Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Banning Freire part 2: Organizing a 'Read In'

Next Tuesday we are holding a ‘read in’ of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, as a way of responding to the events unfolding in Tucson, AZ.  In the announcement I wrote for the ‘read in,’ which I took the lead in organizing (as a way of jumpstarting a project that received grant support from the Provost Diversity Initiative), I write:

In response to recent events in the Tucson, AZ public school district: a  reading and discussion of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  This book has been singled out by Arizona state superintendent John Huppenthal as the pedagogical foundation for the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson he disbanded on June 15, 2011….The 'read in’ aims to raise awareness about the challenges facing teachers and students after the passage of the controversial law A.R.S. §15-112. In the spirit of Freire’s life long commitment to democratic education, the aim of the 'read in' is to create the space for an open, free, and critical dialogue where any and all perspectives can be expressed, heard and discussed.

Using Freire's text as a mediating device for the dialogue, the ‘read in’ of Pedagogy of the Oppressed will be a demonstration of solidarity with the students and teachers  in the now disbanded program.   In this sense, the ‘read in’ is what philosopher Jacques Ranciere describes as ‘politics’: “The essence of politics is dissensus, a demonstration of a gap in the distribution of the sensible, in the partition of the sensible….Political demonstration makes visible that which had no reason to be seen – it places one world in another.” (Ten Theses On Politics)

Participants who attend the ‘read in’ are asked to do some preparatory work by reading  all or some of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and also to take up some of the primary texts associated with this debate.  Below are links to the TUSD MAS program, A.R.S. §15-112 as well as articles, and radio interviews with state superintendent Huppenthal. Attached with this email is a copy of Arizona Administrative Law Judge Kowal’s decision in response to the hearing that was held to review Huppenthal’s June 15, 2011 determination that TUSD MAS was in violation of A.R.S. §15-112 Also attached is  copy of the Provost Diversity Initiative proposal  A Chance for a New Human Togetherness.

The aim of the 'read-in’  is to raise awareness about the events in Tucson by engaging in a Freireanesque dialogue that will take up some of the fundamental questions arising from Tucscon.    As Hofstra Professor Monica Byrne-Jimenez, one of the  ‘read in’ organizers puts it:  “There are two – related - issues at play in Tucson. The first is the belief that the Mexican American Studies Program studies is ‘unconstitutional’ and that any study of the non-dominant discourse creates ‘racial resentment.’ This belief undermines ethnic studies in general and ignores the role of ethnic studies as an important and necessary part of the educational process. The second issue is the subsequent banning of books that were in the MASP curriculum. This is just plain dangerous.  It is impossible to ignore the current political context in AZ. From SB 1070 to Sheriff Arpaio to the disbanding of ethnic studies, it is clear that AZ has anti-immigrant, anti-Latino thing going on. While this context may not be quite applicable to the NY metropolitan area, several racially-motivated crimes over the past two years make it clear that there are dangerous currents under the surface. I don’t think we can ignore this either.”

Putting this together has totally energized me, or, rather, has been yet another way in which my energy is being channeled in a focused way.   As I told my colleague Megan Laverty the other day, “I feel like my work has traction.”  

Preparing for the ‘read in’ has enabled me to take up texts I don’t normally have the opportunity to study:  interviews,  legal decisions, newspaper articles.  As I struggle to work on new forms of writing philosophy, I realize it is equally important to look at different sources for philosophy.   Foucault pointed to this in so many different ways, but so few of us take up these ways, spending, perhaps, too much time and energy reading his work, and not enough being inspired by it, and, in turn, trying to take it up for ourselves.  I realize most of his work was ‘historical’ and the research happened in archives.  But as I prepare for the ‘read in’ and go through these documents, I can’t help but feel a bit inspired by Foucault.  In fact, so far this year, 2012, it seems like that inspiration is guiding me in many areas of my work, especially my teaching where, as I’ve written in a previous blog, I’m asking students to “occupy the standards”.   Just this week I’m asking my students to do this,  taking Foucault as their starting point as they embark on a critical study of these standards and how the might move in and beyond them.  Here’s part of the quotation from Foucault, from his essay, “What is Enlightenment?,” that I am using as the prompt for their essays:

“The critical ontology of ourselves has to be considered not, certainly, as a theory, a doctrine, nor even as a permanent body of knowledge that is accumulating; it has to be conceived as an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them.”

If I were asked to chose a quotation, an aphorism, a fragment, or something piece of a work that best captures what I’m up to these days it would be this bit from Foucault!   First, it’s the ‘critical ontology of ourselves’ that I wonder about.  What might this be?  And I’m put at ease, because I’m made anxious by the expectations of producing a systemic piece of work, that Foucault emphasizes this is  an attitude, an ethos, which means it’s both something we take up, and also something (not sure what this ‘thing’ is? Zeitgeist?) that takes us up.   It’s an event between ‘us’ and ‘it’ (History? Culture?  What and where is this ‘it’?).   Second, I’m drawn in because it is called a critique, and I have an almost aesthetic experience with the word “critique.”  I’m not always sure what it means, because there are so many different forms of it, but, for sure, when we engage in critique, we perceive something acutely, and from a distance, and in that perception we are moved somewhere.   The “something” we perceive in critique is in some ways a part of the world that presents us with a challenge, and thus it seems as if when we engage in a ‘critical ontology of ourselves’ we are attempting to perceive ‘ourselves’ (so there has to be something collective or communal about this work?) from a distance, and, in doing so, move ‘beyond’ ourselves.  Something like a communal experience of ‘self-overcoming’ that Nietzsche talks about.  Third, when we look at ‘us’ we are situation ourselves in a particular place, as defined by a specific set of norms, rules, regulations, laws even [I hesitate to write ‘law’ because I’ve just finished reading a paper on Agamben  and Derrida on ‘the law’ and my head is spinning, as I consider the possibilities of the project unfolding from the Tucson events…before and beyond the law!!!!]   The “historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us” are precisely the boundaries to be identified when we locate “us”.  In the case of my students and I, the “us” is the community of educators.  The openness of this exercise, or experiment [which is the most inspiring word in Foucault’s fragment!], is the fact that there are so many possible boundaries for us to take up.   This may sound counter-intuitive.   How can the ubiquity of boundaries offer up the ground of openness for the experiment in critique?   Because the more boundaries we identify, the more we are able to ‘know’ who we are, and, overcome that very being.   The law is the point at which our freedom begins insofar as we move beyond it.   Freedom is always the moment after the door of the law is closed…[I seem to be taking up that project that will involve reading Kafka, whose parables I’ve taught so many times before, completely unaware that they are being taken up by so many important voices in philosophy!]

So, we can and will identify the indictment of Freire’s work (his writing and his practice), and the indictment, by direct and explicit implication, of those who “teach” Freire, by the State of Arizona, as inclusive of “us”.  That, anyway, will be our experiment next Tuesday!

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