Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A Mutual Skual?

It looks like we'll be trying to put together some sort of more or less decentralized alternative education project here in Bowling Green in the very near future. The need for something of the sort impressed itself on me yesterday afternoon with the kind of urgency i know better than to ignore. A lot of things have been leading me towards this i suppose. I've been reading about the Concord "conversations" while researching William B. Greene. I've been talking to my new neighbors, who all seem bright in ways that probably aren't going to served well by standard university fair. I've been thinking a lot about whether public educational institutions can be expected to actually provide the sort of engagement with important controversies, like that surrounding evolution and intelligent design, that i was talking about yesterday. And i've been dusting off the notes for a short course on Midwest Radicalism (New Harmony to Lawsonomy, more or less) that i've promised to teach in some informal setting this fall. Currently, i'm a teacher without a classroom, doing a lot of very informal educational work in front of coffee shops, on streetcorners, on the back steps at 3am with a half-rack of Natty Light, etc. And, honestly, that stuff is often as good as what goes on in university classrooms, but that's not saying all that much. So. . .

I did some solitary brainstorming yesterday, over a nice Grounds for Thought dark roast, and then ran what i came up with past as many of the usual sympathetic suspects as i could find on short notice. The response was positive, so here's something like a proposal:

This MUTUAL SKUAL (yeah, forgive me, ok?) will present short courses (1-5 weekly meetings of 2-3 hourse each) on a variety of topics. Instructor/facilitators will be encouraged to make an argument, be specific, even or especially where it generates controversy. Topics should be chosen to meet current, local needs (particularly as they're unlikely to fly without that consideration.) Locations for meetings should likewise be selected with an eye to appropriateness, taking advantage of opportunities for mutual aid with sympathetic organizations and businesses. Course materials should be heavy on sources for additional reading. Mostly, we'll be in the business of kick-starting conversations in other forums. Course structure will be left to instructor/facilitators, though some "templates" will be provided. Types of courses might include:

Close Reading Course:

Week 1: Presentation and start of discussion; selection of text
to engage closely.

Week 2: Close group reading of selected text; discussion and

Example: An introduction to Christian anarchist Adin Ballou,
and a reading of parts of
Christian Nonresistance, at a local
campus ministry.

Policy Related Course:

Week 1: Presentation and distribution of related bibliography;

Week 2: Participants share results of individual research and
respond to moderator's proposals.

Week 3: Discussion and organization of actions to be taken

Example: Discussion of questions about evolution and
intelligent design in school curricula, leading (if its deemed
necessary) to some steps designed to deal with the actual
implementation of new curricula. (Ohio is already
facing all of this.)

Plenty of other structures are possible, including a farely traditional, if examless, lecture-discussion-with-assigned-readings format, which is probably what i'll do with the radical history course.
Support for the project will be provided in the form of a website with syllabi, discussion forums and such. Asynchronous interactions between face-to-face sessions will be encouraged, as will participation by folks outside the immediate vicinity, by way of the online forums. Lectures could be recorded and provided as audioblogs or podcasts. Other forms of nontraditional education in the community (or in other communities, if the project proves transplantable to other spots.)
"Tuition" for the face-to-face gatherings would be "punk-priced" at $1/hour/participant, probably as a "suggested donation." Course materials, where necessary, would be handled in as close to a "cost the limit of price" manner as possible.
Ideally, some rough, generalizable guidelines should be possible so that individuals in other areas could extend the web of mutualist education.
I've got some fairly ambitious thoughts about all of this, but that's the basics. I'll be curious to hear from folks, as i try to get things rolling here.


Anonymous said...

can you tell me more about "concord conversations"

BillG (not Gates)
Concord, NH

Shawn P. Wilbur said...

Actually, that probably should have been "Boston conversations."

"From 1839-1844, [Margaret Fuller] earned a living by sponsoring her famous Conversations, to which were invited many of the educated women of Boston and surrounding areas -- wives of famous men like Emerson and Theodore Parker, but also women who were developing their own work and careers, often as writers. Included were Lydia Maria Child, Elizabeth and Sophia Peabody, Ellen and Caroline Sturgis. (A series involving both men and women failed to have the same lasting success as those attended just by women.)"

The gatherings were at held in the bookstore/lending library/parlor of Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (1804-1894), the same site at which Brook Farm was planned and a major gathering place for the transcendentalists. Two of Peabody's sisters married Nathaniel Hawthorne and Horace Mann. Elizabeth was among the first in those circles to befriend William B. Green after his return from the Second Seminole War.

I was really gesturing, imprecisely, at the whole culture of debate that surrounded the transcendentalists and the friends in Boston and Concord.

BillG said...


keep up the good work!

have you had any contact with the Greens?

if so, what has been you experience?

Shawn P. Wilbur said...

I was involved with the Greens/GPUSA about 8-9 years ago, just as the GPUSA/ASGP split was really tearing things apart. You can probably still find copies of the Greens for Unity list floating around the 'net, with an awful lot of then-local anarchists from NW Ohio signed on. At the time, i thought the promise of the Greens was that they had at least imagined the possibility of a "party" that was based on something other than just voter registration, and which could maintain electoral and nonelectoral activism in a relatively harmonious relationship. And those were precisely the reason that certain electoralist realpolitikers wanted a different kind of Green Party. I saw a lot of nasty infighting, up to and including pretty serious blackmail, while i was involved. And i've never been in an organization so prone to fits of red-and-black-baiting.

I almost involved myself with the Alliance for Democracy, back when they were the bolder Progressive Populist Alliance, but that seemed destined to be another disappointment.