29 January 2015

Hegel, ‘The inventor of historical relativism’

Education, Part 3c

Hegel and students
Hegel, ‘The inventor of historical relativism’

Concept of racism impossible without Hegel

It is time to start preparing for where we are going with this course on “Education”. So in preparation for the third part of our course I consulted Andy Blunden, philosopher, educationalist, secretary of the Marxists Internet Archive, world authority on Hegel, and good friend of South Africa. Here is an edited version of our correspondence. I am “VC”; Comrade Andy is “AB”.


For the third week [of the CU “Education” course], I am going to split Cole's "Cross-cultural and historical perspectives &c" into three, and then for the fourth item in that week I want to use your "The Young Hegel and what drove him" [attached].

I think that the two initial weeks will serve to describe, as well as to distinguish, "education" in the pre-historic and in the historic, and finally hint at the location of Hegel as the necessary philosopher of human development, which strand can then be picked up later on.

What I would ask from you if at all possible is that you help me to find the source of the allegation of Hegel’s alleged racism, which you refer to in the following paragraph in "The Young Hegel and what drove him":

"His misogyny and racism, which led him to exclude women and the peoples of uncivilized nations from being creators of culture, derived from his blindness to the fact of the cultural construction of the human form itself. Although this is a limitation in his philosophy, it is one which is very easy to correct for given all that we know today, 200 years later, and has had little impact on his Logic."

Working in the South African context we probably need a bit more than this. It's time to bite this bullet, show up all of Hegel's racism if it in fact exists, and then to show how in spite of this weakness, Hegel managed to produce a universal theory of human development which rendered the justification of racism impossible. And that so far, this one of Hegel's is the only extant universalist theory of development that can take us forward, and underpin revolution once again, as it did in 1848.

Simply: if I am not mistaken, it is from Hegel that the universal view of history that Engels, for example, expressed so confidently [e.g. in “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”], gets its philosophical underpinning. This vital connection is threatened, or undermined, by the allegation that Hegel was a racist.


The problem is: how to draw a line between Nature and Nurture. All the time we are learning more about how what has always been taken as natural, is in fact a product of culture. In Hegel's day, he presumed like everyone else, without exception, that the differences between genders and between peoples were given by Nature once for all. He knew that people made their own history, but he did not realise that the human form itself was a product of labour. That was Marx and Engels' insight, thanks to Darwin. Hegel had been dead for 45 years by then.

Hegel is in fact the inventor of historical relativism and the idea that truth is a cultural and historical product. So there is a real irony in someone writing in the 2000s accusing Hegel of being a racist. The very concept of racism would be impossible without Hegel.

I'll give you some links from Hegel: [here, here, here and here.]


Thanks Andy [for references in Hegel’s work]. If this is as bad as it gets, then I don't think there is really a problem.

This bit of Hegel: "a pastoral people may treat hunters as barbarians, and both of these are barbarians from the point of view of agriculturists, &c. The civilised nation is conscious that the rights of barbarians are unequal to its own and treats their autonomy as only a formality" is a very familiar story to Africans. It's also surely more descriptive than didactic

I remember when we were in Mazimbu at the ANC school ("SOMAFCO"), one of the Tanzanians who had grown a crop, when it was demolished by the cattle of the Masai nomads who used to come there at a certain time of the year, killed one of the Masai because of it.

The hunter-gatherers of the Kalahari are only a few hours from Johannesburg.

"The civilised nation is conscious that the rights of barbarians are unequal to its own and treats their autonomy as only a formality" describes the French, this week, in Mali. It's nothing but the truth. There is no sense of approval from Hegel, unless I am missing something.

Hegel is correctly describing these matters in "economic" terms, and that is not the same as describing them in racial terms. Africans have generally understood the difference, I think.

Thanks especially for your unequivocal "The very concept of racism would be impossible without Hegel." This is where we are at, still relying on Hegel after all these years, yet hardly able to see him or be aware of him there in the basement, holding up the whole structure.


The relation between the descriptive and the normative, i.e., whether Hegel is just describing how history works, or whether he actually approves this, is not simple. When Hegel says this is how history works, there is a fair measure of implicit approval in that. As in the words "progressive" and "reactionary." This kind of "master narrative" accusation does stick against Hegel, but it is easy to read Hegel for our times with a greater understanding of these problems than was possible for a European philosopher who had never been outside of a monocultural Germany, and relied on the reports of missionaries and colonists to know about life outside of Europe and North America.

What is important here, for our course on Education, is the confirmation that there is one humanity, and that this humanity is developed by the humans themselves, in labour. The humanist foundation of these ideas left by the Ancients, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, was built upon by G W F Hegel, and further built upon by two students of Hegel’s work called Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.

Hegel is the necessary philosopher of human development, and hence, of education.

Marx and Engels, though well familiar with philosophy, did not write very much philosophy. They relied upon Hegel. Andy Blunden, in the attached essay, writes: “Hegel drew the conclusion that the German Revolution would have to be made with philosophy rather than with guns and mobs.”

This is in fact largely how things turned out in the 1840s, a decade after Hegel’s death, as described by Engels in 1886 in “Ludwig Feuerbach, Part 1: Hegel”, where Engels writes:

“...it was the period of Germany’s preparation for the Revolution of 1848; and all that has happened since then in our country has been merely a continuation of 1848, merely the execution of the last will and testament of the revolution. Just as in France in the 18th century, so in Germany in the 19th, a philosophical revolution ushered in the political collapse.”

The 1848 spate of revolutions, which engulfed Germany among many other countries, was powered by the philosophical controversies that preceded it, which were in turn the legacy of G W F Hegel.

The legacy of Hegel has never been surpassed and it remains capable of powering revolutionary actions. In particular, Hegel’s legacy still has the potential to revolutionise education. For this reason, we will return to Hegel later in the course.

Andy Blunden’s Home Page is here. His index page of links to his writings is here.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: The Young Hegel and what drove him, 2007, Andy Blunden.

·        A PDF file of the reading text is attached

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

28 January 2015

Schooling Never Neutral

Education, Part 3b

Schooling Never Neutral

Mike Cole’s conclusions, given here as the last of three parts to his essay, includes the following paragraph:

“Formal schooling is never socially neutral. Even presumably neutral skill acquisition presumes the value-laden activities they were designed to accomplish, and it is usually accompanied by ideological considerations that exaggerate the actual use value of the knowledge acquired.”

Not all of Cole’s conclusions are as unambiguous as the one above. For example, the first of his conclusions is:

Formal schooling arises as part of the division of labor in societies when they reach a certain scale in terms of number of people.

Societies “reach a certain scale” as a consequence of changes in production. Formal schooling is one of those things that are consequences of change in relations of production. The initial change in the relations of production had to do with the division of society into antagonistic classes. This is something Mike Cole barely hints at.

The corresponding fall of the women from first among equals, to subordinates of men, took place at the same time, but Mike Cole does not mention this. Schooling is gendered, as much as it is “classed”.

At the same time as the division of society into antagonistic classes and the fall of women arrive, so do private property and the law of contract, the State to enforce the law of contract, and writing. This is the beginning of history.

Cole says:

“Formal schooling mediated by print and other sign systems produces age segregation and the institutionalized forms of hierarchy that articulate with the state or ecclesiastical institutions of which they are a part in a variety of ways.”

But schooling does not produce the State. The State is reproduced in the school.

The fact that classrooms universally, and from the time of the Sumerians, are laid out in the spreadsheet (and military) form of rows and columns, is not an accident. It “articulates with the State”. The medium is the message.

A Pedagogy of the Oppressed requires a dialogue format, or what is called a “boardroom”, as opposed to a “classroom”, or “theatre”.

Having missed so many things, or deliberately omitted them, Cole proceeds to problematise “enculturation” as something outside of or parallel to the formal schooling system, that requires to be brought back in, or to be managed in some other way.

One can easily understand the narrowness of the schooling that Cole describes. But whether what he calls “nature’s multicolored, multicultural, enormously heterogeneous forms” can be added on, is questionable. On the contrary, what is more clearly required is a return to humanism, where humanism is not corrupted by class struggle. This would be a true Pedagogy of the Oppressed. It would be a Pedagogy of Revolution.

The attached text includes the references relating to the other two parts of the full essay that have already been given.

The next item is one of Andy Blunden’s writings about Hegel, where we may discover the beginnings of a more humanistic way of reclaiming education for the oppressed.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Cole, Perspectives, Part 3, Way Forward, 2005.

27 January 2015

Education, Neo-Colonial Style

Education, Part 3a

Education, Neo-Colonial Style

In the second part of his essay called “Cross‐Cultural and Historical Perspectives on the Developmental Consequences of Education”, Mike Cole is telling us quite plainly that the ideology underlying education in the era of neo-colonialism is racist and patronising, based on the assumption that unschooled people are not adults, and that what makes them adults, is schooling.

“C.P. Hallpike summarized decades of psychological research comparing the intellectual performance of educated and non-educated people of various ages on Piagetian and a wide variety of other cognitive tasks. With very few exceptions, the schooled participants outperformed those who had not attended school. These differences between schooled and non-schooled children led him to conclude that most of the time, ‘primitives’ do indeed think like small children [Hallpike, 1979].”

Whereas Cole’s own findings, together with his colleagues Sharp and Lave, following research in Yucatan, Mexico, were:

“... the information-processing skills which school attendance seems to foster could be useful in a variety of tasks demanded by modern states, including clerical and management skills in bureaucratic enterprises, or the lower-level skills of record keeping in an agricultural cooperative or a well-baby clinic.”

In other words, school prepared the children for a capitalist society, and not for life in general.

The remainder of the text describes various means of “managing diversity” in schools. The four scenarios given by Cole towards the end of this excerpt are not hopeful.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Cole, Perspectives, Part 2, Post-Colonial Consequences, 2005.

26 January 2015

History, Culture and Schooling

Education, Part 3

Ancient classroom at Sumer

History, Culture and Schooling

Professor Michael Cole’s long essay “Cross‐Cultural and Historical Perspectives on the Developmental Consequences of Education” has been divided for the CU’s purposes into three parts.

It begins by asking fundamental questions about the place of schooling in society, the nature of education, and whether schooling and education are ever, or could ever be, the same thing.

Mike Cole undertakes to “venture into a brief synopsis of historical variations in the ways that adults organize the lives of the young so that they acquire knowledge and skills deemed essential to communal life.”

Early in the essay, Cole writes: “It was widely assumed [‘in the 19th century’] that cross‐cultural comparisons were simultaneously cross‐historical. So-called primitive societies were taken as evidence about early stages of history for all human groups.”

This is a reference to the views, not so much of anthropologists (who were always divided), as of Hegel, Marx and Engels and their successors, the communists of today, who have an explicit, scientific, philosophical and historical theory of development, which is always human development.

Note that the first line of the Communist Manifesto, after the preamble, is: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” to which Frederick Engels, in the 1888 edition, added: “That is, all written history.” Engels proceeds to refer to his work “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.”

This view of development is not actually “19th century” but is at base simply humanist, and as such, it is as old as recorded history, as much as reactionary, anti-humanist ideas have always and up to the present time, been part of the same history.

Cole mentions some of the more recent anti-humanist ideologies such as the “post-modernism” that attacks all (what they call) “master narratives” (also, elsewhere, referred to as “grand narratives”). Cole claims to be prepared to be inconclusive about this, but we in our course will not be content to leave the matter like that.

For one reason, theories of “diversity” are not easily distinguished from theories of racialism. For that reason alone, in South Africa, the option for humanism is not in doubt from the point of view of the liberation movement.

This brings us close to the heart of the question of education: Whether it has a moral content or not? And whether it can be revolutionary, or not?

We will proceed, during this part 3 of our course, after reading Cole, to touch on Hegel, and on the way in which a conscious morality can be conceived of as integral to the theory of human development, and consequently, of education, and therefore, of schooling.

Cole’s reservations do not prevent him from making a firm distinction between the pre-historic societies wherein education is indistinguishable from life in general, and what he refers to as the “sea change” of civilization, starting in the Middle East, when schooling becomes a separate institution, and very clearly an instrument of class-division that elevates the ruling class, while subordinating the exploited classes.

From this base Cole proceeds, in our second division of his essay, to “Consequences of Schooling in Post‐Colonial Societies”. We will take this as the next item of this week’s part of the course. Suffice it to note at this point that Professor Cole, based at the University of California in San Diego, appears compelled to discuss education as a whole in terms of the problems of Imperialism, in what he refers to as “Post‐Colonial Societies”.

And indeed the problems of Imperialism and of education cannot be separated from the general human struggle for freedom.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Cole, Perspectives, Part 1, The Advent of Schooling, 2005.

22 January 2015

Man made by labour

Education, Part 2c

Frederick Engels

Man made by labour

Human beings create themselves

As well as being short, the attached essay of Engels’ (“The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man”) is very easy to read and to understand. Yet it explains a lot that is hardly covered by the conventional education of a “Western” bourgeois or bourgeois-dominated person.

What is there to disagree with in it? Very little. But some. Engels used his Germanic language in the manner of his time. So it becomes “Man”, even if what is meant is “Woman and Man”.

Man, or Woman the Creator?

Evelyn Reed added to Engels’ understanding, by pointing out (in “Womens’ Evolution”) that it was women who invented and perfected the technologies upon which we continue to rely today. The increase of wealth occasioned by the technological advances made by women brought pre-historic humans to the brink of history.

The pre-history of society, according to Engels, is “social organisation existing previous to recorded history”, while recorded history is also and inevitably “the history of class struggles”. These quotations are from the Communist Manifesto, Bourgeois and Proletarians, first line, and Engels’ footnote to it. Engels wrote more extensively about history and pre-history in “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”.

At the dawn of history, several things happened at the same time. Property, the state, class struggle, the oppression of women, and writing, all came about at once. The new system of class division required all of these things, and we will, in the next part, see that it required schooling (i.e. an institutionalised and professional education system), as well.

“The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man” proceeds to mention capitalism, before it breaks off.

Engels returned to the question of pre-historic human development, and the historical development of class struggle, seven years later after the death of his friend Karl Marx. In Marx’s papers, Engels found work, based partly on studies by the US writer Henry Morgan, and composed these into the full book called “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”.

Not only Marx and Engels, but also one of the great founders of philosophy, Baruch de Spinoza, wrote about the self-development of human beings through learning. In the following widely-quoted passage, Spinoza wrote:

As far as the 'method for finding out the truth' is concerned, 'the matter stands on the same footing as the making of material tools.... For, in order to work iron, a hammer is needed, and the hammer cannot be forthcoming unless it has been made; but, in order to make it, there was need of another hammer and other tools, and so on to infinity. We might thus vainly endeavour to prove that men have no power of working iron.

'But as men at first made use of the instruments supplied by nature to accomplish very easy pieces of workmanship, laboriously and imperfectly, and then, when these were finished, wrought other things more difficult with less labour and greater perfection. . . . So, in like manner, the intellect, by its native strength, makes for itself intellectual instruments, whereby it acquires strength for performing other intellectual operations, and from these operations gets again fresh instruments, or the power of pushing its investigations further, and thus gradually proceeds till it reaches the summit of wisdom.’

B. de Spinoza (1632-1677),
Improvement of the Understanding, Ethics and Correspondence

We can usefully note here that Lev Vygotsky was familiar with all of these writings (i.e. those of Engels and those of Spinoza).

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Engels, The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man, 1876.

21 January 2015

Cultural History

Education, Part 2b

Cultural History

“Phylogeny and cultural history in ontogeny”

As can be seen from the sub-title of this article, Mike Cole is never afraid to use long, unfamiliar words, which makes it not to be ideal for use as a reading. It is also a bit too long. But there are good reasons for including it.

One is that like Vygotsky’s article, it shows an educationalist at work who refuses any boundaries to the work of an educationalist. Not even the “Arrow of Time” is sacred for Cole. Education is involved in “Phylogenesis” (the creation of the human type, including the physical type), as well as “Ontogenesis” (the creation of the individual human life-trajectory).

Another reason for using this article is because it is an available example of Cole’s writing, with Professor Cole being a major figure in education theory, and the current principle challenger to the hegemony of the ideas of the late Jean Piaget.

Another reason is to show the continuity between Engels, Vygotsky and Cole. We will in due course discover that this continuity embraces other educationists. None of these thinkers is an isolated case. There is a strong school of educational theorists with sufficient worked-out theory, based on empirical research, and tested in practice, to support a revolutionary education system in South Africa, or anywhere else on earth. Jean Piaget’s utilitarian-bourgeois ideas are not the end of educational history.

Something else to look at in this essay is the comparison between Japan and the USA in motherhood behaviour, early schooling, baseball and corporate culture. All of that is in Part 5.

In particular, the preference of the Japanese for (early childhood) classes of 15 or more corresponds with the experience of the CU, where dialogue is the means of learning, and “keeping the pot boiling” is the main practice. In the CU, we relax when attendance reaches the level of 15, because at that level of attendance it is not at all difficult to sustain a discussion for the given period, and so to leave with more questions than answers, as we should.

What one might want to discuss, using this article as a common stock, could be the outer boundaries of educational theory, or lack thereof. In South Africa, the view presented for public discussion by the bourgeois mass media is that school education is a limited thing, watched over by anxious parents and bossy teachers, that produces a narrowly-restricted result, or at best a sparse set of “outcomes”, the whole being gauged by the matriculation examinations.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Cole, Phylogeny and cultural history in ontogeny, 2007.

20 January 2015

The socialist alteration of man

Education, Part 2a

The socialist alteration of man

Lev Vygotsky was a Soviet scientist, educational researcher, theoretician and practitioner who died more than 80 years ago. At the present time his is one of the most recognised names in the history of pedagogical studies, and his fame appears to be growing.

Later in the course we will move to a text by Andy Blunden explaining Vygotsky’s Theory of Child Development. Among other things, that paper underlines Vygotsky’s attention to detail, based on close observation of children. Vygotsky’s reputation rests upon his collection and organisation of empirical data, as much as upon the theoretical science that built upon these data, and upon the wider and revolutionary science of his time.

In today’s attached and downloadable text it becomes clear that Vygotsky found it necessary to place his work within an overviews of education, and of the place of education within the most comprehensive view of humanity and of humanity’s historical and prehistorical development.

In a SADTU document that we will return to later in this course, a diagram is used which shows the field of education as bounded on four sides by a band that contains the words “Political”, “Cultural”, “Social” and “Economic”.

But in fact these four are not distinguishable from each other in any organic sense. They do not represent any kind of unity-and-struggle-of-opposites. “Political”, “Cultural”, “Social” and “Economic” are all words for the same thing.

It is necessary to place education within a context external to the “classroom”, so as to find a broad definition of education, and not a weak, contingent and utilitarian one. The separation into virtual bullet-points of “Political”, “Cultural”, “Social” and “Economic” tells us nothing. They all represent one thing, which is “Politics”.

Acknowledging this allows us to develop the context, not as a list, but as a concentric spheres. This is what we are doing in this part of our course on “Education”, starting with Lenin, and moving to Vygotsky, Cole, Engels and Spinoza.

Later in the course we will come to Hegel, whose philosophy of human development is the one that is to this day still the most advanced, most extensive, and most concrete philosophy available. Hegel’s philosophical system is the one that was used by by Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, V I Lenin – and Lev Vygotsky.

The contextual sphere around education would be the politics of the country and of the moment, or in other words what is called the “conjuncture”, made up of the balance of class forces and the specific, material circumstances of the place and time.

In bourgeois education, consideration of such context is to a large extent, if not entirely, excluded. History, for example, as taught in school, stops short of the present moment, and refrains from connecting the past to the present so as to draw political lessons. The Constitution might be taught, but in a conservative way, so as to present it (falsely) as separate and apart from the politics of the moment.

As we have seen with Paulo Friere, a pedagogy that would suit the oppressed majority of the people must refuse to exclude the facts of daily political life from education in this way. The classroom of the oppressed must rightfully be in the world, and not isolated from the world.

Lenin helps us to see education in a general context of class conflict. Lenin places education within a full political-theoretical context, thereby allowing it to be understood as part of human history in general.

The text given here shows that Vygotsky felt the need to recognise both the political struggles of the moment (i.e. the formation of the revolutionary proletarian republic, the Soviet Union), and also the revolutionary theory upon which those struggles were based. He needed to place education within the lived, political society, and within in the on-going development of human beings as a whole.

This leads Vygotsky to suggest that there must be a theory of human development that is not only spiritual and subjective, but that is also material, and even biological. We will look further at this question in the next item within this part, noting the line of thought, without necessarily endorsing every aspect of it. The point is to realise that education exists within the widest possible human context, whose boundaries are the boundaries between the socially known, and the unknown.

Suffice it here to read Vygotsky’s own words, and to note that this most famously experimental and empirical of educationists (in the sense of basing his understanding on observation of real children) found it necessary to reach out to the furthest margins of pre-history, and out into the disciplines of biology, evolutionary science, and philosophy, so as to be able to locate and to brace his work in a firm fashion.

Humanism is that kind of philosophy that says that human beings create themselves, and that the more they do so, the more socially conscious (i.e. scientific) they become of what they are doing. The more conscious is human development, the faster is the rate at which it proceeds. As Engels and Spinoza both remarked: Freedom is the recognition of necessity. Having understood necessity, humans are free to grasp it. This is the only kind of freedom that they have.

Without a sight of a wider context, the educator is proceeding as if blindfolded.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Vygotsky, The socialist alteration of man, 1930.

19 January 2015

All education is political

Education, Part 2

Lenin, writing

All education is political

All education is political. Education prepares the individual child, and each entire new generation, to take its place within the polity. Education confirms the existing polity, reproducing it.

In 1983 somebody wrote:

“At the base of the modern social order stands not the executioner but the professor. Not the guillotine, but the (aptly named) doctorate d’├ętat is the main tool and symbol of state power. The monopoly of legitimate education is now more important, more central than the monopoly of legitimate violence” [Gellner, Nations and nationalism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 1983, p. 34].

“Political Education” becomes a category separate from education in general, only because education belongs to the ruling system, under a certain ruling class. Even though it is a society in revolution, and its government is formed by a revolutionary liberation movement, it is not possible to teach what we call political education, in schools, in South Africa.

Nothing illustrates the nature of class power more clearly than this. The political education given in schools confirms the status quo. It is conservative and it is bourgeois. It does not even admit to being political.

“The taxpayer” is a bourgeois, and will only pay for political education that preserves the position of the bourgeoisie. In the nineteenth year after the first universal-franchise election in South Africa, this fact stares at us, but few of us stare back. The common critique of education is rather that it is not bourgeois enough.

Even those “radicals” who, for example, would expropriate land from white farmers on a large scale and without compensation, give little thought to the nature of education. The people who would settle on that land, if any, would be educated as bourgeois, would only be capable of reproducing a bourgeois economy on that land, and would demand the installation of bourgeois schools on that land. This would not be radical change, but it would be confirmation of the status quo.

Is there any conception of what a revolutionary school might be? This second part of our course on education looks at some past conceptions of what it might be, starting with Lenin.

Lenin on Education

“...we have to abandon the old standpoint that education should be non‐political; we cannot conduct educational work in isolation from politics.”

“That idea has always predominated in bourgeois society. The very term ‘apolitical’ or ‘non‐political’ education is a piece of bourgeois hypocrisy...”

“In all bourgeois states the connection between the political apparatus and education is very strong, although bourgeois society cannot frankly acknowledge it.”

“We are living in an historic period of struggle against the world bourgeoisie, which is far stronger than we are. At this stage of the struggle, we have to safeguard the development of the revolution and combat the bourgeoisie in the military sense and still more by means of our ideology through education, so that the habits, usages and convictions acquired by the working class in the course of many decades of struggle for political liberty ‐ the sum total of these habits, usages and ideas - should serve as an instrument for the education of all working people. It is for the proletariat to decide how the latter are to be educated. We must inculcate in the working people the realisation that it is impossible and inexcusable to stand aside in the proletariat’s struggle...”

“We must re‐educate the masses; they can be re‐educated only by agitation and propaganda. The masses must be brought, in the first place, into the work of building the entire economic life. That must be the principal and basic object in the work of each agitator and propagandist, and when he realises this, the success of his work will be assured.”

The above words are taken from Lenin’s speech to the 1920 All-Russian Conference of Political Education Workers, our main text for this part.

Lenin does not leave his audience in doubt as to his intentions.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Lenin, Speech to All-Russia Political Education Workers Conference, 1920.

15 January 2015

Use Your Head

Education, Part 1c

Use Your Head

The fourth item in the first part of the ten-week Communist University “Education” course is our own “conspectus” (overview or synopsis) of Tony Buzan’s book, “Use Your Head” (attached; download linked below).

We have sometimes in the past been defensive about the inclusion of this book in a Communist course. The author Buzan does not propose, or proceed from, any overt political premises. If anything he appears at first sight to resemble a utilitarian bourgeois “management guru” or “motivational speaker”. What makes his work stand out, at first, from others of that kind, is its great practical effectiveness, and not any obvious political aspect.

Yet, after all the years of forcing Buzan’s work to cohabit with Marxist texts, it becomes clearer to this VC why it fits in so well: It is dialectical! And it is intentional! Therefore it is Freirean, whether consciously or unconsciously so.

From a practical point of view, Buzan’s appeal is that he offers assistance with faster, more purposeful reading; with memorising; and with note-taking, particularly using his invention, the “mind-map” technique, of which an example is given above.

These techniques are just what students need to help them get through their studies – and just what conventional education often failed to give them.

Students used to be obliged to try to learn, before having learned how to learn. Buzan filled this gap very well.

But what underlies Buzan’s approach? It is not that he was lucky to stumble upon three techniques, like a prospector discovering diamonds. No. What distinguishes the mind-map, in particular, from other forms of note-taking characterised by lists and bullet-points, is that it begins and ends as a “unity and struggle of opposites”. It is a representation, in one glance, of the way in which any phenomenon is the product, or resultant, of many abstract dynamic forces, or vectors, pulling in different directions.

The mind-map is a very good illustration of exactly what is meant by “dialectics”.

The other main characteristic of Buzan’s approach is its “intentionality”, to borrow a term from Paulo Freire’s vocabulary. Towards the end of Chapter 1 of Freire’s “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, Freire quotes Alvaro Vieira Pinto saying that intentionality is “the fundamental property of consciousness”, remarking that this concept is “of great importance for the understanding of a problem-posing pedagogy”.

Buzan’s approach is full of intentionality. There is no question, for Buzan, of wandering about, learning for learning’s sake, in a random, eclectic way. Buzan says that you must be looking for a result.

Karl Marx, in the 11th Thesis on Feuerbach, said that while the philosophers have interpreted it, the point is to change the world.

Thus intentionality, as well as dialectics and dialogue, are common and basic themes in Freire, Buzan and Marx.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Tony Buzan, Use Your Head, 1974, Conspectus by D Tweedie.

·        A PDF file of the reading text is attached

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

14 January 2015

Not Activism, Not Blah

Education, Part 1b

Not Activism, Not Blah

Action / Reflection = word = work = praxis
Sacrifice of action = verbalism
Sacrifice of reflection = activism
What separates humanist philosophy from other kinds of philosophy is that we humanists see life as an interaction between the human Subject and the Objective universe. Others either believe in pure (subjective) will, or in pure (objective) fate.

This philosophy is not a compromise or an arbitrary “middle way”. Instead, it represents a real dialectical unity-and-struggle-of-opposites.

The human Subject defines the universe, and the universe contains the human Subject.

In Chapter 3 of the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire manages to express all of this with great power, and then to develop it into an educational “praxis” (theory-and-practice), which is dialogue.

Here are the first few paragraphs:

Verbalism without action is idle chatter

“As we attempt to analyze dialogue as a human phenomenon, we discover something which is the essence of dialogue itself: the word. But the word is more than just an instrument which makes dialogue possible; accordingly, we must seek its constitutive elements. Within the word we find two dimensions, reflection and action, in such radical interaction that if one is sacrificed - even in part - the other immediately suffers. There is no true word that is not at the same time a praxis. Thus, to speak a true word is to transform the world.

“An unauthentic word, one which is unable to transform reality, results when dichotomy is imposed upon its constitutive elements. When a word is deprived of its dimension of action, reflection automatically suffers as well; and the word is changed into idle chatter, into verbalism, into an alienated and alienating “blah." It becomes an empty word, one which cannot denounce the world, for denunciation is impossible without a commitment to transform, and there is no transformation without action.”

Activism is action for action’s sake, and it makes dialogue impossible

“On the other hand, if action is emphasized exclusively to the detriment of reflection, the word is converted into activism. The latter - action for action's sake - negates the true praxis and makes dialogue impossible. Either dichotomy, by creating unauthentic forms of existence, creates also unauthentic forms of thought which reinforce the original dichotomy.

“Human existence cannot be silent nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true words, with which men and women transform the world. To exist humanly is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new naming. Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection.

“But while to say the true word - which is work, which is praxis - is to transform the world, saying that word is not the privilege of some few persons, but the right of everyone. Consequently no one can say a true word alone - nor can she say it for another, in a prescriptive act which robs others of their words.”

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Pedagogy of The Oppressed, Chapter 3, 1970, Freire, Part 1 and Part 2.

·        A PDF file of the reading text is attached

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