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A Community of Artists: Radical Pedagogy at CalArts, 1969-72 (East of Borneo)
"In (and Out of) the Classroom

The academic program instituted in the first two years after the institute opened in 1970 responded actively to the radical critique of education, at the same time evincing a Romantic belief in the liberating and equalizing powers of art and artists. Early promotional literature explicitly redefined the notion of “school” or steered clear of the word altogether. As Judith Adler notes in her 1979 ethnography of CalArts, Artists in Offices, “reference to the new organization as an institute (with its connotations of scientific and scholarly prestige) and as a community implicitly distinguished CalArts from other schools where artists teach students.” 6 The CalArts concept statement explicitly stated that “students [were] accepted as artists […] and encouraged in the independence this implies,” while elsewhere faculty and students were described as “collaborators.” 7

The first admissions bulletin similarly highlighted the fact that there was to be no fixed curriculum at CalArts. Provost and dean of theater Blau advocated “no information in advance of need,” and dean of music Mel Powell called for “as many curricula as students.” The vision for critical studies outlined by dean Maurice Stein argued for doing away with courses altogether, because “courses really get nobody anywhere.” Powell’s vision for the music school was similarly anarchic and personality-driven: “We must know by now that curricula, or especially descriptions of curricula, are almost always humbug. What counts is the people involved. Expansion of musical sensibility, adroitness, knowledge, experience—that has to be operative, not catalog blather.”

Many of the radical pedagogical impulses expressed in these early admissions materials came to pass once the institute was up and running—in its first year, on a temporary campus at the Villa Cabrini, a former Catholic girls’ school in Burbank, and in its second year, on the permanent CalArts campus in Valencia. Although the school of critical studies did end up offering courses, the options might better be described as “anti-courses”—i.e., non-academic classes parodying academic classes or academic classes in subject areas considered unworthy of study by the academy, such as Advanced Drug Research, Chinese Sutra Meditation, Sex in Human Experience and Society or Superwoman: A Feminist Workshop. Across the institute, schedules were intentionally loose and attendance voluntary. 9 One of the course schedule bulletins that were mimeographed weekly and distributed on campus lists a range of classes and events, some of which repeat, others that do not: a lecture on “Epistemology of Design” is offered “at instructor’s home,” while Peter Van Riper is scheduled to lecture on “Art History or Whatever He’s Into”; a meeting with the dean of students is open to “all persons interested in discussing and working on untraditional ways of providing psychological services (Counseling, Group Therapy, Encounter Groups, etc.)”; the Ewe Ensemble (Music of Ghana) meets in parking lot W, at the same time that Kaprow offers Advanced Happenings; in the evening, a concert by Ravi Shankar."

"The Fluxus artists’ interest in a more open-ended, experienced-based pedagogy and their experiments with temporality and alternative uses of space dovetailed nicely with the administration’s desire to buck the bureaucratic conventions of schooling. 13 As the associate dean of the art school, Kaprow in particular had a powerful influence on the direction of the early institute. “Kaprow was the thinking behind the school as far as I’m concerned,” Knowles argues. “[He] had the vision of a school based on what artists wanted to do rather than what the school wanted them to do.”"

"Corrigan and Blau fought their dismissal, insisting that they couldn’t be fired by the Disney Corporation, only by the board of trustees—who to begin with refused to support the decision. Roy Disney modified his position to allow Corrigan to stay on until the end of the year, though he remained firm in his firing of Blau as provost. Blau rejected an offer to stay on as dean of theater and dance, and by the end of 1972, both Corrigan and Blau had been ousted, three years after they’d begun planning the new school and two years after it opened. The faculty was downsized, and numerous hires they had made were canceled or let go.

Notes from a faculty retreat convened in Idyllwild, California after the institute’s first year reveal that many of the original faculty and administrators themselves favored reforming the structure and curriculum of the institute, and one wonders how the school might have developed had Corrigan and Blau been allowed to stay and build on their experience. Blau, for instance, argued that “the faculty must be better structured to reflect more of a distinction between student and faculty” and “a better definition of competence, eligibility, and progress must be established” for students. He also suggested that “separate programs […] be introduced for students who are capable of directing themselves and those students who need more specific guidance.” Other faculty members cited “great dissatisfaction with the chaotic situation of the past year,” “a need for more pragmatism,” and a need to clarify “programs and degrees—their content and what they represent.”

Although by that time the Disneys had donated more than $30 million to the school, much of it had gone to fund the building, which was lavishly equipped for art making, and the institute soon found itself in financial trouble. After a brief interlude with Walt Disney’s son-in-law Bill Lund at the helm, CalArts got a new president in 1975, Robert Fitzpatrick, whose charge was to assure fiscal solvency to the institute and make “all the divisions separate, to give each dean complete autonomy in his field, and to make the intermingling available to the students who could profit by it as a resource, not an obsession.” 28 Fitzpatrick had little reverence for the institute’s founding vision—either Walt’s version or Blau and Corrigan’s: “The trouble with utopia is that it doesn’t exist,” he said in a 1983 interview. “And then there was this dream of the perfect place for the arts, with all the disciplines beautifully mingling, every filmmaker composing symphonies, every actor a perfect graphic artist. Sure, it’s a great idea as far as it goes. But nobody noticed that each of the arts has its own pace, its own rhythm, and its own demands.”

What is missing from Fitzpatrick’s own vision is any reference to the more Marcusian conception of the institute not just as the “perfect place for the arts,” but as an ideal community fashioned through the arts. As Faith Wilding reflects on her experience in the Feminist Art Program and the community that developed out of it:
What remains of primary importance to me […] is the sense that we were connecting to a much larger enterprise than trying to advance our artistic careers, or to make art for art’s sake. It was precisely our commitment to the activist politics of women’s liberation, to a burgeoning theory and practice of feminism, and to a larger conversation about community, collectivity and radical history, which has given me lasting connections to people and a continuing sense of being part of a cultural and political resistance, however fragmentary the expression of this may be in my life today.

Despite his own conflicts with the institute, Blau holds a similar perspective: “During the time I was there (I cannot speak for it now), it was—like the Bauhaus or Black Mountain—not only a school but very much what Disney wanted, a community of the arts, in which students and teachers trained together, performed together, constructed ‘environments’ together and even somehow managed—where the particular work was not of a communal nature—to leave each other alone.”

CalArts today is a school rather than an anti-school, with grades (low pass/pass/high pass), a timetable for graduation, and for the first time in its history, a syllabus in every classroom. Yet an investment in radical pedagogy persists, with a loose consensus that the educational situations that work best often involve field trips and social outreach, project-based learning, and “mentoring” as opposed to “teaching.” The notion that faculty are to treat students as artists and colleagues prevails, with its attendant benefits and difficulties. The question of what form the delivery of content should take is a live one. Time and space are continually contested, and an openness to what might be places constant pressure on what is.

Just last year, the institute carved out a “commons” time from the heavily scheduled individual school curricula in which students can come together across disciplines to collaborate—in some sense, a return to its origins. Although, to paraphrase Marcuse, an art school can only be truly free in a free society—i.e., art becomes life only when life is also opened up to creative change—the promise of this commingling endures. Indeed, the Gesamtkunstwerk that preserves a vision of emancipated social life in times of political conservatism holds even greater possibilities in our own era of renewed resistance and collective action."
calarts  cv  history  education  1960s  1970s  robertfitzpatrick  roydisney  waltdisney  robertcorrigan  mariosalvo  herbertblau  fluxus  judithadler  melpowell  janetsarbanes  mauricestein  feminism  freedom  tcsnmy  lcproject  openstudioproject  alisonknowles  petervanriper  allankaprow  dickhiggins  emmettwilliams  jamestenney  namjunepaik  owensmith  judychicagomiriamschapiro  johnbaldessari  herbertmarcuse  art  arteducation  radicalism  communes  communalism  interdisciplinary  crosspollination  crossdisciplinary  transdisciplinary  multidisciplinary  experimentation  blackmountaincollege  bmc  pedagogy  teaching  howweteach  deschooling  capitalism  unschooling  power  control  democracy  anti-teaching  anti-schools  artschools  altgdp  activism  community  relationships  bauhaus  collectivism  society  grades  grading  schedules  timelines  syllabus  projectbasedlearning  2014  1969  1970  1971  1972  pbl  radicalpedagogy  artschool  syllabi 
august 2014 by robertogreco
“A Question of Silence”: Why We Don’t Read Or Write About Education
"The lack of imagination evident in these narratives reflects the lack of real-world alternatives. In the real-world fantasylands of schooling (e.g., Finland, Cuba, Massachusetts) education looks more or less the same as it does everywhere else. In short, the system is missing—or ignores—its real antithesis, its own real death. Without that counter-argument, educational writing loses focus. Educationalists present schooling as being in a constant state of crisis. Ignoring for a second the obvious fact that without a crisis most educationalists would be out of a job—i.e., closing our eyes to their vested interest in the problem’s persistence—what does this crisis consist of? Apparently, the failure of schools to do what they are supposed to do. But what are they supposed to do? What is their purpose? And why should we stand behind their purpose? This is the line of inquiry that—can you believe it—is ignored.

Of all the civic institutions that reproduce social relations, said Louis Althusser, “one… certainly has the dominant role, although hardly anyone lends an ear to its music: it is so silent! This is the School.” That statement was made in 1970, by which time school buses zigzagged the cities every working morning and afternoon, school bells rang across city and countryside, the words “dropout” and “failure” had become synonymous, education schools were in full swing, and school reform had gained its permanent nook on the prayer-wheel of electoral campaigns. In other words: what silence?

Althusser, of course, was referring to the absence of schooling as a topic in critical discourse. In this regard he was, and continues to be, accurate. The few paragraphs that he appended to the above-quoted statement may well be the only coherent critique of schooling in the upper echelons of critical theory. Critical theory, which has written volumes on Hollywood, television, the arts, madhouses, social science, the state, the novel, speech, space, and every other bulwark of control or resistance, has consistently avoided a direct gaze at schooling (see footnote). ((Here follows a cursory tally of what critical theorists (using the term very loosely to include some old favorite cultural critics) have written on education. I won’t be sad if readers find fault with it:

Horkheimer is silent. Barthes and Brecht, the same. Adorno has one essay and one lecture. Marcuse delivered a few perfunctory lectures on the role of university students in politics—but he makes it clear that you can’t build on them (university politics as well as the lectures, sadly). Derrida has some tantalizing pronouncements, particularly in Glas (“What is education? The death of the parents…”), but they are scattered and more relevant to the family setting than the school. Something similar, unfortunately, could be said of Bachelard—why was he not nostalgic about his education? Baudrillard, Lefebvre, and Foucault all seem interested in the question, if we judge by their interviews and lectures—and wouldn’t it be lovely to hear from them—but they never go into any depth. Even Althusser’s essay, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, which contains the above quote, quickly shies away from the topic: instead, he concentrates on the Church. In short, professional critical philosophy might have produced a more interesting study of Kung Fu Panda (see Žižek, who is also silent) than of the whole business of education. The one exception would be Rancière’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster, which I will discuss.)) Even Foucault, champion of enclosures, keeps out of the schoolhouse. ((Part III of Discipline and Punish includes a discussion, but his analysis there is mixed with all the other institutions that exercise punishment. The only direct references are in two lecture-discussions with students, both from 1971.)) The silence is particularly striking if we see radical philosophy itself as an educational endeavor, an enterprise concerned with ways of seeing and doing.

It’s not that there are no critical conversations within education—there are, and I will discuss them soon. But I think the silence of radical philosophers is emblematic of some special problems in the relationship between education and society."

"Progressive educators, who as a rule crave resources and ideas from outside their field, nonetheless did not seem bothered by the new seclusion. They even welcomed it. Today, every schoolteacher, admin, or researcher learns as part of her training to show open disdain for any opinion on education that doesn’t come from inside the field (“but has she taught?”). In American education schools, it’s possible to get a doctorate without having been assigned a single book from outside your field. Education is such an intensely social process (think of any classroom vignette, all the forces at play) that this intellectual swamp could only survive by a sheer will to isolation. Educationalists need this privacy partly because it allows them to ignore the core contradictions of their practice. The most important of these contradictions is that they have to uphold public schooling as a social good, and at the same time face up to the fact that schooling is one of the most oppressive institutions humanity has constructed. It has to be built up as much as it needs to be torn down brick by brick.

This dilemma bedevils the majority of writing by the most active educationalists. The redoubtable Deborah Meier is a good example—good, because she really is. Meier is the godmother of the small school movement in the United States. She has dedicated her life to making schools more humane and works with more energy than entire schools of education put together. Her philosophical base is one of Dewey’s pragmatism and American-style anarchism. She is also in a unique position to understand the contradictions of schooling, because she has built alternative schools and then watched them lose their momentum and revert to traditional models. What’s more, Meier can write. But when she writes, her books take titles like Keeping School and In Schools We Trust. In which schools, exactly? Not the same ones through which most of us suffered, I assume; rather, the progressive, semi-democratic ones on the fringes of the public system. The problem, apparently, is not schooling itself. It’s just that, inexplicably, the vast majority of schools fail to get it right. The “reformed school” is a sort of sublime object: something that does not quite exist, but whose potential existence justifies the continuation of what is actually there.

We are all familiar with this type of “we oppose the war but support the troops” liberal double-talk, a pernicious language game that divests all ground agents of responsibility—as if there could be a war without soldiers (though we seem to be moving that way) or bad classrooms without teachers. Now, it wouldn’t be fair to place the blame squarely on the teachers’ shoulders—considering the poor education they themselves receive in the first place—but we must also expose this kind of double-talk for what it really is: an easy out. And it is an easy out that abandons the oppressed: in this case, those students who actively resist teachers, those last few who have not been browbeaten or co-opted into submission. ((When Michelle Rhee, the (former) chancellor of public schools in Washington D.C., began shutting down schools, liberals tore their shirts and pulled their hair and finally ousted her. Very few people mentioned that those schools—a veritable prison system—should have been shut down. The problem was not the closures—the problem was that Rhee, like other Republican spawns of her generation, is a loudmouth opportunist who offered no plan beyond her PR campaign. What’s striking is that Rhee was using the exact same language of “crisis” and “reform” as progressives, and nothing in the language itself made her sound ridiculous. Since then, progressives have eased up a little on the crisis talk.))

Because the phenomenon of student resistance to education so blatantly flies in the face of the prevailing liberal mythology of schooling, it is a topic that continues to attract some genuine theorization. ((For a review of literature and some original thoughts, see Henry Giroux’s Resistance and Theory in Education (1983). For a more readable discussion of the same, see Herbert Kohl’s I Won’t Learn From You (1991).)) It’s also a topic that is closely tied to another intractable bugaboo of the discussion: the staggering dropout rate, in the US at least, among working class and immigrant students, and particularly among blacks and Latinos. Education is the civil rights issue of our time—Obama and Arne Duncan’s favorite slogan—was originally a rallying cry among black educationalists. ((The latter, in case you don’t know, is Obama’s Secretary of Education. A (very thin) volume could be written on the absolute lack of political and intellectual gumption that he epitomizes. To the Bush-era, bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act (a severe and ineffective set of testing requirements), Duncan added the Race to the Top initiative, thus bringing much unintentional clarity to the discourse: education reform is a race in which no one’s left behind.)) But if we understand a “civil rights struggle” to be, fundamentally, the story of the disenfranchised and the marginalized classes’ resistance to structural oppression, then this seemingly simple phrase is haunted by a kind of dramatic irony—since a great deal of research shows that what many black and working class students actively resist is schooling itself. Further studies showed that even those underserved students who succeed in schools persevere by dividing their identities; by cordoning off their critical impulses; by maintaining their disaffection even while they keep it well out of the teacher’s sight."

"A fundamental problem is that education demands a scientific foothold … [more]
education  unschooling  canon  houmanharouni  2013  criticaleducation  theory  eleanorduckworth  deborahmeier  jeanpiaget  paulofreire  ivanillich  karlmarx  society  schooling  oppression  class  liberals  progressive  progressives  theleft  paulgoodman  sartre  theodoreadorno  michellerhee  reform  edreform  nclb  rttt  radicalism  revolution  1968  herbertmarcuse  power  policy  politics  teaching  learning  jaquesrancière  arneduncan  foucault  louisalthusser  deschooling  frantzfanon  samuelbowles  herbertgintis  jenshoyrup  josephjacotot  praxis  johndewey  philosophy  criticaltheory  henrygiroux  herbertkohl  jeananyon  work  labor  capitalism  neoliberalism  liberalism  progressiveeducation  school  schooliness  crisis  democracy  untouchables  mythology  specialization  isolation  seclusion  piaget  michelfoucault  althusser  jean-paulsartre 
december 2013 by robertogreco
shirky's surplus - library ad infinitum
"Cognitive Surplus is about a specific kind of free time: not the Hundred-Acre-Wood or the endless summer, but the stock of leisure hours produced by modernity, and the rise of technologies that make it possible to spend that time in engaging ways. And yet the notion of free time itself should be suspicious to us, shouldn't it? "Free time" is something born of an industrial economics of time, a commoditized temporality. Leisure is a boon granted by the system—a perk, a benny. Compensation. And as long as it helps us recharge our batteries and never keeps us from being productive, high-performance workers, free time isn't free... I'm still excited by Shirky's idea. But I want to bring Carr's highbrow concern for the vital uses of cognition, contemplation, and communication to bear upon it. The technologies Shirky celebrates present us with a choice: do we use them as the means of liberation, or as Skinner boxes to while away the off-hours?"

[Also available here: ]
cognitivesurplus  clayshirky  via:preoccupations  matthewbattles  nicholascarr  herbertmarcuse  leisure  modernity  technology  recharging  productivity  freedom  cognition  contemplation  communication  2010 
july 2010 by robertogreco

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