Education as seen by anarchists
As appeared in the anarchist journal Cause Commune, produced by the Quebec-based, Union Communiste Libertaire.
Translation by Maxime Gagnon-Gauthier
Original article can be read here in French
Since the advent of the nation-state, the ruling class has taken control of education to promote patriotism and national pride first, and second to train workers to gain skills enabling them to adjust to precarious living conditions and to workplaces gnawed by uncertainty.
Today, examples of this phenomena are legion: just read the training programs for "citizenship education" to see that the Ministry of Education seeks to promote a culture of individual responsibility, in order to lighten the weight of the "burden" on the community. They're hoping to cultivate "entrepreneurial spirit" so that students learn to sell themselves better on the labor market which is becoming increasingly competitive. The message is clear: we must shape ourselves to the needs of the bourgeois state, learn to adapt and especially to not imagine that to our collective problems may exist collective solutions, rather than individual ones. It is docility that we learn in our schools, not accountability. And making education free will change nothing about this situation.
Anarchism implies the questioning of the organization of education by the state. Its principles - direct democracy and self-management - as its ideals - the absence of hierarchy and authority, and emancipation of each and every one - also have implications on the vision of education. Let's draw a few lines to see the general idea, colored by past experiences in Western Europe and the United States.
A first basic anarchist principle on education is that education should encourage and develop feelings of mutual respect and solidarity in order to establish the conditions for the emergence of an egalitarian society. The first anarchist educators were betting that children, being in contact with an environment where solidarity, freedom and equality would reign, would like the taste and want to reproduce it. In doing so, the anarchist school was not apolitical: the educators had a political project in mind. However, the promotion of this project was limited to simply encouraging these values in children.
Second, the anarchist schools were organized jointly by educators, teachers, parents and workers. It was anchored in the neighborhood, and took an active role in the community. In some experiments - Summerhill in Britain, in particular - the decisions were taken at a general assembly, where students and teachers had equivalent voting rights. In other schools, workers visited the children to teach them the basics of a few jobs. Finally, anarchist educators were defending an integral education that combined intellectual formation and practical work to fulfill the need of diversity of human beings, to introduce children to many types of experiences and to avoid the division of labor.
For us anarchists, this means that beyond the defence of a public and acessible education, it is necessary to conduct a rigorous reflection on the nature of this education. Indeed, while the government monopolizes the attention with a shameful tuition fee increase and cuts here and there, there is a subtle shift toward a more technical education, increasingly oriented toward the acquisition of specific skills required by the capitalist system of production, to the detriment of the development of critical thinking and reasoning and reflection skills. The fee that the government want us to pay is only the tip of the iceberg of this education – which became a vulgar dressing - that we have lost control over. The students, as the entire population, will sooner or later have to initiate this essential debate: management, fashion design or marketing courses, to name a few, are they really useful to improving society?