Activist Education

Consider the following quotations:

Steven Biko: “The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
Emma Goldman: “The most violent element in society is ignorance.”
Mark Twain: “In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.”

One could of course multiply such comments without limit. I doubt that there is a single soul concerned to contribute to creating a better world who would deny the desirability of consciousness raising, especially at a time when schools and media so aggressively crush creative thought.

I therefore believe we take as a given that to reach a better world we need lots of learning. People who are first encountering new topics and first becoming adept at understanding them need lots of learning. People pretty familiar with some areas, but becoming increasingly so, or diversifying their awareness, need lots of learning. More, the learning we all need transcends imbibing information. We require comprehension, skill at utilizing insights, and talent at communicating them.

Now consider the social forces that seek major changes in the U.S., where I am, and also around the world. How do these forces, both individuals and organizations, pursue increased awareness and creativity for those we solicit, and for ourselves, as well?

One way is by seeking improvements in existing mainstream education. That has merits, but I suspect we can agree the deep rooted problems of all existing education systems limit the gains.

Do we have another way to accelerate consciousness raising? We read, write, study, give talks, and, while more difficult, even hold face to face educational gatherings.

That is very good, but what about having sustained schools of our own? What about having lasting institutions which persistently facilitate individual and collective consciousness raising? Can we have schools in the broad sense and entirely under our own purview? Is that within our reach?

Brick and mortar face to face schools for consciousness raising – not for system reproduction – would be wonderful, but also involve huge costs that most social change projects can’t muster. So why not exploit technological connectivity to create a relatively inexpensive online project able to at least somewhat accomplish the same aim?

One approach would be to have an online school, sponsored by some organization, in the same way that many universities sponsor online learning – but with a social change oriented curriculum, of course.

Z Communications has embarked on just that path, calling the project, ZSchool. Students can sign up and take courses that faculty completely design and define. And, indeed, the first 8 week session of ZSchool is set for April/May, and then there will be a month off, and then another 8 week session, and so on. For the first session we have 14 courses in place. For the second we will have over 20, perhaps 30. And ZSchool could grow from there, pending interest from potential students – which in this case mainly means, interest from Z’s audience.

Well, okay, that is a good experiment. It is a good try at creating a consciousness raising institution whose merit we will only be able to assess in action. But, as indicated above, if our real goal is much larger, how do we expand on this idea? What if we were to think of ZSchool as just one component of something much larger?

How about if we imagine other components hosted by various other media outfits, political parties, unions, or movements, etc. Each participating organizational host could have a school populated by faculty from their organizational ranks. All the hosts could together collectively promote the entire online school, and all its courses, to their full audiences.

Imagine ten or twenty organizations doing that – some of them very large, some more modest in size. If so, there could easily be 100 courses offered per session. The entire world of progressive, radical, and revolutionary audiences would likely hear of it from their respective organizations, as well as from others not hosting, but supporting the project nonetheless. What’s more, students would not only take particular courses of their own choosing from one or more components of the whole, they would also be part of an entire “student body” that would span all those components, and thus all those constituencies, to share their experiences.

Think of the benefits this could have in developing trust and shared understanding across constituencies inside particular countries, and even from country to country, as well. The cost of courses could steadily drop due to economies of scale, even while host organizations and faculty were doing well materially, and thus able to finance their own activism better than in the past – on top of spreading ideas and skills. One could even imagine the overarching entity hosting live events, face to face.

Okay, why not imagine? Suppose there were 10,000 students and ex-students, or even 100,000. Not only would there be the benefits of direct learning and sharing for all those students individually and from one to another in the classes they would take, but the whole 100,000 could become entwined socially – networked – in a manner transcending the far more limited dynamics of the usual forms of social networking.

Will this type of overarching school with components associated with numerous organizations be hard to build? Yes, sure, but not for the usual reasons. The technology is easily to hand. Z Communications, all alone, and relatively small, has already created ZSchool and, much more, has done so in a manner that would make it very very simple to include other components, for other media operations, political organizations, political parties, unions, etc. with each of those other organizations having to do only the most minor labors, besides promoting courses to their constituencies. The technology is not a problem. Indeed, maintenance is not a problem. And to judge by the ease with which we signed up a first group faculty to initiate the project, faculty won’t be a problem, either. There are more than enough highly informed and creative people to have a surfeit of wonderful courses. So why will it creating the envisioned school be hard?

Because it will require commitment, which in turn will require what we might call anti-skepticism. For this to happen potential students and potential faculty, and I suspect most especially potential host organizations, will all have to be willing to dare to make it happen even in the face of uncertainty. The disinclination to risk a large effort, or even any effort at all, is a formidable obstacle. The fear, dare I suggest it, of working together – and even the fear of success – much less failure – is a formidable obstacle. We have all seen these factors scuttle many a good idea, many a potential. But even so, this possibility really is straightforward.

We need consciousness raising of multitudinous sorts.

We need intercommunication among diverse constituencies in many different organizations in many different places.

We need lasting structures for consciousness raising and we need material benefits for diverse organizations, and for social change activism writ large.

So, the obvious question arises: Why not make it so? I can see no reason which is why I have been working very hard on ZSchool. I hope that when others take a look at this first component, not only will some who do so be interested in taking one course or another that is already offered, but, even more so, hopefully some organizations with substantial constituencies will be interested in hooking up with this effort so as to have their own school, to gain their own income stream, and mostly to benefit their own constituency and help the overall prospects of activist consciousness raising.

Can we make this happen? Of course we can. There is no law of nature, not even a constraint of technical difficulty in the way. Will we make it happen? That is always the question with any new project.


  1. Lary Fuku March 17, 2015 11:29 am 

    Ira btw you got my hamster metaphor exactly right – just like hamster in a wheel Michael’s while body of work is making him feel very good, yet it has exactly zero relevance in real world.

    • avatar
      Ira Woodward March 17, 2015 3:08 pm 

      I’m starting to worry you’re just a troll :-/

      Gimme something to work with, man!

      feeling good doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wasting your time. Hamsters probably get exercise, stay in shape and anyway we all need pleasure in our lives. Doing real work is satisfying too…

  2. Lary Fuku March 17, 2015 11:14 am 

    Ok Ira fine i am the bad guy, you are the good guy – done. Now on to the meat of ur argument. Are you seriously comparing the plight of blacks in the south during segregation era to that of progressives today (who are incidentally mostly white students from middleclass fafamilies)?! Talk about an inflated sence of importance, arrogance and victimization.

    What’s next – are you going to compare Michael’s zcomm plight with that of a jewish publication in natzi germany.

    • avatar
      Ira Woodward March 17, 2015 3:11 pm 

      i assume taunting people online makes you feel good. I know i enjoy it. Harder to answer is if it’s worth doing, i’d say

  3. avatar
    Ira Woodward March 17, 2015 3:35 am 

    Hey Larry what’s with “fuku?” Is that really your last name or just a thinly veiled announcement that you are about to start hurling insults?

    I for one would never condescend to that level…

    But not everyone has an adequate supply of decency or common sense.

    Check it out– who do you think participated in the freedom schools in the South? Only rich white people, you knew that already, sorry for the leading question. And why did people sacrifice not just money, but time and in some cases their lives to end jim crow and gain the vote? White people are stupid, obviously.

    OK, that’s not fair, I guess you can’t get the vote online for free.

    Anyway man, I’m pretty sure that Z magazine, south end press, znet have all stuck around for some quantity of time and it seems like they’ve had some sort of success, but then again it’s hard to say hamsters aren’t accomplishing something by running on their wheels– they seem like they like it most of the time as far as I can tell

  4. Lary Fuku March 16, 2015 11:56 am 

    Didnt zcomm already had like z-university or something where it was giving progressive classes. Whatever happened to that…

    Here are two reasons why it wont (and really can’t) succeed:

    1. Like in any attempted paid service (aka business) you need to know your client. In your case your client audience is mostly poor, young people. Their budget is already streched very thin. They, like any rational human being will think “why would i pay for something i could get online for free” – because let’s face it – all progressive material you can teach is already online for free.

    2. Like in any business you have competition. In your case it’s other progressive organizations with alternative ideology. Why for the love of god whould they unite under Your Z brand? Some of them are much more popular then znet. Since you like to “imagine” things – imagine this: you started an environmentally friendly bottled water business, and before you even sold your first bottle, you offer all companies like pepsi, coka cola, snapple – to unite under your brand and start selling their drinks through you?!

    You simply dont understand how to run a business Michael. That’s why all your pursutes are akin being hamster in a wheel.

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