101: Imagining Education Outside Capitalism w/ Dr. Nick Stock

Chris McNutt
May 15, 2022
Connecting Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism to pedagogy.

0:00:18.3 Chris McNutt: Hello and welcome to Episode 101 of our podcast at Human Restoration project. My name is Chris McNutt, and I am a high school digital media educator from Ohio. Before we get started, I want to let you know that this is brought to you by our supporters, three of whom are Kate Rowbotham, Laura Pallandre and Aubree Holliman, thank you for your ongoing support. You can learn more about the human restoration project on our website, or find us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

0:01:00.2 CM: Today, we are joined by Dr. Nick Stock, Dr. Stock a former English teacher, now serves as a researcher for the University of Birmingham, he has published various essays which focus on critiquing education by using philosophy typically seen outside of traditional pedagogy, such as Evangelion schools and futures. Education after the end of the world, How can education be considered a hyper-object and Paradise Shall Remain Lost. Readdressing Deschooling through a Miltonian lens. Specifically, we invited Dr. Stock on to talk about his recently published work, The Weird Eerie exit pedagogy of Mark Fisher, which then dives into the work of Fisher, who wrote Capitalist Realism and connects it to pedagogy, something that that isn't typically associated with... So I was just talking to Nick, before we started recording, there's various reasons to invite him on, but the podcast really serves two purposes, one it is to introduce these ideas that you're talking about because they're very interesting and different than the normal educational discourse. And two, it's to help me understand what any of this means because it is so far outside the normal discourse, and it's kind of hard to comprehend, 'cause there isn't really an anchor to go off of. So I think it's just starting off, it makes sense just to really summarize for the listener, what Capitalist Realism is and then how this connects to pedagogy or exit pedagogy.

0:02:20.5 Dr. Nick Stock: Yeah, it's an important question really, I think that for understanding education more broadly as well, I think kind of understanding what Capitalist Realism is is really helpful. I mean so Capitalist Realism, it was the title of a book that Mark Fisher wrote in 2008, 2009, which I didn't encounter until quite a lot later, I had heard the idea floating around, but I think it was, I think it might have been towards the start of the first lockdown actually, but I just kind of devoured everything he'd ever written and kinda became obsessed with him really, with Mark Fisher. And Capitalist Realism speaks so well to now Just as much as it did, I think in 2008. The starting point really is, he takes this quote from... It's both Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Zizek, have both apparently said it, which is, it's easier to imagine in the end of the world than the end of capitalism. And Fisher kinda takes that idea very, very seriously that we are in a point now where, we actually can't imagine in any way an alternative to capitalism, and then whenever we do, it's not actually a kind of like a serious imagination of it, it's just a sort of an adaption of it, or just kind of a way that it's progressed into a different form, and it's something that's impossible to escape out of.

0:03:39.9 DS: I think that the important thing to identify as well is that, it's kind of like a lens almost... I think this is what some people miss when they're talking about Capitalist Realism, is that we view the world through the lens of capitalism now, that you know, even if it's something like radical practice or if it's trying to start a socialist project, often we end up viewing those things through a capitalist lens still, and we find it impossible to see how those things aren't in somehow semi-capitalistic or aren't in some way touched by capital, and literally everything in my world within my realism, is now in some way capitalist. And I think that's kind of one of the things he was pointing to, there is a sort of... A few people are claiming that, we're hitting the end of Capitalist Realism with a... There was a brief success with Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and with Relix Anderson in America. Seeming like perhaps people were starting to see things differently, but to me, the way those projects kind of ended [chuckle] sort of kind of pushes the point to me that actually that the Capitalist Realism still remains very much in place for at least the vast majority of people, but it's not just as simple as just politics though, that it's actually about the way that it kinda touches and taints everything.

0:04:56.7 CM: Right. It's very much just like our ability to see pretty much everything, and it connects to even how we can reimagine different systems in general. It's quite literally all encompassing.

0:05:09.8 DS: That's right, yeah, that's exactly it. And I always say it is it the totalizing lens of capitalism, is how I redescribe Capitalist Realism. That it's not just that I see the world through it, it's the only thing I can see the world through. And there are simple examples of this, if you want to read marks, for example, actually you have to buy into... Buying it through a massive publisher and you have to... Often people buy it from Amazon and that kind of thing. And so even radical practice is being sold back to you as something you can purchase and buy, and a lot of radical theories is presented more of versus very static rather than any of its actual utility. So, that's some of the more obvious examples of it, but it's so far reaching. And one of the things that I started thinking about when I was reading it, and if you think as I've done this, is how Capitalist Realism actually relates to education as well, which it really does, actually in Capitalist Realism itself, Fisher devotes a couple of chapters to talking about schools and colleges, and he was a college teacher for a little while before he was a lecturer, like myself, teach the six formers.

0:06:26.5 DS: And he really kind of realized within the classroom that education was also very, very much being seen through this capitalist lens as well, and so he's kind of starting to think about ways that it could be freed from that. How successful he is in thinking about that, I don't know, and that's one of the things that I've started to look at in some of my work, is how education can be freed from capitalism. Because, it's very difficult, actually to imagine a form of capitalism that is not capitalist realist really... Sorry, a formal education, sorry, that is not capitalist realist. A kind of a short history of schooling, for example, which really is the most dominant kind of arm of education that we have, it kind of arises at the same sort of time that mass capitalism does. In Europe, in the 1800s is when mass schooling really becomes the norm. So, you have England with 'The Forster act,' kind of enforced mass elementary schooling. In Prussia, there is a set mass schooling introduced there.

0:07:28.4 DS: Napoleon introduces mass schooling in France as well. It starts to become the norm, but of course, this is exactly the same time that capitalism is taking forces, the kind of dominant economic force in Europe. And so, it's no surprise, really that school and education in that sense have always been sort of hand-in-hand with capitalism. And so, here we are 200 years later, and it's very, very difficult to pull those two things apart. You know, how do school work? It's very competitive, it's very, very individualist, it's becoming more and more instrumentalist, seeing that it's meant to take you on to something else. And so it's no surprise, really, that it actually works as something that really feeds into capitalism.

0:08:13.1 CM: Basically, if we can't imagine a world without capitalism, you also really can't imagine a world where education is not tied to the things that are explicitly capitalist.

0:08:23.5 DS: Exactly.

0:08:24.0 CM: For example, imagining an education system that is not primarily devoted to college and career readiness, or devoted to standardized testing, it's very hard to do. Because even if you're home-schooling or something, you're still tied into that.

0:08:38.2 DS: This is exactly right. And I would say it's verging on impossible in fact, really, to actually truly, truly disjoint them that our imagination has been tarnished by what we think education can be. And it may be there actually isn't a version of education out there that is truly free from this kind of... This history and this process. But nevertheless, it's that kind of thinking that a lot of what I've been doing, really.

0:09:03.7 CM: And it connects to... I think it's worth noting that... And I believe you write about this, and it's also sort about Bodrov is that both Fisher and Bodrov aren't nihilist. So it's not like this line of thinking is like, "Hey, the world sucks, it's never gonna get better, and we're always gonna be here." So, how does that thing connects to this concept of exit pedagogy, 'cause I feel like those two things are connected?

0:09:27.7 DS: I think so, yeah. To pick at your first point about nihilism, I think it is really important to emphasize that point that anybody who sees somebody like Fisher or Bodrov as a nihilist is, I think really only hearing what they wanna hear, rather actually really engaging with his work. That actually Fisher's work is infinitely hopeful, and his entire project really was about seeking alternatives and looking to what else could be done. And I think this is particularly clear, if you look at his final book that was released posthumously, which was a collection of lectures, of his final lectures of all the time that he died. And they were transcribed very, very faithfully by Matt Colquhoun who was one of his students who was in those lectures. And this set of lectures was called Post-capitalist Desire. And it was actually about trying to find and imagine something that could exist beyond the capitalist realist now, and looking at what do we wanna keep from capitalism and what do we wanna drop, and what do we want, what do we actually want out of any kind of future. Is there something that we actually desire?

0:10:36.0 DS: And so it's very much not nihilist at all, it really is about trying to find something that we can look towards. And perhaps, we don't know what we want yet, but that means we need to find out what we want, and I think that's really important thing from Fisher there. That that we maybe don't know the future that we want beyond capitalism yet because our imagination is so tarnished. So you're absolutely right, it's definitely not in any way a nihilistic project.

0:11:03.6 CM: Then that kind of builds into the educational side of things. So if our goal is to then re-imagine a system that is not capitalism, that means we also need to re-imagine how schooling works to get there. And it's kind of a chicken and the egg type deal, because do you start with schooling or do you start with economic systems. But there's no doubt that the way someone goes through the schooling process will affect the way that they view the world around them. And I would imagine that by changing your pedagogy, that you would in turn impact how future societies learn. And I think that's something that might be like extreme scare quotes around that, because it gets...

0:11:42.1 DS: [laughter] I think so, yeah.

0:11:42.3 CM: Is this getting like propaganda, and like...

0:11:45.1 DS: Absolutely. And of course, all this kind of thinking always needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. And actually what you said about the chicken and the egg is so important as well, because often all the issues that people want to address with education are actually issues that need to be addressed everywhere in society, a lot of them are to do with things being funded properly and time being given to stuff, and a change in relations to other systems as well as just education itself. Education isn't the panacea for all of these things. It's kind of one of many things that needs to be addressed, and ultimately, can be re-thought perhaps, but how is difficult. And that kinda brings me to this this idea of exit pedagogy, which is something that I kind of coined, really, in my work.

0:12:32.4 DS: But it was based on the idea of Matt Cohen who I mentioned a minute ago who, is one of the students of Mark Fisher's, he wrote a book called Egress, which was zeroing in on one of the concepts that kind of he sees in Mark Fisher's work, and there's lots of other really interesting aspects to the book as well, where he kind of thinks about the mourning of Mark Fisher and other theoretical ideas that are tied to it, but ultimately, he sees this concept of a Egress is really, really important, to Fisher's project, an egress, it sort of means exists, also a military tactical way of getting out, it's kind of a strange word really, but ultimately, it kind of seems like egress is something that really, really haunts all of Fishers projects. That what he's often trying to do is trying to keep our eye on what is the dominant structures that we're within and how could we get out of them? And that requires a bit of re-evaluating, rethinking, re-describing rather than just kind of looking at the objects, okay, here's capitalism, and then what next, actually thinking about, is the way that we think about this thing correct?

0:13:42.0 DS: And therefore, does that mean that we can get out of it if we don't really know what it is? And that's what I like about Fisher's work so much, that he's always kind of looking at are things exactly what we think they are? And Bodrov is so good at this as well. And one of the things that he definitely draws from him that is capitalism exactly what we think it is, that the way that Fisher describes it is, it's kind of monstrous, it's materially present, it's something that's here, it's something that almost has an agency of its own, and this is where he starts to bring in some of these words about weirdness and eeriness, that it kinda has this strange presence, the kind of lingers in our lives, and yet there's also something very eerie about it because, you know. 'cause where is it? It's nowhere, but it's also everywhere at the same time, and he makes great comparisons to monsters from other Lovecraftian mythos and this kind of thing that there's this kind of weird movement in between worlds between this strange thing.

0:14:42.9 DS: And just to think of it as a set of economic relations really kind of doesn't help us that much in terms of actually thinking about how we can get out of it, but there's so much more to thinking about it, which I also then I think you could do with education too, you can use that same kind of thinking for education as well, but it's... Just thinking of it in terms of a system of teaching is too minimizing that actually there's something kind of eerie and weird about that too, really.

0:15:07.9 CM: I think that before we dive into how that could be used literally in the classroom, I think it's also probably worth defining this concept of Hauntology 'cause that's kind of connected to what you're talking about right now.

0:15:21.1 DS: Yeah, absolutely. [chuckle] Hauntologies. Yeah, so it's a difficult thing to describe really, because it's such a flexible term and it's used differently by different people, but I think it's such an important concept really, and it definitely was for Fisher as well. Some of the things to kinda get to grips with Hauntology, so firstly, Hauntology is a pun on the word ontology, and that was made by Jacques Derrida and he was kind of rethinking ontology in the same way that Isaac, certainly the same way that, Fisher was rethinking capital, and ontology is the study of being, the idea of existence of presence of being in a sense of our being in the world and how we exist. So obviously a very, very kind of big complex area of study, that doesn't necessarily help us for thinking about operating in the classroom that much, but... But never the less. So Derrida kind of made a pun on ontology as Hauntology, which in the French would still be pronounced ontology, so it sounds like it's the same, but the word reminds us that actually there is something wrong with ontology that actually because it is haunted, the word itself ontology is haunted if it's Hauntology.

0:16:36.0 DS: And so he's kind of trying to get us to really, rethink what is being... What is that thing? Is being something that is entirely present, and really the whole history of kind of philosophy and metaphysics always kind of makes this assumption that the being is here, is present; it's something is always happening, and Derrida and then Fisher later on kind of picks up that idea and starts to challenge it, which kind of has lots of interesting avenues that are really important, I think. One of them is about time, and Derrida is really interested in time, and he describes in part ontology as a disjointed or dis-adjusted now, he takes his line out of Hamlet that the time is out of joint. And that is the way that perhaps we should think about beings, that things aren't in this kind of linear present form, that things are actually out of joint, and this also helps us think about or thinking about being, and we're thinking about beings as well, and how those things are formed and are they formed in simplistic and linear ways, or again, is it something dis-adjusted and disjointed about beings? And so Fisher, kinda develops this concept a little bit, and he looks at the way that we're not just kind of haunted by things of the past, that Hauntology isn't just about the kind of time being out to joins as in you know things from the past that haunting us, but we also talk about ghosts or specters of the future.

0:18:04.8 DS: He says that really what we are mostly haunted by these days within capitalist realism is the ghost of a lost future, that the future that the people thought they were gonna get in the '70s and the '80s. And if you go back and he spent a lot of long time talking about this about '70 and '80s, popular culture and it's imagination of the future is so kind of thrilling with what it could imagine could happen, it thought that great stuff was really gonna come and otherwise let's talk about this to David Gray, but wrote an article, where our flying cars, where is everything that we where meant to be getting and it never came.

0:18:40.0 CM: Back to the Future, that re-imagining in Back to the Future. That was only, what, 10 years ago. Like the actual future where that was supposed to be.

0:18:47.2 DS: Exactly, exactly. I think the first Terminator film where the world has ended is 2029, [chuckle] and so visions of the future were quite, but dystopia and utopia are both important in terms of thinking about the future. And basically what Fisher claims is that we have lost the ability, at least in the dominance imagination. He's not saying that people can't reimagine the future anymore but he is saying the dominance imagination, especially within popular culture, has lost the ability to actually imagine a future beyond capitalism. And so we are now haunted by the ghost of this future that never came. And this is why we are seeing potentially a lot more nostalgia existing in popular culture. Because one of the reasons that somebody my age, for example, might really enjoy stranger things or some of the big '80s vibe show, even though I wasn't around in the '80s. I was born in 1989s [laughter] I don't remember the '80s all that well, but you get this wonderful experience of being in the '80s by watching a show like that or listening to some nostalgic way of music.

0:19:56.6 DS: But theoretically, is what I'm enjoying the past or am I enjoying the future that they thought they were gonna get? Is there still at a time when there was something imaginably different from what they were living in? And is that what the real haunting nature of the show is, perhaps? So this is some of the way to think about hauntology. I think these idea is about time being disjointed and about being not necessarily entirely present or not necessarily entirely absent. Some of those things can be good ways of thinking about it. But then think about it in the classroom, that's the cause a lot more complicated, if it wasn't already complicated enough. But that's the challenge really. Finding how we can move from one thing to the other.

0:20:40.7 CM: Right. So kind of like to tie these together, the overall idea is that it's very difficult to imagine a future without capitalism and the hauntology component, to put it like a layman's terms or an example of this would be, my future is through a capitalist lens because someone has constructed that future for me. I've grown up in a world that is very corporate, because everything is controlled by a corporation one way or another. And therefore, my future that I imagine is influenced heavily by corporate forces. And that impacts our ability to exit this capitalist system because I am not able to come up with an alternative. Everything is built of improving a system that already exists. And if we relate that over to education, because these forces are so tied together, my ability to reimagine to a new educational system is heavily impacted, if not impossible [chuckle], because just everything is so intertwined.

0:21:40.0 DS: Yeah. That's quite a nice little summary really. And it's even perhaps a step further that is not even that our future is controlled by capitalism, is that there is no future. I mean, quite literally, there is no future in the moment because of course if capitalism keeps on going in the way that it's going, we will be an eco-catastrophe in no time and so quite literally there is no future. But then also metaphorically there's no future. That we're sort of stuck in this stasis where nothing is changing and that everything is just repeating. It's the same over and over again. And that's why that example of suddenly everybody loving nostalgic TV and everything's a remake, is manifest because there is no sense or anything new ever happening anymore, everything feels really stuck in this presence. And education can sometimes perpetuate that. There's a great quote from Frantz Tiqqun who are a French anarchist collective and they talk about schooling in France. And they say that it's something that's teaching us to live within the crisis in the presence than rather actually trying to project anything into the future, it's just actually teaching people how to stick it out and get used to this [chuckle] terrible world that we're stuck in.

0:22:50.5 DS: And this is just... Education is just learning to make you live within it in the best possible way that it can, but it's not actually helping you in terms of getting out of it. Which is, when I come back to this idea of exit pedagogy and actually how can education not keep recycling and keep teaching us to live within the presence but how can it actually teach us to look at the exit, and think about where is the way out? How can we get out of this place? And that's something I think that Fisher is starting to get at in both his pedagogy literally, which we can see in his lectures. But also in his broader project as well, and his pedagogy beyond the classroom just in terms of his full project.

0:23:32.4 CM: That concept of stasis is so fascinating because it's something that is very real, I guess. Fisher talks about the idea of the future being boring.

0:23:42.3 DS: Yes. [chuckle]

0:23:43.1 CM: There's no real major difference. And I think a lot about neo-liberalism and the fact that ultimately it seems like not a lot changes. Folks get really rallied up about, for example, political elections or maybe the hot new technological trend. And ultimately everything feels same [chuckle] Like nothing really is changing there. And I think when next to education, the most real thing for educators would be, "What just has happened with COVID?" The massive pandemic that has killed millions of people. And as a result, education went online for a year, maybe two years, depending on the district. And what happened was there was all this talk about this grand reimagining of education 'cause we had to take things online. I mean, everything's gonna change. But sadly for 99% of folks, what ended up happening is we recreated the exact same thing online [chuckle], which ended up being very boring. And then to top it off, we went back when it was worse than it was before and then just ended up doing the exact same thing again.

0:24:46.5 DS: Yeah. I mean, I was teaching from home for months and then... Which was already, like you say, it wasn't very imagining at all. It was just," How can I do what I do in college but at home?" And then it was just repeating. [laughter] And then we went back into college and we did it all over again and yeah. It just demonstrated, just like you said, just such lack of imagination and this unbelievable sense of stasis. And it also represented this imperative that we have to get kids through school, get kids through the curriculum. There was this real chorus of lost learning, was the thing everybody kept on talking about. What does that even really mean? Like lost learning, you know. That people they are... They need to catch up, they need to catch up to what? Because you know, we set these boundaries of what students should do, we set these curricular and we set these exams. And so if they didn't get to those, well, you know, that doesn't really matter. [laughter] Or some...

0:25:45.2 DS: We know that they're not some kind of, you know, natural existing imperatives that people have to follow to progress in their life. You know that if they didn't learn about who was the king of England in 1500, whatever it's just not gonna make any difference to them at all.

0:26:02.7 CM: Right. And speaking of, I guess the stasis of it, or just I guess the lack of re-imagination, what's interesting to know about that learning lost narrative is that there wasn't even that much law. Like, if we were to even take it by the terms that are defined, the actual stats are about like 3% standardized test scores, which is not... It's a question.

0:26:22.2 DS: It's exactly. It's completely negligible. And, you know, I think a lot of people have gone back to teaching in the classroom. And have, you know, have noticed maybe some small differences that perhaps to some things that people don't know or maybe there's a skill that they lack. But generally speaking, there is not been this massive for all over, "Oh my God, my students know nothing and how am I ever gonna... " It really it kind of just reflected, this sense that schooling in its current form is the most important thing in the world for people that age. And without it society will fall apart. Will fall apart. Which is actually sadly kind of true, that actually our current society would sort of fall apart because as I said a minute ago, it is teaching us to live in stasis. And of course, it's so directly linked to our neoliberal workforce as well, that you know, students currently are very good at learning this kind of fluid set of skills and being able to move from kind of one area to another. They learn a kind of a sense of discipline that's really, really encouraged in neoliberal workplaces. They learn this kind of work ethic that they're expected to kind of repeat that. These kind of like slavish capitalists, you know, kind of ways of being are really, really instilled in schooling in it's current form definitely.

0:27:37.5 CM: Yeah. The hidden curriculum is very much like, explicit about this in the idea of it's intentionally telling students not to question the system that they're in. And encouraging behaviors that we often see in the workforce, like toxic positivity through group mindset.

0:27:55.3 DS: Exactly.

0:27:55.5 CM: Kinda of like co-opting ideas that were good in theory. But transforming them into this lens that makes them very gross, and not really what the original intent was.

0:28:05.7 DS: I've read a great line about that hidden curriculum the other day, actually that said, it's weird that we call it the hidden curriculum when it's actually the most obvious manifest part of schools that actually... [chuckle] If you were to tell me what a school is, that's the hidden curriculum that... All those things that make it a school. So actually it's really... It's just the schooling is what the hidden curriculum is. But again, as you say, you know that those things are really, really fundamentally tied to our projection into capital beyond schooling, and this again, they become fundamentally intertwined. And so, then we're kind of back to exit pedagogy again.

0:28:38.7 DS: And actually one of the things I've been thinking about exit pedagogy in terms of, thinking about what do you want, you know, students in a classroom to do or to think or to talk about. Well, one of those things is this, surely, that... Students more than anyone are taught to believe that school is the most important thing in the world for them. And you the... Especially if we see that the rise in mental health concerns around students in the last sort of 10, 20 years, it's completely on the rise. And that is surely tied to, in part the pressure that they're put under in their schooling and especially towards testing.

0:29:14.6 DS: And so, they are made to believe that this is the most important thing that will ever happen. And therefore, of course not to question the structure of it. And that was one of the things that I started to think about is, if I was to think about Fisher's project in my classroom, would it be me trying to get them to rethink what is schooling? What is education? What are these things for? And letting them see, part of the exit exists in the very structure that they're in, in that moment. And that was at least one of the things I've started to think about anyway in terms of exiting in a kind of metaphorical way. Yeah.

0:29:51.3 CM: I think then this is a good transition over to, kind of, what does that actually look like. And I think this is where it starts to get confusing.

0:30:00.4 DS: Exactly.

0:30:00.6 CM: Because there isn't really an answer. And a lot of this is very theoretical. And I think a valid critique of, kind of this line of thinking, especially Fisher's line of work, is that the actual classroom looked relatively similar to how classrooms look today. So we're talking about this while ironically using the same lens to talk about the thing. Like it's, you can't escape the system, so you're in the system talking about it.

0:30:25.3 DS: Yeah, that's exactly it. That you know, I mean, Fisher's lectures, they are very much lectures, you know. Either it's him standing at the front of the classroom talking, students ask questions and have discussions and they do readings. And he's a good pedagogue in the sense of encouraging student interaction and letting them lead sessions and that kind of thing. And he obviously very much cares about your students as well, that there is a real sense kind of care from him, which is really important because actually we couldn't say that about most... [chuckle] Well, definitely about some educators, anyway that actually we see quite a sadistic attitude from lots of teachers.

0:31:01.4 DS: And definitely it wasn't the case from him. And in fact, actually in an early version of the article I wrote, I pointed that out. And the reviewer said it was kind of irrelevance. It was just him being nice to his students, and he wasn't irrelevant. And to me actually, it's not irrelevant. I think it's really important to see actually what a great teacher he might look like in the classroom, and his care is really, really manifest there. You are right though, that ultimately, he is describing these kind of issues that we are doing it within that system itself. That he is kind of definitely stuck within it. If you think about actually, critical pedagogy in general, which on lots of education courses and politics courses around the country, around the world you'd be taught, but you'd probably be taught them not in the manner of actual critical pedagogy, you probably taught them in a lecture format. And so there's this kind of disconnect between the content and between the theory definitely.

0:31:54.9 DS: And so, it very, very difficult to reimagine, how would the content be represented through this theoretical lens, as you say, it's quite difficult to disjoin them. And so that's some of the thinking that I'm trying to do, to try and think about what it could look like.

0:32:08.3 CM: A lot of folks listening into this, be very much familiar with the work of Freire, I guess, Hooke's, Tartar, etcetera. Different folks that exist in the critical pedagogy space, as well as, liberatory pedagogy space. And it's interesting, because at first glance, if I were reading this work, the first thing that I would assume is "Oh, what these folks are talking about, kind of is this reimagined way of looking at the classroom." Because it is very, I mean, lot of it's based on theories of Marx, a lot of it is explicitly anti-capitalist. And a lot of it is looking at teaching differently, even though it was historically kind of taught in a very traditionalist lens. However, the exact same time, kind of, the critique that's offered via your article, is that, this liberatory pedagogy can run into the exact same issues that the current system runs into. Can you talk a little bit about that?

0:33:08.4 DS: Yeah. I mean, it's a difficult one, that critical pedagogy does have its, obviously the amazing sides to it. But there are a few things that I've noticed in critical pedagogy that are problematic. In part, it's kind of, still reliance on the classroom, that Freire and Hookes and Giroux, etcetera. They really see the classroom itself as the kind of radical space. And ultimately the classroom is something that is so fundamentally tied to a disciplinary apparatus and types of structures of schooling. Not to say, that it couldn't be freed from them, but often does. And the other thing that's really interesting, is that also it still relies on having an educator in some form. I think, some people would disagree with me there, that they would say the whole point of somebody like Freire's project is that actually, it doesn't have an educator as such, but I think there's still always has to be somebody who takes on that position of the teacher, even if they have a less active role. And they are... The way I always phrase it is, there always has to be a Socrates, that people talk about Socratic discussion is the kind of fairest and most equal form of discussing concepts, but there's still always has to be a Socrates.

0:34:22.4 DS: There is still always has to be somebody to guide the discussion and to introduce the ideas and to ask the questions, that keep discussion moving. And so the role of the educator itself is a is a corruptible or even corrupted force really. And to reiterate something I just saying a second ago, and this is something, I've started researching recently, is thinking about educators themselves as subjects. And they are not, a kind of a transcendental necessarily group of people. There are thousands and more fantastic teachers out there, definitely. But there are also some truly, truly awful teachers [chuckle] out there, who are educators, because they enjoy the discipline, they enjoy the sadism, they enjoy the, kind of making students lives hard, they enjoy the egotistical side of feeling like they are the most knowledgeable person in the room. Even anecdotally thinking about teachers, that get excited about making a child cry, because they shout them so much, or there's this thing in the UK called, no smiles till Christmas, where some teachers, they say, "Don't smile until we get to Christmas." So that all my students know that, I have a real hard ass, and they're gonna to get a kick from this kind of sadistic desire.

0:35:40.5 DS: And so, the position of the educator is a slightly corruptible position in that sense. And so that's always gonna to be a bit of an issue really. And critical pedagogy itself, it's become this kind of symbol more than praxis, often, does it actually fit in the school? Does it actually kind of get used properly? And could it be used properly on a kind of a mass scale? And so that kind of starts to open up some of the other problems and possibilities. Ron Cey, who's another French theorist. He talks about pedagogy without an educator. That will be the truly most radical liberal form of form of pedagogy that actually, how could we do it without an educator? I mean, I don't know [chuckle] You could do that. I think, a lot of what Fisher talks about with popular culture is really important in that sense, maybe we'll come back to that in a minute. But I think, actually that removing the educator kind of starts to challenge that that issue that I've raised.

0:36:38.2 CM: Sure.

0:36:40.1 DS: But also I think, a lot of liberatory pedagogy, is something that can't necessarily be bottled. And this is also something that Ron Cey talks about that. That to institutionalize education, and whenever I use the word education, really, I'm always thinking about it with a capital E as this institutionalized thing. And it's impossible to break free from that institutionalized way of thinking about it. Because whenever somebody says, "Oh, we need to educate people more." That means, it needs to be in an institutionalized fashion. And that's where, these kind of liberatory experiences can't really take place, because suddenly, all the issues of schooling, that we have come into it, as soon as you start to try and institutionalize anything liberatory. To me, at least, I think, it becomes far more kind of oppressive and stratified and hierarchized and tax randomized, kind of all the problems that we have schooling at the moment, start to arise again.

0:37:27.8 DS: And so critical pedagogy though, brilliance on its own, can we make it work in the kind of systematized manner, that it would be needed, to have the kind of wholesale effects that we want, maybe you can. Maybe I'm being pessimistic because ultimately at the moment, there's not even anything close to that within universities and with schooling. And so maybe this wholesale re-imagining of teacher training and university educating in that system would start to see those differences take place perhaps. But my experiences in the classroom haven't always told me that it will necessarily work as the system that will change everything, and that will kind of leads towards this radical future that it's kind of hoped from it.

0:38:19.5 CM: There's two things that you're talking about here that are, I think, interesting to note and I think it would be probably interesting in kind of dissect these. The first is that concept of, I guess, the teacher as liberator, or at least seeing themselves as such versus the teacher that upholds the system and the connection between those who... As used the word sadistically, see their students tend to, at least in my experience, when you talk to those teachers, the reason why they act like that is that they are very trustworthy of a meritocracy. They very much believe that by instilling a very I guess, aggressive tone with students, that they are preparing these students for the workforce or for the future, because that's how "life really is."

0:39:07.3 CM: And it's all very much centered on the idea of not re-imagining. This is how the world is, this is how it's gonna be. And by doing this, I am making the world a better place. And that's kind of how that seen versus kind of the... I guess the opposite angle at its extreme would be someone like Freire who even though they are an educator in the space, they see their role as almost de-programming the existing structure, as in they are attempting to make themselves no longer useful, they are trying to eliminate their own position, which is, it's kind of odd, but in a system that's so large that's probably would never happen in someone's lifetime.

0:39:46.8 DS: Yeah, yeah.

0:39:47.9 CM: It would take a lot of work. I think that kind of building off of that, one of the things that concerns me about critical pedagogy beyond its ability to change at a mass scale, is its ability to remain relevant in a space that tends to attract this idea like a post-truth, I guess. Critical pedagogy is very much involved in the critical race theory arguments, it's very... Marx in general has been kind of weaponized as this word that doesn't really mean anything, it's just kind of like, "This is bad because it's Marx." Or "this is bad because it's critical.

0:40:28.1 DS: Yeah, they become floating signifiers that kind of any issue that somebody might have gets kind of bundled into without... The original meaning of it is completely disappeared, that it's been replaced by all these other nefarious concepts that are bundled into it painted as these kind of bogey men of the education system. Which of course, with every year, whether a new bogey man as well, the Critical Race Theory is the current one that kind of very right-leaning individuals are claiming is the thing is coming to destroy education system, and of course, Marx has performed that role in the past and cultural Marxism has also been described that way in the past as well. That there will always be something that will act in that way, definitely.

0:41:11.2 DS: The big irony being, of course, actually, as we've said, [chuckle] education is a real great prop of capitalism and so, although lots of right-wing individuals are trying to claim that education as being corrupted by these forces, actually education is doing a really good job of upholding capitalism in all the strongest ways possible. So it's a real kind of crazy claim, really.

0:41:32.4 CM: The confusing parts begins to be like, "How do you convince people to take this on when what we're talking about is the thing that they're afraid of?" So up until this point, everything has been... Like critical race theory, in concept is not really something to be scared of. But when we start talking about to these folks, "Hey, we're talking about ending capitalism." That's way far out there in comparison to anything that at least how CRT manifests itself in the classroom besides even getting at. And just kind of the bill of that for one second. I don't know, I guess, this isn't my opinion, but the concept of having an educator almost is needed even if it's not by its traditional role or by its traditional term, just because how else would you de-program someone into thinking differently when, especially when you're young, all you've ever seen and heard is within that system. I think about almost like indigenous ways of knowing.

0:42:33.0 CM: Before capitalism, there were educators, they were elders, they were folks that you would talk to and they would teach you the ways of the world. And even though it's not like an educator, at least in terms of schooling, it is still someone who kind of informs your ways of knowing and that that role has always kind of had... To my knowledge in every culture, even beyond culture of capitalism, he's always been someone who's told you like, "Hey, this is the way things are." So as a result... I don't know, I feel like you'd almost have to have someone there to tell you like, "Hey, things could be better, things can be different and things can be re-imagined and here are the tools to get there, and I'm gonna attempt to get me out of the picture, so you can do it."

0:43:10.6 DS: [laughter] Yeah, if that's how it could go, then that would be great. And I suppose one of the things that I've been pushing back against is that that's not... Doesn't tend to be how things go. But if you are talking about that kind of figure, and that's when the kind of Fisher comes back in the picture really, that I think he really kind of exemplifies that, that figure that you're talking about, of course. Again, how do you make sure you've got 20 million Mark Fishers knocking around to be able to educate everybody, I don't think this is necessarily a possible thing that these are contingent individuals like Freire and like Hux, that they are formed by a set of contingent circumstances that they're not generated by a linear path that we can just kind of recreate every time if we wanted more individuals like that. And that's of course, one of the issues or something like teacher training, that it can never produce those individuals necessarily, because it's not just that training program that creates them.

0:44:08.3 DS: But that's not to say that we still can't use them as good models and perhaps people can aspire to act more in their educating and that are certainly better than a lot of what we have at the moment. That's for sure. And I think that some of the things that we were talking about earlier are good models for that in terms of bringing those kind of hauntological ideas into the classroom and thinking about getting a more kind of clear understanding of what does your future look like and how could your future be imagined differently. And what I think not just the future, but the past as well, what have your past has been erased? So what are the ghosts of the past that are still haunting you as well? And this is something that curriculum does, of course, 'cause curriculum is very, very narrow set of generally speaking kind of patriarchal and very, very kind of Eurocentric ideas. And so in a sense that there is a sense of killing that has happened by the curriculum it's haunted by ghosts of things that it has destroyed. And so that's obviously an important aspect of that as well as kind of coming to terms with those ghosts that have been instituted by the curriculum, but also the sense of understanding what has been done in the past and kind of confronting those ideas. I think that's something that Fisher should does really well as well.

0:45:35.2 DS: And of course, something that has been talked about quite a lot at the moment in more kind of mainstream discourse in terms of decolonization, for example, and of obviously of course that would be a good piece of practice for this sort of thinking.

0:45:46.8 CM: Right. And it's one of those things where it seems like to me that the purpose of this for your average every day, like K through 12 teacher is really just like the moral of the story is to question and theorize what it is that you're doing and whether or not it's leading to the outcomes that you anticipate, or whether it's leading to the outcomes that that system is already dictated for you, which is more of a reflection or a practice in reflection than it is a literal question that you can answer. It's an ability to think differently about the world, even though the end goal would be great to imagine an actual difference. Yeah.

0:46:26.8 DS: Yeah. I think that's exactly right, that it's that constant sort of reminder of rethinking and questioning, not just the thing that you are doing in the classroom, lots of good teachers will do that all the time. They're teaching a text or they're teaching a theory or they're teaching historical event, and of course they will rethink and interrogate that, but also the kind of the structures that come around it more broadly that, "Okay, well, we are looking at the French revolution today. Okay. So we're gonna rethink, and we're gonna question that, but we're also gonna rethink, and we're gonna re-question the sense of understanding French history." We're gonna rethink the sense of history itself. We're gonna rethink the sense of teaching itself and why are we in this classroom together and who are these people and why are we put in this form? And why am I put in the position of power here? And there is this constant sense of engaging with structure.

0:47:14.9 DS: And then the reality, the realism of that structure, which comes right back to Capitalist Realism that we're talking about at the beginning. It's constantly trying to engage with the way that we see the world. And that includes every aspect of it. It's very easy in the classroom to kind of get sucked into what needs to be done, which is getting students through their exams. And that is something that all teachers, not any could be able to easily free themselves from anytime soon. But nevertheless, I do think there's always room for this kind of broader rethinking and challenging of structures. And that's something that we see in Fisher all the time in all of his teaching and in his books. Even in some of his kind of weird stuff that some... One of the things I really love of Mark Fisher's is he did this audio essay called on banishing land.

0:48:00.9 DS: And it's kind of has all these eerie tracks playing, and it's kind of got this part narrative part theory, and it's just this really, really weird bit of pedagogy in the end that it kind of gets you thinking about, "Well, if the way that he's seen the world is in this kind of weird strange way." And so maybe, I should start looking it that way. And then you start to challenge, well, actually, what kind of form should essays come in and could this, it starts to rethink that structure. And I started doing loads of audio essays of my own now, 'cause I'm just completely fall in love with the idea. [chuckle] So I just like putting music to my own voice apparently, but nonetheless it's these kind of slightly stranger ideas that perhaps get her to rethink the structures when the structure itself that it's being presented in is challenged.

0:48:47.5 DS: I talk a lot about Brecht in my article as well, because Brecht was someone that did that so well, that was always trying to kind of challenge political structures and the rise of fascism. But he was doing that through theater and would often really challenge kind of what theater was, and it kind of keeps making a step back distancing from theater and that Ingers think about what it is and what are we watching here and to keep that distance from it. And so again, I'm sort of wondering how those ideas could be transposed into the classroom as well.

0:49:17.9 CM: Yeah. And I think that that's probably a good note to almost end on, is that concept of, well, where do I start? So if this is something that I'm interested in, where does the rabbit hole begin because as you mentioned, like the audio essay is, so I've listened to that and it's, I don't know if that's a good place to start 'cause I feel like the average person won't know what that is.

0:49:34.3 DS: No, it's not a good place to start, it's good. Everyone should listen to it and they should especially listen to it near Halloween, 'cause it's spooky as hell. But I don't think it would be the place to start. I think everybody could and should read Capitalist Realism 'cause it's very short, it's like a hundred pages. It's got loads of really great complex theory that we've actually been talking about without giving the names too much. Things like Daryn Daryn and Laconia and Dulus and that kind of thing. But they're made really, really digestible through these great pop culture examples. And actually he looks at pop culture itself as the thing, it's not just theories looking at pop culture. Pop culture itself is really important to Fisher. And there's loads of tales from the classroom as well that he talks about his time as an educator.

0:50:18.3 DS: And so I think that's a really good place to start for anybody is to recap his realism, 'cause it's so short and these theories can be really useful for rethinking things. Bell Hooks talks about theory as radical practices and Fisher makes that very, very clear in his work. That theory is a really, really powerful tool for helping us rethink these structures. And he makes that theory so accessible that perhaps that's a good enough reason in itself to read some of his work.


0:50:51.4 CM: Thank you again for listening to Human Restoration Projects podcast. I hope that this conversation leaves you inspired and right at push the progressive envelope of education. You can learn more about progressive education, support our cause and stay tuned to this podcast and other updates on our website at

Chris McNutt
Chris McNutt is the co-founder and executive director of Human Restoration Project, a nonprofit organization focused on student engagement, well-being, and motivation. His work centers on realizing systems-based change, examining how progressive pedagogical shifts (e.g. PBL, ungrading) reimagine school to best suit the needs of students and teachers alike. He was a public high school digital media & design educator who focused on experiential learning, portfolio-driven assessment, and community involvement.
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