Anarchism has had some bad press. A philosophy meaning simply ‘no leaders’, most associate its origins with the French revolution, but anarchist ideas actually reach back the earliest Taoist writings in the 6th century BCE (attributed to Lao Tzu). The principals of anarchism are often associated with violent radicals who adopted them to overthrow the state and this unfortunately obscures some very useful thinking.
The widespread use of digital tools is challenging the relevance of many of society’s traditional hierarchies. Schools are asked to prepare students for a society where creativity and independent thought are more important than conformity. Anarchist thinkers have some helpful ideas.
In 1850 Anselme Bellegarrigue tacked the original Anarchist Manifesto to the walls of Paris and in like fashion I attach this “Manifesto of an Anarchist Educator” to this digital wall. It’s a pastiche of the work of many others (some credited, some not) and is intended as a discussion starter, not a definitive work.
Manifesto of an Anarchist Educator
- Students Are Free- Freedom is not bestowed externally; it is intrinsic to each student. It is not meted out as educators see fit, but always present unless repressed. Education is the process of helping students express their freedom.
- Students Should Not Be Coerced- The use of social pressure or power relationships to influence students is not acceptable. Students should be free to reject a point of view, an opinion, or an action if they so choose. They must be free to make choices without fear.
- Students Are Equal- There are many sources of inequality in society (e.g. age, class, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.). These should not diminish the quality of education for any student. Educators must minimize inequality in education and ensure all students have equal opportunity to educate themselves.
- Equality of Resources- Resources must be shared equitably. Students come to education with differing needs and differing access to resources. Education must redress this inequality. Providing the same resources to all students perpetuates existing inequality.
- Students Are Decisions Makers- Students are equal, free and entitled to be partners in their education. Students must be free to make decisions and choices about what, where, when and with whom they learn. Some argue that students are unable to make appropriate choices, that they cannot properly understand the consequences of their decisions. The use of Intelligent Choice at The Summerhill School with students as young as 5 years old show this isn’t true.
- Students Need to Collaborate and Cooperate- Students must learn to collaborate and work cooperatively with others to fully express their freedom. Only by developing these skills can students access the resources they need.
- Education Structures Must Be “Flat”: The existence of hierarchies in education facilitates the use of power to coerce and require students and educators to do things not freely chosen. When hierarchies are eliminated students see individuals collaborating of their own free will. They can then apply this model in their own learning.
- Education Fosters a Respect for the Planet- The core belief that we must minimize our impact on our natural environment must be woven throughout education. This ensures resources are availability for others now and in the future.
- Education Explodes Walls- The expression of freedom occurs in both a real and digital context and cannot be fully expressed behind literal or figurative walls. Educators must explode the walls enclosing students and their learning and walk them out past the rubble so they can engage themselves in solving important and real problems. (Colin Ward)
- Education is Relevant- Education cannot be confined to the physical or temporal boundaries of schools. Learning occurs whenever and wherever it happens and our education system must facilitate the sharing of all learning, the inter-connection of learning and the extension of learning to provoke new learning (Ivan Illich).