At the end of each school year, I start the summer off by attending the annual Socialism Conference, held in Chicago, usually the last weekend of June or first weekend of July. If you are a progressive educator, I HIGHLY recommend that you get into the same habit. As crushing as the school year can be, this conference is such a rejuvenating, even cathartic, experience. So, I wanted to share with you all some of the highlights of this year’s conference. One disclaimer: of the seven sessions I’m presenting below, I attended five; two others I’ll be listening to shortly!
All the sessions (or almost) are recorded and posted on the website www.wearemany.org. Especially if you have a long commute, check out this site—you’ll have plenty to listen to until next year’s conference! So, without further ado:
1. Education and Capitalism, presented by the editors of the new book of the same title. Listen to the talk, then come to the study group!
2. Education and Revolution. What happens when students take over the school? Or when they take over the school with their teachers? What if teachers elected their administrators? A fascinating vision of what has been in previous revolutionary periods, and a glimpse of what could be.
3. Vygostky’s Theory of Language and Education. Teacher preparation programs these days love to present to students the theories of Vygotsky, the notions of the Zone of Proximal Development, scaffolding, etc. And they are quite right: Vygotsky’s ideas of how people learn and what that means for the role of the teacher are extremely important. They’re also completely disregarded in the actual practice of our public schools. But perhaps more intriguing is the fact that this revolutionary theorist of education was also… a revolutionary. They somehow never seem to mention this in those education courses…
4. Pedagogy and Liberation. Speaking of revolutionaries, the other darling of the teacher ed schools is none other than Paulo Freire. And once again: perhaps more intriguing is the fact that this revolutionary theorist of education was also… a revolutionary. But why bring up these embarrassing facts when we’re simply trying to prepare our young teachers for a life of drudgery in a soul-crushing system?
I will say about this talk: this one is actually from Socialism 2011. The talk on Freire from this year’s conference has not been posted on wearemany.org, and I have a feeling that it won’t be. The sessions usually consist of a spoken presentation for the first 30-45 minutes, followed by discussion and/or Q&A. The discussions are not recorded for legal reasons. The talk on Freire at this year’s conference, however, was presented along the lines that Freire recommends: dialogue between teacher and students, not one-way transmission of perfected information. As a result, the session was highly interactive, and it would have been very difficult to edit out all the audience comments. And that is why next year, you will just have to attend to experience it directly for yourself!
5. The Battle for the Soul of Teacher Unionism. And what a battle! This session includes some of the funniest anecdotes of a teacher’s experience fighting to stop the attacks on public education. And it raises the right questions: how can we get our unions to fight the right fight, to defend public education with a transformative vision of social justice?
6. Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below. This session did not feature any teachers, per se. But the big battle on the horizon—with implications for the entire labor movement—is the looming strike by Chicago Teachers. (Read about the build-up to that struggle here, here, here, and here. Also check out the CTU website.) In light of that struggle, it’s relevant to have a sense of the entire labor movement, the struggles to bring back the old ways, for democratic unionism, for class struggle and social justice unionism.
7. Maple Spring: the Quebec Student Strike. And lastly, hear from leaders of the student struggle in Québec. Our northern neighbors are fighting a 75% increase in college tuition—and showing the rest of us how to do it right! Once again, a vision of what could be—one that is so present and so close. (One quick note: it struck me that “Maple Spring” has a certain ring in English, but that in French the resonance is even greater. Compare “le Printemps Arabe” with “le Printemps Érable”, and you can hear it clearly.)
So, that is my offering for today. Enjoy!