120: A Pedagogy of Love w/ Dr. Antonia Darder

Chris McNutt
October 20, 2022
Combating the inhospitable and increasingly individualized notions of the school system.

00:06.7 Chris McNutt: Hello and welcome to Episode 120 of our podcast. My name is Chris McNutt, and I'm part of the Progressive Education non-profit Human Restoration Project. Before we get started, I wanted to let you know that this is brought to you by our supporters, three of whom are Connie Fletcher, Savanna Leigh and Ryan Boring. 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.


0:00:46.5 CM: On today's podcast, we are joined by Dr. Antonia Darder. Antonia is an internationally recognized activist scholar and Professor Emerita at Loyola Marymount University where for more than a decade, she held the Leavey Presidential Endowed Chair of Ethics and Moral Leadership, spanning over four decades, she has worked to counter social and material inequities in schools in society, including through critical scholarship, activism and authoring books such as Reinventing Paulo Freire: A Pedagogy of Love, A Dissident Voice; Essays on Culture, Pedagogy, and Power, and Culture and Difference: Critical Perspectives on the Bicultural Experience in the United States. Further, she wrote and produced a student community-driven, award-winning documentary, The Pervasiveness of Oppression. It's a true honor to have you on the podcast Antonia, thank you for being here.

0:01:31.5 Dr. Antonia Darder: Thank you, Chris, I'm happy to be here. I mean, always when we can get a chance to talk about issues that are important and have a little bit of dialogue that often we don't... We get so busy in other places, but this is a great moment to just stop for a bit and have a chat, so I like that.

0:01:52.1 CM: I figured we just open up a broad question to frame, what we're talking about. What makes you do this work? What's the purpose of education? What's really driving you forward to keep pushing for this work when it's so difficult yet yet so needed?

0:02:04.6 AD: I think for me, it's all related to my lived experience, I grew up very, very poor, I grew up in very, very difficult conditions. I sometimes talk about my childhood being kind of growing up in a war zone but in the Urban war zone, and that... What I always felt was that there was something different, there was a different way for us to be able to live, and there was different opportunities that we were not having... Even if you saw the television even back in the '60s, there was... Our families did not look like Donna Reed, all that kind of stuff, right? You had to be very... And I was like, What? But there was a sense that there was something in-between all of that, that had to do within our communities and outside of our communities, but not a real clear sense of that until little by little, becoming more politicized and becoming more aware of the way that the larger societal issues, impact on our community and the impact on us as individuals in a whole lot of different ways, particularly for me as Puerto Rican.

0:03:20.3 AD: I was born, colonized, I still consider myself a colonized subject, as long as Puerto Rico is not independent and continues to be treated as a stepchild. It's a colony of the United States you can use common language, but it's a colony... Well, the way it's treated is absolutely in colonial terms. And so for me, understanding myself from that context and but then coming to the States and growing up here and dealing with what it means to live in poverty. To go to schools where there were some good teachers, always there's some good teachers, but there were a lot of teachers who treated us, many of us, and I know, I felt that personally, that somehow we were dumb, we were not intelligent, not capable, somehow we were deficient. And there was no sense of ever engaging what was really going on in our lives, whether you know, what was going on in our families in terms of poverty and what was going on in our communities and the lack of resources and access that we had. So for me, all of that became very fertile material for me to learn and to grow, and it also inspired me.

0:04:42.8 AD: I believed it could be different. I believed that we had to be willing to struggle to change the world, and as I grew and as I developed, I came across people, and books, and conversations, and social movement work that very much reinforced that that was the truth. That we were capable of creating a different kind of world, this world that we were living in was not a bateau complet as they say. Or Freire would say it wasn't finished, it was an unfinished world. And so the in dealing with the unfinishedness, it also meant a kind of personal responsibility. What was my responsibility in my work, in my life, in my relationships to be able to contribute to making the kind of world that I felt that we needed and that I wanted for my children that's a better way of putting my children and later my grandchildren? I have had five grand daughters, so I see how things continue and believe that in fact, we have a role to play as historical subjects of history as Freire would put it and that we do that by understanding that our responsibilities as subjects of history is not only in relationship with our own lives, that all the lives we touch and that we live in an interdependent world despite whatever is said, and so learning to work with others and to struggle with others became a really powerful impetus for me in my work.

0:06:21.7 CM: That point you make about building a better world, it's such an interesting statement when you juxtapose it next to the mission statements of schools that often say something like, preparing students for the future, which translates to jobs in STEM, preparing good listeners, those that could easily listen on the job and to be more radical for a second, those who could easily be exploited, and that fit within that system. So therefore it shouldn't be surprising, given the world that we see today, what happens when you explicitly focus on STEM job-based career readiness, et cetera?

0:06:56.5 AD: Well, I think the first place we start is the purpose. What is our purpose for education? Why the hell are we doing this? Why do we have schools and all of this? And why do we fight for schools? Because I think that's an important question. What are we fighting for in those schools and why we... Paulo was very adamant. People like Giroux and others are very adamant that schools are sites for struggle, they're terrains of struggle, and that we need to continue to struggle for the public because that's part of the reality of our lives. And it is a means by which we can work and that we can transform society. So the purpose of why we do education or what education's for, for me, has always been to support the evolution of our humanity, to support students in developing their capacities to contribute to the world in ways that have firm relationships of love and compassion, solidarity across all relationships and across communities that we have. We have to be prepared for that. That it doesn't just happen. We don't just learn how to do relationships. Relationships are powerful means by which we transform and recreate the world. So for people who don't want anything to do with the relationships, which is part of the problem, we have a kind of schooling that is very autocratic. We have a kind of schooling that's very instrumental, particularly for oppressed communities.

0:08:31.4 AD: And what we began to see is that there is a purpose for those... For that approach, because if you don't really want people to participate in transforming or having any real participation in changing the world, you're gonna wanna keep them in a very fragmented sense of understanding the world. So, so much of this work is about, how do we recognize that the labor for ourselves and each other is powerful and effective and compelling ways for us to be able to see that we are fully interdependent human beings, that cultivating solidarity and compassion and kindness is an important step in transforming the inequalities and injustice in the world, and that begins in our relationship with children. So our relationship with students, it doesn't begin when they're in high school or when they get to college. It has to begin from the very get-go of education, and so the purpose then becomes important because it's going to shape how we teach. It's gonna shape what we think is important. And I think one of the pieces that is always interesting to me, so much of education has been about reading and writing, reading and writing. And I think that we can't accomplish a kind of humanizing education unless we become literate in the ways of mind, of the heart, of the body and spirit.

0:09:55.2 AD: I see those as human faculties. They're just part of who we are as human beings, they're there, they're resources for us to be able to evolve and develop, and that they work in integral ways to help us in creating a good life and creating... What a good life is for me is where there are relationships, where we are nurtured and we can cultivate opportunities to work and do labor that makes us happy, that makes us feel connected to each other and to the world itself. So I think that when we think of literacy, we need to change how we think of literacy. We need to do this literacy that goes beyond simply reading and writing. And we have to be willing to embrace what many of us call a decolonizing and a multidimensional approach in how we express, for example, in ethics of humanity. How do we understand in ethics of humanity in this very multidimensional way. So we're not thinking, "Oh, there's one way to be a human being, or there's one way to make the world better." That's not what I'm talking about. What I'm talking about is creating a dynamic context and dynamic reality that is anchored in relationships of love and understanding and compassion, and true sense of caring for one another.

0:11:21.1 AD: We need to care about each other. And at the very moment that there are people that we don't care about, we need to ask ourselves in what way we are participating in perpetuating oppression out in the world. So this is dialectical relationship, understanding ourselves as individuals and understanding the world. I think that this... The other element that often is lost here and is really important to our work is that there is this delicate ecological existence that we are part of. And often that element is not even really brought forth in education or in the preparation of teachers, that we understand the classroom as an ecology. That everyone involved in one way or another is being touched and moved. It's not a hierarchical relationship where it's just the teacher doing... In having an impact on the students. And in fact, it is an ecological process, and that if it is a hierarchical relationship, the teacher themselves is being affected as well, in a sense, hardening their heart, hardening their sense of being the expert and the one who should have the power.

0:12:35.5 AD: They're being affected whether they wanna see it that way or not, and of course, students are being affected in terms of how that particular system within a classroom is allowing them to have voice or is giving them an opportunity to participate or an opportunity to have... To really feel that they have some ability to move around the classroom and to be part of creating the life of the classroom rather than the life of the classroom being created upon them. So many of these elements to me then is about deeply understanding how culture and power works. So you can see why that's such an important aspect of my work and how it's enacted than within the context of education in, very often, very dehumanizing and traumatic ways, particularly for students who reside within racialized and economically oppressed communities. And I think that's one of the hardest things for teachers to come to terms with, that many of the things they think are good for them, they're doing it for their good, are actually very autocratic and actually re-traumatize students or traumatize them within the context of education.

0:13:45.9 CM: Yeah, as opposed to preparing students for a better world than diving into what exactly does that mean. Obviously, a lot of your work is inspired by Paulo Freire as well as other folks in the critical pedagogy space. In Reinventing Paulo Freire, one of the books that you wrote, it really resonated with me because I read it after we had already founded our non-profit, which is called Human Restoration Project, and the language of that book is just... I wish I would have read the book first because our name could be based on scholarship and is not a fun, cool name. One of the chapters in the book is called restoring our humanity, and talking about what that means, and it seems evident that restoring our humanity is linked to creating a better world. In the chapter, you use a terminology like revolutionary praxis or a pedagogy of love or a pedagogy hope, what does that mean? Or how do we build a better future through the classroom? Where do we start with that?

0:14:40.0 AD: Right. I think it's easier for me... If we can have a long conversation so I can kind of respond to what you're saying, because I think the point you're making is super important, and then I'll try to get back to it if I remember, you remind me if I don't. But I think that the point that you're making is an essential one and one that often gets completely missed. There's still this attitude... The colonizing attitude of schools is that they are doing for, they're doing for the community, they are doing for the student. There's not a sense that there is a relationship here and that the school is as much... Can be as much nourished and nurtured by what the students and the family and the community bring to the school. It always tends to be the going out, which is part of the problem. So then you have parents, working class parents... We have to understand that often what they're talking about is how they were educated. They were educated in that way, and they were told that this is doing your homework and this, and following the rules and all of that, that's how you're gonna get a job and bla bla bla bla.

0:15:53.2 AD: So I think that the first thing that we have to understand is their lived history and where they're coming from. The other thing we have to deal with is that we often want to make these changes in the curriculum or wanna bring these different ideas to the students and the parents are completely left out of the equation. So they're never invited, there's never an in tandem kind of dialogue going on with the parents, so the parents feel... The parents are put on the outside, and their only way to re-assert themselves into the conversation is to say, "Well, wait a minute, I don't know what you're doing here." And there's no engaging the parents in a way that helps them to see and also experience not just... Just by telling them that actually experiencing how the kind of education that you're trying to do with their children is actually going to not only allow students to know how to deal with whatever the boundaries are in a work situation but allow them to actually have critical abilities, critical capacities to engage what is happening in their workplace and to actually be able to transform it. Or even to begin to believe that they may be able to do other things that are more in-line with who they are, who that child is.

0:17:20.9 AD: Every parent... I've never known a parent, for example, who said they didn't want their kid to go to college, so that's a... But there seldom are conversations with working class parents early on in terms of preparing children to become critical, so that when they go into university, they're able to really have an empowered sense of themselves. That they can understand that they have the right to participate in their own learning and it starts early on. So I think one of the pieces that your comment brings up for me is that we cannot ignore our responsibility to have communication, schools and community, teachers with parents, and that parents should not be seen as a stumbling block to children's education. Parents should be seen as absolutely needing and wanting to be a part of their children's education, and we have to create the avenues for that.

0:18:27.0 AD: Unfortunately, we're dealing with structures that don't often allow, they don't allow dialogue between parents and teachers. They don't allow dialogue between teachers and teachers themselves. And I feel that often, that structure, which is very hierarchical, very autocratic, it is done on purpose because if people start engaging each other around common concerns and common desires and dreams and visions, they become dangerous because then they realize, "Well, what? This doesn't have to be this way." They begin to say... They begin to question it and say, "Well, why is this this way? Why can't we change it?" And as soon as you get to that place, often what you have is a lot of pushback, so people will say, "Well, we want... " I'll give you an example, in Chicago a number of years ago, back in the 80s, they had the local school councils and they... Which were supposed to give more power to the community. So the community was going to be able to get involved so for example, at Puerto Rican Cultural Center, who's had an incredible, I mean, it's just incredible work in Chicago, but they saw that as, okay we're... As a community, we're gonna get involved in those local school councils and they had... The local school councils could hire and fire, they could engage questions of curriculum, just all sorts of things.

0:20:03.0 AD: Well, of course, what happened as they began to get very involved and begin to ask for more culturally appropriate kinds of curriculum and other opportunities for their children etcetera, that they got strong and pretty soon there was backlash, there was definitely backlash, and now essentially those councils, they had to restructure everything because there was so much strength that was being built. What people have done, of course, that they're just like, "Okay, we'll work another way," and they keep kind of moving but what I'm trying to say is that the structure of schools inherently as they exist are not democratic. So we can talk about democratic schooling all we want, but if we don't deal with the fact that we have structures that are fundamentally undemocratic, then what we have to understand is the structures are part of what produce what happens.

0:21:12.9 AD: Because the structures also produce the relationships that we're allowed to have, whether it's between teachers and students, between teachers and teachers, teachers and administration, teachers and community, and I think that so much of our capacity to think more multidimensionally about how schools exist in communities, in addition to that, the part of what happens with parents is that there's all this talk about the children and trying these new things with their children and stuff but there's never a lot of conversation about asking the parents what's going on in your lives, what are things that... What are you needing? How can we, as a school community, parent-school community, address some of the other issues?

0:22:07.2 AD: And part of what happens with that is just the way it happens in the classroom, it happens out in the world. There's a fragmentation of how we deal with the needs of human beings. So you either you're looking at health and you're looking at health here in a very isolated way. You're looking at economic development, it's over here in a very isolated way. Seldom is there this truly multidimensional lens that helps us to position schools within a larger liberatory structure that would be necessary in order for us to create truly just environments, just and loving worlds [chuckle] in which we could exist and where we could begin to feel that sense of empowerment and participation and find the ways in which then young people come to recognize the world as theirs.

0:23:00.1 AD: That this life, this world that we exist, it's ours. Nobody... People who run around because they're wealthy and rich and that they somehow own it, part of our struggle is how do we begin to feel, no, we own the world, all of us together and begin to push back against those very hierarchical and privileged and very unjust forms of life that have become just kind of second nature in the society.

0:23:33.8 CM: The point you're making about the flourishing notions of the classroom when you remove a lot of those barriers to learning, I think are very self evident. I used to teach ninth grade, and of course that was part of a new building for them. That's the high school section of the building, our class was fairly progressive. Students had a lot of selection over what they were doing, they voted on curriculum. A lot of it was ungraded and project-based, and a lot of it was social justice driven. Folks were learning about queer artists, black artists, indigenous artists, etcetera and it's amazing what kids would do when they're exposed to situations that are open-ended like this.

0:24:08.2 CM: The quality of what they do when they're working the interest in them in their community is astonishing, it makes you wanna come in every single day, however, there were also circumstances where the student, or maybe their family didn't buy into those ideas about shifting those systems within the school. There were many circumstances where parents would question our grading policy or our discipline policy, they would say that it wasn't robust or harsh enough, it wasn't harsh like a typical school would be. And it was worth noting that a lot of these concerns came from working class families. The argument being that the workplace, which of course is super dehumanizing, the workplace would need kids to learn this because that's just how things are. And we know that our work is rooted in helping students learn how to channel their energy toward changing that system but that's a difficult narrative to someone who's working multiple jobs, who's struggling financially day after day, who wants a better future for their kids.

0:25:03.3 CM: It's a risk for them to invest in a school which may not be seen as like "college and career ready". How do you then shift that purpose of school and have a discussion with families beyond just changing teachers minds, you have to also help families and students be onboarded to this practice. Yeah when you fail to see things in the systems that lead to a lot of banal platitudes about school in general, things like you're talking about screen time, phone use, reading test scores, the ACT scores, things that could lead to probably better testing sure, but it's not gonna lead to meaningful change, especially for students at the boundaries where those things were often intentionally designed to keep people out so of course they're not working. The case in point example would be poverty as a concept. So many educational policies are taken with a sole reason of helping students escape poverty, not recognizing that poverty is a... Political, it's a policy decision, it's not an individual decision that teachers will somehow solve.

0:26:05.0 AD: Manufacturing Consent, a Chomsky term. People don't want to use it because even in their purchase, it's like, "Oh, the poor will always be with us." Well, shit, why? Why should the poor rule always be with us? We have the capacity to transform the way money is distributed, and the way wealth is distributed, we have the capacity to do that. It is just that how we're educated and the ways in which we're in many ways channeled in life. Because, education becomes a kind of interesting, you talk about tracking within the school, but it's more about tracking beyond schools that we need to look at. I remember, I was at some event, and it was, oh was it The Princess Bride? My kids love The Princess Bride, that film. So, it was the director. This is one thing as you start getting old at 70s, so this... I forget the names, but the director... Oh gosh, anyway, the director and I can't remember whether it was a writer of the script or...

0:27:17.6 CM: Rob Reiner?

0:27:18.9 AD: Yeah, Rob Reiner thank you. Rob Reiner was right. And so what was interesting is that both of these guys are having a conversation up on the stage, and different things about that. But, what starts to come out is that they both come from families of wealthy families and who were in the business. And then I singled that, that just clicked with me. And then I started to think about this and I started to look how different people get positioned. And I realized, my goodness, whether you're talking about attorneys, whether you're talking about the film industry, actors, educators, there is a tendency for people to follow in familial lines at levels that we don't acknowledge.

0:28:07.3 AD: We pretend "Oh like, you can be anything you want." No, no, the truth of the matter is, some people actually have a head start at that. Because well, the experiences and the opportunities that their families provided for them. And so I think it works on all sorts of levels, and so knowledge then... There's an interesting way in which the knowledge gets tracked from the get-go. And so, if we really wanted to begin to open that up, we'd have to begin to see why is it that certain people end up, are more likely to be able to follow certain paths in terms of work, and others are not, or opportunities, and others are not. Those those questions become important, and then of course, there's always the stuff that I've had got, had to deal with when people are like, "Oh well, you grew up so poor, and look at you," and then I'm like I'm damn accident by history.

0:29:11.8 AD: There's some few of us that we just happened to [chuckle] somehow be in the right place at the right time. But, rather than taking that on and feeling like, "Oh yes, of course, I could do it, so if I... " and it's like there's relationships and realities and conditions, the best conditions that are there that have an impact on our lives. It's not just what's happening individually in our head or in our own little life, if we are linked to all these other conditions that are at work that are having an impact on our lives. And, I think that it is a way of thinking, it's a different way of thinking about the world. But, I believe it's the way we need to think, if in fact we are serious about wanting to create a better world, a more loving world.

0:30:09.5 AD: We have to deal with aggression, for example, within schools, there is so much aggression and people don't... Because an autocratic form of education, inherent in that is an aggression because it requires in order to maintain the structure unequal, uneven. There's going to be ways in which there's just an aggressive kind of pushing back any time someone wants to get out there. So, try to organize, so they have more more to say about what's going on in their classroom. You see it immediately, you see it immediately or students. It's a very interesting kind of process, but it has to do with the manner in which also aggression happens in some subtle ways. And I think, it happens in the classroom by the way that kids are talked to, or teachers trying to be funny like they're gonna be funny, and then they make fun of students, and it's like, "Oh, they can take it," there's a lot of bullshit ideas.

0:31:13.2 AD: There's no other way to put it, just ridiculous ideas about how to be with students that is just absolutely shameful and disgraceful. And yet, teachers are taught, are somehow given the green light to persist, they're not called on them. We have heard teachers yelling, yelling. I've come to the belief, and part of it is the hard work that I've done internally, which I believe teachers have to do their own internal work. Because we all get triggered. A kid can trigger us. That we need to take responsibility as the adult in that classroom or as the person who is there as a teacher has a responsibility to facilitate the well-being of kids. And I don't think, you do that by yelling at them to get over there. I think we have to begin to see that we ourselves have been duped into believing that aggressive ways of talking to each other and being with each other is the only way we can control these kids, kinda thing.

0:32:28.9 AD: And it's not true, that my experience has been completely different when I'm dealing with children. When children feel recognized and heard, when they're engaged in a consistent way, because then of course what happens is, if a kid, if kids have been used to being yelled at or... And a teacher all of a sudden starts to comes... [laughter] It happens when a teacher kids have been in a classroom that has been pretty aggressive and pretty oppressive. And then they come, you probably know this one, and they come into a classroom and the teacher is really working to kind of democratize the process. Give kids more. Well, at first it's chaos and we should not be surprised. Because the kids are like, "What? What the hell's going on here?" And they're pushing back and they're doing all of that. But our willingness to stay with the vision and to stay with the work and the process of creating space is like, we gotta listen to them. We have to stay with it.

0:33:15.2 AD: And what happens is relationships are powerful when they're genuine, then those relationships begin to evolve and they get a substance to it. And that substance between the teacher's relationship with the kids and kids' relationships with each other in the classroom where a sense of community is being built and that kind of thing. It transforms the experience of learning. And then it's something that you said earlier that they will do like 10 times anything you expected from them. It is powerful. It is amazing. And it is like the superpower that most people refuse and maybe they don't... I shouldn't say they refuse. Maybe they've been taught that relationships are dangerous. If we think about what happens in terms of teaching this professionalization of teaching, to me is another piece of bullshit.

0:34:13.4 AD: But anyway, the professionalization, any professionalization, what that's talking about always that you should somehow maintain that hierarchical place as the expert or... And that you should distance, so the relationship that you have, you have to create a distance with the kids because that's how they're gonna respect you and blah, blah, blah. All this, it's all this nonsense that people believe and it's not been interrogated and it just isn't true. It isn't true. That fearing a teacher is not the same thing like respecting and loving that teacher and being, happy to be in school. It's a very, very different relationship. And so I'm talking about placing a focus on these relationships where a sense of intimacy and presence and honesty and faith in the student's capacity is like at the center. And that we trust that there's an organic human process that's always at work that we're all gonna learn together as a... And what's been taken away from us. That's when life happens. Life happens in relationship. All of these rules, all these other, all this stuff that's created it is to try to control life.

0:35:25.2 AD: To try to structure it and control it in ways that actually don't work. And I'm not... I don't wanna be somebody to think that I'm saying we don't need structures. We need structures. The structures are gonna be there anyway. Nature has structures, but we need structures that are life-affirming, structures that really allow people to open up, to grow, to evolve and to participate as true genuine human beings with each other and the world. And, and this means then that through that intimacy, those relationships get established. We have to be willing to see everything. The good, I always say the good, the bad and ugly. And that's why we have so many problems, because we're not, these damn TV shows and all this bullshit media that... It has such a corrupting impact on people's understanding what human relationships are about.

0:36:18.6 AD: They don't happen. And love does not happen in 45 minutes or an hour, an hour and a half. And that's not the way it happens. Friendship doesn't happen that way. There's this like craggy paths we have to go through together. And it's because we go together, we labor in... Whether in the classroom or in the community, we labor together for common goals and common desires and needs that we come to understand each other and we begin then to relate to each other in ways that transforms us. So it's not just about transforming something out there. It is, we ourselves have to struggle for our own transformation. And it's hard. And it's hard to do because often people wanna keep us in our little box.

0:37:05.1 AD: That's the other thing that happens. As soon as you start to shine, they wanna keep you in your damn little box. And to fight yourself out of your box, is an inside job in a sense. Because, and the reason I say that is that it starts in here. I have to like really face why am I believing, the... All of these limitations that are being put on me. Where is this fear coming from? And as a woman, as a working class woman working in the academy for almost 40 years, I cannot tell you the brutality, [laughter], and the cruelty that I had to contend with because my political project was outside of a main street. And you'll hear that.

0:37:50.6 AD: But then the worst part about it is when people who are on that main, are in the margins, are fighting each other because they never learned how to have real relationships, genuine relationships. So then we wanna talk about schooling and we don't... And we leave that piece completely out of it. The political life is a particular relationship. It has to do with power and how power gets distributed and how it moves in communities. So I think that for us to not look seriously at questions of relationships and the ways that people are traumatized and the ways in which people can be supported and in which, we talk about empowering kids. I don't wanna empower kids, I wanna create conditions, the kids will empower themselves, they will. People wanna feel good. They want that... They will. I don't know. It's like why I've never been able to let go of this faith that I have, that we have a tremendous capacity in us to...


0:39:03.5 AD: I'm sorry. But it's just there's always a sense they have to lead us with a ring or something or leash. They have to whip us into submission. And what we're doing is we have to fight. We have to fight that it's all lies. And we will not be able to move away from the kind of society that we have until we realize that those particular attitudes do not serve the majority of human beings. They serve the few who want to maintain power and control over resources, over... Including humanity. And the only way that we will be able to move forward in a different way is by refusing to remain in those limited definitions that have been created for us and be willing to really step into the fact that we as human beings have enormous potential, enormous super power, that is tied to our capacity to build solidarity and relationships in community with one another. I would want every student to come out of my classroom being revived in the sense of understanding that communities, that we can build different kind of communities, and that communities begin with ourselves, and how we show up, how we are present, and our willingness to love, not to be afraid of loving.

0:40:37.1 AD: And yeah, you're gonna get hurt, yeah. If we have real community we support each other through those pains and through those struggles. That's what the kind of solidarity that we need. And so in the classroom with kids, for example, creating the kind of environment where they begin to support each other. And you know that it's possible. Many of us know it's possible because we've done it, and we've done it with students at different ages. So it's not, "Oh they're too little." No, no. Little kids, university students, we all... There's something about our capacity as human beings to respond to love. It is a political force that Freire understood. And when the greatest moments of social movement happened, is that somehow in those moments there is this kind of eros, this kind of love that is felt and that unites us. What is very hard is to sustain it because the structures all around us are doing everything they can to annihilate that level of connection and community between people.

0:41:49.0 CM: To me that's the power in having conversations like this. So I reread, Rethinking Paulo Freire yesterday in preparation for this podcast. And there's moments I'm going through that and it's illuminating, it's reaffirming that I'm not a crazy person. There are real ideas and other people out there that think the same way. Sometimes when we're talking about systems it can almost feel conspiratorial or outlandish. A lot of that's because we were programmed in school to think that the system is working, right? That the hidden curriculum school establishes that because I got good grades that other people deserve to be worse off because I worked hard and they didn't, that kind of stuff. And as you were saying too, the media, the canonical nature of what's taught in schools is backed up by almost modern day Horatio Alger stories. You go on LinkedIn and every post is about how someone picked themselves up by their bootstraps, they became successful, so therefore you can too, or even the literature that's fed to us in schools that feeds us a popular narrative. The book about the kids stuck on the island in their trap.

0:42:50.0 AD: Lord of the Flies.

0:42:50.7 CM: Yeah. Lord of the Flies, yeah. Where they found the actual thing the book was based on and the kids were getting along just fine. They helped each other push through to escape. And it seems like ultimately, when you find people outside of these assumed structures and systems that people tend to be naturally good; They tend to help and assist each other. It's the systems that get in the way that cause greed, individualism and myth of meritocracy which you know is just as problematic as our education system is in general. I guess the last question would be something I was thinking about when you were talking about escaping these systems as a teacher, a parent, a student. You wrote this in one of your books, The Concept of Educating our Fears, which I think is a really cool phrase or a terminology for understanding how do I even do this? Because it's really hard to go against the grain, it's really scary, you get fired. The news would come after you.

0:43:46.7 CM: In today's political climate you could be doxed, people could be outside my house and place me in actual physical danger and I get that. We've gotten phone calls from deranged people who wanna take down the org, that kind of stuff. What does that mean to educate our fears in 2022? Taking that full circle to what the purposes of education, you could certainly make the argument that individualism is an existential threat. It's all about you, you're a self-motivator, and if you get into a position of power you're winning and successful. It's no wonder that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists say that we're 100 seconds to midnight. We're closer than ever to nuclear war, rampant cyber war, an ever growing climate crisis. All of those things have the same thing in common; They're all STEM related. You make the most amount of money really in those kind of careers. But the problems aren't being solved, they're getting worse. Because at the end of the day if that's all that I care about, why would I care about what's going on in another part of the world?

0:44:45.0 CM: Or why would I care that these problems aren't gonna matter to me first, they're gonna matter the most to poor people? It's not my lived experience if I simply just focus on STEM, making money in college and career prep. That grand reimagining of the education system is very much in line to be grandiose, saving the human race which is an obvious... It's a huge thing, but it's empowering as a teacher to consider that when I go into the classroom it's not about just helping kids learn but ensuring that we build a better world together. That's purposeful, it gives me a reason to push forward and do this work. So we're in a time right now when so many folks are burning out faster than ever before, that's partially due to that.

0:45:29.1 CM: That makes me think of one more thing which is that point you just brought up meeting up. Part of the theory of change of our project is that we're in a time of connection like never before because of social media and other virtual spaces. It's only a click away to stay together in this movement and connect with like-minded people for support. The growth of online virtual spaces can be used for evil but also for good, it's a resounding reverberated space or reverberating space for impact. I think about the free schools movement in the '60s and '70s, they were doing a lot of awesome work but ultimately it was so localized, there wasn't an attention to call to it at large and a lot of people were working against it, so it phased out over time. I think establishing that idea today is easier, it's not easy, but it's easier because you can meet with other folks online, other like-minded people, you can access information quickly and realize you're not the only person thinking in this way. That's what gives me hope is leveraging that technology to reimagine education and come together and make change.

0:46:30.1 AD: It's interesting because we always wanna kinda historicize and what does it take now. It takes what it's always taken to come to a place where we understand our fears are linked to our experiences that caused us to believe in that fear. There are experiences that say you should be afraid. Don't go through that door because if you go through that door, the Boogeyman is gonna eat you or whatever. And playing with that as a metaphor but we get a lot of those kinds of messages, we give them in education, where if a student is not doing well, it's such a pity that means that they'll never go to college. That's just ridiculous. Oh, if they didn't learn to read by the time they were 13 they're gonna be illiterate. These are lies, are lies and certain people make a lot of money by perpetuating those lies, the rewards and punishment stuff that goes on that is actually feeds into fear. Rewards and punishment. Don't do that because you're gonna be punished. And so we have to understand that the punishing... That a punishing culture is an aggressive culture, it is a culture of conquest, and it is the manner in which a historical culture of conquest which is what schools are part of, that colonizing culture.

0:48:13.6 AD: It's perpetuated, and so we began as we understand then those relationships that they have to do with the manner in which we are placing these subordinate contexts, then we begin to see that the only way we can transform those... And in fact, the only way that we can deal with our fear truly is both to understand where it originates within us and how it gets triggered, and to understand that in order to engage with that fear in the world we need other people. I think one of the frustrations for me is that sometimes I say something that people just go like, "Ah", and I'm like I don't believe in individuals, I don't believe. I believe that that's one of the biggest ruse that they duped us with this notion of individualism and individuals. Think about it, none of us could exist if it weren't for all sorts of relationships and all sorts of connections in the world. I mean, we can't survive, we survive through those relationships and those connections and all of that, so to teach people that, "Oh, you're an individual, and it's back to your comment about the Horatio Alger story. It's like, Oh.

0:49:35.1 AD: To see yourself that way. Then what it does in many ways, it reduces your capacity for compassion of others because... In your present situation, you can... It fuels a kind of egoic drive and an arrogance about who you are, and I believe that that has so much to do with so many of the problems why relationships are so damn difficult. 'Cause in order to have a relationship you have to be willing to want to relate and allow yourself to be close. It's the same thing like a teacher, the best teachers are the teachers who are close to themselves. They're not afraid to be close to themselves, and they're not afraid to be vulnerable. And the consequences they create relationships where the students feel close to their teacher, like even long after they're not even in the classroom anymore they still feel a sense of love for that teacher. And that's because that teacher allowed them to come close.

0:50:32.4 AD: When we come close to each other, we can deal with our fears together, not as individuals with fear because we understand that the fears that are out there, or the fears that are generated, they have been generated deliberately as forms of suppression. And often we have to look at parenting for example, there's issues around parenting that in the same ways that teachers perpetuate aggressive ways of being and perpetuate ways that perpetuate children's fears, parents do as well, thinking that you're doing it for their own good. We have so much work to...

0:51:13.4 AD: Excuse me, to do. But I know that for myself, if there weren't other people in my life that I trusted, that I felt I could have intimate relationships with, that when I do feel afraid or I'm struggling that I can really open up myself to them, and I know they're not gonna judge me. I know they're always gonna see me as me, and I know that they love me and they have my back because they know that I love them and I have their back. That when we build those kind of relationships then the issue of fear just becomes, "Oh, okay. It's just fear. We're afraid, okay right now I'm really afraid about this or that." We can engage it because we know that love and relationships of love and caring and solidarity are far bigger than any fear that any of us could have. Our relationships of community and solidarity are so much greater. And I think it's one of the lessons that students can learn when we create a real community in our classrooms where they begin to see that by helping each other we're all moved in different ways in ways that make us happy when we're working together.

0:52:27.2 AD: In ways that actually open ups, it makes us learn more. We learn more, we are more open to learning. Because the construction of learning happens more organically and with more fluidity, and that's when we really see learning happen. Part of the reason why little kids learn, so they can learn things that adults have a hard time learning, it's because we've lost that capacity. We've lost that capacity for fluidity, that organic capacity to enter into our learning in a more free way. We have all these complexes that get created by... Often created by parents and teachers, we didn't... They thought they were helping us, but they really were not. And then you spend a lifetime trying to overcome, overcome the fears or overcome the trauma.


0:53:23.5 CM: Thank you again for listening to Human Restoration Project Podcast. I hope this conversation leaves you inspired and ready to push the progressive envelope of education. You can learn more about progressive education, support our cause, 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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