Education is not an unthinkable good.

11-08-05_1607Rewritten in Taipei: (conference and seminars great, city unseen because of flu, rest of the paper in due course):

Education is not an unthinkable good.

They have something of which they are very proud. They call it culture. It distinguishes them from the goatherders – Nietzsche, from the fifth section of part one of Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

How might we prepare ourselves for collective thinking that is not fear? There has been quite some discussion of late about new initiatives in education, which is fine, remembering that Adorno insisted that education had to combat totalitarianism. New thinking is what we require if we are to think at all. This coda is however less ambitious: Irit Rogoff’s comments on two tendencies in education in Europe perhaps deserve a few remarks. Rogoff mentions both the Bologna Process aiming at some sort of compatibility conversion coherence across degree offerings in the EU countries, and a second tendency which amounts to a proliferation of self-organising Arts School formations, or what Florian Schneider calls ‘non-aligned initiatives converging around “education”’. Education here is becoming a ‘model’ for various initiatives, where the key terms are, it seems to me, recitations: ‘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”’ (Rogoff at Goldsmiths College, May 2007). So far so good. I guess. I do not see this as very much different from the training programmes that so concerned the writers of the Factory Inspectorate reports cited by Marx in Capital.

Coming from engaged colleagues, of course these ideas are welcome and we have a lot of ground on which to agree. The problem is that when we think of Education as a model, I want to reach for my gun. 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. There is a critical component missing in the contest of total war, and where the Internet and other networking 2.0, new compatibilities, initiatives and formations are the advance thinking of a new distanciation, new discretizations.

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. (Education Summit website)

It seems to me that there are several things going on here. Not all of them thought through as radically as they might be. Forget the ‘non-conflictual model’ since this is relegated to the cultural field and we know that class conflicts are not only operating there. 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 and the war machine. Confined to the cultural field or not, this is, surely, just what the smartest employers want – new thinking, new opportunities, renewal all round.

Rather, it seems to me, the model of education needs to be reimagined, 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, the global war economy, at large. Education as a model has not yet thought through the ways education is not simply or unproblematically a social good.

Perhaps there is another way of telling; someone (like Scheherazade) 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 Spooks complex, the God complex, the military formation, alpha drones, beta drones, innovation and incubation centres, career prospects CV padding, weapons research, cultural studies clubs and Diners’ Club, life skills, open day, recruitment programs, D-Day invasions and the consolidation of Democracy. Are we there yet? – 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 telling stories of a possible delinking from Capital, for breaking the divisions between those inside and outside since the old model and the new 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 the beach and burn it down. We’ll tell stories round the fire.

Everyone needs a good saboteur with a sting in the tale.

You ‘still believe in Grammar’ – Friedrich Nietzsche.