I went to hear a pretty interesting discussion from Irit Rogoff, Florian Schneider and Kodwo Eshun as part of the build up to their Berlin Education Summit. There’s been quite a bit of chatter about this on various lists, which is fine, but this was the first time in a while I’d really tuned in (battling a debilitating sense of we’ve been here before and before and before [for sanity's sake I've disabled the previous three links]). Irit kicked off with comments on two tendencies in thinking about education in Europe, the Bologna Process aiming at some sort of compatibility conversion coherence across degree offerings in the EU countries. The second tendency a proliferation of self-organising Arts School formations, or what Florian called ‘non-aligned initiatives converging around “education”‘. Education here is becoming a ‘model’ for various initiatives, where the key terms are, it seems to me, ‘new methods’, new initiatives, new models, ‘radical pedagogy’, ‘collaborative work’ and proposals ‘to change the terms of the debate away from a purely bureaucratic engagement with quantitative and administrative demands and from the ongoing tendency to privatize knowledge as so-called “intellectual property”‘. So far so good. I guess. The Summit is the coming weekend.
I did not take accurate enough notes at the talks, but I was a little uneasy even where I welcome these ideas and where I have a lot of ground on which to agree. The problem is that when we think of Education as a model, I want to retch for my gum. What is it to promote education as a model in the new economy – creative economy, culture industry – context of the abstracted immaterial multitudinous spaces of net-activism et al? I am not convinced.
Here, for example, a key sentence I would like to discuss:
‘The model of education has become central to a range of creative artistic practices and to a renewed interest in radical pedagogy. As a mode of thinking an alternative to the immense dominance of art as commodity and display as spectacle, education as a creative practice that involves process, experimentation, fallibility and potentiality by definition, offers a non-conflictual model for a rethinking of the cultural field’
Seems to me there are several things going on here. Not all of them thought through as radically as might be. Forget the ‘non-conflictual model’ since this is relegated to the cultural field and we know that class conflicts are not operating there, correct? The ‘thinking as alternative’ to art really does grab me. An alternative to commodified art, though, would be what? Fabulous possibilities distract me – Popular votes on which pictures hang on the walls. The Tate Modern emptied out. No more National Gallery souvenir postcards. Free access, and free coffee, to all museums? No, that is not what is meant – what we have is a renewal of experimentation, creative practices, process and potential. Although interestingly the word ‘fallibility’ cuts diagonally across these invigorating, but you have to admit, fairly standard educationalist terms, I am not concerned too much with the threat this model will pose to commodification. Confined to the cultural field or not, this is, surely, just what the smartest employers want – new thinking, new opportunities.
Rather, it seems, the model of education needs to be rethought, since this kind of modelling is perhaps one of the main ways in which the promotion of education is a promotion of some pretty old modes of thinking. This thinking is smuggled in at the very moment that it claims to be new. A radical pedagogy in a context where education is seen as a good model, is still education that has not thought through the ways this very model operates to train operatives for hierarchy within the cultural economy and hierarchical society at large. Education as a model has not yet thought through the ways education is not simply or unproblematically a social good.
There is another view; someone might be forgiven for insisting that education is more often about affirmations and consolidation of eurocentric, patriarchal, hierarchical class-based, systems of Fortress exclusion. The playground as learning curve, leaning towards the tuck shop, the in-group, the out-group, the fashion parade, the Cinderella School for Creative Types, the finishing School for corporate dining, the Endomol drill surveillance routines, the preparatory sessions for international diplomacy, the wanker complex, the God complex, military formation, alpha drones, beta drones, innovation and incubation centres, career prospects CV padding, cultural studies clubs and Diners’ Club, life skills, open day – these and many more ‘lessons’.
I totally agree that the old collegiate model of Education should not be protected, worn and frayed as it is. But to renovate that model with a ‘radical pedagogy’ without questioning the projected model as model is also suspect. For conflict then. For delinking from Capital, since breaking the divisions between those inside and outside the old model can also prepare the ground for even greater commodification, commercialization. What if we saw education as a Trojan Horse for exactly that old enemy, and then looked for ways to tow the thing out to Margate and burn it down.
“They have something of which they are very proud. They call it education. It distinquishes them from the goatherds” – Nietzsche, I think from the fifth section of part one of Zarathustra.
Kodwo of course then started his talk with anecdotes and humour, and thereby twisted all this around in several other directions. I am not so sure his trip to Mumbai, testing (another great educational game) Mike Davis’s formulas about slums by making a film, will work to displace the deeply entrenched prejudices that slum-talk now carries in theory-circles (see here), but his notion of education as creative sabotage is as appealing as his insistence on talking about Scritti Politi and Luciana Parisi from CCS. Futurism, delinking from capital, creative sabotage, fallibility, the pre-emptive unalignement from models and – did I hear a feint echo – the ruthless criticism of everything that exists (Marx to Ruge) were bouncing around even as the model was reinforced. If this is the way the Summit goes, it will be an engaging weekend at school indeed. All summits need a good saboteur.