Toward a New Common School Movement

By Noah De Lissovoy, Alex Means, and Kenneth Saltman

Excerpted from Toward a New Common School Movement (Paradigm Publishers 2014)

In this excerpt the authors first describe the enclosure of public education as another feature of global capitalism's "efforts to transfer aspects of the commons from collective management for common benefit to private ownership for private gain." They then lay out four proposals to help "imagine pedagogical practices, curriculum, and school organization that enact the global commons."

What is important to understand here is that neoliberal schooling represents not merely better or worse school reform - adjusting pedagogical methods, tweaking the curriculum, on so on. We argue that it is crucially about redistributing control over social life and as such is part of a much broader trend - the enclosure of the global commons. It is this struggle, we believe, that is underway in schools in the present. The question is whether we will continue to suffer the distorted and truncated forms of community that mainstream educational policy and practice impose on us, or whether we will fight against the limits of the neoliberal imagination to realize authentically democratic forms of teaching and learning.

Critical education teaches alternative values, social relations, and identifications that are contrary to those of schooling for capitalist reproduction – critical rather than dogmatic, egalitarian rather than hierarchical, collective rather than individualizing, emancipatory rather than exploitative.

The task ahead is to imagine pedagogical practices, curriculum, and school organization that enact the global commons. What path should teachers and students take together with communities in recovering control over the work of teaching and learning? How can the struggle against neoliberal school reform not simply demand limits on testing and a cessation to privatization in all its guises but also demand that public education be the basis for reimagining a truly democratic society? To begin, it is important to note that a new common school movement has an inevitably hopeful dimension to it. The common can be built and expanded, and it can never be fully enclosed because there are parts of human experience that cannot be turned into property and have to be held in common. Compassion, ideas, social relationships, and the planet itself must be held in common. In what follows we provide a series of broad proposals for orienting a new common school movement. To speak of the commons is to speak of a struggle over universal claims on the future. If we consider neoliberal schooling in terms of the commons, we can ask the question of how to formulate a response that recognizes the need for alternative school reform and also how such reform might provide a basis for a new commonwealth open to all.


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