Place for correspondence: John Alevizos





September 18

Dear Marla, I’ve read your wonderful letter to Raoul and then your CV, it’s awkward to only be able to reach you through the comments here , so please visit my today’s (9/18)article pointing out such  difficulties  as  “…one dysfunction of the Reimagining society project…” and then my today’s (9/18) article  “Place for correspondence:…”. /John Alevizos

 

Dear Marla, I too am an educator (but more than 30 years older than you) with absolutely the same hopes and plans and suggestions to education and with absolutely the same feeling  that the most effective (and so very  interactive) way to implement them is through theater. Also the reason I wrote to Raoul was absolutely the same  as yours. Please read my CV too (in Ioannis Alevizos Zspace) and my letters to Raoul (right here)  and when you’re done tell me to continue the present letter…Glad to meet your views and ideas. I feel it also was  a great coincidence that your letters to Raoul showed up the same day my first note to Zspace showed up too…/John Alevizos

 

 

APPENDIX  WITH (ABORTIVE?)  ATTEMPTS AT CORRESPONDENCE  SO  FAR

or

Preliminaries (of the preliminaries?) of  beginnings (of  the beginnings?)

of (some?) meaningful collaborations…  

 

31 July (To Raoul Martinez who, in July, wrote the article “Creating education” for the  “Reimagining society project”)

 

Raoul, I’m an educator (initially in physics (I took a PhD in theoretical physics from Berkeley in 1982) but in a long run, passing from many-many disciplines, I ended up more like an "educator in freedom-creating movements by people", as you would put it, and an educator in political awareness, through theatrical formats)  I’ ve read your wonderful article "creating education" and I can’t begin to tell you how much we have to share and to be sharing for years to come.  Some of the reasons I can’t are kind of technical, namely: 1. The space provided for comments to your article is too short 2. You do write, in your biography, that you like to share the visions of others but you leave no e-address where one can send you anything longer 3. If I refer you to the much longer things that I do share with people (through a site) I will (probably) confuse you,  I want to send you something of  length equal to your article’s length  4. If I just tell you the name of my site to  look up  I’ll possibly lead you to think I’m advertising it or something, and this I do not want you to think.
So I’ll try to make use of the present address of yours that I dug up seeking you out and if  you respond to this letter I’ll send to this  address (or any other address you point out) an attachment with that article of mine, and if you respond to that too I’ll tell you what the wider context and site it belongs to is about. It is very-very close to the  scope and spirit of the  "Re-imagining society project" and might show up there too at some point.
If you do receive and do answer this maybe you won’t receive an answer from me immediately because at the moment I’m visiting , with my wife, friends in the island of Skopelos, where I was an instructor for eleven years,  and I’ve read your article and I’m sending this through the  PC of a former student of mine. But after Tuesday I’ll be back in Athens and I’ll be as quick to answer things as I usually am.
Glad to meet your ideas/John Alevizos

 

August 1

Dear John,



Thanks for your message. It’s good to to know you enjoyed the article, and also to know that other people are passionate and concerned about the issues explored in it. This email address is my main one. I’d be very interested to read your own article and to hear about your website too. Send something through to me when you get a chance.

Thanks for writing.



Best wishes,



Raoul

 

Dear Raoul, I’m back in Athens and let me start by doing for your paper what I did not have the opportunity  to do while visiting friends and former  students in conditions of carefree Aegean July-August, I mean let me do for your paper some creative  reading , I mean some reading of your paragraphs interlaced with mine for mutual inspiration and criticism: I find it harder than doing the same for other people whom I befriended through papers or books by them, the reason being your  views and mine are so identical sometimes that interlacing means little if anything at all. OK, first let me focus, by copying them here, at least on your paragraphs that present some differences from other presentations  and which, differences, seem to do mean something (oh, in these  paragraphs I include parts of comments people wrote you and parts of your reply to them , also parts of your CV)  

“…Students are not given the tools to understand the problems they observe in their society and the world at large. Where students should see connections they are taught to see disciplinary boundaries. There is one particular method by which disciplinary boundaries are reinforced that is particularly insidious and is exemplified as much in the work of writers on the Left as it is anywhere else. For this reason I think it deserves special mention. It should be uncontroversial to state that writers write to communicate. It should be, but it is not. Reading the often abstruse, oblique and obscure work that is produced by many a respected intellectual, one is forced to hypothesise other plausible motives for putting pen to paper, for clearly communication is not high on the agenda. The pompous academese and the needless jargon that saturate many of our valuable disciplines act as a barrier to communication, a class divider, a "keep out" sign for the uninitiated—essentially, a way of consolidating hierarchy and privilege (it can also function, of course, as a way to conceal, and compensate for, the lack of substance a piece contains). This form of elitism goes counter to the egalitarian and participatory ideals that the Left ostensibly holds so dear. As these trends are, at least in part, rooted in ubiquitous schooling practices it seems appropriate to give them a mention here. By wrapping powerful ideas up in esoteric language, writers on the Left ostracise and alienate the very people they must reach if their desire for significant societal changes is to be realised. A principle both to advocate in the classroom, as much as to adopt in our work, is, as Einstein once put it, to "make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler". To conclude this point, a vision of a better education system would be remiss if it did not state that students ought to be rewarded and encouraged for clarity and simplicity of expression, rather than for successfully adopting and repeating a specialised jargon. (Of course in certain areas, especially with technical subjects, learning a specialised language is essential for understanding the subject—this point only applies to those subjects whose meaning is obscured rather than clarified by such jargon.) To sever connections between subjects, rather than build them, leads to confusion and bewilderment. A confused populace is a vulnerable populace, one unable to identify the source of their woes and effect change. The ubiquitous evils of poverty, racism, and war, for instance, are rooted in a panoply of causal factors ranging from the psychological, political and economic, to the historical, philosophical and sociological. To understand such problems, let alone attempt to provide solutions, requires a holistic cross-disciplinary approach. Such an approach is precluded by a curriculum that emphasises strict specialisation, isolating rather than relating its subjects (this is not an argument against specialisation per se, but simply an argument for the value of a holistic, cross-disciplinary approach to education). Such specialists make an easy transition to subordinate professionals, often unable, or perhaps simply reluctant, to transcend or question the wider ramifications of their narrow discipline. To combat this tendency, rather than cloaking our disciplines in neutral apolitical titles, one option is to dissect the amorphous reality we are faced with in a way that serves our immediate concerns and needs, that is, in short, to make our subjects directly relevant. For instance, we might place "Peace Studies", "Identity Formation", "Democracy Studies", "Freedom Studies", "Authority Studies" or "Propaganda Studies" alongside more traditional subjects. In a class such as Peace Studies, a student might investigate the methods governments have used to persuade, cajole and scare people into supporting war. He or she might look at the economic incentives of war; how war serves certain interests in society while sacrificing others, or how the media is often complicit in war crimes, securing consent for violence via omission and deceit. A student may consider the ethics of violent international interventions or the psychological reactions that make people vulnerable to certain forms of control. They might also study the lives of people who have fought for peace: their reasons for doing so, the methods they used, and the successes and failures they enjoyed and endured.  To study the world in this way, then, a student must acquaint themselves with, and perceive the links between, history, politics, economics, philosophy, psychology, the media, literature and no doubt many other areas, all with a distinct goal, or bias, in mind: to understand the obstacles to peace so as to more effectively overcome them.  Such a bias ought to be the responsibility of an intellectual, rather than something to be ashamed of, as is too often the case. As Howard Zinn writes, specifically considering the responsibility of the historian:
"…in a world where children are still not safe from starvation or bombs, should not the historian thrust himself and his writing into history, on behalf of goals in which he deeply believes? Are we historians not humans first, and scholars because of that? …my point is not to approach history with preconceived answers, but preconceived questions. I assume accuracy is a prerequisite, but history is not praiseworthy for having merely achieved that." There is no one right way, no one neutral or objective way, to study the world. And so we need not apologise if our dissection of reality into manageable chunks, ripe for study, reflect the values and aspirations we hold dear. The millions of children studying subjects that will never be of any use to them are a testament to a system that engenders and welcomes confusion and apathy-a system that obscures the world, rather than reveals it. Too many children pass through their schooling bewildered and bored, rather than stimulated and inspired—compelled to study, if at all, by the threat of failing an exam, rather than by a hunger to discover. This mode of schooling serves the status quo by disempowering people, robbing them of the sense that they might have something valuable to contribute, and undermining the nagging suspicion that these subjects might have a value beyond the grade they can confer. The innately political character of each subject should be identified early on. By this I mean explicitly identifying how each subject is part of a wider political struggle. In studying history, for instance, it ought to be shown early on how history can be used as both a weapon of oppression and as a tool of liberation. This understanding is more valuable than any particular historical fact or event. To reveal the true subversive character of history is to illustrate the power of Orwell’s pithy epigram:  "He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future." To link the study of history to the fight against poverty, war, and famine today, and to the attainment of freedom, peace and democracy in the future, ought to be considered the single most important task of the historian  and teacher. And what is true of the study of history is also true of many other, if not all, subjects. The study of identity formation could also serve, in a number of ways, the goals and ideals of a participatory society and particularly complement the efforts of an education system aiming to facilitate autonomy—the following is a summary of what this subject might constitute. Countless people have killed, been killed, and died in the name of some arbitrary label inherited at birth. These labels provide the foundations for various forms of prejudice—any future society would do well to ameliorate the power these labels have over the way we think about ourselves and each other. I am referring, primarily, to religious and national labels. To study the process of identity formation, to be made aware of the arbitrary forces that shape each of our identities, can go some way to undermining the influence of these forces, or at least to beginning the important process of questioning our influences. The dangerous inclinations exhibited, or perhaps more accurately cultivated, towards patriotism in countries around the globe, for instance, ought to provide ample motivation for studies of the sort commended here. The study of identity formation might involve  thought experiments, a study of genetic and environmental influences, an investigation into the ancient nature/nurture debate, or the reading of relevant literature and biographies, among other things.
The underlying rationale for such a course of study may be articulated in the following way: as children we lack the capacity to assess ideas and beliefs in a rational way; seeking evidence to support or refute proposed ideas is not an option. As a result, we are vulnerable as children to any ideas and beliefs—we might adopt Richard Dawkins’ term and call them "memes"—that are endorsed by those we trust. Such beliefs may resonate with us emotionally, though lacking any basis in fact. Consequently, as they are able to bypass the few cognitive defences we have as a child, these memes become a part of who we are without our having any say. If our aim of autonomy is sincere, therefore, when our cognitive faculties mature and strengthen it seems necessary that we focus them not merely on ideas that challenge our now comfortable identity and established loyalties—as too often is the case—but rather on the very process that moulded our identity and generated such loyalties. Such an exercise would go some way to disclosing the irrationality of racism, patriotism and much religious belief, and to ameliorating the conflicts they give rise to.

…………………..


STRUCTURE

The hidden curriculum in a school is revealed less by what is said, and more by how things are done. A consistently democratic society would model educational institutions along democratic principles. Today’s schools and colleges, then, provide an instructive insight into the state of our democracy. These strictly authoritarian hierarchical institutions take their inspiration more from a totalitarian state than a democracy. Comparable to unelected autocrats, teachers—who are themselves merely instruments belonging to a system that affords them no independence—control every hour of a student’s day:  what they do, often what they wear, and, most importantly, what they think. To ensure complete intellectual conformity, exams are given to evaluate one’s ability and willingness to internalise the proposed ideology. Regurgitation of relevant facts is, therefore, rewarded over originality, passionate engagement, or independent study. Such measures prepare students for a society in which they have little say over decisions that affect them. It forces them to adapt to a condition of disempowerment, engendering a state of apathy and obedience. Long hours of hard work on meaningless problems that are given no wider social context is good preparation—for those who adapt quickly—for entering, for instance, the ideologically subordinate professional class. The content of a subject is unimportant. Only the probable content of the subject’s exam should command a student’s attention. Early on it is learned by the student that careful attention to a syllabus is rewarded over careful attention to one’s curiosity. The power to direct inquiry within a given subject is guarded closely by its architects.  The pressures of passing exams, and the sheer quantity of disconnected, superficial units of information that one is supposed to learn, serve to preclude serious self-study in a given area. Again, this is good preparation for professional life where people will be employed to work on meaningless topics given to them, not on meaningful topics of their choosing. In a genuinely democratic society, educational institutions would exemplify the principle of participation. At the heart of a participatory society is the commitment to an equalisation of power among the individuals comprising it. The attainment and consolidation of this goal depend on a system of education able to offer each student the opportunity to develop his or her innate potential. There can be no systematic tiers of education in a classless society. Power is equalised by distributing as equally as possible the cultural capital, skills, historical understanding, and opportunities for development that today are allocated along class lines. Within an educational institution, decision making and organizational procedures ought to be democratic in essence, involving, as much as is practically feasible, the participation of the students. (The degree to which this is feasible, for varying ages, will have to be discovered via experimentation.) I would suggest that if all the staff in a school were part of balanced job complexes, and if the students mirrored, in their participation, this mode of work allocation, it would be as good a grounding as any in the principles of a genuinely democratic society.

A BEGINNING

………………………………………….

…Dissatisfied and disillusioned with my formal education, I left college aged 17 to train as an artist (www.raoulmartinez.com ), whilst also devising and following a curriculum of my own making. My curriculum began with an attempt to question all my beliefs, and led to, for the next seven years, an investigation into a diverse array of disciplines, ranging from the scientific and psychological to the political and philosophical. My self-directed course soon led me to question the version of history I had been taught, and ultimately the very foundations, values, and aims of Western capitalism. Pregnant with ideas from my reading I began, aged 19, writing a book – initially this was merely a way to organize the flood of new ideas and facts that I was being exposed to, though before long it became the focus of my energies. The book evolved with my growing understanding, and with the research i was doing for it, my studies intensified. I am currently working on a documentary based on the ideas developed in the book which shares the same title: Creating Freedom.  An exhibition of paintings, a third component to this project, is also being developed. As an artist I find the emphasis “Reimagining Society” places on vision a significant step in the right direction.  To create a better world we must first think of one.  To create anything we must first envision it. The guiding light of our most fundamental values makes it possible, via a process of elimination, to home in on a society that serves our most cherished values. As science homes in on facts by proposing, refuting and modifying hypotheses, so must our attempts to realize a better society proceed with serious attempts to propose viable societal alternatives that are subject to ongoing review, experimentation and modification. To be a part of this ongoing process is to take seriously the democratic ideal of participation. I look forward to reading the visions of others, and sharing, for  whatever it is worth, visions of my own.


Tamara

I think its ok to influence other people, the important thing is to know how to draw the line between manipulation (abuse of power etc) and positive influence and inspiration. Self education is good, but the world is full of amazing people, with different ideas, experiences, and learning and knowledge strengthes, and we benefit most, I think, by sharing that stuff, and to do so is not at all a negative thing.Education should be democratic, to the point where students could form their own councils, or whatever, and decide their curiculum, class structures etc. I also think a key to education is linking it with the community (local, up till global). For example, here in Venezuela the government has succeeded to do this through Mission Sucre, and the others, to an extent. Bureacracy sometimes interfers, I’m afraid, but its a start. Recently, engineering students came to my communal council and presented some ideas they had about a system of security cameras, to increase local safety from cry. Not a proposal I supported much actually, but the thing was that they talked to teh community, we asked questions and discussed budget issues, privacy issues, implementation of the plan and so on- and so their education is very practical, real, and linked to a broad context -something which the style of education where we memories maths formulas, without knowing why, doesn’t really cater for. Of course it also encourages values of solidarity and workign for the good of teh community rather than individual promotion or something.I very much liked what you said about writing to communicate and about how lots of academics dont do that, couldn’t agree more…

Raoul

…I agree completely that there is huge scope to learn from the ideas and experience of others. My emphasis on the capacity to self-educate does not in any way preclude this. It simply means that the onus would be on one’s self to seek out and identify those people,  ideas and experiences worth learning from. This encourages one to take responsibility for one’s education, and so facilitates independence and autonomy while ensuring that no centralised authority determines what people learn about. It also would encourage diversity of understanding and knowledge as people would take and make different educational paths.I would certainly like to know more about your experiences with students working with councils to implement policies. Only via experimentation will such systems develop effectively…”

 To first show you how close our views on education are let me show you a kind of “conversation on education” I once presented by making some people you know very well chat  on this issue through excerpts from statements they had made in interviews they gave or books they wrote:

 

Relevant forums/agoras or useless “debate societies”?  A discussion on education:

 

“…You ask what happened at the Baghdad  museum, OK, the TV played many times the scene with the guy running away with a vase and some people thought thousands of vases had been stolen, but it was the same vase, how many vases can Iraq have?…You ask if I myself went to Iraq to sell  weapons to Saddam. Well, I don’t remember….You ask me what I say to the  people in this room  who were taken out because they  shouted things defaming me. I say to them that I believe in Free Speech… You ask me if what we have is victory. To answer this  I’d have to first see statistics which would show if the rate we kill terrorists exceeds the rate at which they show up…”                                                                         

Donald Rumsfeld

 

“A more practical proposal is to help to change the culture of the domestic society enough so that what should be now done could at least be made a subject of discussion”                               Noam Chomsky

 

“…children do have to be prepared for the economic world–but the invasion of the public school by mercantile values has deeply demoralized teachers. I’ve been in classrooms where the teacher has to write a so-called mission statement that says, “The mission of this school is to sharpen the competitive edge of America in the global marketplace.”                                Jonathan Kozol and Mathew Fishbane

 

 “If you want to rule address yourself to the idiot, they’re the majority…I would never entrust the state with my education”                                                                                                                                

Mark Twain

 

 

“Always obey your conscience, even if the state allows you not to… Dare to take your ideas seriously, because it is them that will shape you”                                                                               Albert Einstein

 

“…(you seem to believe)…that there is a moral difference between setting out to destroy as many

civilians as possible and killing civilian unintentionally and reluctantly in pursuit of a military

objective…  Evidently, a crucial case is omitted, which is far more depraved than massacring civilians intentionally. Namely, knowing that you are massacring them but not doing so intentionally because you don’t regard them as worthy of concern. That is, you don’t even care enough about them to intend to kill them. Thus when I walk down the street, if I stop to think about it I know I’ll probably kill lots of ants, but  I don’t  intend to kill them, because in my mind they do not even rise to the level where it matters.  There are many such examples. To take one of the very minor ones, when Clinton bombed  …the al-Shifa pharmaceutical facility in Sudan, he and the other perpetrators surely knew that the bombing would kill civilians (tens of thousands, apparently). But Clinton and associates did not intend to kill them…  because

by the standards of Western liberal humanitarian racism, they are no more significant than ants. Same in the case of tens of millions of others”                                                                                           Noam Chomsky

(For another instance of the above google “Some matter more, David Edwards, July 25, Znet”)

 “…This is not  a prophecy: it is a factual description of what is already happening before our eyes, with murderous confrontations and infantile tantrums taking the place of rational demands and cooperative efforts. Yes: the physical structure of the power system was never more closely articulated: but its human supports were never more frail, more morally indecisive, more vulnerable to attack. How long , those who are now awake must ask themselves, how long can the physical structure of an advanced technology hold together when all its human foundations are crumbling away? All this has happened so suddenly that many  people are hardly aware that it has happened at all: yet during the last generation the very bottom has dropped out of our life; the human institutions and moral convictions that have taken thousands of years to achieve even a minimal efficacy have disappeared before our eyes: so completely that the next generation will scarcely believe they ever existed”                                                                                  

Lewis Mumford

(in Vietnam years)

 

“-But, in this case, the results of the Army Research Office’s mission statement in harvesting scholarly work for better weapons design, it’s professors, scholars, researchers, scientific designers, etc., who have these choices to focus serious intellectual effort and to be so used for such ends, and who aren’t acting necessarily from direct orders but are acting more out of freewill.

-It’s freewill, but don’t forget that there’s a general intellectual culture that raises no objection to this. Let’s

take the Iraq war. There’s libraries of material arguing about the war, debating it, asking ‘What should we do?’, this and that, and the other thing. Now, try to find a sentence somewhere that says that ‘carrying out a war of aggression is the supreme international crime, which differs from other war crimes in that it encompasses all the evil that follows’ (paraphrasing from Nuremberg). Try to find that somewhere. —I mean, you can find it. I’ve written about it, and y

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