Learning & Transforming Consciousness

I. What We Mean by Learning

  1. Let's begin by addressing the most fundamental question: how is learning related to our peculiar way of surviving in nature and reproducing our social existence? How does our understanding of ourselves and what it means to be human relate to the emancipatory project and to our educational orientations and activities?  imarvy [at] added-value.org
  2. We know that each of us becomes who we are through our socializing activities. Through these same activities we acquire the ideas we carry around in our heads about the nature of the world, including human nature and the natural and social worlds. Are we not always confronting in any and all work we do these ingrained assumptions about reality? How can we make learning not simply the acquisition of more information or expertise, but also a transformative self-conscious process--one that develops our capacities to think and our ability to confront our own assumptions and traumas which are all too often being played out in how we organize ourselves and how we relate to those we are organizing? What kind of individuals are we trying to become and develop?
  3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of left approaches to education? Does the left even have a self-conscious orientation to educational work, both internal to its own cadre and in relation to the public? If so, what is it and how do we critique it?

II. Barriers to Learning

  1. What do we see as the prevailing beliefs and attitudes people have concerning how the world works and their place within it? What learning and ideological barriers, socially and individually imposed, do we experience in our work and in our communities?
  2. The ideas individuals hold have a practical reality rooted in their lived experience. How is the dominant ideology reproduced and reinforced through daily life? On the flip side, we should also discuss under what circumstances or through what experiences people open themselves up to unfamiliar ideas and conceptions about themselves and society; to thinking in new ways; to questioning the given way the world works, and to imagining that things could be different.
  3. How do we de-fetishize reality? How can we break the power of the dominant ideology and of the immediate experiences of individuals and our communities? Let's take an example. For instance, most of us dislike our own self-activity, that is work, and we do not directly see how our efforts are connected to the efforts of others. We experience isolation and perceive ourselves as dependent only on ourselves, or our immediate family, for our paycheck. No one guarantees our individual survival but ourselves, yet none of us produces directly what we need for our own survival. How do we make evident the most basic of realities that we are material beings in a material world and that we are all interconnected to each other and nature through our self-activity, in spite of the fact that this interconnectedness takes on an alienated, fragmented form in capitalist society? In other words, how do we make the "real" apparent? How does this relate to the need for theory and science? So, reframing how I initially introduced this question, what kinds of educational and pedagogic work needs to be done by the left in our own movements and within society at large to break the power of the dominant ideology and immediate experience?

III. Socialist Agenda for Public Education and for Left Movements

  1. How do our left educational practices reflect the dominant culture? We have a tradition of constant educational activity-- freedom schools, study groups, educational propaganda--yet there are ways in which we succumb to the dominant ways of doing things. We tend to instrumentalize people and lose sight of the need to develop individual and collective capacities for long-term social transformation. Our ways of thinking and organizing often mirror the same dynamics of the dominant culture, though for different ends. What do we need to do to overcome the mental and manual division of labor within society, which is reflected in the separation of theory and practice that often typifies our own movements? How might activists and intellectuals work together, inform each other and set research agendas?
  2. What left educational projects are working and what needs to be done? New efforts are being made in educational strategies, like participatory research, which bring transformative learning and research together. They are also tools for self-organization. The application of popular education methods is a growing phenomenon in trade union work and community-based organizations. Independent socialist schools, like the New York Marxist School, have been a continuous part of US left culture. Some of these new educational efforts are bringing intellectuals and activists together around research agendas, combining hands-on practical experience with scientific thinking, each learning from the other and developing their capacities. a. What educational projects are breaking important new ground and what still needs to be explored and developed? What pedagogic approaches are needed for different tasks and for different communities or arenas of public life, like the media, science, trade unions, youth? b. What do we need to be studying? What ideological battles need to be taken on? What questions do we need to asking and solving together?
  3. What should a left agenda for public education be? We are now confronting an educational system that is, at all levels within our society, in various stages of deterioration, privatization, and becoming even more exclusionist and tied to business interests directly. Class stratification is intensifying, and public education for "surplus" people is not considered necessary. We also recognize that our educational institutions are a part of the social apparatus for reproducing class domination, while they are also centers of learning and resistance. They are among the important arenas of ideological struggle over who owns and controls our species’ knowledge. So, we find ourselves having to defend the right to public and higher education (the institutional domain of our species’ knowledge) knowing that the system often dis-educates and apportions individuals to their particular space within society. How do we defend education as a basic human right and at the same time challenge the way things are done? What kind of left agenda on public education do we need at this time?
  4. What about an educational agenda for ourselves? We are living at a time when almost all the socialist experiments of this century have been overturned and the marketplace appears to be the only viable alternative, for better or worse, to most people. In a time like this, how can we become a pole of attraction to working people and the oppressed, as well as our scientists, teachers, lawyers? How can we demonstrate, through our efforts, the creative potential of individuals, begin to come up with ways of interrelating to each other on a nurturing basis, and create genuine and lasting counter-hegemonic institutions within society that can challenge the way things are done by doing things differently? How might we together develop an educational orientation that can influence our own thinking about what we are doing and how we do it?
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