All posts by Jackie Sokolinsky

Beirut In Cincinnati

In April, Cincinnati, OH turned into a battlefield as the African-American community united against the deadly racism of city police. No one was left untouched; by the second week of the conflict, in the midst of a declared state of emergency, African-American members were leaving the Cincinnati police and fire-fighter’s unions, citing racism.

The transformation of Cincinnati into “Beirut”, as Cincinnati Mayor Charles Luken termed it, began April 7, 2001, when police officer Steven Roach shot and killed Timothy Thomas. It was the fifth police killing of a black male in Cincinnati in only seven months. Thomas’s family and protesters mobilized by African-American organizations packed the city council meeting held two days later, demanding official accountability for the murder. (At that time Roach was on a one week paid administrative leave.)

After the unsuccessful meeting, protesters reconvened at the District 1 police station and then proceeded on a two-hour march through the Over-the-Rhine and West End neighborhoods, where more people joined the march. The route ended back at the police station, where about 150 of the 800 demonstrators set up camp. Police sprayed teargas and other chemical weapons and fired approximately 50 rounds of rubber and bean-bag bullets, firing at point-blank range into crowds. The police station was only slightly smashed, alas.

In the next few days African-American youth, who suffer most from racial profiling and other forms of police surveillance and harassment, responded with growing militance. Solidarity was informal but very strong, with protesters acting quickly and effectively to unarrest many people. Their mobility, frequently breaking-up into a lot of different directions, helped prevent arrests as well. Some people took advantage of the cover of the crowds and the general atmosphere to loot shops; a pawn shop was completely emptied, smashed and burned. A few people assaulted drivers, but these incidents seem to have been stopped by onlookers.

Violence escalated very rapidly, as police brutality on the street was reinforced by Mayor Charles Luken’s declared state of emergency. From April 12 to 16, an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew imposed on Cincinnati and two neighboring cities enabled police to sweep the city making mass arrests, averaging 200 a night. In addition to police violence against protesters in custody, some people are reported to have been “disappeared,” police denying to family and friends of arrested individuals that they have them in custody.

Although police targeted a few isolated groups who “looked like anarchists,” the ferocity of police violence following the murder of Timothy Thomas was due to the close-to-the-bone nature of the conflict, over racism in the Cincinnati police force. Mayor Luken compared conditions in Cincinnati to Beirut; NAACP president Kweisi Mfume, in one of his more likable moments, compared them to Oakland.

Drive-by shootings by police officers occurred throughout the state of emergency, though only one made the Cincinnati papers. Luken had pledged to keep police away from the New Prospect Baptist Church, where on April 14 the funeral of Timothy Thomas was held, attended by hundreds, including African- American leaders, Cincinnati officials and Ohio Gov. Bob Taft. But half an hour after the funeral, as the last attendees were quietly dispersing, six SWAT team members drove by and fired a shotgun into a small group at close range, injuring two adults and two children. Christine Jones, hit twice in the back, was hospitalized for a cracked rib and injuries to the lung and spleen. The shotgun was loaded with the bean-bag bullets which the press widely accepts as virtually harmless.

The incident had a dozen witnesses and, occurring at an assembly of the country’s most notable black leaders, embarrassed the government. An FBI investigation into the “cause” of the incident was immediately ordered. Without benefit of the FBI’s formidable resources, here’s a guess: guns and authority in the hands of a group of paranoid, hostile and stupid racist bullies, allowed to roam freely in a city where chaos seems to provide an excuse for any excess they want. One could also speculate about the role capitalism plays in creating a community like Over-the-Rhine, which is the most economically depressed in Cincinnati. Or one could muse on the role of “law and order” which appears to be sheer self-perpetuation, no matter how inexcusable the conditions which the watchdogs of state strive to preserve and protect.

A definition of terms: “riot” (noun) the assaults, property destruction and theft carried out by civilians. Certainly not the assaults, property damage and theft carried out by police (see “law enforcement”).

In the aftermath of the riots, city officials scrambled to compensate business owners for broken windows, and declared it the “moral duty” (in exactly those words) of the government to help business owners who suffered financial losses due to general pillaging. One can’t help but notice that this is the very first occasion that the city council members have spoken of their moral duty. Certainly the concept of having a moral duty failed to arise when Angela Leisure, Timothy Thomas’s mother, confronted them demanding to know why her son had been killed. The concept of moral duty continued to slip their minds while police freely moved through the city, shooting men for holding their ground when ordered to step inside their houses at 8 p.m., and shooting 5-year-olds for the crime of being on the street in broad daylight.

By April 15, Luken felt that the city had been sufficiently “pacified” and he lifted the curfew although not the state of emergency. After having poured all that money, time and energy into putting down the people, the government, unsurprisingly, failed to do anything meaningful to end police violence. City safety director Kent Ryan was forced to resign, in the hopes that he would bear the brunt of political unpopularity. The position was passed to Greg Baker. Formerly employed as Ryan’s assistant, Baker is a conservative African-American man who seems chiefly concerned with suppressing bursts of anti-authoritarianism throughout the city.

None of the civilian actions frightened the state as much as the rebellions among black firefighters and police. April 16, half of the 200 members of the African-American Firefighters Association signed a petition to withdraw from Cincinnati’s Fire Fighters Labor Union. “I was at the funeral for Tim Thomas, and I heard Rev. (Damon) Lynch and several other activists there say that it’s time for black men and black women to stand up,” Jeff Harris, Jr., president of the AAFA, said. “We have to stand up despite the fact that our lives may be in jeopardy. We have to stand up because we cannot continue to go on in this way, being treated like second class citizens within our own union.”

Members of the Sentinels Police Association, an association of African-American police officers, soon followed suit, resigning from the Fraternal Order of Police. Sgt. Andre Smith, long disgusted by the racism within the union, reached his limit during Luken’s state of emergency. Referring to FOP president Keith Fangman’s denials of racism within the police force (despite the many ties of the FOP to white supremacist organizations, Fangman has a gripe with being called a neo-nazi), support for Thomas’s killer, and sleazy unpleasantness in public discussions with black leader Kweisi Mfume, Smith said, “After this week’s events, to see Mr. Fangman totally distort facts, disrespect the black community, disrespect our black leaders, I felt it necessary for me to remove what I felt the personal stench of FOP membership.” Scotty Johnson, president of the Sentinels, apologized to the family of Timothy Thomas, and made it clear that the disenfranchisement of the community was a long-standing problem which ought to have been corrected a long time ago.

The Sentinels and the African-American Firefighters have both taken a stand for civilian oversight of the police and fire departments. They are calling for the abolition of the city safety director’s office, which is why the new safety director, Greg Baker, is so preoccupied with them. The Sentinels and AAFA also support an initiative which would open the positions of chief of police, assistant chief of police and fire chief to candidates nationwide. Currently these positions are filled from within the Cincinnati departments.

It is exciting to see police officers identifying with their communities against the police hierarchy, and even more pleasing to note their assertiveness in trying to rewrite the script by which the community and police are stumbling along. One can only hope that this will be the seed for future rebellions and ultimately for the police fully identifying with the community and refusing to police.

Unfortunately, neither the rebelling cops nor black leaders appear to have been able to engage in dialog with the young people on the streets. Throughout the state of emergency, black leaders, predominantly churchmen, urged peace, pacifism and reform. They drew the attention of government officials and the media to the lawsuit filed by the ACLU and several African-American organizations with the aim of making racial profiling illegal nation-wide. But there was a gap of understanding as well as a difference of tactics between the youth battling police on the streets and the elders addressing church members: “You’re part of the problem,” one minister told youth on the street.

The issue isn’t “property-destruction: pro or con?” Rather, the issues raised in Cincinnati concern the ability of a community to use their resources to sustain and protect one another in the struggle against police domination. A good step was taken by the black fire-fighters and police, but a bigger and more transformative step would have been made had the leaders and authorities reconsidered the some of the values they were trying to protect. Does social harmony really require force?

The Business End of Spirituality

If I could stop howling at all the amusing quips Bill Ford has made to the press, concerning the Ford Motor Company’s vision for a more virtuous future, I might actually be able to write this article.

It isn’t even supposed to be about the Ford Motor Co. Ford came up entirely by accident. You see, I looked up the website of the San Francisco-based Business for Social Responsibility, an organization dedicated to what is termed “socially responsible investing.” I learned, rather to my surprise, that the organization’s most prominent members include Starbucks, Ford Motor Co., Bank of America, Hewlett-Packard, KPMG LLP, Levi Strauss & Co., American Express, Chevron, Coca-Cola, Eddie Bauer, Liz Claiborne, McDonald’s Corporation, Providian Financial and WalMart.

But its actually not so surprising after all. The environment, as our friend Bill said somewhere, is a big seller. People like hearing terms like “environmentally friendly” thrown around. Use the term “environment” somewhere, prominently, and people will buy the product. “Oh look, honey. It’s environmental.” As our friend Bill likes to say in his amusing way, this is a really exciting development, and just might help people make the difficult decision to buy an SUV.

Now, our pal Bill is a friend of the working man and the environment, but he likes to point out that his great-granddaddy was ahead of him in this. Henry Ford tried to inculcate real values in the working man by subjecting them to country music and dance lessons, and we’re still getting that kind of fine moral leadership from the Ford family.

What links all these companies — from Ford to WalMart (and how’s that for a mind-bending stretch of the imagination?) — is the discovery that a “values-based corporate culture” is highly profitable.

This is an understandable conclusion. I mean, when I was (between the ages of 14 and 18) a potential high-school dropout, my concerned parents grimly threatened: “Do you want to work at McDonald’s for the rest of your life?” To this day when I walk by a McDonald’s and see people inside working at McDonald’s I automatically think, That person didn’t listen to his-or-her parents. The corporation has a serious problem on its hands: if the mere concept of working for them is used by parents to terrify their teenage children into obedience, imagine the state of employee morale in those franchises?

Morale is a big issue for corporations. It gets more critical with every environmental disaster, plant closure, corporate takeover and switchover to an HMO. Morale is a problem for Job at the bottom, who has to work 70 hours a week to survive, and it’s a problem for Job, Jr at the top, who has to work 70 hours a week because its in his $100,000 contract and has to golf at the same country club as his boss.

Well the corporations have found an ingenious way to boost employee morale. Starbucks, for example, is proud of its many community-building programs, and as a matter of policy encourages employees to do charity work. Some corporations take their claims of do-gooding so far that they promote the idea that the company is itself a “good cause.” My all- time favorite is Chevron’s “People Do” marketing campaign, which portrays the oil company as a conservation organization, saving America’s wetlands and wildlife.

It doesn’t worry me too much that the corporations are coopting ideas like “social responsibility” — because the idea of socially responsible business was eminently cooptable from the get-go. Essentially, the idea was that capitalism could go on and on, endlessly exploiting resources (for the new ecologically-friendly market, of course), workers (who would be paid “living wages,” of course), and third world countries (in the most helpful, charitable way, of course) and ordinary Americans, like you and me, caring people, could make oodles of easy money by investing. In fact, it’s practically a duty to invest in Green Business, and Community Business, and Businesses Run By Disadvantaged People.

What does bother me is that business, whether big or small, has succeeded to some degree in boosting morale in corporate culture. Corporate culture is the culture of cheap, crummy developments built up on toxic waste dumps; it’s the culture of solacing unfulfilling lives with imaginary needs for Technology and Stuff; it’s the culture of days wasted in labors which have no satisfying conclusion and “free time” consumed by recovering from mental and physical exhaustion; it’s the culture of fear which keeps every man and woman a “worker” instead of a self-defined person, dependent on a hated way of life, convinced of the inevitability of disappointment. That is corporate culture, no matter how many walk-a-thons and literacy drives the corporation chooses to sponsor.

But according to observers like Corinne McLaughlin, Executive Director of The Center for Visionary Leadership, American corporations are becoming not only socially responsible, but spiritual. The proofs she cites are incontestable. The World Bank, whose commitment to social responsibility is already much admired internationally, drawing excited crowds everywhere its members go, has a Spiritual Unfoldment Society with lectures on meditation and reincarnation.

This movement to bring spiritual practices into the corporations is being led by people like Christopher Walker. Not only does Chris Walker teach InnerWealth™ to corporate executives, but he was brought in by the Canadian government to instruct the Mi’kmaqs of Big Cove in real spiritual values so they would stop killing themselves.

I expect that at this point we’re all getting a little confused about why we want to kill ourselves, but let me remind the reader that amassing vast private capital from the blood, sweat and tears of the suicidally depressed formerly independent populations of formerly clean and beautiful countries with the friendly help of U.S.-funded military dictators and corporate spiritualists, is not the solution. No, dear confused reader, it is the problem. Remember: problem. Not solution. Problem. Repeat this, if necessary, daily.

I’ve tried to read Chris Walker’s teachings, which are available online at www.walkerinternational.com, but they are very creepy. I don’t recommend them to anyone who values their sanity. He knows his stuff — you can’t fight him on that level. I am reminded of a former coworker, a friendly Jehovah’s Witness, who told me that in his view, there are just four kinds of people: good, bad, wicked and evil. Well, this guy is evil. On the other hand, the members of groups like the Fellowship of Companies for Christ International are only wicked. They blithely “request that you pray as you complete the contribution form, and ask God how HE would have you support FCCI.”

And Slingshot, amen.

I’ve singled out the most evil and the most funny, but actually there are many “spiritual” corporate consultants and religious alliances of business owners. After all, there’s a huge market for what they’re peddling. Why? 1. Morale. Like the Mi’kmaq kids, we (the employees) are being told not to see our futures of continuing privation and exploitation with despair. The corporate executives want us to have a sense of optimism, a sense that things are changing, that we are living, as Chris Walker puts it, in revolutionary times. Raise morale, and people will work harder, more willingly. Their lives will still feel hard, but they will think it’s in a good cause. The members of the World Bank feel — despite all the hostility they get every time they show their faces — that they are making a positive contribution to the world. Why do you think corporations organize vision quests and higher power lunches and feng shui and yoga for their executives? Simply, the executives carry the burden of conscious responsibility. They have to believe that their actions are good, or at worst, inevitable. Belief is what keeps them going, day after day. Belief is everything.

2. Greed. Flat out greed. There seems to be profit in it for everybody. Spiritual corporate consultants can make a killing preaching the gospel of capital. Corporations can reap the benefits of improved morale and marketability — don’t forget how well social responsibility sells! Even small-fry employees seem to believe there’s a profit in it for them. Some are inspired by the gospel to start their own business. Others swear that the office feng shui brought them unanticipated windfalls of money. Managers believe that “incentives” get people to work harder, and help combat the tendency of people to hate the company they work for. Spiritual meditations help people to drive away “bad attitude” and before you know it, those gift certificates for $5 off at the company store start looking like sincere gestures of appreciation from one’s fellow inspired and loving man.

3. Piety. Many people want their lives to be infused with the sort of depth and quality which comes from living in tune with their spiritual beliefs. The trouble is that no gospel worth its salt can accept — much less endorse, accommodate and work for — the goals of capitalism. The gospel of capital depends on the assumption that the physical and metaphysical are entirely separate entities. Damaging one can be done with impunity if one simply prays and has a good heart. But the metaphysical is entwined with the physical world, and when we damage the physical, we do harm to the metaphysical at the same time. The only way to truly infuse our lives with sanctity is to approach living with faith instead of fear; to believe that if we step away from capitalism and act on our values instead, that we will find the support we need. That is true piety.

So, what can we do about it, besides make fun of Bill Ford, which is always amusing?

  • First, we need to be really really clear about what true spirituality is.
  • We need to be able to identity the gospel of capitalism when we see it, and understand why it’s bunk.
  • We need to destroy corporate morale — at every level, from the little guys to the big guys. Don’t let the World Bank’s members believe they are doing good in the world.
  • Get better at distinguishing between pleasure and greed. Live for pleasure, not for profit.
  • Know the difference between kindness and exploitation.
  • Know the difference between inner truth and bad attitude.
  • Recognize and respect the harmony of the physical and the metaphysical.
  • Don’t allow fear to prevent you from changing, growing, and acting in ways which expand freedom and joy.
  • Expose the Chris Walkers of the world.
  • Smash capitalism, smash the state, eat lunch, get more soil amendments and start thinking about a new article.

Left Rejected

The North American Anarchist Conference (NAAC), held in Los Angeles August 11-13, 2000, the weekend before the Democratic National Convention, attracted an unusually large media presence, including the Washington Post, the Nation, and the L.A. Times. Curiosity about anarchists has become heightened in the last year, as the anti-globalization movement is frequently attributed to anarchists by government officials, police and media commentators.

The conference brought out the need for a stronger and clearer articulation of the basic anarchist ideas. Anarchism is without government, a condition sustained by the creation of non-hierarchical social structures which are not institutionalized and so do not outlive their usefulness.

It is antithetical to anarchism to base the concept of freedom on government permission, yet some attendees presented arguments based on the assumption of legal or constitutional rights. Jay Brophy urged anarchist teachers to work in public schools, claiming that anarchist pedagogy can freely exist under state control.

At one point, the conflict between leftist and anarchist perspectives became explosive. During the panel discussion, Cris Crass of San Francisco Food Not Bombs asserted that \”A movement dominated by white men will never bring about change in this country. Never.\” He went on to stress the importance of \”developing the capacity for everyone to become a leader in this movement.\” John Zerzan, an Anarcho-Primitivist theorist, sharply criticized Crass\’s speech for its advocacy of a rights-based, leadership-based politics. Zerzan declared, \”There\’s nothing anarchist about it. It\’s leftism, not revolutionary.\”

\”The Left\” includes a range of perspectives from liberalism to communism, which seek state-directed social progress. By definition, anarchism, which seeks to eliminate the state, is not part of the left.

Nevertheless, anarchists have historically clung to the fringes of the left. Lawrence Jarech, a Berkeley anti-authoritarian, raised this issue at the conference. The anarchist presence in various left movements has been as a radical conscience, he explains. Anarchists trail after leftists trying to get them to be more like anarchists, which they don\’t want to be. Jarech urges that \”we consolidate among ourselves … as a discrete social movement with a discrete social philosophy.\”

DeeDee, an anarchist from Eugene, addressed the need for building more anarchist structures. At present, anarchists are often dependent on the resources of hierarchical leftist organizations. In joining leftist organizations, anarchists sacrifice their goals to serve the goals of the organization.

Discussion of tactics was hampered during the conference by terms of debate historically set by such left movements as pacifism. Anti-statism, if it is to be an active movement and not merely an ideological position, requires using force against the state. Without force, the state will never perish. Anarchists must employ strategies which are effective and serve the needs and goals of anarchism. But this focus has been obscured by the popularity of pacifism and nonviolence among anti-authoritarians, including many anarchists. Moreover, in the last year the term \”violence\” has been much abused, applied to such acts as property damage and shouting, in an effort to prevent genuine confrontations between demonstrators and the state from developing out of police-approved marches.

Anarchists must be able to critique our tactics if we are going to be effective and maintain any advantage over the police in confrontational situations. An anarchist from Europe commented that in Europe the black bloc is being abandoned because it no longer serves their tactical needs and the police are too familiar with it.

The NAAC enjoyed some police-provided entertainment, but the conference was held without serious interruptions. Neither the police presence nor the media presence had significant impact on the discussions or results of the conference; attendees were able to make helpful contacts and return refreshed and inspired to undertake new work.

Educating for Freedom

Freedom is central to anarchist and radical anti-authoritarian thought on education. But what does freedom in education really mean? Does it refer to the development through education of young men and women with the essential tools for freedom, such as critical thinking and self-reliance? Does it concern the socialization of children for a new, classless society? Does it refer to a process of self-directed learning? Or is it concerned with assuring each person a nurturing yet genuine freedom during their first, dependent, years?

William Godwin was one of the first anarchists to critique education. Responding in 1793 to proposals for national education, he warned that if the task of educating children was given to the state, it would strengthen the state\’s hegemony of power. It would not benefit society to \”form all minds on one model,\” through a standardized curriculum and schooling experience. Students would not learn critical thinking, he said, \”but the art of vindicating such tenets as may chance to be established.\”

Most of these points would be repeated by later generations of radical educators. However Godwin raised one crucial point which would take a long time to resurface in the discussions of liberatory pedagogy: \”He that learns because he desires to learn will listen to the instructions he receives, and apprehend their meaning. He that teaches because he desires to teach will discharge his occupation with enthusiasm and energy. But the moment political institution undertakes to assign to every man his place, the functions of all will be discharged with supineness and indifference.\” Desire is the motivating factor in education, and is the element which must be preserved in the relationship of student and teacher in order for the freedom of both to be respected.

In the early 19th century, the idea of socializing children for a new society based on freedom began to be put into practice in communes such as Charles Fourier\’s Harmony. Fourier was a sensitive observer of children\’s behavior, and he noticed that between the ages of four and a half and nine children are most interested in the concrete and material. He also noticed their frequent activity changing, love of noise, and attraction to the work of their elders. From these observations, he concluded that children could be guided to simple productive labor (such as shelling peas), and so grow to be industrious adults for whom labor is the satisfaction of natural instincts.

During the 19th century, class struggle became more acute as the pace of industrial mass production increased. The labor movement, together with other class struggle movements such as socialism and anarchism, embraced the ideal of instruction intégrale.

Instruction intégrale gave equal importance to manual labor, defined as skilled trades, and intellectual study for individual development. Every child, regardless of the economic situation of their parents, would be trained both in clear, critical, unprejudiced thinking, and in the technical skills to satisfy their originality, to transform idea to product. Responding to the physically debilitating effects of industrial work, instruction intégrale also articulated the need for pedagogy which gave the students physical training (gymnastics was usually specified) as well as intellectual and technical studies.

\”In the rounded human being,\” Michael Bakunin contended, \”each of these pursuits, the muscular and the nervous, must be developed in equal measure … there must no longer be this division into workers and scholars, and henceforth there must be only men.\”

One of the major pedagogical concerns of proponents of instruction intégrale was to foster children\’s discovery of truth through observation. They thought the class conflict would be resolved when generations of boys and girls grew to adulthood with their intelligences fully prepared for independent thought and work, without the habit of repeating as truths theories which they have not discovered or proven for themselves. The pupils would learn to experience their world directly; they would not grow up (as children do today) filled with explanations of social phenomena which contradict the evidence, leading to disillusionment or a neurotic rejection of reality.

But it was not until the appearance of the Modern School movement that the problem pedagogy itself posed for freedom was acknowledged. In Spain, Francisco Ferrer concluded that \”The school dominates the children physically, morally, and intellectually, in order to control the development of their faculties in the way desired, and deprives them of contact with nature in order to modify them as required.\”

Ferrer recognized that perception, emotion and will should be unified, although too often the will is severed from thought and feeling. The preservation in childhood of that vital link was his pedagogical mission. He founded the Modern, Scientific and Rational School (quickly shorted to the Modern School) in 1901. Spontaneity was more valued than the acquisition of information; knowledge was drawn from experience or rational demonstration; and children were subjected to neither reward nor punishment. The state recognized the danger this sort of education posed to the social acceptance of authority, and in 1909 Francisco Ferrer was arrested, imprisoned, and shot.

The Modern School movement shifted radical pedagogy away from adult-managed socialization of children for the (idealized) economic and political life of adults, to child-centered pedagogy. The autonomy of children was for the first time respected; desire was for the first time fully recognized as the most potent force for learning.

This shift was facilitated more or less directly by the emergence of new psychological theories which posited distinct stages of emotional and cognitive development. Unfortunately, this new body of knowledge entered at the same time the hands of pedagogues whose work was the maintenance and replication of the social order.

Psychology is used in schools to make a standardized curriculum \”age appropriate,\” to teach to different learning styles, and to \”manage\” the behavior of children who patently do not consent to being in the classroom. Psychology is used as well to explain away the \”attitude problems\” of children growing up in environments riddled with class divisions and myriad other social dysfunctions. In short, it is used to conceal and silence the old and ever-present struggle of master and subject, which is not an individual but a class conflict. This is regarded as \”enlightened\” though it is nothing more or less than the ancient custom of noblesse oblige, consisting now of the privileged class of adult experts distributing charity among the very people they daily oppress.

But knowledge is not the same as understanding. Any number of college courses in psychology will not suffice to awaken the understanding of our \”expert\” educators unless they also feel. They suffer from complacency. In this condition they are poorly equipped to observe the world as it either supports or contradicts their theoretical knowledge, and worse, they are slow to be receptive to emotional impressions which run against their expectations.

They instruct children in \”facts\” which they have not discovered or proven for themselves. When children fail at this dismal kind of \”learning,\” they subject them to anxiety-inducing \”remediation.\” The prevailing idea is that with expert intervention all children have the capacity to meet an established standard of information acquisition.

In fact, children are expected to meet production quotas at school. This is not very surprising in a capitalist country; educational systems mirror society. The \”GNP\” of children is measured individually in their successes or failures in the classroom, and nationally in their test scores, which are solemnly analyzed by grown men and women. The results seem to disappoint: some principals will lose their jobs, some teachers will redouble their efforts, some paranoids will write to the papers darkly about superior test scores in Japan, and some newspaper editors will assign hard-hitting investigative reports from America\’s classrooms. A major conservative think-tank will commission a book…

Since children are expected to produce, it is not surprising that teachers are not merely instructors, but \”classroom management,\” maintaining discipline. Now, it is for the convenience of working parents that the school day mirrors a work day in length. But for whose convenience does the school mirror a work-place in discipline? None but the educators themselves, who for some reason choose to work with children even though they dislike noise and chaos.

Putting the tools of psychology into the poorly trained hands of teachers and pedagogues-who, unlike psychologists are not required to undergo psychoanalysis themselves-is a hazardous enterprise.

Erich Fromm observed that pedagogy has moved from overt force to anonymous force: \”today\’s teacher says, \”I\’m sure you\’ll like to do this.\” Replacing violence with manipulation does not result in freedom. Yesterday\’s child could hate the oppressive teacher; today\’s child bows under the oppressive internalized belief that her unhappiness in school is evidence of personal psychological maladjustment. Or as A.S. Neill put it, \”When there is a boss, there is no real freedom. This applies even more to the benevolent boss than to the disciplinarian. The child of spirit can rebel against the hard boss, but the soft boss merely makes the child impotently soft and unsure of his real feelings.\”

Of course even anti-authoritarian adults must be authorities for children. The challenge is to find ways to be authoritative which don\’t oppress; to relieve children\’s responsibility for themselves just enough to be nurturing and give the comforting message that they are being cared for, but not in so doing to disempower them, and deprive them of a sense of autonomy.

This cannot be achieved in the traditional school, even if it is \”progressive\” and \”creative.\” Radical education requires radical schools. The entire structure of education needs to accommodate the needs of each and every child.

The insights of developmentalism have tremendous potential to help adults interact more helpfully with children. A child\’s educational experience should nurture him emotionally. This doesn\’t mean the manipulative kindness of adults who want to command his attention, but the responsiveness of adults who are listening. In such an environment, learning will happen more, not less.

Education must be thought of in holistic terms: mind, body and soul. Only this can accomplish the greater work of building a solid foundation for social freedom and individual autonomy.

Children often try to get this sort of all-encompassing attention. They expect the teacher to be activity supervisor, love-and- attention-giver, answerer-of-intellectual-questions, fixer-of-social-problems, etc. But the potential for true holistic interaction is continually thwarted by a disappointing curriculum and the law of classroom management, which punishes or represses children\’s \”disruptive\” needs.

What are these needs?

To begin with, there is the body\’s need for exercise. Children can learn to bow beneath discipline and disappointment to sit still and read from books, but they will be infinitely happier if allowed to be physically active. The needs of the body frequently predominate the needs of the mind in children. I wish the same was true of adults, because I do not believe this is a developmental stage of childhood. But children are still conscious of their bodies, and must use them.

Almost every child is able to move spontaneously and to discover their body\’s range without difficulty. The role of the teacher in dance is to help the child gently and safely to expand their range and increase their self-control. There are certainly systems at work in dance: the movements of the body are limited by the direction of motion of the limbs, by the flexibility and strength of the muscles, and by the distribution of weight. These are the physical laws which order our movements, and the role of the teacher is to teach the freedom of the body within its natural limits. It would be interesting to see how many areas of knowledge we can adapt to the framework of dance.

Children also have a need for their own time, just as adults do. Children are more sensitive than most adults to social fatigue, that is, to the moment when it is no longer fun to be in a group, and they wish to be by themselves. Compelling a group of children to endure each other\’s company and be in continuous social interaction for the school day breeds frustration, anger and anti-social behavior.

Children are frequently angry in school. It is important to listen to children\’s anger, because they are letting us know how we are failing them. One common source is feeling frustrated and stupid at school. This has a simple solution: respect the individuality of children\’s cognitive processes.

Our perceptions, memory, judgment and reasoning are mental processes. These, generally termed cognitive skills, develop gradually, stimulated over the course of a lifetime by an individual\’s changing experiences and interests. In my case, I developed a strong mechanical cognition long ahead of analytical cognition. I understood how simple machines functioned, but had great difficulty with arithmetic. Only in my twenties did my analytical cognition really begin to develop, through the study of linguistics, philosophy, and finally, extended to a limited comprehension of mathematics. I remain far better at following the \”difficult\” pathways of philosophy, than the supposedly \”easier\” pathways of arithmetic. I do not think I am unusual in this regard.

The human intellect does not conform to a standard pattern, yet traditional approaches to education are based on the assumption that all children should be able to successfully adapt to standardized teaching methods and cognitive exercises, and ultimately, that the goal of education is to implant in each child an identical, testable mastery of a set curriculum.

In educating children for (and in) freedom, can we fully escape from the concept of universal education? Must every child master arithmetic, or learn to read fluently?

In my view, this is an unrealistic expectation; it also creates the grounds for severely wounding children\’s self-esteem by setting for all children tasks which will be, for a few, almost impossible. I am convinced that, for the individual, self-esteem is a gift of greater value than mastery of any particular body of knowledge.

Division of labor exists in our world, and it allows us to choose to develop our strengths rather than pound away at our limitations, as if we had to be and do everything for ourselves.

We are not alone, we exist in the world surrounded by other people. We are members of communities, created by geography, economics and choice. Education should prepare children for being strong, confident adults, who are able to help and be helped.

I myself am not especially good at memorization, or even doing Ambition and Distraction (forget Uglification and Derision!), so I use my fingers for counting. It hasn\’t slowed me down-I\’ve even worked successfully as a waitress! (And was very proud of myself, too.) I still need fingers, and I still encounter problems. Sometimes even with the help of a calculator I\’m at a loss: I ask for help. My problem is someone else\’s work-of-an-instant, or fun brain-teaser. And the \”problem\” is painlessly solved.

Sometimes it is necessary to build knowledge in a systematic fashion. Other times, a systematic approach is a purely arbitrary choice, not required by the subject under study. Grammar, arithmetic, music and science are examples of areas of knowledge which are innately systematic. History, literature, social values, and to some extent art are examples of areas of knowledge which do not need to be systematically learned.

Children wear themselves out trying to adapt to puzzling institutional disciplines, and make sense of studies which tend to dull their curiosity rather than foster it. We must take responsibility for finding every opportunity to release children from systems which suppress their happiness, freedom and maturation.

We must restructure education to fit the needs of children, according to the value of social freedom. In so doing, we must keep uppermost in mind that the great and important work of childhood is to develop a sound mind and joyful spirit in a healthy body; nothing more, nothing less.

Anarchist Federation Forming

NEFAC Founding Raises Questions

The Northeastern Federation of Anarchist Communists (NEFAC) was founded in April 2000. The organizers, based in Boston and Quebec, are still in the process of developing the federation, which will bring to the northeastern region an organization modeled on such groups as the Anarchist Federation and Class War of the UK and the Workers Solidarity Movement of Ireland.

The political perspective of NEFAC is based on three pillars: anarchist-communism, federalism, and platformism.

The first, anarchist-communism, holds that the social transformation of work is fundamental to achieving freedom in any meaningful way. Moreover, anarchist-communism recognizes that economic, state and social systems of oppression are structured in such a way as to create disparate classes. These classes are naturally in conflict with each other-the exploited and the exploiter-but without organization and a genuine understanding of social freedom, this conflict will continue to sap the strength of the exploited class without leading closer to liberation. Only with organization and a genuine understanding of social freedom will the bleak conflict turn into a true struggle for the life of freedom.

NEFAC declares that the anarchist movement today has a need for an energetic and strong element taking this direction, and I agree. However, anarchist-communism is not all that NEFAC stands for.

NEFAC’s members believe that anarchists — or at least anarchist-communists — need a unified and comprehensive political platform. In their first conference, NEFAC discussed a proposed platform. The conference ended without having a final draft of the platform; the draft will be discussed again at the second conference. There are some small problems with the draft. For example, the points tend to emphasize things-we’re-against (capitalism, statism, patriarchy, racism, nationalism, ecological stupidity, and so on) which leaves the whole susceptible to leftism. For greater effectiveness, the platform would need to provide a cogent summation of what-we’re-for.

However, even if the platform is redrafted in more confident and effective terms, anarchism and platformism may be mutually incompatible. Political platforms repeat the old hierarchical structure of political control. As anarchists, we easily enough detect the bullshit when the state forms think-tanks to transmit official ideologies via the press to the “masses.” That’s a one-way transmission of ideas and a monopoly on political action. It’s statism. The role of state propaganda is to maintain systems of oppression by turning people in their own perceptions into the objects of another’s thought. But anarchism, in contrast, holds that every person is and should be self-determining, and the subject of his or her own thought.

The strongest defense against statism, and the strongest basis on which to nurture freedom, is to transform the objectified “masses” into critical-thinking and socially-conscious individuals. Anarchism must not only achieve this, but it must lead the way in fostering a new kind of politics in which one-way communication can no longer exist.

NEFAC goals include both self-directed “study and theoretical development” and other-oriented “agitation and propaganda.” Until these goals are merged — until study and theoretical development are the basis of a two-way — dialog their liberatory aim cannot be realized. Political platforms and propaganda are structurally authoritarian; even the development of a perfect idea cannot make it less so, once enshrined as The Answer. But this is not cause for despair – it is the seed for transformation. Class struggle begins with genuine dialog, with the return of men and women to their authentic self-knowledge.

NEFAC also holds that the federation is a model of how society as a whole should be organized.

Federalism is a political system in which semi-autonomous collectivities (in this case affinity groups) unite for certain specified political purposes. At the moment NEFAC’s purpose is somewhat sketchy. Their documents state, “The activity of the federation is organized around three poles: study and theoretical development; anarchist agitation and propaganda; and intervention in the struggle of our class, be it autonomously or by way of direct involvement in social movements.”

Theoretical and tactical unity are major goals of NEFAC. Study groups and agitprop are intended to create theoretical unity, while the federation hopes (by providing a general framework) to attain a degree of consistency in the actions of its members. But what sort of action is intended? How is consistency possible, when the tactics are never defined? What are the implications or the limitations of intervention? At the present time, NEFAC’s Aims & Principles and Constitution are too ambiguous to serve as guidelines for unified theory or action.

Talking to NEFAC members, however, a simpler but more cogent picture of NEFAC emerges. Intervention may mean, as Mark Laskey says, “pushing for [a] more radical direction in the way of tactics and perspectives, [and] popularizing anarchist and anti-hierarchical organizing principles (such as decentralization, self-management and direct democracy).”

The idea that unity or even consistency are always liberatory is mistaken. Sometimes inconsistency and a bit of discord is exactly what’s needed to accomplish the work of liberation.

The problems which crop up with Federalism are very real ones. Rather than focus on NEFAC and Federalism, though, I would like to suggest some of the critical problems which concern any anarchist organization. These are my personal point of view, as indeed is the whole article; I do not pretend to speak for “anarchists in general” or “the editorial collective.” I, to the best of my current understanding, believe that any organization which is liberatory in structure and intent must include these basic elements:

First, it must allow and perhaps even foster dissent; the individual should not be supressed by any false need for unity.

Second, it must allow and foster on-going self-criticism. This does not mean a sort of self-flagellation, but merely an honest questioning consciousness. Social freedom in practice doesn’t look like a religion; there can be no “higher answers” or “ultimate truths” — and that can indeed be very scary to face. But there are higher questions — and seeing that relieves the fear; because higher questions are based on understanding; and understanding (in my personal experience) alleviates fear.

Third, the structure of membership and decision-making must be somewhat fluid. Whoever wants to do the work should be welcome to do the work. But what is “the work”? Whether it is organizing class struggle or putting out a newspaper, there is a certain degree of agreement necessary as to what the purpose of the group is. Beyond that modest basis of unity, however, suppressing diversity merely undermines the group’s growth — or the growth of its individual members.

Fourth, groups should understand and acknowledge that direct democracy, consensus and collective responsibility are simply methods of imposing a social order. They can all be used to suppress dissent. If they are enshrined as Sacred Principles of Anarchist Method, they become invisible structures of authority. This is not healthy in anti-authoritarian organizations.

In thought and action, the means are the ends. The means to freedom must be consonant with freedom itself.