, fraternity, and the dismantling of hierarchical orderings. The exploitation of labor, gross economic inequalities, and perpetual war has been waged against anarchists, and the author contends that math has been at the center of these practices. The State has taken an interest in supporting math education because it supports militaristic and capitalist systems. Math, rooted in hierarchical systems, does not allow students and teachers to develop autonomous ways of knowing and understanding the world around them. Wolfmeyer proceeds to define the terms for an anarchist math education that would celebrate teacher and student autonomy, debunking scripted curriculum for one that supports agency and autonomy.

Kurt Love examines anarchist theory within the community context, challenging the notion of the angry anarchist bent on destruction. Love argues that anarchism transcends violence and needs more inclusive forms of resistance that help expose the fallacies of contemporary society. Love wants to place anarchism within a love/rage dichotomy because, according to the author, rage is closely linked to loving relationships. Love being the affective force of liberation of self from oppressive social conditions and rage encompassing anger, action, and love that sits apart from merely destructive tendencies, also born from the desire to create a new world. Buy Nothing Day and Food Not Bombs are practices that seem to be born from anarchist love and rage. Love advocates the use of this love/rage dichotomy as a tool for resistance, raising consciousness and recognizing the dominant hegemonies that control us. Schools can be spaces where these can be negated: a decentralized education that is freed from government control and more relative to the students’ own community. Love ends the article by exploring how anarchist education can connect to ecology, and ultimately, to building new forms of spirituality.

Felecia M. Briscoe, who critiques neoliberalism and its hegemony in current economic and educational debates, claims it has influenced decision-making in schools (privatization, testing, alienation) and is tied to supposedly “democratic” practices propagated in the mainstream media and dominant educational discourses. Neoliberalism produces a superficial form of democracy that does not promote an understanding of how social change can be enacted through deep democratic practices. She compares anarchist theory to deep democracy (respect for others, autonomy, love, and a fair distribution of wealth) and the parallels they share. These two traditions can be utilized to produce social change and to revitalize an authentic joy of teaching and learning. She gives specific outlines for smaller models of schools that could embody anarchist models of decision-making, producing less coercive educational experiences grounded in localized decisions.


Amster, Randall, DeLeon, Abraham, Fernandez, Luis, Nocella, Anthony II and Shannon, Deric. 2009. Contemporary Anarchist Studies: An Introductory Anthology of Anarchy in the Academy, New York: Routledge.

Borum, Randy and Tilby, Chuck. 2004. Anarchist Direct Actions: A Challenge for Law Enforcement. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 28: 201–223.

Call, Lewis. 2002. Postmodern Anarchism, Lanham, MD: Lexington.

Cole, Mike. 2008. Marxism and Educational Theory: Origins and Issues, New York: Routeldge.

CrimethInc Worker’s Collective. 2008. Expect Resistance: A Crimethink Field Manual, Salem, OR: CrimethInc.

DeLeon, Abraham. 2008. Oh No, Not the ‘A’ Word! Proposing an ‘Anarchism’ for Education. Educational Studies, 44(2): 122–141.

Goldman, Emma. 1969. Anarchism and Other Essays, New York: Dover.

Gribble, David. 2004. “Good New for Francisco Ferrer: How Anarchist Ideals in Education Have Survived Around the World.” In Changing Anarchism: Anarchist Theory and Practice in a Global Age, Edited by: Purkis, Jonathan and Bowen, James. 181–198. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

Guérin, Daniel. 1970. Anarchism: From Theory to Practice, New York: Monthly Review Press.

Heckert, Jamie and Cleminson, Richard. 2011. Anarchism and Sexuality: Ethics, Relationships and Power, New York: Routledge.

Jun, Nathan and Wahl, Shane. 2010. New Perspectives on Anarchism, Lanham, MD: Lexington.

May, Todd. 1994. The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism, University Park: Pennsylvania University Press.

McKay, Iain. 2008. An Anarchist FAQ: AFAQ Volume One, Oakland, CA: AK Press.

McLaren, Peter and Jaramillo, Nathalia. 2010. Not Neo-Marxist, Not Post-Marxist, Not Marxian, Not Autonomist Marxism: Reflections on a Revolutionary (Marxist) Critical Pedagogy. Cultural Studies ⇔ Critical Methodologies, 10(3): 251–262.

Sartwell, Crispin. 2008. Against the State: An Introduction to Anarchist Political Theory, Albany: State University of New York Press.

Shukaitis, Stevphen. 2009. Imaginal Machines: Autonomy & Self-Organization in the Revolutions of Everyday Life, Williamsburgh, NY: Autonomedia.

Smedley, Audrey. 2007. Race in North America: Origin and Evolution of a Worldview, 3rd ed, Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Suissa, Judith. 2010. Anarchism and Education: A Philosophical Perspective, Oakland, CA: PM Press.

Vandenberghe, Frédéric. 2008. Deleuzian Capitalism. Philosophy & Social Criticism, 34(8): 877–903.


Loving-Teaching: Notes for Queering Anarchist Pedagogies

Jamie Heckert, Deric Michael Shannon & Abbey Willis


At times, radical theory can propose a singular story of the nature of power, suggesting that it must either be taken or abolished. This then becomes intertwined with a pedagogical strategy of recruitment, whereby others are encouraged to share in this ideological framework and the political practices based upon it. In this article, we propose an alternative based on practices of freedom and the role of love in subverting interdependent patterns of normativity and hierarchy. Bringing together anarchist, feminist, and queer theories alongside authoethnographic accounts from classrooms and other spaces of pedagogy, we highlight the value of a multiplicity of stories, of telling stories and doing roles differently, and of releasing stories for the immediacy of connection.


As we write this article, the three of us sit in front of our glowing computer screens, connected through a web of Internet connections. One of us lives in Connecticut, a small state on the East Coast of the United States. Another lives a four-hour drive northwest in upstate New York, nestled in between interstates and mountains in Syracuse. Yet another live’s across the ocean in a cute little cottage in a large coastal town in southern England.

We communicate using electronic impulses sent through fiber-optic, copper, coaxial cables, etc.—the Internet. This network of networks connects billions of people worldwide, including millions of businesses, academic institutions, individual people, social networking groups, dating services—communities and individuals of all sorts. We use electronic impulses, sent through this complex webbing, to send each other draft’s. They travel along wires, through nodes, and disperse throughout various networks that connect users together and allow them to share information.

This might serve as an interesting metaphor for how power operates in the world. In response to theories that tend to “locate power within specific institutions such as the economy or the state,” particularly classical Marxist-inspired theories and various forms of pluralist democratic political theory, some theorists have suggested that power might better be described as diffuse and dispersed throughout social life (Glasberg and Shannon 2011, 33). Indeed, the Internet is one among many metaphors that can describe the ways that power—always productive and only sometimes repressive—is an omnipresent web in our everyday lives.

Foucault, for example, is often cited for noting productive power that can produce certain kinds of bodies and types of citizens. Through genealogies of forms of punishment, madness, and sexuality, Foucault noted how bodies of knowledge, or discourses, historically develop to shape our understanding of ourselves and who and, importantly, what we are. These discourses, then, have productive power. They produce identities and a highly disciplined social body. Rather than seeing the state or the economy as the location for power or the locus for change, Foucault (1980) noted that “nothing in society will be changed if the mechanisms of power that function outside, below and alongside the State apparatuses, on a much more minute and everyday level, are not also changed” (60).

This emphasis on the micropolitical is also found in the work of Foucault’s contemporaries, Deleuze and Guattari, who note that “every politics is simultaneously a macropolitics and a micropolitics” (1987, 213). Like Foucault, they refuse to think of power as a property of certain individuals or institutions. Rather, they propose that power can be understood to operate in a way that is rhizomatic. Using a rhizome, a series of roots and shoots sent out from multiple nodes, as a metaphor, Deleuze and Guattari argue that origin myths about the nature of power ignore multiplicity and the often random and scattered ways that power operates. So where certain Marxists might point to the mode of production in a given society as the source of superstructural phenomena, Deleuze and Guattari saw power resembling these root-like structures—diffuse and dispersed throughout social life, often random, and unpredictable.

These theoretical forays led to new kinds of questions in social theory. After all, if power isn’t located within specific institutions that then influence (or, in some instances, determine) our social relations, how then do we conceptualize social change? Can there still be radical alternatives to capitalism and the state if they are not totalizing institutions and if we must also focus elsewhere, perhaps in our everyday lives, in order to alter our social relationships? If history is not progressive, but rather often random and unpredictable, can we still conceive of a progressive politics that argues for some distant, “better” future?

To the theme of this particular journal edition (anarchism and education), this conceptualization of power and the attendant questions are certainly not new to scholars, some of whom are putting these insights to work in relationship to anarchism (e.g., see Day 2005; Kuhn 2009; May 1989, 1994, 2009; Newman 2001, 2007; Rousselle and Evren 2011). And this sense of a productive power—power that can produce certain kinds of people—is an understanding that is rigorously applied by queer and gender theorists in the project of destabilizing the borders we place around identity categories (e.g., see Butler 2004; Halperin 1995; Queen and Schimel 1997; Sedgwick 1990; Warner 1999). Likewise, these connections in queer and gender theory have been put to use in queering anarchism, providing us with new lenses for thinking about the politics of sexuality and gender, as well as anarchism and anarchy themselves (e.g., see Avery-Natale 2010; Brown 2007; Heckert 2004, 2010a; Heckert and Cleminson 2011; Jeppesen 2010; Ritchie 2008; Shannon and Willis 2010; Veneuse 2010; Windpassinger 2010). Similarly, anarchist insights, and at times their intersections with these poststructuralist theories of power, have influenced new forms of thinking about pedagogy (e.g., see Armaline 2009; DeLeon 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010; DeLeon and Love 2009; Kahn 2009; Shukaitis 2009; Suissa 2010).

With this article, we aim to contribute to these discussions by writing on the intersections of queer theory, anarchism, and education. Building on insights from poststructuralist theories of power, queer theory has a lot to offer anarchism and educational theory—particularly anarchist approaches to education. It allows us ways to theorize power as it infuses our interactions with students and the ways that it becomes embedded in our own discourses. Furthermore, it allows us to look at how the separations between our sexual and gendered selves and our experiences as pedagogues, students, and the many places in between are often false separations. Finally, queer theory allows us to destabilize normative understandings of teaching, learning, and education’s role in society and in our everyday lives.

So in the context of this article, we want to play a bit with theory and pedagogy. We hope to say some new things about teaching and learning. And we’ll likely make some connections that are not particularly new, although hopefully stated in new and useful ways. We approach this project with a sense of experimentation, not to point out any final answers or truths about pedagogy, but to push the borders of utopian thinking and implementation—perhaps to make them strange, to queer and broaden our approaches to teaching, learning, and by extension, living our lives.

A note on methodology

This article has been woven together by three writers, each of us bringing together our own experiences, thoughts, and feelings. We are moved by Judy Greenway’s (2008) suggestion that “in qualitative research, the creative juxtaposition of narratives—our own, and those of our subjects and our audience—can generate a positive methodological anarchism that relinquishes control, challenges boundaries and hierarchies, and provides a space for new ideas to emerge” (324). And we follow Stacy Holman Jones and Tony E. Adams (2010) in their use of autoethnography as a queer method. Like them,

We also use “I” to tell our stories to combine us, as authors and readers, into a shared experience. My experience—our experience—could be your experience. My experience—our experience—could reframe your experience. My experience—our experience—could politicize your experience and could motivate, mobilize you, and us, to action. (198)

We invite readers to join in our methodological anarchism, to make space in their lives for ideas, feelings, and stories that may arise in engaging with these words. Help us queer the “author” in authority. The imaginary separation of the reader from writer is the act that allows the imagined hierarchy to exist, whether obeyed, resented, defied, or ignored. Ursula Le Guin notes,

When it’s published you’re sending it out into this void, hopeful it’s full of readers. And the way they read it is what makes it a story. They finish it. If it’s not read, it doesn’t really exist. It’s wood pulp with black marks on it. The reader does work with the writer. (quoted in Freedman 2008, 88–89)

Dear reader, you are warmly invited to work, play, dance with these words.

Queering Anarchism

[I]f we challenge the hierarchical approach which sees writing and fighting vie for place as Top Anarchist Activity, we can begin to investigate other sources, ask different kinds of questions, gain new inspirations. (Greenway 2010, 7)

Nathan Jun (2010) has argued that the joint anarchist emphasis on freedom and equality might instead be recognized in one hybrid concept: vitality.

By life, moreover, we do not mean biological life but rather the immanent processes of change, development and becoming in terms of which Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin inter alia (among other things) describe existence. … Individual and social, social and ecological, ecological and global, global and cosmic—there are just so many levels of analysis which, if they can be said to differ at all, only differ in terms of scope. (56)

For us, then, queering anarchism is one way, or rather many ways, of keeping anarchism vital both in the sense of necessary and, perhaps more importantly, in the sense of living, changing, evolving. And so to the list of anarchist forefathers, we also add the names of others who see a living world in a living cosmos where vitality is a force to be honored and nurtured, where domination is to be recognized, undermined, overflowed, subverted, and released. This list might include queer figures such as Gloria Anzaldúa, Emma Goldman, Starhawk, Judith Butler, Chaia Heller, Judy Greenway, Ursula K. Le Guin, M. Jacqui Alexander, Michel Foucault, Giles Deleuze, and Felix Guattari. It might include us, or you.

The different levels of scale Jun describes might be understood as fractal. Whether popular poster art from the 1980’s in certain cultures or in images of natural systems, a fractal is a self-similar pattern. Zooming in or out, a narrow focus or taking in a wide view, the pattern is more or less the same. Cultures of domination contain fractals of violence and violation. As feminists famously noted so many years ago, “The personal is political”—our personal lives might find reflections in larger relations of domination.

However, other fractals are possible. Indeed, they are essential to life. From the numerous, rhizomatic interconnections of the Internet, the brain, the underground mycelial networks that support ecosystems and social movements (Sullivan 2008) to the shapes of lungs and trees, unfurling ferns and spirals of weather systems, fractals are the geometry of life. Inspired by this, Sian Sullivan “affirms the possibility of a proliferation of democratic processes … in which people participate and which people self-organize, together with fostering the dynamic feedback possible via connectivity between scales. A fractal democracy, in other word” (2005, 380n45; see also Heckert 2010b). This democracy is not representative, not “participatory” in its dullest, driest sense; it is vital, alive. Following M. Jacqui Alexander (2005), we wish to queer anarchism (and anarchist pedagogies) by focusing not on domination, but on life itself:

Often I intended my teachings to serve as a conduit to radicalization, which I now understand to mean a certain imprisonment that conflates the terms of domination with the essence of life. Similar to the ways in which domination always already confounds our sex with all of who we are, the focus on radicalization always turns our attention to domination. (8)

In other words, anarchist pedagogy does not necessarily need to consist primarily of a continuous critique of the state, capitalism, or other patterns of hierarchy. What are the emotional effects of viewing the world primarily through lenses of domination? (This is not a rhetorical question, but one for readers to consider with the authority of their own experience.) Instead, we suggest an emphasis on observing the ways in which life continuously refuses to conform to claims of authority, whether legal, moral, or scientific, and nurturing that capacity in ourselves and others.

Another way in which we hope to queer anarchism is to clear the inseparability of anarchist critiques of the state and institutionalized domination and queer critiques of normativity. Now, to be clear, we do not wish to construct a rigid figure of anarchism that we liberate with our queerness. This would be to fall into some sort of trap of progress sustained through a caricature of the old, the established (see Cohn and Wilber 2003, for a critique of post-anarchist caricatures of anarchism, and Martin 1994, for critiques of queer caricatures of femininity). Rather, we aim to find that which is vital, which is sustaining both in anarchism and in other traditions (Shannon and Willis 2010). And so, in our project of nurturing vital, fractal democracy through pedagogy in its broadest sense, we look to the queer already existing in anarchism, turning now to a woman who might be considered one of the earliest queer theorists: Emma Goldman.

Queer theory, like anarchism, has been criticized for promoting a radical individuality, emphasizing transgression—the breaking of rules or breaking from (heteronormative) roles—over the practical construction of radical alternatives (Ebert 1996; Glick 2000). Emma Goldman (1996), in linking normativity, capitalism and the state, makes clear the distinction between radical, vital individuality and a constraining individualism.

Individuality is not to be confused with the various ideas and concepts of Individualism; much less with that “rugged individualism” which is only a masked attempt to repress and defeat the individual and his individuality So-called Individualism is the social and economic laissez faire: the exploitation of the masses by the classes by means of legal trickery, spiritual debasement and systematic indoctrination of the servile spirit, which process is known as ‘education.’ That corrupt and perverse ‘individualism’ is the strait-jacket of individuality. It has converted life into a degrading race for externals, for possession, for social prestige and supremacy. (112)

We might even go further with Goldman and call for intrapersonal fractal democracy. Internal domination is part of the fractal pattern of hierarchy and normativity.

[The Mass] clings to its masters, loves the whip, and is the first to cry Crucify! the moment a protesting voice is raised against the sacredness of capitalistic authority or any other decayed institution. Yet how long would authority and private property exist, if not for the willingness of the mass to become soldiers, policemen, jailers, and hangmen. (Goldman 1996, 85)

Following Goldman, queer anarchist pedagogy is one that fully recognizes the attraction of conformity, of authority, and the appeal of “wounded attachments” (Brown 1993, 391). If students, comrades, or strangers on trains look to us to offer authority, to have the new right answer, then we are failing them if we attempt to give it. Instead, we love to invite questioning, to share insightful stories that may or may not resonate, to make space to release resentment and stories of powerlessness, to gently step down from any pedestal or soapbox we may notice we’ve found ourselves upon (Le Guin 2004; Suissa 2010).

Intrapersonal fractal democracy means learning to listen to oneself, to take in the offerings of those who might teach and to discover for themselves whether and how those offerings might help them to live their lives. Like contemporary anarcha-feminists and queers, Herbert Read wrote in 1944 that listening to the bodymind and the rhythms of ecosystems are a key part of nurturing the development of anarchist(ic) cultures:

the degree of poise and co-ordination in the muscular system of the body is an art which has never yet been defined and practiced. Harmony within the family, harmony within the social group, harmony within and among nations—these are no less psycho-physiological problems, questions of pattern and practice, of adjustment to the natural proportions and conformity to natural harmonies. (Read 2009, 213)

As one of us is currently training to teach yoga, we are not in agreement that this art has never been practiced. At the same time, we recognize that it is minimally practiced within cultures of domination. Look at how you hold yourself, how others move their bodies. Queering anarchist pedagogy, then, includes a recognition of the ways in which embodied practices of freedom—including yoga, tai chi, chi gung, soma, contact improvisation, dancing, and more—are anarchist movements. If we can’t dance, it’s not really a revolution. Here we speak not just of the bodymind, but also of a recognition of the life spirit that animates us all. “We’re supposed to forget that every cell in our bodies, every bone and bird and worm has spirit in it” (Anzaldúa 1987, 36). Similarly, “for Goldman, the fact that even despite all the efforts of society, we can enjoy sex and fall in love is proof of the interior life force that we carry inside of us” (McBride 2011, 161). For us, queering anarchism and anarchist pedagogy can include honoring (spiritual) practices of care of the self (Foucault 1986; see also Ferguson 2004; Loizidou 2011; McWhorter 2004) intertwined with care for each other and care of the earth of which we are a part. These, too, can be acts of revolutionary love.

Queering Anarchist Pedagogies

Part of poststructuralist, queer, and gender theories’ contributions to social theory are criticisms of binary thinking and understandings of our world(s). Queer and (some) gender theories critique the binaries of hetero/homo, man/woman, etc. (e.g., see Butler 2004; Halperin 1995; Sedgwick 1990; Queen and Schimel 1997; Warner 1999). We can likewise apply this project of unpacking and releasing borders of gender and sexuality to the project of dropping the walls around the roles of teacher and student” (in the academic world and beyond). In fact, breaking down this false binary of teacher/student is a necessary aspect of anarchist education if we are committed to non-hierarchical relationships and practicing prefigurative politics. For a consistent and ethical practice, we need to assume egalitarian social relations in our classrooms in contrast to the hierarchical relationships promoted through various mechanisms by academic institutions. Educational and pedagogical philosophers have written and spoken at length about the benefits of this (e.g., see DeLeon 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010; Armaline 2009; DeLeon and Love 2009; Shukaitis 2009; Kahn 2009; Suissa 2010).

Queer theory offers us new theoretical bases from which we can deconstruct those kinds of binary understandings and create a social practice that tries to blur those distinctions in real time. Judith Butler has written at length on gender performativity—by which she means that gender is not only socially constructed, but that it is iterative of particular norms set in place by dominant and normative cultural status quos (Butler 1990, 1997). Performativity does not mean that one merely performs their gender (or other identities) in the same way an actor takes on a role. This incorrect (yet often misunderstood as such) notion would assume that we have agency that allows us to choose any gender we desire to perform, and this, for obvious reasons, invisibilizes one of the more important angles of Butler’s point: that we are iterating available social roles—we are pulling from already-constructed (and enforced) available gender identities (Butler 1990, 1997). Her point here is more to illustrate that we don’t freely choose roles to perform; rather, we are constituted by such roles, and in our iterations (our repetitions of such roles in our own localized contexts), we simultaneously buttress such cultural norms—or—we challenge such roles by our strategic and unfaithful iterations. This is where anarchist/queer vitality comes in. Instead of obediently reproducing our idea of what a particular role should be, we might play with what a role could be.

If we look at the roles of teacher and student as iterative performances in a similar light as Butler’s notion of gender performativity, we can get an inkling as to where we can strategically challenge normative roles such as teacher and student and the relationship between the two. For instance, Butler theorizes that because gender is performative and iterative of cultural norms and status quos, that these roles simultaneously constitute us as social beings (in these particular roles) all the while caging us within their particular borders. The place, then, that we can look to subvert these status quos and norms is located within the act of iteration itself. We need to iterate roles (that are simultaneously reiterative) to become a social being—we will not be able to do away with (re)iterations because we cannot escape the world of discourse. But what we can do, as Butler (1990, 1997) notes, is subvert such status quos (teacher and student) by iterating in a fresh, lively way—by iterating differently. This is where Butler locates our agency(ies) within a discursive society (regime). We might uncover the genealogies that have created (and continue to create) socially viable ways of being and recognize how they encourage obedience to the status quo. As Claudia W. Ruitenberg (2007, 265) writes, “Discursive constitution is not discursive determinism.” This is great news because it means we can be unfaithful to our expected repetitions and be subversive when we perform roles such as teacher and/or student; (Butler 1997; Heckert 2011a). Instead, we might be faithful to what is alive within us.

It’s important to note that when we are dreaming of ways that we can do the roles of teacher and student differently, that as important as our own strategic and playful iterations of status quos (gently allowing for the subversion of hierarchical roles and creating newer, freer, and more fluid roles) are, those of us in the situation will bring our body-memories of roles. We might find ourselves acting out teacher or student, even though we didn’t mean to. Or others might be caught up in their own expectations and not understand that it’s possible to do things differently. From my past experiences:

I was in a high school once, teaching sex education. As we went around the circle introducing ourselves, I came to realize that three of the young men were stoned. ‘Oh, no!’ I thought to myself. As I was explaining how this would be different from our school usually was, one of them asked me to slow down and repeat. He was confused, and I don’t think it was just from cannabis. That might have simply made him more honest and less concerned about appearing confused. I knew that what I was doing was radically unschool-like because I had been iterating myself differently for some years. But for them, it was brand new and I couldn’t simply tell them it would be different. Why should they believe me against the weight of their experience? I had to show them through my practice and give them time to adjust, to understand that another classroom was possible. I’m grateful to the young man for reminding me of this.

Norms are not individually created or iterated—they are co-created over time. What we mean here is that there is a “cumulative power of related speech, writing, and other discourse” (Ruitenberg 2007, 263). Identity categories are “cumulatively produced” by such things as “advertising, school texts, sitcoms, legal discourse, and so on” (Ruitenberg 2007, 263). Although we still feel excited about subverting the status quo of such roles in small places such as within our own classrooms—we understand our lively and subversive iterations as one strategy among many others that might be taken up to truly change the relationships and constitutions of the roles of teacher and student.

Johnston and Klandermans suggest “a performative view of culture stresses that social movements are not just shaped by culture; they also shape and reshape it” (1995, 9). If we both live within discursive regimes that constitute our identities, and also have access to a vital agency that allows us to iterate roles and identities differently and subversively, what might (or does) this look like in the classroom? What kind of behavior can we see when teachers and students iterate their roles differently, fluidly, and prefiguring the participatory and egalitarian (and creative!) world(s) in which we want to (and could) live?

Ruitenberg (2007, 265–266) writes “Educators must conceive of students, and students themselves, not as autonomous agents, nor as passive recipients of tradition, but rather as subjects whose actions and identities both depend on, and can make changes to, discourses that precede and exceed them.” We argue that teachers, themselves, might well take this to heart in considering their own roles as subjects. From my experiences:

As a new graduate student, I am slowly discovering the little ways with which I can reorganize the physical architecture of the classroom I’m given. For instance, I prefer to have the classroom set up as a circle of chairs rather than a room that positions myself at the front with all the students facing me. However, I think it’s most likely better practice to actually ask the students how they would prefer to have the room set up, although I like to explain the reasons why I prefer the classroom in this way.

We take heart from a long tradition in critical pedagogy questioning the relationship between teachers and students. As Paulo Freire (2000) wrote, “Education must begin with the solution of the teacher–student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously students and teachers” (72). And as Luhmann (1998) points out, undermining this false dichotomy in critical pedagogy is intertwined with the queer project of subverting the imaginary divisions of hetero/homo and man/woman. Because the role of student and teacher are embodied roles (Shapiro and Shapiro 2002), we need to be aware of our bodies and how they are being related to each other; to learn how we might release the postures of authority or submission. We can blur the distinction between the roles of teacher and student by committing ourselves to learning from each other in a dynamic and fluid way. How would we want classrooms to function in the worlds we desire to live in? We would like to see classrooms where participants are invited to honor their own experience (while questioning their stories about that experience) above and beyond ideas or practices offered by teachers. That is, we want to see practices of self-loving in the classroom. We also value the open-hearted honesty of teachers who are able to talk about what they/we learn from the experience of working with those labeled students. What mutuality exists without that acknowledgment, out of a desire to maintain clear identities, out of fear? As bell hooks (2000) has argued, fear and love cannot occupy the same space. If the classroom can be a space of love, separations and hierarchies might unravel, creating space for something Other. “The meanings we make alongside those we love, particularly across lines of difference, allow us to remake our assumptions and widen our vision of the political field” (Carillo Rowe 2008, 43). The key for the so-called teacher, then, is to learn to release fear, to be present with it without getting caught up in it. To let themselves be loving.

From Recruitment to Connection

10% is not enough, recruit, recruit, recruit! (Slogan from 1990s US LGBT activism)

We are concerned, noting the extent to which anarchist pedagogy, or sexual politics, involves an attempt to get others to agree with a particular idea, a particular version of politics. Ironically, this anticapitalist ideology can function in terms that Freire (2000) calls a “banking model” of education. Knowledge is represented as an object of value to be transferred from one mind to another. The teacher with the right answer, the “Man with Analysis” (Montesinos Coleman and Bassi 2011, 206), the activist recruiter, can all work to support a new nexus of knowledge/power/morality rather than releasing a claim to any of those things. We notice, with compassion, the frustrated activist wanting others to share a certain analysis, a certain pain, a certain desire for life to be otherwise. At the same time, we know that anarchist pedagogies can be much richer than this.

Unlike the [sic] Marxist theory of history, an anarchist model of historical transition requires less any specific material condition than the dissemination of the idea of anarchy itself. This principle follows from what has been said earlier: Anarchy as a philosophy is immanent in the civic orientations of humanity, and as a mode of action it relies on the creative necessity of human agency, and not simply on objective conditions. (Bamyeh 2009, 196–197).

Less than promoting the idea of anarchy itself, we love to invite ourselves and others to recognize the lived, embodied, emotional, erotic, relational experiences of the fundamental anarchy that already exists. For us, the playing (with) the role of teacher involves inviting ourselves and others to perceive the world through fresh eyes, to notice the discourses around and in us and to not put too much emphasis on them. As the remarkably poststructuralist-sounding Buddhist teacher, Pema Chödrön, puts it, “There is no such thing as a true story” (2003, 17). Discourse may be pervasive and identity-shaping; that doesn’t mean that we must be trapped by it. By telling different stories, by relating differently, by meditating and learning to let go of stories and to accept uncertainty, in these ways we create a spaciousness for queer/anarchist learning. In these ways, we allow space for love and anger.

Within academia, affect is subtly but assiduously policed. Contempt and condescension are acceptable, as professors compete for places at the top of the (manufactured) scarcity economy of smartness. Hero worship is permissible in the form of uncritical citation of broadly certified authorities. Passive aggression is a pervasive affective mode, acted out within the boundaries of professional civility. But passionate engagements that we might call love, or reactions to unfairness recognizable as anger, are deeply suspect. (Duggan 2011, 147)

We have noticed, in our own ways, that open-mindedness is intertwined with open-heartedness, with an opening of bodies. We invite a queering of anarchist pedagogy by emphasizing the role of love in teaching, learning, and living. We invite ourselves, and our readers, to notice the perhaps familiar dis/comfort in reiterating the role of the dry scholar and to gently stretch into the living edge between the ease of the known and the discomfort of overstretching. What does it feel like to play with that edge, to sit with it, to notice how it moves, to feel its vitality? Can we learn to love our anger enough to set it free, rather than holding tight to that moralizing powerlessness of ressentiment (Nietzsche 1969)? And the same for our shame, so that we need not hold ourselves tightly in the normative reiterations of “pathological shame” (Scheff 1990)? Learning to be free means learning to love ourselves and the emotions that pass through us; not gripping on to identities or ideologies.

Our question, then, is not how we get other people to become anarchists. It is, rather, how do we make space for vitality, for love?

Here we queer any division between revolutionary isms, for it is both Marxists such as Paulo Freire and anarchist-feminists such as Emma Goldman and Ursula K. Le Guin who link love and revolution (see, Davis 2011; Freire 1985, 2000; Kincheloe 2008; Zambrana-Ortiz 2011). For pedagogy to be revolutionary, there must be a loving connection. It is this “radical love” that Freire advocated and practiced, inspiring so many of his students. As Kincheloe (2008) remarks

Love is the basis of an education that seeks justice, equality and genius. If criticial pedagogy is not injected with a healthy dose of what Freire calls ‘radical love,’ then it will operate only as a shadow of what it could be. Such a love is compassionate, erotic, creative, sensual and informed. Critical pedagogy uses it to increase our capacity to love, to bring the power of love to our everyday lives and social institutions, to rethink reason in a humane and interconnected manner. … A critical knowledge seeks to connect with the corporeal and the emotional in a way that understands at multiple levels and seeks to assuage human suffering. (9)

Our understanding of love differs only in that it does not necessarily begin nor end with the human, but a love of all beings and the ecosystems of which we are a part (never apart).

It is not by trying to recruit others to share the same views, to occupy the same moral high ground, to feel the same pain, to see the world in the same way. It is not about sameness. Anarchist calls for sameness worry as much as any other. The desire for sameness, for standardization, is the desire of the state/normativity. From our own experiences:

I was on a train this weekend, returning home from a gathering of anarchic educators hoping to nurture into existence alternatives to universities. I met a man (with the most beautiful eyes) who was interested in talking. He was clearly fed up with the official political economy. ‘But,’ he said, ‘our opinions don’t matter.’ ‘Why?’ I asked him. ‘You have to talk to the people in power. And they don’t listen anyway.’ His stop arrived before I got to tell him the reason I was talking to him was because he was in power. He and I and everyone are part of the fractal patterns of life; each of us can relate differently, enact power differently. Talking to each other, to strangers on trains, to students or teachers, friends and family, neighbors and colleagues, we are always talking to the people in power. If I had simply told him this, would he have believed me?

To learn to see the anarchy of the world, to learn to practice freedom in each moment, requires practice. It benefits from role models. To teach anarchy is not to explain the idea, it is to live freely, to relate as equals, to be vital. It is to connect with ourselves, each other, and the earth of which we are a part. It is to be gentle with ourselves as we learn these skills, so that we might be gentle with others as they, too, learn. It is to release a hold on living up to ideals of any identity (e.g., heterosexual, scholar, or anarchist) and accepting our im/perfection. “Indeed it may be only by risking the incoherence of identity that connection is possible” (Butler 1993, 113).


Throughout this article, we have tried to add our voices to conceptions of anarchist pedagogy and what it might mean for us to do anarchist pedagogical practices. We have argued that anarchist teachers and pedagogues can take a lot from queer theory. Likewise, as we see learning as a two-way street with no fixed teacher and student, we also think that queer theory can take a lot from anarchism. Indeed, these projects have been near and dear to each of our hearts both individually and collectively (e.g., see Heckert 2004, 2010a, 2011b; Shannon and Willis 2010).

Specifically, we think that anarchist pedagogues might borrow from poststructuralist and queer understandings of power as diffuse and dispersed throughout social life. In this way, we can understand that an anarchist ethic, opposing all forms of domination, can inform how we live our lives. Rather than seeing politics as something out there, done to affect abstract institutions as if they are things that can be smashed, we can see how our own everyday actions can inform social life in a complex iterative process that provides alternatives to a banal, violent, and often boring status quo. And we can think of power as resembling any number of metaphors, including a fractal. In the case of the fractal, we can see the personal in the political—the everyday in the institutional—as the smaller fragments mirror the shape of the larger whole (and vice versa).

Similarly, we might borrow from queer theory’s insistence that binary understandings of the world that revolve around bounded and bordered categories such as man/woman or gay/straight often times constrict more than they describe. With this in mind, possibilities are created of viewing static conceptions of teacher and student in more fluid ways. As anarchists, it behooves us to give up our roles as teachers and act as cofacilitators in the creation of free spaces. And we can engage in performative acts that trouble those (very often false) divisions between human beings (Butler 2004, Davies 1993, Eckert 2011, Lorber 2005, Nicholas 2009).

And troubling those divisions allows us to celebrate difference, rather than desire sameness and normativity. The creation of free spaces, collectively produced, allows for open exploration—a classroom nomadism, if you will—where we might even begin the task of questioning what we mean by the classroom and destabilize it as the privileged place in life for learning. Rather than creating anarchists as such through recruitment, we can instead focus on cocreating anarchy in a dynamic process where action/thought is given more weight than rigid political identities.

Finally, as people interested in the possibilities of queering anarchist pedagogy, we might break down the wall separating loving from teaching. Indeed, in many contexts in our lives there has been no separation between these two activities at all. Love, rather than something reserved either for family or for sex/uality, can also exist in a field of multiple possibilities. We love teaching and learning with love. Love fills our practices of anarchy. And writing this particular piece has been done with love: for each other for teaching and learning, for life. May we all find ways to enact anarchy and create temporary utopias of loving, learning, and teaching now even while we build toward a future where those creations can last. And as we do, may we fall in love with life, again and again and again.


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“We Teach All Hearts to Break”: On the Incompatibility of Education with Schooling at All Levels, and the Renewed Need for a De-Schooling of Society

Christian Garland


‘We teach all hearts to break’ was graffiti spray painted on a school building in London’s Notting Hill Gate in 1968/69 by the Situationst-influenced group King Mob cited by two former members in Paddington Bear (1988). ‘Once upon a time there was a place called Nothing Hill Gate.’ Retrieved Sept. 30, 2011, from http://www.revoltagainstplenty.com/index.php/recent/34-archivelocal/120-once-upon-a-time-in-notting-hill

Education is for anarchism, and what can very broadly be termed autonomism—that is, the many different schools of non-Leninist Marxism—of paramount importance in creating a society worthy of humanity, but this is not a simple formula of countering the dominant mode of institutional indoctrination known as schooling with libertarian propaganda, though that may have its place. The importance of education can be said to be “an-end-in-itself” prefiguring free social relations of community and reciprocity, comprised of autonomous individuals capable of comprehending both themselves and the world in which they live. Such a process of learning and acquiring knowledge must also nourish intellect and other forms of intelligence, just as intellect and other forms of intelligence nourish the acquisition of knowledge. This paper will seek to critically explore some of the key issues involved in an anarcho-Marxist critique of schooling and develop the basis for what might constitute an alternative view of education which could be said to be in radical opposition to such schooling at all levels.


Education is for anarchism, and what can very broadly be termed autonomism— that is, the many different schools of non-Leninist Marxism—of paramount importance in creating a society worthy of humanity, but this is not a simple formula of countering the dominant mode of institutional indoctrination known as schooling with libertarian propaganda, though that may have its place. The importance of education can be said to be an end in itself, prefiguring free social relations of community and reciprocity, comprised of autonomous individuals capable of comprehending both themselves and the world in which they live. Such a process of learning and acquiring knowledge must also nourish intellect and other forms of intelligence, just as intellect and other forms of intelligence nourish the acquisition of knowledge. It can reasonably be said that this is the diametric opposite of schooling at school-age level, but also increasingly at higher level too, speaking here of the sustained assault on universities to turn them into production lines for the social factory. In the United Kingdom, where I am based, this is especially acute, but more on the situation further on in this article. Indeed, as Ivan Illich noted, “For most the right to learn is confused with the obligation to attend school” (1971, 7). In our grim contemporary setting—both in the United Kingdom and United States—this could be further qualified by adding, “and in some cases attend—and agree to spend the rest of their lives paying for—university.”

Beginning with the institution of the school, the shortcomings of such an experience are instantly apparent, and especially for any anarcho-autonomist standpoint. Of course, certain basic and very necessary skills, both formal and more informal social skills, may be developed there, but, it must be said, this is largely in spite of, not thanks to, such an environment, which in its institutional as for its social form, is frequently a difficult and—going back to the very first years—an unhappy and traumatic experience. The straightforwardly authoritarian training of unquestioned acceptance and submission is contained in the very fact of being there, over which the student has no choice, but is obliged not to question or risk being labelled a problem and face possible expulsion with all the attendant issues of delinquency. The institutional form of what the late Paul Goodman (1966) called “Compulsory Mis-education” is especially unfortunate, but so too is the content: the imposition of arbitrary hierarchical authority embodied in the teacher and obedience to the rules which circumscribe this. The actual subjects to be studied are imposed top-down, very much at odds with any approximation of real learning in or outside of a classroom, which is a two-way process between educator and learner. Similarly, as Illich and others have previously noted, learning is an ongoing process not limited to institutional settings.

The curricula of any typical secondary school—and I am aware that I am drawing on the particular UK experience here—is largely one-size-fits-all, with a range of compulsory subjects arbitrarily handed down to the student—via the teacher—regardless of their interest or aptitude, fragments of which must then be regurgitated in tests and exams to be measured in terms of success or failure, depending on performance. This readymade stratifying of school-age students serves well the end of school-leaving which, aside from the relative joy of reaching the end of such an experience, is to provide capitalism with fresh slaves. Indeed, the fact that hyperdeveloped economies educate their populations for longer, albeit at very different levels, encapsulates the double-bind of capitalism itself: the more general wealth increases, the more ways must be found to limit and enclose it, thus reproducing the capital–labor relation. In terms of the cultural capital spoken of here, this can be rendered as the more educated people are, the more must this education become devalued and rendered obsolete in terms of fitting them into employment—so far as their labor may be needed at all. It might well be contended that the most significant contribution toward the production of a reservoir of labor that schooling makes, is in offering conformity and servility; and secondarily qualifications of varying levels. For the majority are, after all, to be disciplined and skilled for the labor process: specifically, their subordinate role within it.

The hierarchical and bureaucratic experience of schooling, in which the capacity to think critically is not only to be discouraged, but expunged at all costs, has its basis in wider capitalist society, thus forming the early basis for the compliant and docile future wage laborer capable only of following instructions given to them by a boss, and carrying out repetitive and standardized tasks. Indeed, the continual need to be reskilling in a flexible and competitive labor market can be observed in micro-form at school in the continuous competitive testing and assessment and quantitative measurement of results. The means and ends are the same however, bureaucratic classification, measurement, and control, the better to bureaucratically classify, measure, and control (non) individuals. Under late capitalism, the state—more and more through outsourced private agencies—tasks itself with maintaining and reproducing disciplined subjects, the institution of the school is perhaps the most obvious early experience—outside the family—of this process.

Schooling the Proletariat: Mass Production Demands a Better Skilled Workforce

That mass-production in the twentieth century should require mass-production of slightly better skilled workers, is illustrative of the trajectories of Fordism and Taylorism. Parallel to this development, there was also the belated recognition by the state that a literate and practically competent workforce, whose general education was improving, was also a latent and potential threat to the social order in which they were obliged to exist as slaves, if they were to physically exist at all. The rule-bound discipline inculcated by the school served well the factory and plant in which “labor is external to the worker” in which the labor of the worker “does not affirm … but denies, [and the worker, rather like the school-age student] does not feel content but unhappy.” Marx’s recognition in the 1844 Manuscripts ([1844] 2009) that alienation is all-pervasive under capitalism and its institutions, crystalizes well the essential objectification of the subject under these conditions which are not and never have been given, but remain a very particular ordering of society.

The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He is at home when he is not working, and when he is working he is not at home. His labor is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it’s forced labor. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. ([1844] 2009)

The worker who “only feels [herself][1] outside of [her] work and in [her] work feels outside of [herself]” (Marx 1844/2009) is really not that dissimilar to the high-school student who only feels himself of herself outside of high-school: becoming themselves, learning, developing, and growing outside of the strictures of the institution. The preparation for a lifetime of alienation and accepting the rules of a game rigged from the start, but which all are nonetheless obliged to play, makes the forced routine of secondary school with its arbitrary top-down organisation, and equally arbitrary compulsion and coercion to accept and submit to the education that is offered, is the natural preparation for such a future. The school produces alienation almost as effortlessly as it does in extinguishing critical or creative thought, with endless prescriptive subject matter that, more often than not, amounts to copying off a whiteboard merely to regurgitate under test or exam conditions—rote learning, which, it needs to be remembered, is not learning at all. The fact that the subject matter in question remains, for most of secondary school, so vast and disparate, and without any attention paid to the student’s interest or aptitude, is, of course, indicative of the long compulsory trial that is schooling.

Since the advent of capitalism however, there has also been the working class struggle to reappropriate knowledge. This has taken a number of forms, from informal social settings and reading groups to more structured study groups and formal educative programs such as the United Kingdom’s Worker’s Educational Association (WEA).[2] Such efforts have frequently opened up knowledge not previously open to those involved, not to mention further catalysing interest and learning in many, many individuals. Besides individual and collective reading and critical absorption of knowledge not readily accessible—or even touched on—in a school setting, these efforts to self-educate also develop and nourish intellect and a better understanding of the world, creating critically well-informed and educated people with a frequently acute critique of existing society, and their situation within it. In every sense, such reappropriation of knowledge, involves what Illich was aware of as the necessity of those involved being “able to meet around a problem chosen and defined by their own initiative … which [gives] each [wo]man the same opportunity to share [her] current concern with others motivated in the same concern” (1971, 26). Indeed, such a process is fully in keeping with an anarcho-autonomist theory of prefiguration in which both means inform ends and ends are visible in the mode-of-doing that is the means, a reflexive and two-way dynamic.[3],[4]

You Want Me to Wear More Flair? Emotional and Affective Labor and The Manufacture of “Transferable Skills” for Work

In hyperdeveloped consumer capitalism, more and more labor can be said to be of an emotional or affective nature, at least in those countries that are hyperdeveloped consumer economies. Affective or emotional labor does not obviously produce any tangible product, but relies instead on a mode of flexpoitation, in which the worker’s attitude is suitably flexible toward being exploited; for wage labour remains after all just that, it is forced labor and is never undertaken freely, but through “the dull compulsion of economic forces” (Marx [1867] 1999). As such, the provision of a workforce with can-do attitudes and apparently limitless enthusiasm for the job, however soul-destroyingly dismal, is increasingly served by further training or qualifications, that are frequently rendered defunct before they have even been acquired, an obvious example of de-skilling, what Braverman previously identified as “the degradation of labor” (Braverman [1974] 1999). However, no less important for service industries as for white-collar jobs involving the processing and handling of information, are those qualities that precede the alienation of schooling and wage slavery, which the market seeks to harness to specific instrumental ends: sociability, conviviality, recognition, and good humor, being just some of them, all of which are embodied, of course, in individuality, something that, under late capitalism, is at once denied the more it is emphasized.

Of key significance for those theories that seek to develop a coherent critique of this hyperalienation is the fact that a certain form of social criticism seemingly ignores the necessity for capital of successfully disposing of the products it produces through consumption, whether these have a material form or not. It would appear to be that a certain form of (Post)-Marxian criticism[5] seems to ignore the fact that wage labor does not need to be physically producing any material object to still be productive of value that is, however much this emotional or affective labor may appear immaterial, it still has a material basis in the value-form; from offering services, to the processing of information, to the purchase of an experience: Consumption is predicated on production, and production—at least in hyperdeveloped economies—is predicated on consumption. It remains the task of any renewed critical social theory to be aware of this, and to consider it when attempting to develop the critique of the wage relation and abstract labor and how this remains pivotal to the capital–labor relation itself. Such an understanding of these relations remains bound up with what constitutes knowledge and what is its substance and purpose, just as how these remain incompatible with schooling at all levels.

In terms of how the transferable skills outlined here may be said to be manufactured by schooling, it is important to emphasize that this finds its apotheosis in the market-focused production line that UK and US universities would increasingly appear to have become, and the very questionable notion of knowledge understood in its fullest and truest sense which they offer. This version of knowledge is, itself, much more about a relative upward reskilling for the knowledge economies of these countries, and has little to do with education or knowledge for its own sake. However, such an instrumental goal of taking inherent human qualities and using them in alienated form in the service of instrumental rationality, is at odds with learning or the exploration of knowledge for its own sake, and in the collective open-ended efforts to counter this, we find the question of knowledge, itself, thrown back into question. Equipping secondary school students with transferable or soft skills is an important part of schooling, but it is even more important for higher education, and the production of graduates. However, the contestation of this version of knowledge is, everywhere, apparent at British universities—I again draw on my own first-hand experience—as is contestation of the effects this wholesale restructuring—first felt through savage cuts to departments, academic jobs, student numbers, and funding—is having, what this is actually aimed at achieving, and for whom. For, in the effort to make knowledge available to all, it is possible to observe a reappropriation of doing, an essential basis for the qualitative and transformative social change demanded by anarchism and autonomism.

Communizing Knowledge is to Overwhelm the Limits of its Enclosure—Contesting Knowledge in the UK Academy

Taking a more specific example of how we can observe the reappropriation of doing, there are the struggles to develop knowledge in its original sense against the imperatives that seek to turn the university into a market-focused production line offering value for money to debt-indentured student consumers, and a properly bureaucratic, hierarchical system of quantification and measurement in which those struggling to do research and teach are made to justify their existence as a matter of survival—the first rule of the capital–labor relation.

Although it had long been the ambition of New Labour[6] (RIP) to create this high-speed production line, the current incumbent government’s determined efforts to bring it about, and create a more openly instrumental university stratified along lines of usefulness, at least brings into sharper focus, the battle over knowledge itself: About what? Who for? For what purpose?

It is instructive to here draw on my own experience in the United Kingdom. Following the General Election of 2010, although the incumbent government was not returned, after thirteen years in power, no party emerged with a clear majority. The Conservative Party formed a coalition government with the third party, the Liberal Democrats, who had not been in power since their early twentieth-century manifestation, thus in keeping with the nature of party politics, the opportunity to form a coalition and be in government one again, was far too good to miss. In the current desperate measures being undertaken by different governments across Europe to shift the burden of capital’s crisis of profitability back onto their general populations in the form of savage cuts and other burdensome social costs, it is not hyperbolic to say that the UK coalition is without equal. Higher education, after a far from socially progressive strategy under the previous successive “New Labour” administrations, now faces a crisis the like of which has not been seen before.

The extremely shaky Conservative–Liberal Democrat UK coalition government has moved swiftly in imposing severe austerity measures in every area of public life in the short time it has held power. As well as actual cuts, there is also—as has already been noted here—the concerted effort to shift social costs back onto the majority—a very clear example being the decision to slash central government funding for university teaching by 79% from the current £3.9 billion a year to £700 million a year.[7] Accordingly, universities will also be able to charge up to £9,000 pa in tuition fees to meet the cost: Dissent was expected to be minimal; it has been quite the opposite, and is, as more than one slogan has repeated “about more than just tuition fees,” but also against the sustained effort to move universities toward offering a very much more limited range of degree subjects, and limiting research and teaching to whatever can prove its market worth.

In opposition to this, there is the effort to reappropriate doing by renewing the value of learning as critical and dynamic, thus, in this sense, it can be seen as the refusal of the false choices of the market, imposed top-down by university management emboldened by government policy, and to see knowledge as an end in itself, not to serve straightforwardly instrumental ends: meeting the needs of business, etc. What has previously and critically been referred to as “The McDonaldization of HE” (Garland 2008) has more recently been well explored by others in the United Kingdom as the “Showdown at the sausage factory” (Gillespie et al. 2011), which nicely captures the nature of British universities in 2011, but also the wave of struggles in and around them to reappropriate doing; the struggle to reappropriate doing into something very different and very far removed from what most Vice-Chancellors are aiming for: in effect, the fastest possible production of already market-disciplined graduates ready to struggle to get ahead in the rat-race.

By contrast, this specific reappropriation of doing can be seen as the communization of knowledge, in which all imposed limits to acquiring and developing an understanding of the world are breached; and in which thought, and its many different disciplinary outlets, are ends in themselves, one might even take the original definition of philosophy as a maxim— the love of wisdom. Such a definition of thought and its limitless exploration is also to diametrically oppose the imposition of value, the imperatives of capital, and knowledge as existing only if it can be of use to these same ends. The reappropriation of doing was visible in the mass student protests in London in November and December last year,[8] and is visible on campuses across the United Kingdom today, in strike action by staff and occupations by students and staff alike—a radically different way-of-doing which is both means and end, and resists and opposes the imperatives of market discipline, of hierarchical power, and state-determined wisdom. As such, the anarcho-autonomist demand that knowledge and education be freed from the fetters of instrumental reason and schooling at all levels, at a time in which they are thrown into very real crisis, becomes ever more prescient.


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Garner, Richard. 2010. “Rebellion Fears as Tuition Fees Rise to £9,000..” In The Independent Nov. 4. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/rebellion-fears-as-tuition-fees-rise-to-1639000-2124588.html and Nigel Morris

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Gillespie, Tom, Pusey, Andre, Russell, Bertie and Sealey-Huggins, Leon. 2011. “Showdown at the Sausage Factory..” Retrieved September 30, 2011 from http://wearethepaper.org/2011/04/30/showdown-at-the-sausage-factory/

Goodman, Paul. 1966. Compulsory Mis-Education and the Community of Scholars New York: Random House.

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Marx, Karl. [1844] 2009. Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 Retrieved from http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/labour.htm

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Savage, Michael. 2010. Universities Face Cuts of £4bn, Leaked Memo Says. The Independent, 16 Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/universities-face-cuts-of-1634bn-leaked-memo-says-2108195.html. Oct.

Shepherd, Jessica. 2011. Rush to Charge £9,000 Fees Opens up £1bn Gap in University Funding. The Guardian, 28 Retrieved from edition http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/mar/27/tution-fees-universities-government-spending, March

Vasagar, Jeevan, Lewis, Paul and Watt, Nicholas. 2010. This is Just the Beginning. The Guardian, 11 Nov. 1

Vasagar, Jeevan and Shepherd, Jessica. 2011. University Admissions Could Create Two-Tier System, Committee Warns. The Guardian, 3 Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/nov/10/university-admission-two-tier-system, Nov.

In Defense of Mathematics and its Place in Anarchist Education

Mark Wolfmeyer


This article reclaims mathematics from the measures of profit and control by first presenting an anarchist analysis of mathematics’ status quo societal uses and pedagogic activities. From this analysis, a vision for an anarchist math education is developed, as well as suggestions for how government school practitioners sympathetic to anarchism can insert this vision into their current work. Aspects to this vision include teacher autonomy, freedom from hierarchical curriculum structure and math class as a non-coercive, happy place. Finally, mathematics is argued to be essential knowledge for anarchistic society for three potentialities: in solving social and technological problems through application, as an analytic technology and for increasing individual happiness via the aesthetic dimension.


I am sympathetic to the bad reputation mathematics often endures. Some of society’s well-known uses of mathematics cloud our understanding of the knowledge and its place in a visionary, anarchist society; similarly, the status quo pedagogy of mathematics education might suggest that mathematical knowledge should be left out of an anarchist education. I describe this situation with a heavy heart, however, because I also happen to have passion for mathematics as a knowledge for myself to use and enjoy, and as something I can share with others. In this article, I argue that mathematics finds a home in anarchist education, and again that mathematical knowledge is not in conflict with anarchist society. To begin, I offer a handful of examples from such societal uses and status quo pedagogy that work against three commonly agreed on anarchist values: collectivism, fraternity, and freedom from social hierarchy. These representations will guide an understanding for what anarchist society and education are and are not. Next, the article discusses the role mathematics can play in anarchist education and finally society. Put another way, this article first presents an anarchist analysis of current mathematical behaviors, both pedagogic and otherwise, and then develops an anarchist mathematics.

Before I proceed with the connections between mathematics/mathematical behaviors and anarchism, I describe briefly the anarchist theory that informs this article. One definition describes anarchism as “a political theory which aims to create a society within which individuals freely cooperate together as equals” (McKay 2008, 19). In particular, I am highlighting three tenets related to this definition: collectivism, fraternity, and freedom. Collectivism denotes the curtailment of property rights, especially as they relate to ownership of capital. Fraternity describes an inclination for individuals to recognize the needs and desires of all other people, and accordingly to act in the spirit of mutual aid. Freedom indicates a lack of coercive actions by any person, group, or social institution on any one person, as well as individual autonomy within the boundaries of imposing on another’s freedom. I review these anarchist tenets when I describe an anarchist math education, but first I use them to expose problematic mathematical activities in society.

Antianarchist Mathematical Activities in Society

As much as anarchist theory presents possible goals for society to work toward, it also offers a framework with which to critique institutional arrangements and activities in society. In this section, I offer a handful of mathematical activities that, when viewed through an anarchist lens, can be considered for their contributions to societal ills. Specifically, I review the role that mathematics has played in the exploitation of labor, or economic inequality, and warfare. These mathematical activities highlight two tenets from anarchist theory: collectivism and fraternity.

The first of these representations concerns the societal use of mathematics for unequal distribution of resources. Apple (1992, 1995) suggests that mathematical knowledge is often utilized for its “technical/administrative” relevance that is “convertible ultimately into profits” (Apple 1992, 420). The recent use of mathematics by numerous Wall Street hedge funds for grandiose profits (Patterson 2010) describes this relevance quite accurately. In this case, mathematical knowledge was highly regarded for its ability to analyze, dissect, and predict outcomes for capitalists seeking to turn their money into more money. How this activity leads to economic inequality rests initially, of course, on Marx’s (1976) critique of capitalism in which labor is not paid the value it adds to the capitalist. Harvey (2005) updated this exploitation in explaining today’s financial markets: “The strong wave of financialization that set in after 1980 has been marked by its speculative and predatory style. … Deregulation allowed the financial system to become one of the main centers of redistributive activity through speculation, predation, fraud, and thievery” (161). Sadly, mathematics is an integral part of such redistributive activity.

Also indicating this relevance of mathematics to profit is the often-cited connection between mathematics and economic growth/security/superiority. For example, as Gutstein (2006) notes, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ (NCTM) Standards 1989 frames mathematics education as one means to continue US economic growth. Generally, economic growth is understood to mean an increase in the gross domestic product (GDP), which measures goods and services output (whatever these may be) and does not necessarily indicate balanced income or distribution of legitimate needs among the population. To this point, the last quarter of the twentieth century saw both a steadily increasing GDP and a four percent increase (from two to six) in the share of national income of the top one percent of income earners in the United States. However, the “ratio of the median compensation of workers to the salaries of CEOs increased from just over 30 to 1 in 1970 to nearly 500 to 1 by 2000” (Harvey 2005, 16–17). Therefore, mathematics education and with it mathematical knowledge are rhetorically linked to economic inequality in documents such as the NCTM Standards.

Before continuing with the next representation of status quo mathematical contradictions to anarchism, I highlight the first anarchist value that has been presented by the capitalist use of mathematics. Among a variety of anarchist theorists, most agree on an economic system with collectivist properties, or economic equality. Whereas early anarchist theorists like Proudhon did not fully assert the need to abolish private ownership and capitalist economic organization, Bakunin later established the anarchist tenet for a “social revolution which transforms private property into collective property. … Only ‘those things which are truly for personal use’ would remain private property” (Geurin 1970, 56). Current society witnesses mathematical knowledge as a powerful tool for some people to take from others, a program regarded to be anticollectivist.

The next representation of mathematics’ antianarchist tendencies comes from another of its infamous applications: for modern warfare. During World War II, US Military officials claimed that the young men and women who were enlisting lacked the most basic of skills in math and this would greatly determine the war’s outcome. Two documents from history provide a clear picture of this, the first of which being a letter from Louis Bredvold, an academic, to Captain F.U. Lake, in which he asks for more information regarding the “difficulty in finding students in American colleges other than engineering who were sufficiently prepared in mathematics to make them available for training for commissions in the Navy” (Garrett 1991, 191). Admiral C. W. Nimitz’s response elaborately answers this request, making a number of claims so as to demonstrate the military’s need for back-to-basics math instruction in public schools: “A carefully prepared selective examination was given to 4,200 entering freshman at the leading universities, 68% of the men … were unable to pass the arithmetical reasoning test;” “Almost 40% of the college graduates applying for commissioning had not in the course of their education taken … trigonometry;” “Requirements [for commissioning] had to be lowered in the field of arithmetical attainment,” and “Mathematics is … necessary in fire control and in many other vital branches of the naval officer’s profession” (Garrett 1991, 192–194). As authors began to cite the Nimitz letter, more military officials openly criticized math education and called for change. Letters, written by military university officials and directed toward teachers, parents, and supervisors, were published in journals such as National Association of Secondary School Principals Bulletin and Mathematics Teacher (Garrett 2003, 288).

This trend of military interest in math education continues today. For example, the drafting process for the new de facto US national math standards, the Common Core State Standards, included financial support from two large-scale engineering firms who happen to provide weapons to a number of nations: Boeing and Battelle. These firms provided monetary support to Achieve, Inc., the not-for-profit which was organized by the National Governors Association and Chiefs of School State Officers for drafting national standards (Achieve, Inc. 2010). Their funding suggests that mathematical knowledge is needed to engineer military products that will be purchased by nations for warfare.

Related to society’s use of mathematics for warfare, the knowledge also falls prey to societal attempts to subjugate populations. Gould’s Mismeasure of Man (1996) recounts the activities of many innovators of statistical methods whose primary goal was to scientifically prove White supremacy. These efforts continue in modern times and extend to include both classist and racist arguments, notably with the much discussed work of Herrnstein and Murray (1994). Advanced mathematical thinking dominates the perspectives in this and similar works, leaving in the mouths of those with radical sympathies a sour taste vis-à-vis mathematics.

The trend that mathematics aids in weapons engineering and subjugation of populations brings to the front the second agreement among anarchists that I highlight in this article: fraternity and mutual aid. Suissa (2010), quoting Patricia White, describes fraternity as an attitude comprising respect for all peoples’ needs and individuality. In other words, the self-satisfaction of others, or others’ happiness, is of paramount concern to individuals in anarchist society. Kropotkin’s (2006) mutual aid, derived from evolutionary evidence in humans and other species, puts forth benevolence as a primary determinant of individual and community success. Anarchists view warfare as antithetical to the fraternal spirit. Analyses of war from anarcho-pacificists, such as de Ligt, suggest that armies and wars between nations maintain the rulers’ power by facilitating hostility among the working people (e.g., de Ligt 1938). Similarly, efforts to prove one person’s worth over another (or indeed, the value of one entire group as greater than that of another group), as the case with the use of mathematics for proving racial inferiority, clearly conflict with fraternity among persons.

Thus far, societal uses for mathematics have exposed some ways that mathematical activities work against the anarchist vision, specifically collectivism and fraternity. These examples do not comprise an entire list of mathematics’ dark side, but have been selected because they are particularly contrary to anarchism and are popular choices for expressing a negative view of mathematics. For now, I abandon the societal uses for the ways that pedagogic behaviors similarly dismiss anarchist principles and perhaps foster the negativity many hold for mathematics. As with the societal uses, I continue to articulate anarchist tenets by way of these negative pedagogic activities.

Antianarchist Activities in Mainstream and Marxist Math Education

In the previous section, I outlined two mathematical activities in society that contribute to societal ills, when viewed in the light of anarchist theory. Here, I attend to typical activities and behaviors in math classrooms that also can be considered counteranarchist. As before, I continue to use anarchist theory as a framework to study society, this time math teaching and learning. Specifically, I study ideas from both mainstream and Marxist math education within an anarchist context. Mainstream math education counters anarchism’s notion of fraternity, especially as demonstrated by the prevalence of anxiety in students learning mathematics. Both mainstream and Marxist math education present an issue regarding anarchism’s tenet of freedom, because each lacks student and/or teacher autonomy to fully explore mathematical knowledge.

Beginning with mainstream math education activities, the first pedagogic situation is perhaps better described as a consequence of pedagogic activities, but is included here for extending the argument that mathematics, in this case math education, counters the anarchist principle of concern for individual well being, or fraternity. I am talking about math anxiety. This phenomenon is well documented across cultural contexts, for example Ho et al. (2000), and generally is taken to mean the documented emotional responses in individuals when subject to learning or being tested on mathematics. Math class is often an unhappy place for many of its students; fraternity does not seem to exist here. The attention by scholars on its cognitive or affective aspects, as in Ho et al. (2000), places the blame for this experience on the students, rather than the situation in which the unrest occurs. On the contrary, it is not unreasonable to suggest that this phenomenon exists for the circumstances of math education, such as the rush to learn one aspect of mathematics in order to master the next, or risk being left behind.

Indeed, the concern to master one idea before moving to the next presents another aspect of math education in contrast to anarchist principles. Curriculum structure in math education is hierarchical, whereas hierarchy and anarchism are antithetical. The introduction to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (2010) includes the following quote from Schmidt and Houang: “standards and curricula are coherent if they are ‘articulated over time as a sequence of topics and performances that are logical and reflect, where appropriate, the sequential or hierarchical nature of the disciplinary content from which the subject matter derives’” (3). The argument that mathematics learning sequentially builds from one topic to the next should be familiar to anyone who has completed a standard math education program. Although it may be true that some mathematical knowledge does build from simpler to more complicated ideas in a linear fashion, it is an extraordinary, although commonplace, idea that all mathematics and an individual’s mathematical development will progress in one direct fashion. For instance, students must master the division of fractions before beginning to solve algebraic equations. This particular example is chosen because it simply has no mathematical logic behind it: Division of fractions is not necessary for a student to understand how to solve an algebraic equation.[9] However, writers of the curriculum consistently construct this and other false hierarchies among elements of mathematical knowledge that facilitate a hierarchy of students. Certain students continue to master each of the steps, whereas others who miss a particular one are doomed to miss all the resultant knowledge higher along this hierarchy. Lockhart (2009), a published mathematician who also teaches high school, also disagrees with the hierarchy in curriculum. He calls it the “‘ladder myth’—the idea that mathematics can be arranged as a sequence of ‘subjects’ each being in some way more advanced” (56). Instead, he favors a variety of topics/inquiries that arise from teacher and student interest.

Beyond the curriculum, hierarchy also exists among the adults invested in pedagogic activities. Most clearly this is seen with the act of teacher compliance with standards for curriculum, which notably does not occur in higher education and happens less so in other K–12 content areas. Teachers are expected to develop lessons that will satisfy curricular goals not decided by them, and mathematics has more rigid standards than other subject areas. Math teachers are considered less able to make such decisions than mathematicians and math educators. Indeed, a common research agenda for math education is the endeavor to prove what math teachers do not know. Research on this topic comes from such influential scholars in math education as Ma (2000), who served on the federal government’s National Math Advisory Panel in 2008. Citing whatever deficits teachers of math may have asserts authority over them and reinforces the need for rigorous control. From the anarchist perspective, this lack of autonomy for teachers may point to the reason that Ma and others find teacher knowledge deficits.

Often referred to as the defining feature of anarchism is its principle of freedom from hierarchy. Bookchin (2005) writes of hierarchy as “the domination of young by the old, of women by men, of one ethnic group by another, of ‘masses’ by bureaucrats who profess to speak in their ‘higher social interests,’ of countryside by town, and in a more subtle psychological sense, of body by mind, of spirit by a shallow instrumental rationality, and of nature by society and technology. … Hierarchy is not merely a social condition; it is also a state of consciousness, a sensibility toward phenomena at every level of personal and social experience” (68–69). Anarchism exposes the various social practices that subject people (and other living things) to the control of other people. Status quo math education practice promotes Bookchin’s “sensibility toward phenomena” in its presentation of curriculum, as described previously. Students move up the ladder in a race-like fashion with “some students ‘ahead’ of others, and parents worry that their child is ‘falling behind’” (Lockhart 2009, 56). Ultimately, students are ranked by how high up the hierarchy of knowledge they climb, thereby functioning to sort people into above and below.[10]

Standing against hierarchical practices in society highlights one major difference between anarchism and Marxism. Although Marxism exposes economic hierarchies and seeks to replace these with economic equality, the project to eradicate other hierarchies is not considered, and what is more, Marxism asserts the need for a hierarchy in the educational process that will move society toward equality. Marxist education relies on an enlightened elite who hold what they consider an objective truth for how society currently functions and how society will be transformed. It “is seen as primarily the means by which the proletarian vanguard is to be educated to true (class) consciousness. Once the revolution is over, it seems, there will be no role for education.” On the other hand, anarchist education “is aimed not at bringing about a fixed end-point, but at maintaining an ongoing process of creative experimentation” (Suissa 2010, 39).

Gutstein (2006) represents the Marxist educational perspective in the context of mathematics education, when he draws upon Freire’s critical pedagogy for example. His goal of “liberation from oppression” (22) utilizes a pedagogy comprising “teaching mathematics for social justice” (29). Aspects to the pedagogy include (a) “reading the world with mathematics” (26), or looking at racial and economic inequality with mathematical analyses, (b) “writing the world with mathematics” (26–27), or seeing the power in mathematics for social change, (c) “developing positive cultural and social identities” (28–29), or learning both the language/culture of power and personal language/culture (as in Delpit 1995), (d) “reading the mathematical word” and “succeeding in the traditional sense,” (29–30) or learning the standardized mathematics curriculum to perform well on tests and (e) “changing one’s orientation to mathematics,” (30–31), or appreciating mathematical power as both its dominant role in society and its capacity to change the world. Gutstein used these objectives to develop several classroom practices, and he discusses their success in his own classroom.

Anarchism has a lot to say about Gutstein’s (2006) approach. In his project, he envisions an enlightened leader who designs an education for specific goals. Although authority is not necessarily in conflict with aspects of anarchist education or child-rearing, Gutstein’s prescribed experiences for his students remove the anarchist process of creative experimentation from the educational process. Gutstein controls his students’ use of mathematics; they are expected to learn and know mathematics primarily for its capacity to critique racial and economic inequality instead of other possibilities relevant to both its nature and application. From the anarchist perspective, Gutstein’s activity can provoke resistance from at least some students and can perhaps develop negative relationships with mathematics and/or social justice in some individuals, an outcome contrary to Gutstein’s goals. The limited view of mathematics use resonates with Suissa’s second note on Marxist education, that “once the revolution is over, it seems, there will be no role for education,” or in this case, no use for mathematics (Suissa 2010, 39). If students are indoctrinated to view mathematics as primarily useful for analyzing oppression and for playing the power game, then once they achieve the goal of liberation, they may not understand the continued use for mathematics. Furthermore, by adopting the traditional hierarchical math curriculum, Gutstein’s project continues to promote hierarchies and fails to critique such authority established outside the classroom walls. As the teacher, he accepts the authority to which he is subjected, and this acceptance, along with the hierarchical structuring of the knowledge to be learned, indoctrinates students in hierarchical phenomena described earlier.

To be sure, Gutstein is to be applauded by anarchists for his excellent work developing social justice lessons for the mathematics classroom. He has certainly taken society to task for its problematic relationship with mathematics, which I have suggested by the examples I included at the beginning of this article. However, the lack of student autonomy in his pedagogy is, indeed, too significant for those of us with anarchist sympathies. Suissa (2010) discusses these issues more generally in outlining differences between Marxism and anarchism and in her articulation of a philosophy of anarchist education. She reminds us that anarchism is the political philosophy that discusses both individual freedom and social equality. Individual freedom must be of equally paramount concern, yet one individual’s freedom cannot take away another’s, hence the staunch opposition to capitalism. However, individuals are to be otherwise free to govern themselves.

In the educational context, this dance between individuality and equality exists, as well. Tolstoy, a religious anarchist, put the words “Come and Go Freely” above the doors of his experimental school at Yasnaya Polyana (Tolstoy 2000, 1). However, Gutstein’s students do not get the chance to choose whether they want to learn both the mathematics he is teaching and the social context in which he is teaching it. To be sure, Gutstein’s efforts do embrace one aspect of anarchist education. Suissa (2010) argues that anarchist education does not refrain from “the very attempt by educators to pass on any substantial beliefs or moral principles to children” (98). So Gutstein’s work properly addresses this aspect to anarchist education, but I argue does so with too much authority and too little fraternity. He suggests the math classroom’s primary function as liberatory pedagogy, yet this limits student exposure to mathematical knowledge. In turn, students have less potential to gain a variety of math knowledge and, as I argue later, precludes some students from developing a happy, self-fulfilling relationship with mathematics.

Defining Anarchist Math Education

In the previous section, I considered the elements of Marxist math education that embrace anarchist tenets and those that do not. Marxist math education includes exposure to anarchist morals of equality and fraternity, but does so at the expense of student autonomy. What then, would an anarchist math education look like? First, in taking a cue from Goldman that education “must insist upon the free growth and development of the innate forces and tendencies of the child” (quoted in Suissa 2010, 77), no student should be forced to learn mathematics as happens in both mainstream and Marxist pedagogy. An earnest effort to develop such innate forces, however, requires anarchist educators to present mathematics in a variety of ways and comprise its various behavioral forms so that students can determine if they would like to acquire the knowledge. The term mathematics captures a wide variety of cognitive and physical behaviors, three of which are mathematics as the art of abstract reasoning, mathematics as abstract and automatic procedures, and mathematics as an applied science. Before detailing their differences, I want to present two caveats: (a) None of these are suggested to be more authentic mathematics than the other; each is mathematics, and (b) these conceptions do contain common elements, thus interacting and intersecting with each.

Each of the three behaviors agree that mathematics can consider a variety of topics (e.g., numbers, geometric figures) but each requires a different type of effort when undertaken by an individual or group. For example, in the mathematical arena commonly called number theory, mathematics as abstract procedures takes place when some friends who are out to dinner add up their tab and divide it by the number of people to determine how much each person must pay; mathematics as the art of abstract reasoning takes place when an enthusiastic student taking an elementary number theory course attempts to prove that every integer greater than 1 can be written uniquely as a product of primes (called the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic); and mathematics as an applied science takes place when a team of computer scientists might use modular arithmetic and large prime numbers to develop a public key cryptosystem to use when needed to keep digital information private even when intercepted by a third party. In the first example, the party is indeed applying arithmetic to a situation, but I hesitate to say that this is mathematics as applied science. The application is automatic without conscious reference to mathematical properties or theorems, whereas computer scientists are actively working with mathematical properties and theorems to develop new applications.

These three behaviors are not intended to capture all of mathematics but do exhibit its variety. Anarchist math education would allow students to be exposed to the variety of mathematics, to see whether certain aspects are more interesting for an individual than others. Students and teachers are free to choose among the mathematical behaviors that are most interesting to them, possibly resolving for themselves the “Math War” (Schoenfeld 2004, 253–254) debate over skills versus concepts. This debate has focused little on whether some students prefer learning mathematical skills and algorithms by rote, whereas others prefer proving mathematical ideas. I would be surprised if other experienced teachers would disagree with my observation that students, indeed, often favor one of the mathematical behaviors over another. Different from the math wars, anarchist education would place no comparative valuation on one mathematical behavior over the other.

Lockhart (2009) comments on what he perceives as a sad omission of the abstract reasoning behavior in today’s schools. Most students do not get a chance to know that mathematics can be “dreamy and poetic”; “radical, subversive, and psychedelic”; and a discipline that allows “freedom of expression” (23). Lockhart presents mathematics as an art, and in this sense mathematics education will, for some students, be appreciated for its aesthetic qualities because the artist (mathematician) plays in completely imagined worlds. This resonates with Marcuse’s (1978) assertion that “art breaks open a dimension in which human beings, nature, and things no longer stand under the law of the established reality principle. … The autonomy of art reflects the unfreedom of individuals in the unfree society” (72). Both traditional and Marxist approaches to math education lack this autonomy of art by instead controlling student mathematical behaviors; authority chooses which behaviors are favored (usually abstract procedures and applications) and limits these behaviors to only specific avenues of inquiry. In an anarchist math education program, the art of abstract reasoning would be one avenue for students to explore in mathematics.

In an anarchist math education practice, freedom from hierarchy would include a teacher’s capacity to choose her own path for the class experience. Aspects of a moral education, such as those in Gutstein (2006), as well as the aesthetic dimension would probably be a part of her thinking. However, end goals would not necessarily be determined in advance, although they could, depending on her particular disposition and pedagogic approach. For those who are worried about accountability to cover material, an anarchist education might include advanced methods of accountability via group decision making, subjecting one teacher’s performance to review by other math teachers and the students and parents that are involved.

Suissa (2010) makes the important point that perspectives on anarchist education often cloud what education will look like within a state society that hopes to become stateless versus an education in an already stateless society. So far I have perhaps described the anarchist math education in a stateless society, so I’d like to suggest how aspects of this vision could be incorporated into current teacher practice.

Current math teachers with anarchist sympathies can still experiment with anarchist math education despite working within a state-run education system. DeLeon (2008) suggests direct action and sabotage as useful activities for anarchist teachers. Anarchist math teachers should first assert their personal knowledge of mathematics and then work together to develop alternative programs that engage freedom of curriculum supported by a community of accountability. Specific to the curriculum, the current system mandates that all students be subject to mathematics education. Anarchist math teachers can at the least recognize that some students will appreciate some mathematical behaviors more than others and strive to determine and emphasize these for their particular students. Anarchist math teachers can also avoid any activities that cause students unrest, deemphasizing the competitive forces at play given the hierarchical curriculum structure. Math class should be a happy place.

Mathematics’ Role in Anarchist Society

I began this article outlining several societal uses of mathematics that work against the anarchist vision. The majority of the article then described the ways that math education is not, and then could be, anarchist. I conclude by suggesting the worth of an anarchist math education via a return to its societal use, this time within the anarchist vision. By presenting the confluence of anarchism with mathematics, I strive to reclaim it from its associations with inequality, militarism, and unhappiness.

To conclude, I briefly describe three aspects of mathematical behaviors that have a place in the anarchist vision: its use as an analytic technology for maintenance of equality and fraternity, its ability to solve technologically sophisticated problems, and the aesthetic quality that can increase human happiness. As an analytic technology, various branches of mathematics can work to keep equality and fraternity in check. For instance, Marx’s (1976) critique of capitalism is greatly aided by his use of algebra to generate such abstract concepts as the rate of exploitation, expressed as the ratio of surplus labor to necessary labor. Proper statistical methods and analyses can also aid in efforts of equality and fraternity, through, for example, proper sampling methods and utilizing theories regarding sampling distributions to generate accurate confidence intervals. Second, it seems trivial to comment on or provide examples of the application of mathematics for technology, but it should be noted that in the anarchist vision society will have no need for technology that exploits or harms people or nature. Instead, as Schumacher (1973) suggests, technology will be enjoyed by all to “lighten the burden of work man [sic] has to carry in order to stay alive and develop his potential,” not increase our work as technology often does today (148–149). Finally, some people find happiness in the aesthetic experience of mathematics. Lockhart’s (2009) passionate arguments on mathematics and math education indicate his enjoyment with this knowledge; for Lockhart and others out there, mathematics is an art form that can be enjoyed and would thus find a place in anarchist society merely for increasing happiness and the fraternal spirit.


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“Love and Rage” in the Classroom: Planting the Seeds of Community Empowerment

Kurt Love


Although no one unified anarchist theory exists, educational approaches can be taken to support the full liberation of the self and the construction of an interconnected community that strives to rid itself of eco-sociocultural oppressions. An anarchist pedagogical approach could be one that is rooted in a love/rage unit of analysis occurring along a spectrum of various types of actions and contributions within a community. Anarchism as a violent destruction of the state is a stereotypical view that has perhaps led to its own early demise as a social movement. Anarchism that embraces adaptation through more inclusive forms of resistance, including a reconstruction for the K–12 classroom context, is one that stands a chance in evolving a society toward love, justice, and empowerment. This article explores those possibilities aiming for accessibility while still honoring core anarchist calls for strong, localized democratic participation and decision-making outside of permanent hierarchies.

Anarchisms: A Brief Overview

Emma Goldman (1969), often labeled the Anarchist Queen and the High Priestess of Anarchism, described anarchism as “the philosophy of a new social order based on liberty unrestricted by man-made law; the theory that all forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and harmful, as well as unnecessary” (50). Anarchism points directly at government as the source of violence in the form of wars, social oppression, and ecological destruction. Peter Berkman (2001) added:

To support, defend, and perpetuate these unjust and terrible conditions, it is necessary to have police, prisons, laws, and government. For the disinherited are not content to forever starve in the midst of plenty, and the exploited are beginning to cry out against their cruel bondage. (27)

Governments of all kinds produce violence and oppression toward people, especially those who are vulnerable, such as women, people of color, and people living with poverty. Government exacerbates their vulnerabilities and places heavier burdens on them. Certainly, when Goldman originally wrote those words in 1910, she also included critiques of the collusion between government and businesses. She was one of the many voices demanding eight-hour workdays rather than the standard twelve-hour workdays. Even though much was done to standardize working conditions in the United States, current global practices of transcontinental businesses (often with headquarters in the United States) that enslave workers at very low wages and for twelve- to sixteen-hour workdays in free trade zones. Hardt and Negri (2000) argued that governments and countries have essentially dissolved almost entirely, giving way to the rise of the global corporate empire that set their own political agendas and policies because of their abilities to manipulate governments. Anarchists and anarchist theory more clearly identify governments and corporations at least as equal partners as sources of violence and socioecological oppression.

A core common principle in all forms of anarchist theory is the fully liberated individual that voluntary participates in local, active communal groups that are fully democratic in operation. In this social organization, her or his participation is completely voluntary, so if an individual feels restricted he or she may freely leave the collective whenever he or she chooses. Anarchist theorists have generally categorized these social organizations or collectives into four different types: mutualism (bottom-up, small communes and workers cooperatives eventually forming larger federations), collectivist anarchism or anarcho-communism (workers in small voluntary groups have all material goods necessary from a common source), individualist anarchism (focusing less on a common group and more on the freedom of the individual; Jacker 1968), and anarcho-syndicalism (use of federated, decentralized labor councils as the primary social unit that are involved in all economic and social institutions; Chomsky 2005; Rocker 2004).

Early views of anarchism in the mid to late nineteenth century and early twentieth century often were founded in some naiveté, especially in how science would play a role in the formation of anarchist communities and practices. A common aspect of many early anarchists was the belief in a society that would ultimately become more peaceful and enlightened if it incorporated the emerging accomplishments of science. Peter Kropotkin (1995), who was in favor of collectivist anarchism, argued:

The Anarchists conceive a society in which all the mutual relations of its members are regulated, not by laws, not by authorities, whether self-imposed or elected, but by mutual agreements between the members of that society, and by a sum of social customs and habits—not petrified by law, routine, or superstition, but … stimulated by the progress of science, invention and the steady growth of higher ideals. (59)

Kropotkin, who also echoed other radical social reformers such as Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, wrote these words during the nineteenth century. Since then, science and technology have been increasingly called into question as additional sources of oppression (DeLeon and Love 2009; Haraway 1997; Weinstein 2004) with the dropping of nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, increased levels of pharmaceuticals in mainstream foods, common practices of manipulating the genetics of plants, unethical experimentation using participants of socially vulnerable populations (e.g., people of color, prisoners, impoverished peoples, etc.), and increased militarization using unmanned armed planes or drones that are seemingly changing the mindset again about the cost of war. Additionally, Paul Feyeraband (1993) argued that no strict scientific method or linear progression exists in scientific research. Scientific research has increasingly aligned with the agendas of corporations, governments, and militaries (some of the largest sources of funding for scientific research) further exacerbating vulnerable peoples and nature. Science and technology may certainly provide some benefits to the development of some anarchist communities, but anarchists no longer turn to them as ways to gauge the direction of anarchist theories and practice. The kind of salvation with which Kropotkin and early anarchists were hopeful has certainly not emerged, and contemporary anarchists recognize that.

Anarchist theorists and researchers have also identified various institutional processes designed to promote social hegemony to promote social control for the benefit of the wealthy. Noam Chomsky has been a leading recent voice in analyzing practices of corporations (1999), schools (2000), media (1989, 1997, 2001), and governments (1992, 2006) that produce widespread oppression while hegemonically gaining support from the very people who often suffer from those forms of oppression. Anarchist theorists have done a great deal to point out the sources of social control, domination of subordinated groups, and suppression of freethinking. Activist anarchists, anarchist educators, as well as theorists have discussed the importance of freeing ourselves from these restrictive and mentally imprisoning institutions. Anarchists of various backgrounds, occupations, social statuses, and ethnicities have often drawn our attention to the direct actions, sabotaging, and various radical alternatives to undermine or remove ourselves from the grip of those institutions that are the sources of hegemony, suffering, and domination. In many ways, the love/rage duality has come to symbolize the framework for anarchist theories and practices. This article discusses and contextualizes the potential relationships with education to free ourselves from the oppressive experiences created by the institutional practices of schooling.

“Rage” and the Demonstration of a Just Society

Anarchists embrace a world where no central government, no cult-of-personality leaders, and no replacement via capitalism, religion, dogma or ideology can operate as the dominant mindset. No consumer culture, no religiously rooted mindset, no militaries, no colonization, no exploitation of humans or nature, no poverty, no cultural domination via schooling, no more police brutality, and no suppression of freedom are often common goals of anarchists. The main goal is elimination of hegemonic sources such as the state, centralized media, centralized corporate power, and any institution that perpetuates economic, social, and cultural divisions. This is rage. Anarchists are often known and quite often stereotyped for this part of the love/rage partnership. A stereotype that persists is the image of the violent protester, masked, and willing to use force against representatives of the state, whether they are windows of government building or a mass of police officers dressed in intimidating riot gear (named appropriately as they are often used as a way to elevate emotions and incite riots) armed with rubber bullets, tasers, pepper spray, tear gas, and attack dogs.

This is rage, but it is a rage formed by love for social justice, protection of the earth, and nurturance for all. It is anger that we still live in a society dominated by capitalists who essentially govern the world affecting the most vulnerable of peoples and destroying the earth, the home for all humans and nonhumans all for their own personal accumulation of wealth. It is largely misunderstood, taken out of context, marginalized, demonized, and vilified by people who are far removed from the counter-hegemonic dialogue and action. Rage is seen as ugly, unnecessary, juvenile, and irrational; yet, it is rooted in nurturing beauty, sustainability, intergenerational wisdom, and long-term health for the Earth and its guests. This is anger, action, and love combined. Rage is a daring to change an unjust society right now, not in a few years, a couple of decades, or when a conscious evolution occurs. Rage is the desire to immediately arrest the interwoven, poisonous roots of practices, ideologies, and institutions that promote excessive death, violence born of lifetimes of poverty, and festering ignorance rooted in social privilege that continually creates policy for the winners, while further exacerbating the losers. Rage is the form of love that anarchists embrace and enact to end oppression immediately and hopefully. Rage is used so that oppression can be stopped for just a moment, an hour, a day, or much longer just so that the rest of us can see that this possibility truly exists and better world is possible right now. Rage is deliberate, often organized, and premeditated with the purpose of short-circuiting entrenched thinking.

However, rage lives not only in the crowds and smoke of the stereotyped protesters using direct action. It is sometimes a sudden shock and other times a quiet, shifting change over time. Rage is in the actions of individuals and groups who work to bring attention to the immediacy of ongoing hunger in local communities. It exists through actions like Food Not Bombs or community gardeners who take over a postindustrial wasteland to bring back nutrition and nourished spirits. Rage is a group who gathers at Walmart to perform “Whirlmart” (from the “Buy Nothing Day—Buy Nothing Christmas” campaign promoted by Adbusters magazine) forming a caravan of empty carriages clogging up aisles, perhaps wearing signs on their shirts like “What would Jesus buy?” during Black Friday. Rage is the actions of locavores, vegans, and vegetarians who choose to resist the domination of animals via factory-farming or the efforts of the Animal Liberation Front who work to end the enslavement of animals by humans.

However, rage is not unidimensional, trapped in a description of being directly confrontational toward the identified aggressors who are the sources of oppression. Kahn (2009) argued that anarchism could be seen through the work of Ivan Illich using the metaphor of the Greek mythological brothers, Prometheus (who represents forethought) and Epimetheus (who represents afterthought). Prometheus is often seen as a hero figure who stole fire from the gods and brought it to humans and suffered an eternity of punishment because of his defiance. Anarchist practices are often Promethean, aimed overtly at a source of oppression to disrupt it. Kahn argued that anarchism ought to be considered as a social theory that can be grounded in epimethianism, rather than a Promethean approach that might be likened to a hero inflicting her or his way on a community. Epimetheus differed from Prometheus because he gave away all of his gifts before reaching the humans, and is often seen as thoughtless and helpless. However, Kahn argued that patriarchal cultural views dominated in the interpretation and characterization of both brothers. Seen in a different light, Prometheus, who suffered from the lack of afterthought, is in eternal punishment for his activism but Epimetheus, who gave freely without condition, demonstrated a level of compassion and empathetic action that could also be reflective of anarchism. Rage in the sense of the afterthought might be seen less as about anger or proactive (or reactive) actions, but more about cultivating interconnections within community grounded in a passion for nurturance, sustainability, and peace. To give unconditionally creates no hierarchy, elitism, or domination of one group over another. An Epimethean rage might be one that enacts nurturence and reciprocity that can topple power-driven, top-heavy, hierarchical bureaucracies that ultimately produce widespread oppression. However, both Promethean and Epimethean forms of anarchist action can result in disarming concentrated forms of social power. For example, a small-scale Promethean approach might be to shoplift food from a corporate chain of grocery stores; a small-scale Epimethean approach might be to create a community garden. Both actions disrupt the power of commercial food supermarkets that primarily sell poor quality, mass-marketed foods that have been historically tied to both ecological destruction via agri-corporations, compromising worker’s rights and safety, and inhumane conditions toward nonhuman animals. Sabotage and direct action may be rooted in a promethean anarchism and an unannounced disconnection from a cultural consumeristic mindset might represent an Epimethean anarchism. Both forms are located under the umbrella of anarchist theory and practice, and both are valuable approaches. As anarchists, we always have choices in how we engage in aspects of anarchism. In terms of rage, passion for a change in reality can be rooted in both paths together or independently, and as individuals, we may be centered more consciously and consistently in one path.

Promethean and Epimethean approaches do not have to exist in a binary so that we are left only with the option of choosing one in exclusion of the other. Both are present as a spectrum within us, and we inevitably tap into both in our practices. In my own work, the part of me that is promethean needs to be aware and actively seek out patriarchal aspects that might be present, and certainly teachers who engage in a fully promethean approach may be creating very negative learning experiences for their students, no matter how well intended. As a teacher educator who presents transformative education as greatly beneficial for K–12 students and asks preservice teachers to create lessons and units rooted in social and ecological justice, I run the risk of alienating some (or possibly all) of my students because I force them to operate in the worldview that I construct in the course. As a White, straight, middle-class male professor who has unavoidable authority in the classroom, my constructions may be (and probably are) limited even as I do the best of my ability to be inclusive and responsive. My Prometheus needs to be a better listener of energetic flow and communal relationships and practices, and my Epimetheus can take a cue from my Prometheus and engage in Freirean dialogue to openly oppose social injustices. Forethought and afterthought along a spectrum and in partnership may indeed provide great strength for anarchists as they investigate their constructions of rage and how it manifests itself in various contexts.

“Love” and the Construction of the “Fully Liberated Self”

Simply identifying oppressive sources, resisting practices of dominance, and rejecting permanent hierarchies, especially those formed by the perpetuation of a state or a corporate serfdom, is not a complete picture of anarchist theory.

Love is an integral and central component of anarchist theory and action, and yet, other than its presence in the phrase “love and rage” (or in the arguments made about “free love”), it is a word that is rarely used. That said, love is a concept that is present in the arguments of anarchist theory, and it is strongly linked to the concept of the liberated, whole self and even one’s soul.

At the core is a central belief that all people have the right to experience unlimited freedom (be that it harms none) and be a voice among voices in social and communal decision-making processes. Rocker (2004) stated:

For the anarchist, freedom is not an abstract philosophical concept, but the vital concrete possibility for every human being to bring to full development all the powers, capacities, and talents with which nature has endowed him, and turn them to social account. (31)

Philosopher Georg Hegel argued that the history of people is the evolution of a consciousness of freedom. Love, as a concept in general, comes in many forms in many different contexts with many different definitions. However, the kind of love that is often described in anarchist theory is a love based on uncorrupted, pure freedom. In other words, love is demonstrated through two core anarchist principles of freedom of individuals and freedom of small communal, mutualistic groups, because to live in an anarchistic society requires that we deeply love one another while honoring our differences, approaches, ways of living, cultures, spiritualities, and sexualities. Thus, we are evolving toward a state of both freedom and peaceful mutualism, and love is located, if not defined, in the practices of mutualism and freedom of the individual. In “A New Declaration of Independence,” an article that Emma Goldman published in Mother Earth in July of 1909, she stated:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all human beings, irrespective of race, color, or sex, are born with the equal right to share at the table of life; that to secure this right, there must be established among men [sic] economic, social, and political freedom; we hold further that government exists but to maintain special privilege and property rights; that it coerces man into submission and therefore robs him of dignity, self-respect, and life. (n.p.)

Love, although not specifically named, is expressed in Goldman’s declaration as it focuses on the freedom of the individual from top-down oppressing forces. This is a love of unfettered living that is totally awake with eyes wide open and fully empowered voices for personal and communal liberties and justice. This is a fierce and unapologetic love that does not compromise for the sake of middle ground when it comes to all peoples living in a balanced and just society. When intimately partnered with a passionate, anarchistic rage, this is a love that demands change now because total liberation is the fullest expression of love within a group of people.

Religion, Spirituality, and the “Fully Liberated Self”

Organized religion also presents a barrier to being fully liberated, according to many anarchists. Goldman (1969) acknowledged a significant difference between the soul and religion. Religion is “the dominion of the human mind,” (53) while she argued for an Emersonian soul that is active and able to envision truth in a living social context. All organized religions, according to Goldman, are created and maintained for the purpose of limiting the masses and creating social order as dictated by governments and capitalists. Goldman argued that anarchism is the only philosophy that protects the soul in its fullest and freest potential. However, Peter Kropotkin (who Goldman was influenced by) admired the work of Leo Tolstoy, which included a strong Christian discourse connecting religion with freedom and liberation, as well as passivity (Jacker 1968).

Although this dialogue often seems to stall at this point, I offer an explanation based on my personal experiences that might reconcile these discordant positions, as well as staying within an anarchist view of the fully liberated self. As someone who considers himself spiritual, but not religious, I can distinguish between ritual and dogma. Ritual can be designed to support someone in experiencing their deeper, spiritual self. For example, I draw my spiritual energies from pagan and Earth-based practices. When I meditate using a candle flame, look to certain symbols or images of gods and goddesses, or perform ritualistic practices like using burning sage to cleanse my spiritual self, I choose to do so because those are practices that help me shift my consciousness from my physical/mental/emotional body to my spiritual body. I also practice and teach Reiki, so I use different symbols in my healing work to focus intention. However, these rituals do not restrict me. They are keys that help me reconnect with a part of myself to understand interconnectedness, nurturance, support, and guidance. I am empowered through these rituals because they allow me to move into a space that is not mundane and routine. Yet, none of this is dogma. My spiritual practices are rooted in intention and a freedom to practice however I deem appropriate, as long as no harm comes of it.

Marx (1977) called organized religion the “opium of the people” (131), and to a certain extent, I concur because many practices of various organized religions (such as hierarchies of religious leadership, sexism, racism, politics, exclusivity, being constantly described as a person in deficit, and obligatory and rigid ritualistic practices) can be quite imprisoning. Both Marx and Goldman have set up a binary that emphasizes only those aspects. I suspect that Goldman would at least be more nuanced because she advocated for the Emersonian soul. This is an important point because teachers have opportunities to work with their students using aesthetics, meditation, and activities that bring about pique experiences, simultaneously building up resistance toward a hyperconsumeristic culture that ties social power to profit. To simply dismiss religion (which for some also means dismissing their spiritual self) can undermine the principles of freedom that one may use to define their own liberated self. Again, it should be recognized that this is a liberated self without harm to others. Although I agree quite emphatically with Goldman in her assessment of organized religions often being restrictive and oppressive, a space must be made for those who use organized religion to connect with one’s spiritual self (or fulfillment for one’s soul). That does not relinquish religions from their oppressive practices, but it does acknowledge an important nuanced relationship that we can use for growth. Not doing so can be just as intrusive and hypocritical. Anarchist theory (or any ideology) should not become dogmatic or religious in its approach to create an undamaging freedom. If anarchism is at least partly rooted in aspects of love, then freedom without harm needs to be present in all aspects of living. Advocating completely against all aspects of religion does not allow for the kind of freedom that many anarchists are fighting for, but identifying and raging against those aspects that create permanent hierarchies rooted in power, privilege, and injustices (as is done in various other contexts like government, corporations, schools, etc.) is consistent with anarchist theories and positions.

Anarchists argue that theirs is a battle for the operational existence of love in community, among relationships, and interconnected between each other. Existentialist philosopher, Martin Buber (1987) described our relationships with each other and the Earth as fitting into either I—thou or I—it categories. I—thou relationships emphasize the constructions of interconnection; I—it relationships a rooted in othering and practices of objectification. Christian de Quincey (2005) argued that we are formed entirely by our relationships indicating that the types of relationships in which we engage and emphasize are what make our perceptions of reality. Anarchism focuses heavily on understanding one’s relationships with community and forming liberated individuals and communities simultaneously. Goldman (1969) argued that the State, ownership of property, and organized religion are ways in which oppression is perpetuated in a society, and in this light, these are institutionalized I–it relationships that objectify and “other” the general masses.

Locating anarchism in a current, capitalistic context can provide ways for anarchism to be more theoretically responsive and agile. Today’s anarchism in Westernized, capitalistic, media-saturated discursive physical and virtual landscapes looks different than from a century ago. In this age of hyperconsumerism and the avalanche of messages from advertising and popular media, the self is being reconstructed and imprisoned as a result of the highly concentrated forms of mass media. There is a reconstruction of the ecology of our minds (Lasn and White 2010). Early anarchists may have argued against a world where government and capitalists had a firm control over society; however, it is unlikely that they envisioned one where media, as a tool of capitalists, would become so pervasive that its effects would disable people’s connections from the natural world. This disassociation of humans from nature has been a long-term process supported by religions like Christianity that warned its followers to beware of the forest where Satan resides. The conscious and deliberate efforts of the dominant elites of business, politics, and religion to persuade the masses to look to an anthropocentric universe where only some chosen few humans had the knowledge, skill, and social leadership to save us from the evils of the earth, the primitive aspects of nature, and the dangers of a wild Mother Earth (Merchant 1980). Our minds have certainly become collectively ensnared by the promises of technology and the triumphs of man. Our minds are now held hostage in a self-repeating, unrelenting pattern of short-term views of economics and history, focusing on profits, an annual tradition of the moral and spiritual tying together of retail purchases and the praising of a newborn prince of peace, and the inability to connect with the balancing energies of nature. We remain lodged in a psychic (and spiritual) prison that is creating more depression, anxieties and mental illnesses than we have ever seen before. By 2020, the United Nations predicts that mental diseases will outnumber heart diseases (Lasn and White 2010). The liberated self and the liberated community are in a state of decay due in large part to the desires of the dominant elites who collectively act as our colonizers, terrorists, and drug lords because of their greed.

Ending Our Imprisonment Using Love/Rage

For the anarchist, love and rage act as one interwoven unit working simultaneously to confront oppression in all forms while developing a fully liberated self and community of peace and justice. Rage (actions that demonstrate the possibility of removing injustice from a society right now) is inextricably coupled with love (the interwoven fully liberated self and community). Love/rage is the collective movement of anarchy.

Anarchists also acknowledge the power of a shift in consciousness in the present. Paul Goodman stated, “Suppose you had the revolution you are talking and dreaming about. Suppose your side won, and you had the kind of society you wanted. How would you live, you personally, in that society? Start living that way now! Whatever you would do then, do it now” (quoted in Esteva 2007, n.p.). Goodman’s proposition is the penultimate form of anarchist direct action, and the concept of simply living one’s life in the way one sees regardless of the immediate or extended sociocultural context follows an Epimethean approach. Disrupting and sabotaging sources of oppression, arguably the most visible (and stereotyped) forms of anarchism, are common forms of direct action that might shock a group or system momentarily (just as Mother Nature does with storms that arrest physical transportation, shut down electrical grids, and remind some of us of our connection to nature), but the normed, hegemonic practices soon return.

This process of returning to the normed, hegemonic practices may even be a consequence of our own biological designs. Our brains form synapses and networks based on the activities and thoughts that we repeat most often. We may take a moment of reprieve to envision a new reality, but without constant support, our thoughts and actions slide into old ways, as we are designed to do. From a biological point of view, we are good at doing what we constantly do, and must make great efforts to undo a neural network that has been constructed for convenience so that we do not have to struggle every time with an action or thought as if it was our first time. Our brains reconfigure networks to help us improve our accuracy and reliability, but this makes for a disproportionate burden when there is a need to change our skill set and unlearn what has become repetitious and normed. We are effectively designed to remain entrenched in a thought or action. This condition is a mental/emotional momentum. Dominant elites who see the masses as a resource for their wealth and military protection are happy to encourage a mental/emotional momentum that is accomplished largely by enormous amounts of positive reinforcement through a consumer culture and blind patriotism. The mainstream mental/emotional momentum is one of hegemony, works against the interests of the masses, and emboldens those in positions of power to view themselves as morally just and socially responsible. Despite our tendency toward a mental/emotional momentum, we have potential for a reconstruction of neural patterns called neuroplasticity. We can achieve a new paradigm of living because we have this ability to change, but it seems to require a significant medical procedure to initiate movement against the mental/emotional momentum. Anarchists use love/rage like an electrical discharge from a cardiac defibrillator to redirect, disrupt, and shock the mental and emotional momentum of the masses, as well as push back on the oppressive actions of the dominant elites. Love/rage is a social remedy that can individually and communally redesign our views of reality.

The neural construction of our brains should not be seen as the only explanation for why we are often reluctant to move into a new frame of thinking and seeing our realities. In many ways, we have adopted ways of living simply because we were taught through a heavy socializing force to do so from a very early age. Our minds and emotions are not entirely our own because they are coopted by those who see us as something to profit from. In other words, we are kidnapped and held for ransom. We are much like the kidnapped victim who becomes reliant upon and aligned with ideologies and practices of the kidnapper. Capitalists, consumer culture, government, and organized religions hold our minds, spirits, and bodies hostage. Yet, so many of us have grown comfortable with that relationship. We rationalize that having a home for some of us, a job for some of us, access to innumerable pleasures for consumption, and opportunities to vote for political leaders gives us the sense of freedom that we crave. However, anarchists show that our kidnappers have infiltrated our minds and spirits to think like them and fight for their causes. Love/rage helps us see ourselves as imprisoned, something we are quick to ignore because it is so painful to acknowledge, as well as the causes and sources of that imprisonment. Love/rage is both our mirror for deep reflection and a key to free us from imprisonment.

Love/rage asks us to shift our consciousness so that we are not limited by societal ideologies and practices, but also by our own perceptions. Love/rage is a key that empowers us to say, “We are now free!” and unlock the shackles on our wrists. If we do not believe that we can be free and empowered, then we remain imprisoned by the kidnapper. In this case, though, we do the work of the kidnapper to ourselves. We limit our own freedoms by hegemonically supporting and emboldening the kidnappers. Starhawk (1982) argued that our internalized domination is a primary obstacle from keeping us conscious and present in the spaces that we can live in, not the spaces that we might live in. We are empowered if we want to be, we are free if we think we are, and we are full of love and life if we know it to be so. This does not mean that there are not social power structures that create hegemony, oppression, and suffering. We must ask ourselves if we are able to produce the kind of lived experiences that we want if we are unable to overcome our own internalized feelings of being limited. Empowerment, and ultimately a fully liberated self are here now, but we are not able to achieve states of full liberation if we suppress ourselves, especially in combination with socially oppressive practices.

To accomplish a significant movement toward creating a fully liberated self, philosopher Ken Wilber described the processes that one enacts. He argued that the self is a socially constructed concept that is coconstructed as we learn language. We move from a body-self to a mental-self as our understanding of language and meaning progresses through early childhood (Wilber 1981). A movement of a self that is hegemonically formed through institutions like family, media, schools, religion, etc. to a reconstructed fully liberated self is a process that requires insurrection rather than revolution (McWilliams 1985). Insurrection is a process of falling off; revolution is a process of turning or rolling. Thus:

In discussing various methods through which human consciousness evolves to higher forms, Wilber (1983) drew a similar distinction between changes of form within the same level of consciousness (‘translation’) and evolution to a higher level (‘transformation’). For genuine transformation to occur, there must be a ‘dying of the self’ at the current level, a ‘personal insurrection’ in which all forms of self structure at that level of organization are “overthrown” in order to be transcended. (McWilliams 1985, n.p.)

The fully liberated self, one that is based in Buber’s I—thou relationships, cannot coexist with the self that has been constructed through the I—it relationships that anarchists rage against. To form the fully liberated I—thou self, we must rage against our own self in the form of an insurrection, causing our I—it self to die off and be fully replaced. Ultimately, teachers who engage with anarchist pedagogies would be supporting students in their processes of becoming fully liberated through the dying off of the selves that are tied to today’s forms of bodily, mental, emotional, and spiritual imprisonment. As was done with anarchist educators over the last century, teachers would need to do two overarching actions wherever their classroom is located: (a) be deeply knowledgeable of the current forms of socially created forms of imprisonment, and (b) work toward a full liberation of the self from the current forms of imprisonment.

Education and Anarchism

Anarchists have viewed education as a crucial potential in shifting mainstream understandings of history and ultimately having a level of consciousness that would support the masses in stepping away from the tyranny of the State. Alexander Berkman (2001) wrote in the April 1908 issue of Mother Earth:

The enlightenment of the masses as to the evils of government, the awakening of the public conscience to a clear understanding of justice and equity—these are the forces which will abolish all forms of bondage, political, economical, and social, replacing present institutions by free co-operation and the solidarity of communal effort. (28)

Schools can be sites for explorations and investigations of hegemony, indoctrination of ideologies of the dominant elites, and practices that perpetuate social and ecological injustices. With those learning experiences present in the classroom, enlightenment of the masses becomes more possible. Emma Goldman (1969) argued that schools are sites for social change because students are not yet closed to a diversity of viewpoints. She wrote:

The child, however, has no traditions to overcome. Its mind is not burdened with set ideas, its heart has not grown cold with class and caste distinctions. The child is to the teacher what clay is to the sculptor. Whether the world will receive a work of art or a wretched imitation, depends to a large extent on the creative power of the teacher. (148)

Goldman showed that teachers are the centerpieces of the schooling process having the most impact on the formation of a student’s thinking processes.

If we follow this thinking further back, we ought to acknowledge that teacher preparation programs become integral birthing grounds for how teachers develop their pedagogies and practices. If teacher education programs hegemonically operate requiring their preservice teachers to approach teaching largely as an act to get students to pass standardized tests, then the teacher preparation program is certainly implicated. However, it seems that there may be a bigger culprit involved in steering teachers toward top-down, banking methods that ask students to repeat rather than reflect and memorize rather than critically examine (Freire 1970). Davis and Sumara (1997) showed that teachers, especially when they are unaware, may be greatly influenced by the culture and climate of the school in which they teach. If the climate and culture of a school, in addition to the technical and bureaucratic controls, are consistently aimed at a common target such as passing a standardized test, teachers are pressured to shape their practices in alignment with those cues (Irwin 1996; Love 2008, 2009).

Education remains a continual source of hegemony. Schools are under the tight grip of educational policies like “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” that ultimately narrow learning experiences to rote memorization and decontextualized information (Ravitch 2010). Schooling has become an emotionally negative experience (as well as further undemocratic and fraught with hegemonic discourse) for parents, students, teachers, and administrators alike because of these educational policies and the reshaping of learning experiences as teaching to the test. In 1908, Francisco Ferrer (2001) wrote, “Governments have ever been careful to hold a high hand over the education of the people. They know better than anyone else, that their power is based almost entirely on the school. Hence, they monopolize it more and more” (258). Ferrer’s words continue to be relevant over 100 years later. Using the argument of failing schools, the US government has created via crisis-laden language major in-roads to oversee schools nationally. State and local boards of education have done little to question the discourse of the federal mandate to have all schools be passing standardized tests, the hallmark for gauging a successful learning experience. For example, Connecticut passed a law in 2010 that mandates passing the 10th grade statewide exam as a condition for high school graduation. This will become mandatory by 2018 for all students in the state. Conservative, neoconservative, and neoliberal ideologies have effectively colonized public schools through using global competition and the nation’s gross domestic product as the rationale for the US government’s infiltration at the classroom level. Anarchist pedagogy offers counter-hegemonic paths for students and teachers for meaningful, community-based learning that can rise against this increasing wave of centralized control of education and the tyranny of the test.

Out of Anarchist Theory and Into Practice: Challenging the Structures of Formal Schooling

In its purest form, in the context of education anarchist theory would lead to deschooling/unschooling practices. Ivan Illich was a prominent educational voice who argued that learning is a process that is not limited to the physical structure of a school building. Illich (1971) argued that much of the most important learning takes place outside of the school and in one’s own community. Illich seemingly took on the Epimethean approaches within his advocacy for education to become more decentralized and relocated within a more convivial society (Kahn 2009). Illich (2008) argued that schooling was founded on the principles and perceptions of scarcity, contextualizing education as a consumable economic commodity which then allowed for the transmitting of education in a top-down format that ultimately hegemonically perpetuated social stratification. In today’s context, schooling as scarcity is in the form of threats about which students will use schooling in order to ascertain high-paying, high-status careers. If education was founded on the principle of abundance, then learners are constantly immersed in education without the fear of not having access. Anarchist educators know that knowledge and education is not isolated to the classroom under the exclusive guidance of a teacher. They do not hold education hostage or threaten students with it. Knowledge is not a commodity for consumption, but rather a cultural commons that is accessible to all.

Deschoolers, unschoolers, freeschoolers, and homeschoolers all challenge notions that meaningful learning is exclusive to the structures and operations of traditional public schooling and potentially offer spaces for a fully liberated educational experience that explores love/rage relationships and actions, whether Promethean or Epimethean or both. From a purely structural perspective, these forms of learning (which are still grounded a wide range of ideologies and certainly not limited to a leftist political orientation) all reposition parents, students, and teachers with power to make decisions about curriculum development, philosophy of teaching/learning, and making learning experiences that are more aligned with values, morals, and worldviews. However, this not to say that all who participate in these forms of learning are choosing to incorporate love/rage relationships or seek out fully liberated social, cultural, ecological, and spiritual selves. Certainly, there is potential in each one of these learning contexts to increase top-down control, narrow discourse, and perpetuate one ideologically dominant form of thinking and constructing a view of reality. Illich (2008) argued against this form of entrenched thinking and viewing of how to construct a deschooled education:

If people are seriously to think about deschooling their lives, and not just escape from the corrosive effects of compulsory schooling, they could do no better than to develop the habit of setting a mental question mark beside all discourse on young people’s ‘educational needs’ or ‘learning needs,’ or about their need for a ‘preparation for life.’ I would like them to reflect on the historicity of these very ideas. (v)

In other words, an anarchist education would not be one that is only challenges formal schooling on a structural level. The pedagogy ought to be one that supports and prioritizes critical questioning, deep investigations, and challenging of status quo and hegemonic thinking.

Out of Anarchist Theory and Into Practice: Challenging the Curricula and Pedagogies of Formal Schooling

“I will teach them only the simple truth. I will not ram a dogma into their heads. I will now conceal from them one iota of fact. I will teach them not what to think but how to think.” (Francisco Ferrer, quoted in Avrich 2006, 19)

Formal schooling has created a climate where the operations and systems of the institution of school are conflated with a meaningful process of learning. Illich (1971) argued that students see the passing from one grade to another and attaining a diploma as learning. In turn, students then see mundane jobs and unrewarding work as being productive.

An education where the individual and the community are fully liberated, free from social oppression, cultural subordination, and ecological imbalance are the primary goals of a contemporary anarchist education. Students do not answer to a centralized authority, state tests, or a pre-determined agenda by a teacher. Learning experiences would not be focused on fulfilling an agenda created by top-down, standardized exams where the one right answer is the target. Primary emphasis would not be on mastering a knowledge set of a dominant monoculture, especially one created through capitalism, Eurocentrism, patriarchy, colonization, and heterosexism.

Francisco Ferrer-Guardia’s work with the Escuela Moderna in Barcelona, Spain was a key starting point for anarchist educators globally. Ferrer, who was arrested and executed by the Spanish government with pressure from the Catholic Church to do so (Avrich 2006; Ferrer-Guardia 1913; Goldman 1969) in 1909, created his school to resist the views of the Catholic Church that were perpetuated in formal schools. Written in the mission of the Modern School, Ferrer (1913) stated, “[The] rational method of the natural sciences will be substituted for the old dogmatic teaching” (20). Ferrer-Guardia (1913) argued that creating a school where students had the freedom to pursue various ways of thinking, investigate forms of systematic and ideologic oppression were

the most effective protest and the most promising form of revolutionary action consist in giving the oppressed, the disinherited, and all who are conscious of a demand for justice, as much truth as they can receive, trusting that it will direct their energies in the great work of the regeneration of society. (20)

The curriculum of the Modern School was to provide a space for young people to develop skills for critically analyzing their immediate communities and politics and power structures of their country. In 1901, when Ferrer began to create the Escuela Moderna in Barcelona, there was a great deal of focus on improving education, making it less governed by the Catholic clergy, and increasing the numbers of schools (only 1/3 of Spanish villages even had schools; Avrich 2006). Ferrer saw this as an opportunity to start a school that would support freedom and challenge the antiquated power structure that many Spanish had already been questioning. Clearly, the Spanish government, under pressure from the Catholic Church, saw this as a meaningful threat against their power structures and named Ferrer as a violent radical.

Ferrer wanted a change not only in content, but also in pedagogy. In Escuela Moderna, students were exposed to a phrase used as the theme for the school: “Freedom in Education” (Avrich 2006, 7). Students would not only learn art, crafts, science, math, and reading, but they would be involved in philosophical discussions about power, coercion, and justice. Students were not asked to engage in rote memorization, but were supported to investigate, question, and creative thinking.

Anticoercive and antiauthoritarian, it stressed the dignity and the rights of the child, encouraging warmth, love, and affection in place of conformity and regimentation. Among the key words of vocabulary were ‘freedom,’ ‘spontaneity,’ ‘creativity,’ ‘individuality,’ and ‘self-realization.’ (Avrich 2006, 7)

Much like many critical educators today, Ferrer argued that liberation cannot come in the form of ignorance. Freedom meant creating an educational process that supported free thinking and investigating practices of those in power. Drawing from Bakunin and Godwin, Ferrer argued for teaching processes that emphasized self-learning, followed the needs and desires of the students, and being able to improvise and experiment based on the students chosen path for learning (Avrich 2006). According to Ferrer and educational anarchists of his time like Tolstoy, Kropotkin, Bakunin, Goldman, Berkman, and Godwin, formal schools had developed a strong practice of creating silence, docility, frustration, and suffering under a system of punishment and rewards. The anarchist school movement emerged in order to resist those practices and create learning experiences that were joyful, individualized, and deeply fulfilling for the individual learner (Avrich 2006).

Despite Ferrer’s state- and church-sponsored execution in 1909, Ferrer became a martyr, and the Modern School provided inspiration for other Modern Schools that would form throughout the world, as well as for the 22 schools (and 12 additional schools that shared similar philosophies and practices) in the United States from the 1910 through 1960 (Avrich 2006). The longest running Modern School was the Ferrer Modern School in Stelton (Piscataway Township), New Jersey running from 1915 till 1953 (Avrich 2006).

An Anarchist Pedagogy in Contemporary US Schools

An anarchist pedagogy should not be conflated with the contemporary versions of what is generally described as critical pedagogy. Although there are some strong similar interests in promoting and working for social justice, anarchist theories and philosophies goes beyond critical pedagogical approaches such as Freirian dialogue, generative themes, and dialectics. That is also not to say that an anarchist pedagogy would not share commonalities with feminist, ecojustice, indigenous, or queer pedagogies. The signifying difference would be that anarchist educators would contextualize these arguments in a social, cultural, ecological, and spiritual context of total liberation and anti-state, anti-authoritarian perspectives and in a love/rage duality. An anarchist pedagogy would not only bring in for consideration, but would emphasize a wide range of Promethean through Epimethean actions driven by the interwoven duality of love/rage that challenge the existence of a hierarchical government, a formal schooling process, and any centralized form of controlling education.

At the core of an anarchist pedagogical approach is a dynamism within the love/rage unit. An anarchist learning experience is one that starts in students’ home communities with authentic investigations relationships and tensions that are present (and historically formed), coupled with providing contributions along a Promethean–Epimethean continuum. There is a real intimacy that students would explore looking very closely at the complex relationships within their home communities and the many intersections with a global community. Anarchist learning experiences in K–12 settings would position community issues, histories, and members at the center. Students could spend whole years identifying and describing specific relationships among actual members and groups in their hometowns, neighborhoods, and municipalities. They could investigate the impacts of a big box retail store, flush out hegemonic practices along with tensions different community members experience as part of the impact, and seek out deeper understandings of various forms of resistance including practices that are movements toward eco-sociocultural balance. Students can identify aspects of love/rage that are present in those practices to identify additional actions for consideration within the community.

Contemporary Anarchist Educators: Connecting to Ecology

Contemporary anarchist educators might find meaning in the core arguments of ecojustice theories and pedagogies. Early anarchist educator pioneers such as Paul Robin advocated for outdoor education and learning that was directly related to nature (Avrich 2006). In the techno-consumer culture that dominates in the United States, one’s awareness of connection to the Earth is often minimal. Just as students would have the freedom to explore their social, cultural, and spiritual identities in connection with learning, they would also have the freedom to explore their ecological identities. Haraway (1997) argued that nature and culture are not separate from each other as is often considered in mainstream thinking, especially among those who participate in cultures where capitalism and technology dominate one’s lived experiences. We use cultural values of capitalism and science to distance ourselves from nature, which in turn changes our consciousness with nature. We treat nature as out there, objectified, and mechanistic rather than seeing ourselves, our thoughts, and our practices as being rooted and manifested in our relationships with nature. We treat nature as an object to dominate, control, or at best, manage through stewardship, rather than having deeper interconnections whereby we are also aspects of nature with a consciousness reflective of those interconnected relationships. The techno-consumer consciousness dominant in the United States is one that positions humans as separate overseers of nature perpetuating practices of dominance, subordination, and destruction of the Earth and its inhabitants.

An anarchist pedagogy located in a techno-consumer culture would be an approach that asks students to explore their ecological selves. Students would be great listeners of nature. Starhawk (2004) described a practice called “earth-walking” (53) whereby we explore the mythological and practical significances of the local, natural area. Knowing the mythos of a local, natural area locates us deeper in the interconnected natureculture relationships and allows us to operate in nature (not separate) in our mindsets. We are no longer aliens to a location. Mythology and deeper understandings of the animals, plants, fungi, and microbes of the area help us to be part of the co-created story of nature in that location. This would be part of the deeper listening that anarchist pedagogy would incorporate and would add to the construction of the fully liberated individual with community.

Students would be able to freely and authentically explore, investigate, intuitively reflect, artistically create in connection with their home communities and the various intersections with global communities. Community would be seen not as an anthropocentric human collective, but more inclusive and balanced with nature as fully present within and around us. Students would be well-versed in their social cultural and ecological identities, able to identify hegemonic processes (as well as being able to disrupt them), and have well-tuned abilities to listen to their eco-sociocultural communities. However, through an anarchist pedagogical approach, students might analyze power imbalances, state-sponsored ecological destruction, and social oppressions rooted in a top-heavy social power structure that segregates, marginalizes, profits from, and even kills those who are poverty-stricken, malnourished, and discriminated against. Investigating potential for a stateless society, Promethean and Epimethean actions, and exploring love/rage dualities would be emphasized.

Contemporary Anarchist Educators: Connecting to Spirituality

Rooted in one’s full liberation is an aspect that is often ignored or avoided because of the possibility of ultimately becoming a source of oppression. However, one’s spirituality as separate from her/his learning can be just as oppressive and lacking. An educational experience rooted in deep love would be one that allows students to connect not only their social, cultural, and ecological identities with their learning, but also their spiritualities. Being inclusive of students’ spiritualities is not something that should be feared or avoided as teachers. A student’s individual spirituality is very much a part of their learning process. We are not teaching to our whole selves when we omit the presence of our individual spiritualities. This should not be confused with dogma or doctrine. In the United States, separation of church and state has seemingly had a much wider effect in various parts of the country. Spirituality has been conflated with religion, and has thusly meant that learning needs to be devoid of spirit, energy, and fulfillment. As stated earlier, I argued that spirituality and religion are not the same thing, and spirituality can be present in the class without religious dogma. Just as we advocate for multiculturalism in classrooms, similarly we ought support multispiritualism in our pedagogical approaches and learning experiences. Religion, although it can have spirituality included, also includes political, bureaucratic, and sociocultural aspects that can be deeply problematic via hegemonic discourse and oppressive practices. Clearly, these are not acceptable, nor should be present in any educational experience. However, being fully liberated means having the freedom to connect one’s spirituality to learning. Just as teachers support students in more deeply knowing their own cultures, teachers can support students in exploring their spiritualities in connection with content being explored. This also means that students would have the freedom not to include a spirituality in their learning experiences should they choose that.

Anarchist educators would not proclaim that one spirituality exists for all students, and follow up with a narrow discourse of how to holistically connect with learning. Just as Ferrer suggested with students determining their path for learning, students would make those choices individually and have a lifelong journey of holistic learning. For some students meditation will be an emphasis, for others, yoga, qi gong, tai chi, or tantra, for others, communing with nature-based spiritualities, others might focus on various other metaphysical paths of thinking throughout their years of education, and still others might be grounded in an atheism, humanism, or agnosticism. An anarchist educator would merely be a supportive presence in the student’s learning experience knowing that no boundaries of thought will exist.

Example of Anarchist Teaching/Learning in the Public School Classroom

Enacting an anarchist pedagogy in a public school classroom will inevitably present serious challenges in the current climate of high-stakes testing and educational policies that continually pressure teachers to teach and students to learn in top-down, decontextualized ways. Teachers are likely to face pressures from their administrators, colleagues, parents, and even students (who also feel a great pressure to pass standardized tests) to follow a more traditional path in their practices. Teachers are also unlikely to find support from common teaching resources connected to classroom curricula. That said, teachers would have to be very savvy in the ways that they approach including anarchist pedagogies if they were inclined to do so. Teachers might have to think about doing this kind of work along a spectrum, rather than pursuing an anarchist pedaogogy to its fullest extent. What follows is an example of how a public school teacher might begin to delicately explore an anarchist pedagogy through issues of food security as the context for learning.

If students were investigating local issues of food security perhaps in a health, social studies, English, math or science class, they might investigate identify need present in their community and work already being done (if any) to connect those who suffer from food inaccessibility with food waste sources (like local grocery stores, bakeries, etc.). As part of their exploration of love/rage, students would imagine a community free of inaccessibility to food and actions they can take to make that a reality. They would also investigate sources of the injustice and practices that hegemonically perpetuate it such as market-based thinking, hyper-consumerism in relationship to rates of obesity, the common practice of for-profit food corporations relying upon and producing addictive mindsets and practices via advertising and inclusion of additive chemicals like caffeine, and state-sponsored agricultural funding and subsidies including practices with the widespread use of chemicals like high-fructose corn syrup. As part of their exploration of both Promethean and Epimethean love/rage, students might seek out sources of food waste that are acceptable for “redistribution” and make that food immediately available to those who need it (Promethean) similar to a Food Not Bombs process by simply making the food and giving it away on the streets of their community. They might also work with community members to create community gardens (Epimethean) and make sure that there are ways to support all who need it have access to seeds and soil. These examples are not focused on improving the current political system or making better policy. The focus is not on making changes to the current system with it still intact. The focus is to simply create the world right now that we want to live in, given that doing those actions does not further generate hegemonic thinking or create more burden for those who already disproportionately experience oppression.

In these examples, one can envision curricular connections to various content areas as they are traditionally structured (such as social studies, English, health, math, and science), which might be what makes a teacher able to do this kind of teaching, but ideally, this would be only so that teachers can make transitions out of the current test-driven culture of teaching toward a context of learning that moves toward action in a community. Again, this is not a learning experience done to serve the purpose of getting students to pass a state-imposed standardized exam. Clearly, that would turn toward a liberal/progressive pedagogical approach, which would serve a much different set of values with a different purpose of education. This is not about serving dictated top-down, technical and bureaucratic controls. Students would be involved in this learning experience not for a grade and not to show mastery on a decontextualized exam. A lesson like this that emphasizes an anarchist pedagogical approach has the purpose of operationalizing love/rage, opening opportunities for critically reflective listening, and participating in strengthening one’s community. An anarchist pedagogy is one that offers students authentic experiences in investigating current and historical issues present in community that limit liberation and hegemonically produce injustices. The main targets are to support learners in becoming more knowledgeable and involved in community, as well as providing contexts and experiences for students to reflect on their own empowerment, consciousness, and mindsets.


Love/rage happens along a continuum of Promethean and Epimethean paths. There is no one anarchism, so there is no one prescriptive approach to teaching using an anarchist pedagogy. Love/rage and Promethean/Epimethean frames merely provide hermeneutic tools for analyzing the extent to which anarchist approaches and experiences of the teaching and learning are present. Anarchist pedagogies can provide students with an education that empowers them to deeply investigate power imbalances, social injustices, and destructive relationships and practices with nature. Anarchist pedagogies offer a hope that is genuine because it can be a calling to operate not from a place of fear, but from love, not with an education based on scarcity, but rather on abundance, and not with a blinding ignorance, but with a sense of clarity and purpose that we are seeking and leads us to make the kind of change we desire for our individual lives and our communities.


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Anarchist, Neoliberal, & Democratic Decision-Making: Deepening the Joy in Learning and Teaching

Felecia M. Briscoe


Using a critical postmodern framework, this article analyzes the relationship of the decision-making processes of anarchism and neoliberalism to that of deep democracy. Anarchist processes are found to share common core principals with deep democracy; but neoliberal processes are found to be antithetical to deep democracy. To increase the joy in learning and teaching, based upon this analysis, practical anarchist guidelines for school decision-making are suggested.


You ever been in a place, where everybody is real depressed, but they don’t really know it. It is where the tedious and mundane are worshipped. … The least bit of creativity and inspiration has been excised. People rule through fear and intimidation. The staff is treated like children. People wonder what is wrong with our kids. We aren’t doing them any favors, except making them sick of school. We have tested them to death. When we aren’t testing them, we are pre-testing them or teaching them test strategies. Richmond worships at the altar of standardized testing. There is no room for heretics or non-believers.[11]

In the opening quote, Arter Jackson (personal communication 2008) describes his experience teaching third grade in an urban school. Excited and passionate as a beginning teacher, with each passing year, he became increasingly discouraged. His experience is not an anomaly (Pesavento-Conway 2008). How has the joy that learning and teaching could offer students and teachers turned into intolerable tedium? Writers from a variety of eras and fields (e.g. Steven Shukaitis 2009 or Emma Goldman 1907 in anarchism; John Dewey 1916 or Walt Whitman 1959 in democracy; and Paulo Freire 1970 or Alistair Pennycook 2001 in critical theory) all claim that such feelings emerge when people are denied the opportunity of acting in accordance with their own judgment, will, and interests—in other words, when people are denied autonomy and do not directly participate in the decisions that shape their lives. The power relations of a society affect its decision-making processes, the degree to which a person participates in that process, and thus the type of decisions made.

The power relations of a democracy are affected by its political and economic systems as well as its dominant ideology. To be a democracy, a political system must include all citizens by some means in the social decision-making, but the manner in which a particular individual participates depends upon the type of democracy. For example, the decision-making processes in direct democracy are different than those of a democratic republic. Likewise, the economic system of a democracy also affects the degree of participation that different individuals have in social decision-making. In a capitalist economy, like the United States, the degree to which someone participates in social decision-making is largely dependent upon one’s economic status. For example, running for state or national office generally requires an expensive advertising campaign to be successful; thus, only those with access to substantial money are likely to run for these offices. Finally, the dominant ideologies of a democracy also affect the processes and types of decisions made. Ideologies both make sense of the world and point to the type of actions needed. Thus, ideologies act positively and negatively, inducing some actions and subjectivities, but inhibiting others (Foucault 1980a, 1980b). In this article, I examine neoliberal and anarchist ideologies and their relationships to educational decision-making in a democracy. This examination indicates that the power relationships fostered by a neoliberal ideology fit with those of superficial, formal democracy, yet the power relationships fostered by an anarchist ideology fit with those of deep democracy. I then propose guidelines for educational decision-making based upon this examination.

A critical postmodernism frames the analysis. For the analysis of the power relations and their effects, I use Michel Foucault’s (1980a, 1980b) ideas on how power relations act to induce certain types of subjectivities, decisions, and thus actions, while proscribing others. Alistair Pennycook’s (2001) description of critical postmodernism is problematizing: “insist[ing] on the notion of critical as engaging with the questions of power and inequality, but … [rejects] any possibility of critical distance or objectivity” (4). A postmodern critical perspective

raise[s] questions about the limits of its own knowing [but also operates] with some sort of vision of what is preferable. Perhaps the notion of preferred futures offers us a slightly more restrained and plural view of where we might want to head. Such preferred futures, however, need to be grounded in ethical arguments for why alternative possibilities may be better. (8)[12]

In this article, the preferred future is one that fosters the development of deep democracy and is grounded in an ethical argument for ameliorating the current oppressive tedium experienced by students and teachers, allowing the inherent joy of learning and teaching to emerge. By inherent joy, I mean the inner deep satisfaction a person feels when they have learned something that they wished to learn and the similar satisfaction teachers feel when they have successfully taught something of worth to their students. However, my claim is offered with radical uncertainty. By radical uncertainty I mean that the preferred future described is not definitive, but rather a starting point, open to challenge, change, and refinement. Furthermore, Pennycook (2001) argues that postmodern critical theory should be, “an ethics of compassion and a model of hope and possibility” (9). Thus, although anarchist theory occupies a space between nihilism (e.g., Kahn 2009) and hope (e.g., Shukaitis 2009), I anchor my analysis in hope and possibility.

In this analysis, I first briefly describe neoliberalism and its growing influence. Second, I distinguish the differences between superficial and deep democracy, ending with a summary of the essential characteristics of deep democracy. Third, I outline important differences between anarchism and neoliberalism. Fourth, I delineate core principals shared by anarchism and deep democracy, linking the productive and proscriptive aspects of these core principles to human wellbeing. Fifth, I delineate neoliberalism’s antithetical relationship to deep democracy, as exemplified by “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB). Finally, based upon this examination, I suggest guidelines for educational decision-making to deepen democracy and allow for greater joy in learning and teaching.


Rife with phrases such as free choice, individualism, competition, and freedom, neoliberalism deemphasizes or rejects positive government intervention, focusing instead on achieving progress and even social justice by encouraging free-market methods. In other words, neoliberalism asserts that the divine hand of the market is best able to determine optimal economic and social policies on a national and global scale. Created as a framework for economic policy, neoliberalism has grown to influence most social decision-making, the types of choices and therefore actions taken; thus acting to create the reality it purports to describe (Clarke 2004). Neoliberalism describes and structures society as a web of social relations mediated by market exchange.[13] Since the 1970s, according to Michael Apple (1999), neoliberalism has gained ascendancy and become hegemonic increasingly able to “win the battle over common sense” (5). The hegemonic sway of neoliberalism is felt deeply in schools. Hill and Boxley (2009) describe neoliberalism’s effects upon the US schooling system:

The neoliberal project for education is part of the bigger picture of the neoliberal project of global capitalism. Markets in education worldwide, combined with so-called “parental choice” of a diverse range of schools, are only one small part of the education strategy of the capitalist class, with its Business Agenda for Education [what it requires education to do] and its Business Agenda in Education [how it plans to make money out of education]. (28–29; italics in original)

The privatization of schools (Hill and Boxley 2009) and the development of schools as a market for testing products[14] are examples of markets in education. Although neoliberal ideology in theory eschews government intervention, it nevertheless coerces decision-making through surveillance techniques (e.g. the mandated testing in NCLB).[15] Along with the growth of neoliberalism has been a corresponding global expansion of inequality. Since the 1970s, the inequality of wealth has intensified, both within and between nation states.[16] During this same time-period, democracy became the dominant form of government throughout the world.

Democracy and Inequality?

Presumed by many to be the most egalitarian form of government, how is it possible that inequalities are increasing along with democracy? Some analysts (e.g., Giroux 2002) claim that the corresponding increases in democracy and inequality are unrelated. Rather, they claim it is the increasing global dominance of transnational capitalism producing the growing inequalities, not the increase in democracies. This argument is tenable because transnational capitalism has also intensified during this same period. Likewise, Hill and Boxley’s (2009) description of neoliberal influences over schooling suggests that neoliberalism is the offspring of global capitalism. However, de Oliver (2008) reveals that vanguard democracies, throughout history and by way of a variety of imperialist projects, have all created greater internal and external inequalities in the distribution of wealth; thus, he claims that democracy itself leads to greater inequalities. For example, in Ancient Greece and the United Kingdom during the 1800s, the advent of democracy signaled a decrease in the equal distribution of wealth within the nation states, but even more so between nation states, primarily due to the colonial relationships they established with the countries they annexed to their democratic empires. If de Oliver (2008) is correct, then democracy can no longer be regarded as a means to equitable power relations.

Judith Green’s (1999) trenchant analysis of the different types of democracy provides an alternative explanation. She describes an array of possible and existing democracies, each providing different participatory opportunities and effects. Pertinent to the present topic are her descriptions of deep democracy and superficial democracy, which she calls formal democracy.[17] Formal democracies limit most citizens’ participation to voting from a given list of options developed by an elite subset of the electorate. Green (1999) notes that, “the United States of America, a nation widely regarded as democracy’s world historic model, suggests that a purely formal democracy is ideologically hollow and operationally subvertible” (iv) and thus, is conducive to a number of social pathologies including poverty and a market motivated hyper consumerism fostered by a mass media. But, democracies need not remain purely formal.

Societies, including democracies, are dynamic and changing. There are points in time when change is dramatic. In the United States, roughly between 1880 and 1920, with the closing of the frontier, the United States and other countries underwent rapid processes of demographic transformation. During this period, many different futures became possible. As people struggled to develop relations and process appropriate to the new context, open conflict over emergent possibilities occurred. Conflict occurred around ideas such as: hierarchical versus direct participation as a way of organizing societal processes; the degree of inclusiveness in decision-making; and the distribution of wealth produced by industries. Anarchism[18] and deep democracy[19] were two of the many viable ideological alternatives for guiding social decision-making. Both ideologies advocated full, direct, and more inclusive participation, as well as a more equitable distribution of wealth. However, hierarchies, smaller groups of expert decision-makers for the masses, and an unequal distribution of wealth continued and even intensified—all of which are symptomatic of a superficial democracy. The struggle has not ended[20] but, although some aspects of anarchism and deep democracy have periodically emerged, democratic relations within the United States largely have remained formal and therefore superficial. Green’s (1999) analysis indicates that a formal democracy is subvertible and conducive to neoliberal market ideologies. Deep democracy, however, is less open to subversion due to its essential characteristics (as detailed later).

Garrison and Schneider (2008), drawing from Walt Whitman’s conception of a spiritual democracy, summarize the essential characteristics of deep democracy:

Everyone is equally moral and has the right to actualize whatever powers he or she has to make a contribution. Secondly … each individual is unique and should have the right to exercise his or her creative individuality. Finally, there is adhesion, by which he meant love, [care, and respect of others].” (11–12)

For Dewey (1916), these essential characteristics are fundamentally dependent upon a fairly equal spread of wealth and authentic communication[21] (described later), based on an understanding that the individual and society are not binaries, but rather intimately related to one another. If deep democracy represents a preferred future, how do we progress in that direction? From Foucault’s (1980a, 1980b) perspective, the various aspects of deep democracy are mutually dependent upon each other and it is difficult for one aspect to emerge all by itself; however, at the same time, changing one aspect of current power relations will affect other aspects due to their connectedness.[22] I argue that schools are a promising beginning point. Schools are charged with inculcating appropriate knowledge and social behavior in children (Dewey 1916). Thus, schools are key to the development of deep democracy.

Differences in Anarchist and Neoliberal Ideological Frameworks

Both neoliberalism and anarchism claim to be based upon concepts of freedom, free choice, and individualism. Thus, it may be difficult to imagine how anarchism could be conducive to deep democracy but neoliberalism opposes it. However, anarchism and neoliberalism interpret free choice, freedom, and individualism differently, due to their different ideological frameworks and the relative emphasis that neoliberalism and anarchism place on cooperation versus competition.[23]

There are four aspects of the ideological framework of anarchism that set the parameters for its interpretation of individualism, freedom, and free-choice. These four aspects are: the importance of joy and creativity, the relationship of the individual to society, the uniqueness of each individual, and the need for equal power relations. Anarchism seeks to create a greater possibility for joy in the world for each and every individual, and thus for society. Anarchism’s premise that the individual and society are inextricably linked promotes a pro-social perspective of individualism, in which individual and societal well-being cannot be separated. Therefore, anarchism opposes advancing one individual’s interest at the expense of another’s. Thus, anarchism fosters a cooperative approach to social decision-making. Furthermore, anarchists believe that people should creatively develop their unique individualism, rather than selecting from the set of mass-produced individualism produced by the market. This individualism is much like what Dewey (1916) advocates in the freedom to fully develop one’s unique potential. For anarchism, freedom and free choice are based on the premise of approximately equal power (e.g., resources, wealth, and status) for everyone. From this equal positioning of power, no one person or group is positioned to set out the options from which others must choose, and each person in the society has full opportunity to participate in decision-making that affects them.

On the other hand, a neoliberal framework bases the concepts of individualism, freedom, and free choice upon market mechanisms, which means that the degree of freedom and free choice are based upon what the market offers (e.g., who is running for office or which textbooks are selected by the state) and what one can afford (how much money or power one has). This conjunction, in effect, makes every individual responsible for the choices they make, despite the fact that many do not have the means to take advantage of their free choices. Thus, from a neoliberal perspective, those who find themselves in undesirable circumstances in our market-based world have only themselves to blame.[24] The neoliberal version of individualism, thus, is antisocial. It is antisocial because there is an indifference to how the rest of society is affected by one’s efforts to compete successfully. At best, people feel free to pursue their own interest without care for others, based on the belief that somehow the individual’s selfish pursuit of one’s own interests will ultimately benefit society and that everything can be reduced to a price. Likewise, neoliberalism rarely takes into account long-term damages.[25] This type of antisocial individualism perpetuates the idea that being purely self-interested and competing for individual success will magically take care of all social problems, in spite of considerable evidence to the contrary. Because of the aforementioned ideological differences (among others), the essential characteristics of deep democracy are shared with anarchism, but neoliberalism is antithetical to deep democracy.

Anarchism and Deep Democracy

Deep democracy emphasizes autonomy by recognizing the equal moral right of all to actualize their potentials and by recognizing that each individual is unique, having the right to exercise his or her creative individuality. Other core characteristics of deep democracy include love, care, and respect of others; a fairly equal spread of wealth; and authentic communication between people based on the understanding that what harms or benefits one person likewise harms or benefits the rest of society[26] and, therefore, takes into consideration others’ interests, desires, and goals.[27] Furthermore, these core characteristics are interdependent. I draw upon diverse social, political, and psychological research and theory to argue that these common core characteristics, shared in both anarchism and democracy, are beneficial to both the individual and society.[28] Like deep democracy, anarchism advocates:

  • a more equal distribution of resources;

  • each person directly participates in decisions affecting her or his life (autonomy);

  • authentic communication;

  • celebrating the joyful exercise of each person’s unique creative individuality; and

  • love, respect, and caring of others.

Paralleling this order, each of these points is discussed in the following sections.

A More Equal Distribution of Resources

Emma Goldman describes anarchism as “an order that will guarantee to every human being free access to the earth and full enjoyment of the necessities of life” (1907, 68). Rocker (1938) describes the effects of acute inequality in the distribution of resources:

Our present economic system, leading to a mighty accumulation of social wealth in the hands of a privileged minority and to a continuous impoverishment of the great masses of the people … sacrificed the general interests of human society to the private interests of individuals and thus systematically undermined the relationship between man and man [sic]. People forgot that industry is not an end in itself, but should be only a means to insure to man his material subsistence and to make accessible to him the blessings of a higher intellectual culture. Where industry is everything and man is nothing begins the realm of ruthless economic despotism whose workings are no less disastrous than political despotism. (2)[29]

Although Rocker wrote in 1938, the polarization of wealth[30] and the elevation of industry (or business/corporate interests) over human interests remain true.[31] An equal distribution of economic power or resources is fundamental to equalizing power relationships. One anarchist, Fotopoulos (2008), describes this necessary “economic democracy … as the authority of the people demos in the economic sphere, implying the existence of economic equality in the sense of an equal distribution of economic power” (442). Without equal power relations brought about by a fairly equal distribution of wealth, the individual autonomy advocated by deep democracy and anarchism cannot be operationalized.

Each Person Directly Participates in Decisions Affecting Her or His Life (Autonomy)

Anarchism’s and deep democracy’s call for a more equal distribution of resources helps to create the conditions necessary for autonomy. Perhaps the single most important foundation of anarchist thought is autonomy, as described by Anna Goldman (2010):

[Anarchism is] based in the understanding that we are best qualified to make decisions about our own lives. Anarchists believe that we must all control our own lives, making decisions collectively about matters, which affect us. Anarchists believe and engage in direct action. (para 7)

Several scholars have analyzed the importance of autonomy to human experience. Although Paulo Freire (1970) does not describe himself as an anarchist, his analysis of autonomy in regards to determining one’s own thoughts and actions is often quoted by anarchists such as Spring (2008). Freire (1970) discusses the death that occurs without autonomy:

Overwhelming control—is necrophilic; it is nourished by love of death, not life. Based on a mechanistic, static, naturalistic, spatialized view of consciousness; it transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads men to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power. (64)

Freire’s description of overwhelming control resonates with Mr. Jackson’s description of his experience in an urban school, with students being “tested to death” under the current policies. A number of scholars[32] note that without equal power relationships, there is little autonomy; without autonomy, authentic communication becomes impossible.

Authentic Communication

Emma Goldman and Max Baginsky (1907) describe the importance of mutual understanding:

The problem that confronts us today, and which the nearest future is to solve, is how to be one’s self and yet in oneness with others, to feel deeply with all human beings and still retain one’s own characteristic qualities. This seems to me to be the basis upon which the mass and the individual, the true democrat and the true individuality, man and woman, can meet without antagonism and opposition. The motto should not be: Forgive one another; rather, Understand one another. (77)

Understanding one another requires authentic communication—taking into account others’ well-being, desired ends, and eschewing purposeful deceit. It also means recognizing the relationship between the quality of one individual’s life and that of other individuals, as well as that what damages one individual or one group damages everyone in society. This anarchist principle is integrated into several social theories. For example, Kant ([1785]1879) incorporates this principal into his categorical imperative. Likewise, Dewey (1916) notes the intrinsic relationship of the individual and society and the falsity of privileging one over the other. Understanding that relationship reveals the importance of considering each individual’s desires, wants, and aims in decision-making that affects them. This understanding goes beyond the toleration or mere acceptance of another’s individuality into celebrating the joyful exercise of that unique individuality.

Celebrating the Joyful Exercise of Each Person’s Creative Individuality

Shukaitis (2009), an anarchist, describes people whose autonomy has been excised as zombies and extols the importance of imagination and joyful exploration:

“The task is to explore the construction of imaginal machines, comprising the socially and historically embedded manifestations of the radical imagination. Imagination as a composite of our capacities to affect and be affected by the world” (15); and “One would not want to abandon the inquisitiveness and joy of ‘uncovering’ something precious” (10).

The dearth of joy and creativity that Mr. Jackson laments is at least in part due to the lack of control over their lives experienced by students and teachers in schools. For Emma Goldman (1907) shucking off this zombihood dramatically changes the nature of all aspects of life, including work: “Anarchism aims to strip labor of its deadening, dulling aspect, of its gloom and compulsion. It aims to make work an instrument of joy, of strength, of color, of real harmony, so that the poorest sort of a man should find in work both recreation and hope” (68). Anarchists, like Goldman, claim that autonomous people are creative and find joy in their work, including learning and teaching. Ignoring students’ and teachers’ unique abilities, interests, and will denies the creative expression of their unique individualism, which damages the individual and, therefore, the social. Coercing people to conform to anothers’ will kills their creativity. In squelching the creative individuality society loses the diversity that such unique contributions would bring to it. With a loss of diversity, society loses its ability to solve problems or adapt to new conditions. Likewise, Dewey (1916) noted that schools fail in their aim to educate for a democracy when “what is distinctively individual in a young person is brushed aside” (10). Instead, claimed Dewey (1916), students learn to ignore their own judgment and conform mindlessly to authority; under such conditions, the knowledge students learn is dead and inert, useless in making life decisions. Allowing students to learn, based upon their unique interests and abilities, permits the exercise of individual creativity, while demonstrating and modeling love, care, and respect for students.

Promoting Love, Care, and Respect of Others

The pro-social individualism of anarchism is concerned with the well-being of others. Both anarchism and deep democracy promote love, care, and respect of others or pro-social individualism in two ways. First both advocate that social processes and interactions take into account the goals, desires, and wants of all of those affected. Martin Buber (1937) referred to such social relationships as Ich–du (Ithou) relationships. Intrinsic to an I-thou relationship is respect and care. Buber (1937), Dewey (1916), and Freire (1970) all distinguish between the orientation appropriate to personperson (Ithou) relationships and that appropriate to humanobject (Iit) relationships. When interacting in an Iit relationship, one merely uses or manipulates the object for one’s own purposes and has no concern for the interests, desires, or goals of the object. To treat someone as an object is dehumanizing and oppressive—the opposite of loving. When interacting in an Ithou relationship, one always takes into consideration the desires, interests, and goals of the other person. Buber (1937) points out that maintaining the Ithou relationship is especially important in the teacher-student relationship.

Second, treating others with love, respect, and care becomes both logical and common-sensical to anarchists, who clearly articulate the interdependent nature of the individual and society. Both Dewey (1916) and Goldman (1907) maintain that the individual and the society are not separate phenomenon (also in keeping with postmodern thought[33]), but rather aspects of the same phenomenon. According to Emma Goldman (1907), the individual and the social should be understood,

as closely related and truly harmonious, if only placed in proper environment: … because each was blind to the value and importance of the other. The individual and social instincts, —the one a most potent factor for individual endeavor, for growth, aspiration, self-realization; the other an equally potent factor for mutual helpfulness and social wellbeing. … There is no conflict between the individual and the social instincts, any more than there is between the heart and the lungs: … The individual is the heart of society, conserving the essence of social life; society is the lungs, which are distributing the element to keep the life essence—that is, the individual—pure and strong. (4–5)

From an anarchist viewpoint then, society ought to be promoting the love, care, and respect of all; processes and relations ought to be largely cooperative rather than competitive.

In sum, both anarchism and deep democracy emphasize autonomy by recognizing the equal right of all to actualize their potential and abilities, celebrating the right of each individual to exercise his or her creative individuality. Furthermore, both anarchism and deep democracy espouse love, care, and respect of others; a more equal spread of wealth; and authentic communication. Very few of these ideological principles currently guide educational decision-making today. Instead, neoliberalism dominates as a global ideology.

Neoliberalism is Antithetical to the Essential Characteristics of Deep Democracy

An especially powerful example in the United States of neoliberal policy affecting educational decision-making is the recent NCLB legislation; therefore, I focus on NCLB as an exemplar of neoliberal educational policy. In theory, NCLB provides a process whereby good schools (like good businesses) gain more students (customers) and more money, and poor schools lose students and money. Parents, no longer fettered to a particular school by governmental regulations, ostensibly are free to move their child out of their failing old school and choose a more successful school for their child to attend.[34] Over time, the loss of students and funds, and eventually state decrees, force bad schools to go out of business. Under such circumstances, the school’s management and personnel are replaced by more competitive people, or the whole school can be replaced by a private for-profit educational business. Of note, although NCLB mandates a marketplace type of decision-making within education, it does so only by inducing states to further reduce the autonomy of schools, teachers, and students. As explained in the following, NCLB opposes the development of deep democracy because it:

  1. perpetuates double-speak and obfuscating communication;

  2. refutes an equal distribution of resources for education;

  3. reduces equal opportunity to equal treatment/outcome (standardization);

  4. abrogates the autonomy of students, teachers, and parents;

  5. opposes students’ unique exercise of creative individuality; and

  6. inhibits the development of love, respect and caring of others.

Double-Speak and Obfuscating Communication

There are many examples of obfuscating language in NCLB. One glaring example of double-speak is the informal title of the law itself: “No Child Left Behind.” Such a title would seem to claim that every child should be given an equal opportunity to achieve academically, especially because NCLB explicitly advocates that: “All children shall meet the challenging state student academic achievement standards.”[35] A seemingly integral part of enabling all children to meet challenging academic achievement standards would be to provide more resources for those who have been historically disadvantaged, but at the minimum, to ensure equal resources for all ethnic and economic groups. Yet, NCLB explicitly eliminates this as an interpretation of the law: “Nothing in this title shall be construed to mandate equalized spending per pupil for a State, local educational agency, or school.”[36] Yet, Kozol (2005) shows that schools primarily serving children who have been historically, and are currently, disadvantaged by society (e.g., minority and low-income students) are in general, provided with the fewest resources to teach their students. For example, in one of the largest cities in Texas, the three of the lowest-income school districts averaged 96% minority students, but the three highest-income school districts averaged 31% minority students (Briscoe and de Oliver forthcoming). Thus, both the moniker and advocacy claims of NCLB are examples of double-speak.

Refutes an Equal Distribution of Educational Resources

As previously noted, NCLB explicitly eliminates equal allocation of educational resources as a possible interpretation of the law. Such an explicit denial implies that many people reading the law might reasonably interpret it to mean that equal funding would be necessary to provide all children an equal opportunity to achieve. Denying an equal spread of resources is antithetical to deep democracy.

Abrogates the Autonomy of Students, Parents, and Teachers

The federal government, through its dispensing or withholding of money, coerces states into adopting particular curricular emphases, standardized testing, and the timeline of both curriculum and tests. And under the current hierarchy of schooling, starting with students and teachers … up to state boards of education are enmeshed in a hierarchy of linked master–servant relationships, with those at the bottom having the least amount of autonomy. NCLB’s coercive policies leave states with little choice (given the dire condition of state budgets) but to further usurp districts,’ schools,’ teachers,’ parents,’ and students’ autonomy in determining the relative emphases in their curriculum as well as their mode of testing and testing timelines. Schools, teachers, and students are required to proceed at a uniform standardized schedule and do not have the option of conforming the curriculum to students’ interests or strengths. Nel Noddings (1992) and John Dewey (1916) describe just two of the many possible different ways that schooling could conform to students’ interests. Instead, they must proceed in a lockstep manner. This uniformity occurs, in part, because NCLB reduces equity or equal opportunity to a standardization of treatment and outcome.

Perhaps NCLB’s most invidious subversion of autonomy is that although it espouses individual autonomy, NCLB premises this autonomy or free choice upon market mechanisms, which privilege the choice-making of those with more money over those with less money. This subversion holds schools, teachers, students, and parents responsible for their choices, based upon this seemingly offering autonomy. In reality, NCLB coerces choices for those with little access to resources, while at the same time inducing blame for those forced choices. Such subversion counters deep democracy’s and anarchism’s mandate for real autonomy for students, parents, teachers, and schools.

NCLB Opposes Students’ Unique Exercise of Creative Individuality

Related to NCLB’s abrogation of autonomy is its opposition to exercise creative individuality. Part of deep democracy is the recognition that each person is unique and should have the right to exercise her or his creative individuality. With NCLB strong-arming states to emphasize a particular part of the curriculum in a lockstep manner (based upon a mandated testing timeline for all students), the teacher is unable to create a learning environment in which students can apply their particular strengths or develop academic skills in the sequence that best fits that student’s interests and abilities. Finally, under NCLB, the disregard of a student’s unique exercise of creative individuality occurs with more intensity in schools that serve economically underprivileged and minority students, as art, music, and other creative arts are expunged from the school curriculum to improve standardized test scores (Briscoe 2008). The loss of these opportunities acts to create subjectivities of compliance, as Freire (1970) put it, the curtailment of their realities. Through this process, NCLB encourages the development of citizens who participate only as voters, choosing from a slate of pre-selected candidates.

NCLB Inhibits the Development of Love, Respect and Care of Others

Inhibition of love, respect, and care of others is seen in the treatment of students and faculty, as well as in the type of subjectivities and actions NCLB induces in school members. As previously stated, NCLB mandates a lockstep curriculum and testing timeline with no concern for the individual student’s interests, desires, or abilities. Freire (1970) claims that this regime deadens the soul and mind of a person, suiting that person for subjugation. Such dehumanization of students is the opposite of loving, caring, and respect and, furthermore, induces students to treat others as objects (Foucault 1980a). Not only do NCLB policies inhibit the development of love, care, and respect among students, they also inhibit such development in educators in three ways: (a) as described by Buber (1937), NCLB policies treat teachers as objects in its insistence that they follow a lockstep curriculum for every student regardless of teachers’ judgments; (b) by demanding that teachers treat their students as objects; and (c) by fostering an antisocial individualism among the school educators. As von Humboldt (1985) points out, treating another person as an object or slave damages the perpetrator as much as the victim, in part by developing an indifference or blindness to others’ suffering. Finally, through its antisocial competitive individualism, NCLB fosters a climate of mistrust and disregard of others among schools and faculty, rather than one of mutual care and respect. This analysis of NCLB illustrates the antithetical relationship neoliberal policies have to essential characteristics of deep democracy and to human well-being. Anarchist guidelines offer an attractive alternative to the current neoliberal policies guiding educational decision-making.

An Anarchist Guide for Educational Decision-Making

Most anarchists maintain that US schools, like the rest of the state and national political system, have become subverted into servicing the interests and desires of the corporate elite, as seen in Goldman and Baginsky’s (1907) characterization of schools: “The school, more than any other institution, is a veritable barrack, where the human mind is drilled and manipulated into submission to various social and moral spooks, and thus fitted to continue our system of exploitation and oppression” (7). Under the current ideological hegemony of neoliberalism, this characterization remains true. Thus, some anarchists, such as Illich (1971), suggest disestablishing schools completely and letting citizens educate themselves as they wish. Such efforts, they say, will eliminate public schools’ conditioning of students for the economic and social status quo. However, eliminating free access to an education would set us back historically to when the majority of citizens simply went uneducated, as they could not afford to pay for teachers and the accoutrements of learning, rendering them even more vulnerable to the problematic conditioning of an increasingly ubiquitous mass media. Thus, my view of the state’s role in education follows Noam Chomsky’s claim that “abolishing the state is not a realistic strategy at this time” (2010),[37] and Buck’s (2009) suggestion that progress toward anarchism proceed piecemeal. My presentation of anarchist guidelines is composed of two parts: First, I sketch an anarchist model of educational decision-making, suggesting it be instituted through federal legislation that would offer funds only to those states that adopt these guidelines. These guidelines are not offered as the definitive, final, or only anarchistic way in which to make educational decisions. Others can improve upon them, either generally or based upon specific contextual conditions. However, they do provide a starting point by providing practical suggestions about how schools might serve students’ and parents’ interest, rather than the elite.[38] Second, I address some concerns that might arise over the guidelines.

Anarchist Educational Decision-Making Guidelines

The guidelines are simple. The state will provide equal money (per student) for all nonprofit public schools within that state and all public school teacher salaries will be paid from the same state salary schedule. The school constituents (parents and students most geographically near a given school and the teachers of that school) together decide upon the way the school is run, which includes teaching methods, curriculum, hours, teacher hiring, adequacy of teaching, and the purchase of educational supplies and services. If school constituents find someone’s teaching to be inadequate, they also determine how to address this inadequacy. In any particular school, all children will have equitable access to teachers, supplies, and services provided by the school—teachers provide advice, but a student may attend any class offered by their school that they and their parents wish. School constituents also monitor to ensure that their school funding equals that of other schools, appealing to the federal government if they find a lack of equal funding of their school or equitable access within their school. Because the teachers, students, and parents will be making the decisions regarding the curriculum, budgeting, and method of schooling, there is no more formalized structural hierarchy and, therefore, no need for a leader to coerce teachers and students into particular actions. Noneducational duties left to be considered include bookkeeping and organizing the use and maintenance of resources. School constituents also decide how to handle this. Among the several possibilities are having teachers and/or parents rotate into this position on a semester basis, with parents being paid or teachers being relieved of their teaching duties. Students and teachers could be responsible for the cleaning and minor maintenance of the facilities that they use. For major repairs, if a student, parent, or teacher knows how to do the repair, they may do so for whatever recompense is decided as fair or a professional could be hired.

There are two final provisos. First, as discussed later, schools are limited to 300 students (small school concepts could be used for large school buildings as the constituents of each small school retained decision-making rights over their school). Second, although schooling is not compulsory, there is no age limit to attending public schools without cost. The primary reason schooling should not be compulsory is to retain the autonomy of students and parents; thus, the decision-making of whether or not to attend school should be theirs. If those who choose not to attend school but to experience the world should ultimately decide that an education is important, they would still have free access to the public school. However, some concerns might arise over such simple guidelines: Can we really trust teachers (possibly lazy or incompetent), parents (not experts), and children (possibly pleasure-oriented, short-sighted, and ignorant) to make the best educational decisions? Why limit the number of students to 300 or less? What about previous failed attempts at integrating parents into the decision-making processes of schools? If all of these small schools are doing their own thing, what will hold society together? Each of these possible concerns is discussed in the order presented previously.

Students, Parents, and Teachers, as Educational Decision-Makers

As previously indicated, autonomy is perhaps the single most important aspect of anarchism and deep democracy.[39] Joyfully exercising creative individuality entails student and teacher autonomy in making decisions about what education would look like. Students would not dictate what the teacher should do, nor would teachers dictate what students should do; they would come to a consensus about the students’ curriculum. Although others (teachers, parents, or friends) can share their observations, ideas, and advice, the student should ultimately define his or her potential and abilities. Because children lack some of the knowledge that adults have, parents should also be advocates for their children in terms of their education. Their primary input would be in the hiring of teachers. From that point, parents would be advisory, leaving the day-to-day educational decisions to be made jointly by teachers and students.

Buber (1937) describes the I–thou relationship between student and teacher in which daily decisions about learning are made based upon both parties’ desired ends, with neither the student’s nor the teacher’s desire eclipsing the others. In fact, Buber emphasizes that teachers assume the role of students when they learn from the children with whom they work. Learning is fun. Joint discovery is fun (Shukaitis 2009). Both children and adults spend many hours learning things that they wish to learn (such as new video games) without the specter of a test to drive them. Respecting student and teacher autonomy in making the decisions about learning will help put the excitement and joy back into learning and teaching.[40] Jointly developing their curriculum with teachers, rather than just learning what is mandated by the State, induces students to develop the habit of exercising their autonomy[41] and thus to participate in the decision-making of anarchistic deep democracy. Students and teachers share a relationship much like counselors and those being counseled. Research[42] indicates that counselor and counselee belief in what they are doing is the most important factor in whether counseling benefits the counselee. Therefore, it is likely that more and better learning will take place if teachers and students believe in what they are doing, rather than merely doing what they are told.

Can we trust teachers, parents, and children to make the best schooling decisions? During the 1920s there was an educational shift in the United States to having experts make decisions, rather than parents or teachers (Tyack and Cuban 1995). Teachers were, and still are, often perceived as being lazy or incompetent (Webb, Briscoe, and Mussman 2009). Parents, especially poor and minority parents, are often constructed as deficit (Briscoe and de Oliver forthcoming) and untrustworthy. Students seldom have been trusted to make good educational decisions. Why should we begin trusting them now? The answer is simple. Autonomy or the ability to make decisions concerning your own education is an essential ingredient for human dignity, well-being (Freire 1970), and motivation.[43] Furthermore, based upon the educational judgment of experts, too many poor and minority students are largely learning that they are failures and stupid (McKenzie 2009). With the current drilling, testing, and other school regimes in place, students are induced to regard learning as boring and humiliating. Minority men, especially those from the lower income brackets, are often channeled into prison by academic and disciplinary practices (Gregory, Skiba, and Noguera 2010). It is difficult to imagine how parents, teachers, and students could do a worse job in making these decisions than the experts. The individual and societal benefits warrant placing educational decision-making into the hands of those directly concerned.[44]

But what if students and teachers goof off instead of working? Goofing off may be one of the best ways of learning. Countless treatises from Rousseau ([1762]1979) to Smith and Pelligrini (2008) have been written about how much learning occurs through play. Furthermore, making these decisions in conjunction with teachers may expose students to a whole new variety of play than what they might normally engage in. Additionally, in the early 1900s, there was a general consensus that the technology of mass production would provide more leisure time for the masses. However, increasingly sophisticated technology has not opened up more free time. Instead, there are more unemployed workers and those in the workforce generally work longer hours and are expected to produce more.[45] Finally, if more people worked (but worked fewer hours) and played more, maybe society would no longer be gripped by a sense of meaninglessness (Havel 1994). If work became play, through worker autonomy, fewer antidepressants may be required.

Why Limit the School to 300 in the Geographic Area?

Although this latter guideline is not explicitly part of anarchism or deep democracy, I include it for a number of reasons that relate to love, care, and respect of others and direct participation in educational decision-making. Simmel’s ([1903] 1950) social theory described the kind of alienation and anomie that occurs when a group grows too large. In addition to social theory, psychological research has similar findings. Dunbar’s (1992) research suggests that our brains tend to limit us to knowing, understanding, and thus caring about no more than 150–300 individuals.[46] Other psychological studies (Demasio 1994) show that the further away people are from our decisions or actions, that is, as people become more abstract to us, the more indifferent we are to the suffering we cause them by our decisions. Finally, the more people who take part in a decision (voting for local vs. national political positions), the less impact each person has on that decision. Therefore, smaller is better in terms of direct participation in group-decision making that takes into account the needs, interests, and wellbeing of all group members.[47]

Failed Attempts at Integrating Parents Into School Decision-Making

Finally, what about earlier failed attempts at integrating parents, teachers, and sometimes students into the decision-making processes of schools?[48] First, not all attempts failed (e.g., Somech 2002). There is considerable research that suggests integrating parental perspectives into schools results in much higher academic achievement, especially for minority students (González, Moll, and Amanti 2005). Research investigating the differences between shared decision-making attempts that failed and those that were succeeding suggests that the anarchist guidelines presented here incorporate important aspects that were linked with success and avoid many of the aspects that lead to failure. Aspects that were related to success included “genuine authority over budget, personnel, and curriculum … adequate information to make informed decisions about student performance, parent and community satisfaction” and decision-making that incorporated all school constituents.[49] The most consistently reported aspect that was linked to success of integrating teachers and parents into school decision-making was that they had autonomy—or the genuine authority to make decisions.[50] Elements found to be linked to failure included overwork and frustration of teachers as they attempted to both teach and make school-wide decisions (this was the most commonly reported element linked to failure);[51] too much conflict (Geraci 1995); inadequate knowledge or understanding of issues;[52] and the difficulty faced by the principal in mediating demands of the school district with those from the teachers and parents (e.g., Geraci 1995).

However, the context in which integration of parents, teachers, and students, as suggested in this article, is quite different from earlier attempts in two important ways: the degree of autonomy granted to school constituents and the number of students in a school. The strongest element in these anarchist guidelines is that teachers, students, and parents do have true autonomy. They are freed from a hierarchy of control except for the one regulation, enforced by the federal government, that they provide equitable access to all students in their schools. As this type of autonomy was the most often repeated element related to success or failure of shared decision-making, it bodes well that autonomy is an essential element of these anarchist guidelines. In addition, research was generally done on schools whose student population was much greater than 300.[53] Parents and teachers are more likely to feel overwhelmed, overworked, and frustrated by issues that come with schools whose student population far exceeds 300, because with fewer students, there are likely to be fewer issues. Furthermore, in a school of 300, students’ decisions are easier to make and the effects of those decisions are easier to track. Finally, research was primarily conducted in a context where constituents were expected to help make decisions, while embedded in a hierarchy reaching from the federal government to state, to state boards, to district boards, to local schools. This hierarchy was replete with codes, regulations, and other limits upon decision-making (Wylie 1995). Eliminating the bureaucratic hierarchy of regulations, codes, etc., and issues emanating from a multitude of hierarchical levels means that teachers, parents, and students primarily need to have knowledge and understand local issues. Under the suggested anarchistic guidelines parents will not be embedded in a hierarchy nor fenced in by a number of hierarchical regulations.

Conflict will occur when people have different ideas, interests, and desires. In the past, this conflict has been avoided by simply leaving teachers and parents with their unique individualities out of decision-making. Undoubtedly, conflict will occur and it will take time to sort through and come to decisions. However, conflict with open and authentic communication is much healthier than the orderliness that occurs under conditions of extreme control (Freire 1970), as described earlier by Mr. Jackson.

Schools are ‘Doing Their Own Thing’: How Will Society Hold Together?

Logically, society will hold together and survive, because it will be more adaptable to changes in technology and the environment and because of the diversity of knowledges and epistemologies inherent in a number of small schools and groups doing their own thing. Diversity strengthens the survivability and adaptability of a species and should aid in that of a society. In addition, rather than being passive spectators in societal and military actions of their nation, students will be socialized to be critical and then to directly participate in the decisions made by their country. Dewey (1916) maintains that for a democracy to improve itself, students must believe they have the ability to affect society and the will to do so. Small schools in which students, teachers, and parents make educational decisions produce diversity and socialize students to participate in the decision-making that affects their lives.

A further concern related to schools doing their own thing, might be that such autonomy grants the freedom that racists, sexists, and others will use to turn back the clock to racial- and gender-based apartheid, exclusion, and oppression in previously practiced in schools. No doubt, racial apartheid or oppression may occur in some schools (as it does now).[54] However, any constituent of the school has the right and opportunity to appeal to the federal government if anyone in the school is denied equal access. Currently, this is the only recourse that students have if they are excluded or experience oppression based upon race. Thus, the greater autonomy offered by these guidelines is unlikely to result in worse apartheid or oppression. In addition, if exclusion or oppression of a student were occurring, it would be much more evident in a small school of 300. Furthermore, even if (based upon the composition of the neighborhood) the 300 students in a school are primarily of a single ethnicity/race, such segregated schools exist today, sometimes within the same school (Oakes 1985). This current de facto segregation in schools—“African American and Latino students presently attend schools that are three-fourths minority and 40 percent are in intensely segregated schools” (Zamudio, Russell, Rios, and Bridgeman 2011, 44)—is often accompanied by a dearth of money for low-income and minority students. Thus, allowing school constituents to do their own thing is unlikely to make racial or gender apartheid and oppression worse than the current situation. However, offering students and teachers greater autonomy in determining what and how they learn is likely to be far more motivational to both students and teachers than the current tedium of schools caused by lockstep learning, as described earlier by Mr. Jackson.

I have addressed some of the concerns, which may arise in regards to the implementation of anarchist guidelines for educational decision-making. Undoubtedly, there are other concerns, but for pragmatic reasons, I leave those for future debate.


In sum, this article has described the negative social and educational environment that is generated by the increasing implementation of neoliberal policies, which perpetuate the practices of superficial democracy. However, the decision-making processes of neoliberal policies oppose the practice of deep democracy by: perpetuating double-speak; refuting an equal distribution of educational resources; abrogating the autonomy of school constituents; denying students and teachers the opportunity to exercise their creative individuality; and inhibiting the development of love, respect, and caring for others. These policies together treat humans as objects, creating a recipe for inhumane tedium and alienation. In contrast, anarchist policies promote decision-making processes that act to deepen democracy and the joy of teaching and learning. Anarchism promotes authentic communication; espouses a fairly equal distribution of power that allows for the exercise of real autonomy; advocates the joyful exercise of students’ and teachers’ creative individuality; and promotes the love, care, and respect of others. The suggested anarchist guidelines for educational decision-making are designed to make a preferred future more possible—a preferred future based upon improving the well-being of students and teachers, and eventually society. Consideration of this preferred future allows a more positive interpretation of The Second Coming:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world;….
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. (Yeats 1989, 187)

The center should not control the periphery, but rather should fall apart into a form of decision-making that is more equally distributed among all concerned. Mere anarchy loosens the chains that prevent people from acting autonomously. It is better to lack conviction so that one considers what others have to say than to be so full of passionate intensity that one ignores others’ interests, desires, and needs. Perhaps this type of ignorance is what turns the best into the worst. This is but a starting point, offering exciting challenges and opportunities for further research and flexible application based upon the context of schooling.


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Book Reviews

A Review of “Contemporary Anarchist Studies: An Introductory Anthology of Anarchy in the Academy”

Edited by Randall Amster, Abraham DeLeon, Luis A. Fernandez, Anthony J. Nocella II, and Deric Shannon. London and New York: Routledge, 2009. xvi; 318 pp. $155.00; $49.95 paper
Reviewed by Erin E. Doran

Upon opening this reader, a novice to anarchist studies should completely abandon what they think they know about what the term anarchism really means. Admittedly, I am not an anarchist, nor had I read any anarchist texts previous to picking up this reader. The word anarchist brought up images of the Haymarket Square Riot of 1877 and the chaos that ensued when a terrorist, presumably an anarchist, threw a bomb into an anarchist protest (e.g., see Carnes and Garraty 2008). A reference in the introduction to the “Haymarket Martyrs” struck me at once as a shock, and curiosity provoked me to explore alternative historical accounts. It appears that anarchism constructs meaning vastly different than what we are taught is true or real. Ironically, I considered the term anarchism synonymous with violence and chaos before diving into this volume.

Contemporary Anarchist Studies (hereafter, CAS) attempts to capture the growing interest in anarchism and its relationship to and antagonisms with the academy. The academy here is broadly defined as institutions of higher education where research and teaching is conducted by tenure and tenure-track faculty. Notably, thirty of the thirty-four contributors to this volume held such positions at higher education institutions globally. From the first few pages, the editors try to disentangle anarchism’s perceived relationship with violence and chaos, and although not explicitly offering one uniform definition of the word, give an overview of what the term means broadly. The editors offer a historical overview of the subject beginning with Lao-Tsu through the headline-grabbing “Battle of Seattle” in 1999. The contributing authors of the articles come from a diverse group of fields throughout the social sciences, humanities, and education.

The articles of CAS revolve around several central themes: First, how can anarchism exist within the academy when it is so critical or flat out rejects the academy itself, the state, and other social structures? There are proposals throughout the volume that suggest that one can conduct research and teach in a way that is truly representative of anarchism. The authors also contemplate the anarchist’s place both inside and outside the academy. Perhaps most important, the question over whether the positions of anarchist and academic are mutually exclusive or can they coexist in one person is reflected upon. Alejandro de Acosta declared in his chapter, “Anarchy can’t be taught!” (27). If Acosta’s claim has merit, what does a beginner have to gain from what the subtitle promises: an introductory anthology of anarchy in the academy?

Part one is focused on contemporary anarchist theory, particularly anarchy’s relationship with other schools of thought. Todd May considers the relationship of anarchist thought and French philosophy, particularly the works of Michel Foucault and Jacques Rancière; Gabriel Kuhn discusses the relationship between anarchy and postmodernity and poststructuralism. Joel Olsen detaches anarchist thought away from the customary focus on the working class and makes the compelling argument that anarchists should look to American racial history, particularly that of African Americans, for inspiration. Much political theory has been dedicated to the stratification of society according to class, and yet anarchists have failed to adequately address racial discrimination and exploitation and the central roles these have played in American history. By omitting race, anarchists ignore “White supremacy, which has shaped nearly every other form of oppression in the United States, including class, gender, religion, and the state” (37). Olsen offers another lens to examine, and by doing so, to critique a more complete picture of domination in American society.

The second part of the book deals with anarchist researchers’ methodologies and whether there is a distinctly anarchist approach to conducting research. Jeff Ferrell is easily the most antagonistic of the authors in the section, critiquing the way that academics conduct their research and how they train graduate students. Ferrell gives the example of Institutional Review Board and the ways in which original research can be quashed in the name of institutional riskiness. Ferrell’s tone is sometimes mocking and condescending, and he abandons all forms of traditional research methodology before making the case for ethnographic field research. The strongest point of Ferrell’s article is the overall reminder that research subjects should not be reduced to statistical representations or language that separates the study from its subjects; in essence he deconstructs the dehumanizing nature of scholarly research. As Ferrell puts it, “Abstract and obtuse, this sort of language is also revealing, illuminating a set of linguistic practices that systematically suck the life from those they describe” (79). Ferrell sets the tone for other authors who talk about the role of the researcher as both academic and anarchist.

Section three discusses pedagogy and various anarchist approaches to both learning and teaching that can help teachers and students resist traditional forms of compulsory state education. William T. Armaline discusses the dominant forces at play in education today and how to resist these forces. Perhaps one of his best arguments is the reminder that everyone in the classroom can be teacher and student. Armaline suggests that grassroots resistance can be effective in allowing for reflexive activity among teachers and students. In addition, teachers can establish democratic classrooms that give students a place for participation and expression. Maxwell Schnurer and Laura K. Hahn offer an alternative way of presenting anarchist theory by embedding that theory into short stories. This approach, the authors argue, offers more reflection and accessibility to students of anarchist theory. These stories, which they provide examples of in the form of short vignettes, are similar to the short stories and novels of French philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir who blended their existentialist philosophy and fiction.[55] The point of this approach, as the authors argue, is to break through the “limitations of conventional lesson-plans” and to “craft something that was accessible to non-university audiences” (147). With these stories, Schnurer and Hahn create artifacts for use both inside and outside the academy.

The next section, Praxis, covers arguably the most diverse of topics. The chapter discusses how theory can guide practice, or as the editors put it, “a staging ground for critical self-reflection” (181). Steven Best describes the historical foundations of the animal liberation movement and the similarities in the discourses of anarchism and animal liberation. As Best states, “The project to emancipate animals, in other words, is integrally related to the struggle to emancipate humans and the battle for a viable natural world” (195). Animal liberationists, anarchists, and similar groups are all concerned with domination and exploitation, and Steven Best makes the connections between them and how they can learn from each other.

Caroline Kaltefleiter continues the section on praxis with another female-centered article that demonstrates how subcultures can be useful research subjects for anarchist academics. Her subject is Riot Grrrl, which she describes as “a pro-girl movement that came of age in the early 1990s in response to a male-dominated American Punk music scene” (224). Riot Grrrl is a grassroots movement that spread around the United States and empowers women to get angry and become part of the dialogue. Kaltefleiter calls their approach “do-it-yourself resistance” (229) and shows how theory can be put to practice outside of the academy and without the help of scholars. Kaltefleiter’s Riot Grrrls are a strong example of how anarchist scholars can learn about anarchism outside the academy.

Anarchists are undoubtedly concerned about the future and the movement’s place in it. The fifth and final section of this anthology focuses on the question, “Where do we go from here?” Uri Gordon demonstrates little doubt that current trends indicate the collapse of industrialized society as we know it. Peter Seyferth examines how utopian and dystopian literature can be useful in the conceptualizing the future for anarchists, particularly in finding nonhierarchical alternatives to ensure important rights of individuals in a poststate world. Seyferth concludes that both the writing and reading of these works can spark inspiration and engagement between the authors and readers of these texts.

This volume is not without its shortfalls. The editors frankly admit that they are all men and had no female participation in the editing of this book. Although they could have included a female editor (and they say they considered it), they “didn’t want to degenerate into tokenism or patronization in the process” (6). Despite the plurality of male authors, female voices have made it into the volume as contributing authors, fortunately. Martha Ackelsberg, the author of a seminal work on women anarchists during the Spanish Civil War, contributed a phenomenal reflection on the intersection of her many identities-anarchist, feminist, academic, and follower of Judaism, respectively. Ackelsberg reminds readers that every participant in anarchism, scholars and research subjects alike, come from diverse backgrounds that influence and shape their experiences. Ackelsberg states an important lesson for anarchists on diversity: “In fact, the society I think we must strive for is one that would not attempt to maintain a false sense of unity which comes from the denial of difference” (267). This means that human diversity and difference should not be stifled or hidden; instead, it should be acknowledged and utilized in a meaningful way.

Emily Gaarder considered an anarchist approach to restorative justice specifically applied to violence against women. Gaarder’s restorative justice introduces a method to address violence against women without state intervention or participation. These methods are perhaps similar to programs such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) established in South Africa following the end of apartheid, an example that includes state crimes against its citizens. Although not a perfect example of anarchist restorative justice, the TRC represents a large-scale movement toward reconciliation and rebuilding of society. These women offer suggestions for anarchist scholars that transcend gender lines.

One of my main challenges in reading this volume as a beginner in the field of anarchist studies was a lack of introduction to anarchist theory. The authors assume that the reader has at least a rudimentary knowledge of the theory, its terms (i.e., mutual aid), and its contemporary movements. Even the term anarchism is not explicitly defined; the authors offer a historical sketch of anarchism, as well as some common denominators. This lack of definition may be one of the strengths of anarchist theory and is best explained by William T. Armaline. He writes that defining anarchism “would be a claim to power—the power to define the world and future of others without their participation and consent” (137). In a sense, this captures my understanding of one feature of anarchism—an awareness of individual voices and contributions.

Despite these shortfalls, the true value of this volume is its interdisciplinary nature of the discussions. There are methodologies and lessons introduced by the authors that can be extended to a myriad of fields. Despite the derision that Jeff Ferrell has for most academic research methodologies, he sets forth an important reminder of the responsibility researchers have to remain compassionate toward research subjects. Overall, this volume offers excellent lessons for researchers, particularly those who are new to the field of anarchist studies. This volume would do well combined with some classic anarchist texts such as Emma Goldman or Mikhail Bakunin. Contemporary Anarchist Studies: An Introductory Anthology of Anarchy in the Academy offers readers a chance to reconsider what they think they know about anarchism and to develop how they define the term for themselves. The emphasis on human dignity and agency offers a useful reminder for any scholar working with human subjects.


Carnes, Mark C. and Garraty, John A. 2008. American Destiny: Narrative of a Nation, New York: Pearson Longman.

Shelby, Karen. 2006. “Beauvoir and Ethical Responsibility.” In Simone de Beauvoir’s Political Thinking, Edited by: Marso, Lori Jo and Moynagh, Patricia. 92–108. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

A Review of “Anarchism and Education: A Philosophical Perspective”

Judith Suissa, Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2010. 184 pp. $19.95 (paperback) $10.00 (ebook)
Reviewed by John Lupinacci

In recent decades, efforts to rethink education have resulted in the reproduction of authoritarian value hierarchies that have become dangerously normalized in today’s society. Schooling, especially institutions of higher education and teacher preparation programs, are increasingly neoliberal training grounds. These institutions help to manufacture illusions of isolated consumer self-identities, from which an onslaught of environmental and social injustices emerge as a touted facet of a new normal. This review addresses how anarchism provides a diverse array of necessary critical and ethical interruptions that have rich histories of identifying and resisting limits to dominant understandings and how anarchism shaped the efforts of radical educators as they work in solidarity to usher in the many roles of direct action in teacher education.

Anarchism and Education: A Philosophical Perspective, by Judith Suissa, contributes a concise overview of anarchist philosophy’s inherent, yet often overlooked, role in educational discourses. The book is a well-composed narrative and useful text for introducing the historical socio-political influence of anarchism. Suissa focuses on how the social anarchist view emerges from nineteenth century anarchists to offer insight on how anarchist perspectives of freedom and equality interrupt authoritarianism. Through her examination of nineteenth-century anarchists like Proudhon, Bakunin, and Kropotkin, and more contemporary anarchists like Chomsky and Bookchin, Suissa articulates a strong connection between the lack of consideration of anarchism in the field of education and common misconceptions that seem to dominate scholarly attempts to identify the importance of anarchist theory in educational reform. Drawing on research from both primary and secondary sources, she presents strong scholarship that takes the reader through the philosophical discussions essential to understanding anarchic experiments in education while she simultaneously exposes the often silenced or ignored history of anarchist engagement with education. Sussia presents diverse case studies of anarchist educational experiments that offer a variety of alternatives to the monoculture monster of schooling. With each case study, she connects the importance of anarchist theory with the critical and ethical context of acting to directly expose, undermine, interrupt, and even destroy socially constructed hierarchical authority.

To set the backdrop for filling such a tall order, Suissa lays out a survey of anarchist philosophy that introduces the reader to a spectrum of anarchist perspectives from individualist to socialist. Through introducing these perspectives, she identifies five main variants—“mutualism, federalism, collectivism, communism, and syndicalism” (11). The first chapters of the book are essential, as they set up a foundation from which Sussia is able to unfold a strong case for anarchist contributions in current discussions on education. Through a riveting narrative that emerges from strong research, Suissa not only exposes readers to the critical foundations of anarchism, but she also presents strong profiles of anarchism as inseparable from great sensibility, compassion, and a dedication to the pursuit of freedom and equality.

Sussia’s work reminds us that anarchism not only emerged as resistance to unjust authorities governing how we relate to each other and the more-than-human world, but also how anarchism gets often portrayed by so-called radicals as inherently destructive, which creates tremendous openings for critical theory reproductive of the authoritarianism we are so heavily influenced by today. Although Sussia does not go explicitly into the differences between Marxist reform and anarchist projects, the book provides a strong foundation for how those distinctions influence education. However, what stands out in the text is how anarchic dissent has always worked in diverse ways to reclaim how we imagine the world. Reading this text, it is almost impossible to ignore the contributions of anarchism to the field of educational studies and to go without asking critical and ethical questions regarding why we teach.

Asking these questions, I turn my attention to the gift of being—the gift of the planet, the land, the water, the animals, the plants, the gift of each other, and the gift of our abilities to plan and prepare with the capacity of cohabitating in what some call utopian, but anarchists imagine as communities. Diverse, local, and free from authoritarian rule in anarchist concepts of communities, we all share the gift and responsibility of belonging. No matter how buried beneath concrete and concepts, human cultures remain of and with the relationships of mutualism that support their existence. We are alive and in relationship to the land and all that dwell among us and in death we shall remain as a part of that community in memory and in physical exchange as we decompose continuing the cooperation. Despite how our eyes and institutionally socialized minds tell us to individualize our human nature over remembering, our being a part of complex set of relationships is always there. Through anarchist understandings that the human potential to ignore this gift in pursuit of false illusions of individual existence can be overcome by the fact that we have an even greater potential to recognize and celebrate the power of mutual aid and cooperation—to celebrate our existence as a part of a diverse systems that doesn’t need authority to ensure survival. Anarchism offers imaginative opportunities for us in education to act with great courage as we boldly reconceptualize educational spaces that engage us in the recovery of our ability to see both what is currently problematic about education, as well as guide us through a recognition of the shared abundance of the boundless, priceless gift of belonging to a set of relationships based on mutualism.

Suissa’s astute philosophical research, a beautifully written and highly disciplined narrative, presents a valuable introduction to anarchism. I found the book to be of exceptional use as a text for students and colleagues who have either dismissed anarchism through misconceptions or have never been formally introduced. Sussia’s book helps to initiate conversations among critical scholars to include what Deleon (2008) refers to, in “Oh No Not the A-word! Proposing an Anarchism for Education,” as ways anarchism can compliment radical pedagogies theorizing education and classroom practices. DeLeon (2008) writes:

anarchist theory adds to this tradition more salient examples of praxis and resistance, a fundamental critique of hierarchical systems like the State, and questions, more radically, the institutions of capitalism and the relationship to these economic, social, and cultural systems. (124)

Sussia’s work helps demystify anarchism and make way for critical and ethical discussions regarding why educational scholars would be resistant to teaching and learning their anarchist ancestry. Tracing anarchist history is by no means an easy task as most of the major contributors to all accounts of anarchism are often situated in the socio-cultural context in which the great anarchists were speaking, writing, and working in solidarity to resist authority. Sussia, a strong ethical scholar, spends extended time in this text addressing how misconceptions made about anarchism emerge from generalizations that anarchist theory or even social anarchist philosophy can be reduced into one single model. Although this is often a point of contention in a culture shaped and disciplined to locate a single explanation, the text introduces to readers the contradiction between anarchist values and dominant Western culture. Sussia handles potential frustration and confusion by assuring readers that although there exists no one social anarchist perspective, there are some general unifying points. She explains that all anarchists share a “rejection of the state and its institutions” and the idea that anarchists do not propose a single “blueprint for the future society” (14).

The structure of the book ensures that a reader with little or no background in anarchist theory will acquire a foundation from which to contextualize Sussia’s examples of anarchic projects like The Escuela Moderna, Barcelona; The Ferrer School, New York; and The Walden Center and School, Berkeley. This book is a phenomenal introduction to anarchism and its importance to the field of educational studies. Sussia, with great precision, works thoughtfully through some clearly articulated tensions between dominant critical educational reform and anarchist experiments. She explains how claims of anarchism as utopian, too focused on the individual, or primitive and savage do not take into account that anarchism has much to offer education. To seriously explore the potential of education that is situational, local, and supportive of living systems requires the consideration of anarchism as something completely different and opposed to many of the dominant cultural norms that have been socially constructed to govern how we, as subjects of Modernity, make meaning.

Anarchism and Education: A Philosophical Perspective offers an introduction to understanding how anarchists and anarchist theory contribute to ever-evolving and adapting perspectives through which we can learn to support and value concepts like community, mutual aid, diversity, and solidarity. In today’s neoliberal institutions, an agenda to enclose the last vestiges of public space works through educational institutions that reproduce a limited set of practices disciplined by modern discourses, to manufacture a sense of insecurity and instability and erode solidarity. The impacts of authoritarian top-down policy often result in resistance, especially in the form of educational experiments, which creates the opportunity to commit to understanding education as situational, local, and in support of living systems. Sussia reminds us that anarchists educate in ways that engage participants in addressing the assumptions that have led to an erosion of solidarity. Learning that anarchism isn’t anything goes, but that it is a way of living through critical and ethical decentralized decision making, helps us to stand firmly, and in solidarity with others. Anarchism reaffirms that imagination and interruptions to authority are necessary to understand and change the social and economic conditions that create the illusions of individualism.


DeLeon, Abraham. 2008. Oh No, Not the ‘A’ Word! Towards an Anarchism for Education. Educational Studies, 44: 122–141.

Time Exposure

Eugene F. Provenzo Jr.
German poster titled Anarchie ist Helfer der Reaktion und Hungersnot. Created by Walter Schnackenberg (1880–1961) and published in Munich by Kunstanstalt O. Consée, 1918. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The subject of anarchy was a frequent topic of political illustrators and cartoonists throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the United States, cartoons warning about the threat of political and social anarchy were frequently included in illustrated magazines such as Harper’s Illustrated Weekly and Puck. Typical is the caricature of the anarchist as a bearded, ill-kempt, bomb-throwing revolutionary.

This tradition of the anarchist as a bomb-throwing revolutionary was not just limited to the United States, but was also popular in Europe. In the 1918 German political poster shown here, an angel is shown standing in front of a crowd of civilians and German soldiers. She is holding an olive branch and a scroll with the words “National … amlung.” The angel, who is calling for peace and national reconciliation, is challenged by an anarchist with a knife, who is about to throw a lit bomb. The title of the poster, “Anarchie ist Helfer der Reaktion und Hungersnot,” is translated as “Anarchy is the helper of reaction and famine.”

Additional information can be found at the “Time Exposures” Web site: Time Exposures: Visual Explorations in the History of American Education http://www.education.miami.edu/ep/Time Exposures/

[1] The use of the feminine herself here, is deliberate: The original text, of course, uses the masculine himself, and the reversal aims at two subversive uses, firstly the obvious basic redress that women comprise half the population of the world, yet have always had a subordinate status ascribed to them, and second, recognition also, that gender-fucking, in which traditional and accepted gender roles are undermined and subverted, is far closer to the sexual equality of gender blindness than institutional identity politics could ever offer, taken to mean the refusal of an ascribed role and identity, as much as any positive notion of one, i.e., the definition of a subject based primarily on the sex they happen to be. An awareness of the contemporary setting that Marx (and more than a century later, Illich), were writing in, is present, however, and neither author can be blamed for their preferred use of the masculine.

[2] http://www.wea.org.uk/

[3] For a detailed philosophical exploration of prefiguration, see Franks (2006), especially Chapter 2: The Anarchist Ethic and Chapter 3: Agents of Change.

[4] “You want me to wear more flair?” is a line from the film Office Space. Directed by Mike Judge. Los Angeles, CA: Twentieth Century Fox, 1999. The line is spoken by the character Joanna (Jennifer Anniston) who works as a waitress in a theme-restaurant in which staff are required to where a requisite amount of standardized flair—badges and the like to emphasize their individuality and kookiness, to show that the job does not require standardization of them—affective or emotional labor, a simulation of what remains incompatible with the material servitude of the wage relation. Joanna is asked by her manager why she is not wearing more, and says that she is, in fact, wearing the required amount, and asks if he would like her to wear more, to which he responds, “What do you think it says about someone who only does the bare minimum?”

[5] The specific thinkers meant here are primarily Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Paulo Virno, and Franco ‘Biffo’ Berardi. Hardt and Negri’s thought is of immense importance and is, itself, a very significant contribution to reworking and reenergizing critical and revolutionary theory, but not is not without major flaws. For a nuanced and qualified critique from the same side’ see Holloway, Matamoros, and Tischler (2009).

[6] This rebranding of the British Labour Party was centered on Tony Blair, and found a postideological turn in Anthony Giddens’ ([2000] 2011) concept of the The Third Way.

[7] Savage (2010), Garner and Morris (2010, Vasagar and Shepherd (2010), Shepherd (2011).

[8] Jeevan Vasagar, Paul Lewis, and Nicholas Watt, “This is just the beginning,” The Guardian, Nov. 11, 2010; Andy McSmith, Richard Garner, Wright, and Rebecca Gonsalves, “The New Politics — Student Riot Marks End of Coalition’s Era of Consensus,” The Independent, Nov. 11, 2010.

[9] To be sure, the student could not solve an equation requiring division of fractions without knowing division of fractions, but they could solve a host of equations that does not require division of fractions.

[10] The assumption that all have equal opportunity to climb up the hierarchy is essential to its acceptance by individuals, yet equal opportunity has been disputed by the Marxist critiques of schooling (e.g., Bowles and Gintis, 1976).

[11] Arter Jackson, public school teacher, e-mailed the author on September 16, 2008. Mr. Jackson was a former student of mine who had remained in communication with me over the years, describing his teaching and educational experiences.

[12] This characterization of critical postmodernism fits with anarchism. See for example, a number of discussions of anarchism’s relationship with possible and preferred futures in Randall Amster et al. (2009).

[13] For a fuller description of neoliberalism and its productive effects see Clarke (2004) or Dave Hill (2009).

[14] For a description of the expansion of the testing market and its effects of further narrowing the types of knowledge taught in schools see Felecia Briscoe (2008).

[15] See Taylor Webb, Felecia Briscoe, and Mark Mussman (2009), for a detailed discussion of the coercive surveillance techniques found in neoliberalism as exemplified in NCLB.

[16] See for example, Firebaugh (2003) or Gailbraith and Hale (2005).

[17] Other democratic typologies include shallow, weak, etc.

[18] E.g., Emma Goldman (1907) or Peter Kropotkin (1899).

[19] E.g., Walt Whitman (1959) and John Dewey (1916).

[20] See Steven Shukaitis’s Imaginal Machines (2009) for more about how these types of decisions are constantly being remade with the possibility of a more anarchic decision occurring and that hope is a necessary ingredient for such transformative changes to occur.

[21] From a postmodern perspective, reality is social construction and words like authentic can at best, be merely contingent. Recognizing this, I later provide a definition of authentic communication as described by political and sociological theorists.

[22] Furthermore, many anarchists such as Buck (2009) advocate a piecemeal transformation.

[23] Later in the sections analyzing the relationships of neoliberalism and anarchism to deep democracy, each of the assertions in this section are discussed in detail.

[24] See Briscoe and de Oliver (forthcoming) for a detailed description of the imaginary “free choice” offered by neoliberalism.

[25] And when neoliberalism does, its response is market-based, such as the Kyoto agreement in which wealthy industrialized countries buy the right to a large carbon footprint from countries who are not fully industrialized. Although not fully industrialized may sound deficit in comparison to fully industrialized, in reality it is not. Fully industrialized indicates a disproportionate use of global resources and a disproportionate amount of pollution. At this point in time, a fully industrialized country is one that uses far more than its share of resources and pollutes far more than its counterparts that are not fully industrialized.

[26] By harm, I mean the kind of harm that results in the dehumanization or alienation of a person as described by Paulo Freire (1970) in Pedagogy of the Oppressed or the kinds of suffering described by Pennycook (2001) in Critical Applied Linguistics. By benefit, I refer to the sort of benefit that allows for the fuller expression of a person’s humanity as described by Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed or Dewey (1916) in Democracy and Education.

[27] For a fuller discussion of authentic communication, see Green (1999) or Walt Whitman (1959).

[28] From a postmodern perspective, research and theory are integrated into current power relations. However, there is always resistance and perhaps the theories and research findings cited in this article are points of resistance. See Foucault (1980a).

[29] Because Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice was written in 1938, it is important to note two things. Minorities in this context does not refer to those who have been historically oppressed, but rather to the small number of people who overwhelming benefit from the current economic system to the detriment of the masses. Also, the language used here is patriarchal in that the masculine pronoun is used to refer to all of humankind. I resist language that promotes sexism and therefore point to it, but at the same time recognize that this was considered correct essay style in the time period.

[30] See Wolff (2007).

[31] In consideration of the education of minorities, Black authors such as Vanessa Siddle-Walker (1996) or bell hooks (1994), based upon their research, argue that the education prior to desegregation of African Americans was taught by African Americans who inculcated higher expectations in students than that inculcated in minorities by most of the teachers in desegregated urban schools of today; the problem wasn’t segregation per se, but access to resources. At least, minorities or low-income students were not being “schooled” into deficit identities, including low expectations of themselves. See, for example, Ivan Illich (1971); Paulo Freire (1970) or, more recently, Jean Anyon (1998) and Tara J. Yasso (2006).

[32] For example, Gordon W. Allport ([1954] 1968), Habermas (1968) or von Humboldt (1985).

[33] See for example, Foucault (1980a).

[34] In reality, a large number of students do not have the option of going to a particular school in their school district, but are stuck in a school, which has now been labeled as failing. See Roslyn Arlin Mickelson and Stephanie Southwort (2005) for more on this.

[35] NCLBa, Public Law 107–110, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Part I, sec. 1903 (a)(2). Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/pg18.html.

[36] NCLBb, Public Law 107–110, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Part I, sec 1906. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/pg2.html.

[37] See Noam Chomsky (2010),.

[38] As described in several analyses (e.g., Briscoe & de Oliver, forthcoming) neoliberalism has redefined the public good as that which services the interest of the corporate elite.

[39] See, for example, Anna Goldman (2010).

[40] See, for example, Friere (1970) or Emma Goldman (1907).

[41] See Foucault (1980a) for a description of how power affects subjectivities.

[42] See for example, Gary Greenburg (2010).

[43] See Dewey (1916) for a theoretical grounding on why autonomy leads to motivation and an example of empirical working supporting the relationship of autonomy and motivation by Nichols (2006).

[44] In addition, without the truancy apparatus, more money is available for education.

[45] See for example, Braverman (1974) or, more recently, Schaal (2010).

[46] Furthermore, the less autonomy (or control) a person has, the more debilitating the effects of group size; “Both environmental stress and crowding annoyance are significantly related to personal control” (Schmidt 1983 229).

[47] Furthermore, smaller schools generally produce higher achievement rates. See, for example, McMillen et al. (2000).

[48] Referred to variously as school-based management, e.g., Gleason, Donohue, and Leader (1995); participative management, e.g., Somech (2002); or site-based management, e.g., Wylie (1995).

[49] Odden and Wohlstetter (1995). Likewise, Conway and Calzi (1995), as well as Geraci (1995), found that lack of genuine authority to make decisions was linked to the failure of shared decision-making.

[50] Odden and Wohlstetter (1995); Conway and Calzi (1995); and Geraci (1995) all noted that lack of genuine authority to make decisions was linked to the failure of shared decision-making.

[51] See, for example, Sanders (2001), Wylie (1995), or Geraci (1995).


[53] See, for example, Gleason et al. (1995), Geraci (1995), Conway and Calzi (1995), or Somech (2002).

[54] See, for example, Oakes (1985) for research showing how the ubiquitous practice of tracking acts to exclude minority and low-income students from the upper academic tracks in schools, creating a sort of apartheid.

[55] Arguably the two best examples of these existential novels are Sartre’s Nausea and Beauvoir’s The Blood of Others. For an analysis of Beauvoir’s political philosophy woven into The Blood of Others, see Shelby (2006).