Progressive education is in a time of “radical imagination.” Alex Khasnabish & Max Haiven, who coined the term, write,
We are compelled to dedicate our imaginations to daydreams of individualized escape: lonely hopes of winning the lottery to evade our debts, or idle fantasies of revenge visited upon those who oppress us…
Rather than being merely a tool of grim individual survival, the imagination can be the catalyst for collective liberation. But to make it so we need to embrace radical ideas and radical practices. We need to open ourselves to the possibility that our world could be radically different.
Blending the roots of Dewey, Montessori, and Piaget with modern scholarship of Love, hooks, and Hagopian, educators are imagining a modern education system that engages, motivates, and demands justice for all learners. Together, educators are forming online communities that explore each classroom’s potential as a space for transformative learning. They are leaning on each other for hope and as they organize together for action. Radical imagination involves looking past the world of today and building something anew.
The growth of digital technologies has led to new connections and spawned change. From the Arab Spring to Black Lives Matter to #MeToo to March for Our Lives, rapid organizing has become mainstream as online communities come together and share a common goal. This is especially true for younger generations who have grown up through social media. These are spaces of self-reflection, critical thinking, and discourse – where people disagree but push each other forward. It’s an opportunity for educators to bring about a reimagined education system.
Social media is the bedrock for most modern classroom discussions. Whether it be a new lesson idea or a systemic change to assessment, educators connect with one another on Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and the like. But the same online spaces where educators discuss new possibilities are part of the neoliberal system. An obsessive Internet culture bent on likes, shares, and algorithmic popularity siphons the most dramatic messages to the reader at all times. And with all the terrors of the world, this means there’s a slip stream of negative notifications as people endlessly scroll through the daily news. After a while, it’s easy to accept the fate that “this is just the way the world works.”
Social media has taken neoliberal self-promotion practices to the extreme, highlighting a world that is built for the self. Everything is a hustle, an ad, a time to get ahead, a time to self-promote; breakout rooms serve as elevator pitches rather than times to connect. Posters replicate the trending topics of the day seeking more clicks on their profile for Internet fame. It’s all about getting ahead and moving fast. This distorts how people view movement building: either believing that change must happen all at once or not at all, or by building an “always online” culture where people hold fringe opinions from their algorithmic bubbles. To disagree or critically examine a topic is considered weak juxtaposed against banal, purely hateful, or positively toxic opinions.
It takes away energy from potential community collaboration. Educators worldwide hold positive aspirations about what school could be, but find themselves consistently pushing for their share of recognition and funding to get ahead. After all, without notoriety and financial backing it would be impossible to scale and make change. However, this also means that communities are competing for resources against one another. Operating within this system it’s easy to resort to talking past each other – seeing discussions as an opportunity for self-promotion rather than actual change.
Theorist Mark Fisher believed that it is nearly impossible to imagine a future without capitalism. Our education and communication apparatuses are entirely hinged on the principles of business: it’s not about the humans in the room, it’s about results. Even if educators talk about building spaces of love, hope, and care, the first question is usually, “but what about test scores?” Radically reimagining education systems is met with constant cynicism of “this is just the way the world works.” This is in spite of schools already demonstrating that a different way is possible.
Seated within the same online spaces is an opportunity to embrace hope. Critical pedagogue Henry Giroux writes,
Hope married to power, politics, and agency is a political project in which civic literacy, infused with a language of critique and possibility, addresses the notion that there is no democracy without knowledgeable and civically literate citizens. Such a language is necessary to enable the conditions to forge a collective international resistance among educators, youth, artists, and other cultural workers in defence of public goods. Hope begins with dissent, critique, and the idea of social transformation. Militant hope connects memory and lived experience to a sense of reality infused with a sense of possibility. Hope is more than a wish or empty dream, it is a subversive force, an active presence in opening a space for imagining the impossible, evoking not only different stories but also different futures.
When social media spaces increasingly harbor far-right and white supremacist forces which seek to divide, radicalize, and cause physical harm, it’s up to organizers to create new spaces to promote their ideas. They need to support each other in building their dreams and aspirations. Unlike the simplistic, propagandistic messages of radical actors, reimaginers must create spaces that foster discussion and critical questioning. These spaces are more than quick algorithmic blips for fame – they’re living communities centered on changing the future.
And it’s important to recognize that there are communities already doing this work. While overarching narratives may assume that all hope is lost and public education must be entirely rebuilt, there are plenty of folks rallying together that have built flourishing communities. (See Disrupt Texts, Clear the Air, Teacher Powered Schools, Ungrading Hub, Institute for Humane Education, Progressive Education Network, Zinn Ed Project, Learning for Justice and of course, Human Restoration Project – among many others.) This is a long, incrementalist fight that requires a positive obsession toward social justice. Author Octavia Butler believed that imagining a new future together was an act of transformative change in-it-of-itself. As co-editor of science fiction analogy Octavia’s Brood Walidah Imarisha writes,
We believe in that right Butler claimed for each of us – the right to dream as ourselves, individually and collectively. But we also think it is a responsibility she handed down: are we brave enough to imagine beyond the boundaries of “the real” and then do the hard work of sculpting reality from our dreams?
Or as philosophers and educators Paulo Freire and Antonia Darder both say, educators need to “fight for love.” It is not enough to benevolently operate a classroom in accordance with school policies. We must stand together to be critical friends of public education and demonstrate progressive education in mainstream settings. This involves leveraging our power and privilege to transform spaces at the smallest level, ushering a snowball effect to neighboring classrooms, the school at large, and through online spaces – the world.
Online spaces give progressive educators tools to continue this fight. These communities…
These spaces exist on all platforms: old, crumbling, flourishing, or emerging – wherever people feel comfortable sharing their ideas.
Systemic change has never been more possible than it is now. Unlike the progressive education accomplishments of the past, there’s less reliance on traditional media coverage and more traction for socially-conscious movements. There is space for educators to share their success where they can create their own communities beyond a classroom’s four walls. And for the first time, there’s an accessible space for young people to rally together en masse and demand change. Like Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future, young people can rally for themselves to demand better of their classrooms. Like-minded educators can build friendly, hopeful spaces for young people to channel their energy toward creative rebellion against unjust systems, rather than falling prey to grifters and hate manufacturers.
Therefore, in spite of the real threat of the destruction of online spaces through reinstatement of the far right and stochastic terrorism, there cannot be a rise in “doomerism.” To give up the fight and embrace nihilistic futures disregards historic victories and real possibilities. We should embrace the tools we have to continue pressing forward and demonstrate what is possible, even if it’s perceived as minor in the grand scheme of things. We must share what we’re doing and showcase why it matters: our pedagogies and student learning (with permission). Public intellectualism cannot be lost to a call to the void of social media escapism. To transgress the system, we need everyone to contribute what they can to positively change the world.
All that you touch you Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change. - Octavia Butler