Just a little plug for the latest volume (170, Nov/Dec 2011) of Radical Philosophy, which has some really interesting pieces on the philosophy and politics of education. (I’m a bit busy for any extended commentary on any of these texts right at the moment, but I might post up some thoughts over the weekend if I get a chance.)
Most interesting from the perspective of my interests is Matthew Charles‘s article on the philosophy for children ‘movement’ (although this phrase might be a bit of an overstatement at this point) and the political consequences and limitations of the form it has taken thus far. Charles examines the organisations involved in teaching philosophy to children in the UK – The Philosophy Shop and SAPERE – considering the differences in their approaches and the shared limitations of their more or less implicit political framework. These are important issues, as teaching philosophy in schools is potentially very valuable, but only if it can be extricated from the limitations of an exclusively liberal conception of education and what it would be for education to be ‘critical’.
Also in RP 170 is a collection of articles prompted by the publication by Continuum of Emiliano Battista’s English translation of Jacques Rancière’s first book, Althusser’s Lesson. In this work, Rancière distances himself from his former teacher, Louis Althusser, the father of so-called ‘structuralist Marxism’, through a cutting critique of the latter, both his theoretical work and his pedagogical practice itself.
The collection includes a reprint of the English translation of a 1964 essay by Althusser entitled ‘Student Problems’ – introduced by Warren Montag – in which he criticises the contemporary student movement for attacking the traditional, liberal, unidirectional form of university pedagogy, grounded in an essential epistemic inequality between the teacher and the student, instead of ‘the true fortress of class interest in the university‘ (p. 13, original emphasis), i.e., the ‘ideological’ content of that pedagogy. For the Rancière of Althusser’s Lesson, this insistence on pedagogical inequality and refusal of any transformation of the very form of the university is definitive of Althusserianism, its deep opportunism and servitude to the cause of order and the authority of the Communist Party leadership.
A final note: somewhere in one of these papers – I can’t now remember which one – reference is made to Radical Philosophy‘s founding statement, a document which bears re-reading at this juncture of crisis for philosophy in the university. While I don’t straightforwardly agree with this document’s partisan stance against analytic philosophy, its concern regarding academic philosophy’s isolation from other disciplines and from ideas and activities critical of the wider political, social and cultural setting – a concern which continues in the CRMEP’s ongoing project on transdisciplinarity in the humanities – is still a crucial one for the future of philosophy today.