[A statement of desired values and a explication of aspirations. Written after taking a graduate-level "Teaching Sociology" course (June 29, 2005). Bubbling with passion, copious amounts of naiveté, and [still] some relevance. I might want to update it someday...]
There are anarchists within American academia who have managed to swim against the mainstream sentiments of both society and university. Yet, most so-called radicals within US colleges are self-identified “Marxists” (or worse, “liberals”), whose over-heated rhetoric about proletariat, materialism, dialectics, and revolutionary vanguardism makes most students fall-asleep or coil in repulsion (wrongly and rightly). Such “radicals” might have a different effect if they were interested in true revolutionary change, yet in my own interactions, this is usually not the case: they stick to railing away on capitalism in the classroom but don't participate in any community or activist organizations, except perhaps give a few dollars to a very safe national charity organization. Sure, there are exceptions, but this seems to be the general trend.
The academic anarchists, however, offer instructive counter-examples. Sociologist Howard Ehrlich left a position at the University of Iowa to start his own projects which were less burdened by the stuffiness of academia: a collective research institute (“Research Group No. 1”), a peer-reviewed journal called Social Anarchism, a free school, and a syndicated radio program (“The Great Atlantic Radio Conspiracy”). His own work shows that people with academic backgrounds can apply the ideas, theories, philosophies, and methods of intellectual study and research to deliberate projects outside of the Ivory Tower (if and when need be). Research need not be abstract, unusable, or destructive.
Linguist and decades-long activist Noam Chomsky opines that “a decent education should seek to provide a thread along which a person will travel in his or her own way; good teaching is more a matter of providing water for a plant, to enable it to grow under its own powers” (cited in Barsky 2007, p. 205). Teaching need not be authoritarian or boring.
Anthropologist David Graeber, recently fired (“not rehired”) from Yale University, encourages academics to live their politics. This does not mean necessarily organizing anarchists within the university, but operating in-line with the ideas and values one holds dear. Being an academic does not mean privileging oneself nor shutting off the rest of society.
There are three main areas of work that academics do: research, teaching, and “service” to the greater community. I will explore these three areas below, applying my ideological lens to each.
Since I have activist interests that transcend the university, it is logical to save time by studying those political interests in an academic capacity. To warp the proverbial saying: doing this helps to smash two Starbucks' windows with one brick. My research and scholarship thus needs to be not only empowering and interesting to me, but also meaningful and useful to other activists. In conducting research programs, I ought to consult with other activists, if not even bring them in on the research project itself. To do this, I must gain the trust of activists and all other parties involved in order to study them and their actions better. On one level, I would always remain moderately embedded within a given activist community or organization.
I need to avoid becoming beholden to or co-opted by government and corporations, who are always interested in academics validating their actions and beliefs. Accepting grant money which would endorse those corrupt institutions will be resisted at all costs... of course, if people within a corporation wishes to give large sums of grant money, no strings attached, to study radical organizations in a non-exploitive way that would only help enhance a social movement, I will gladly take its money and run. In the process of research I need to retain my insight into how “everyday people” live; the privilege of being an academic can cause one to lose perspective of others without such status and privilege.
Finally, I will try to synthesize activists and academic research and theory. In doing so, it is vital to introduce quality academic research and theories to activists who may use such ideas. Conversely, the academic community needs to be exposed to the equally good analysis and writing done by activists.
Teaching is an art which requires much deliberation, practice, experience, and experimentation. Most often teaching involves static lectures delivered without passion or interaction. The goal of an anarchist teacher is to engage, inspire, empower, and create critics in students. My teaching needs to be done with the end-goal of empowering students to become more liberated human beings, inspired to improve their lives, community, and world. In advanced classes, the focus should be on facilitating discussion, not merely delivering canned-lectures. Yet, even in introductory courses, discussion and group work can be integrated in place of lecturing. Beyond basic subject matter, the greatest skills a teacher can aid a student in developing is critical thinking, the ability to intellectual defend oneself against bad ideas, faulty logic, and authority-drenched information.
Many students enter the classroom ready to learn new ideas. They must not be disappointed! Teaching is a way to introduce students to new ideas that will help improve their view and analysis of the world. I intend to find way to teach that conveys the anarchism within sociology. The radical critique of the anarchists is often analogous with that of the sociologist, the one key difference is that the sociologist rarely discusses alternative forms of social interaction, social relationships, or societal organization. My goal must be to bring out the other ways that people have throughout history organized themselves without hierarchy, authority, or the state. Teachers can also be organizers who mentor students interested in social change. Thus, for students who have an interest in sociology, particularly its liberatory potential, I will spend any extra time needed to help them focus their thoughts and aspirations.
As an academic who wishes to “give back” to the society he is wrapped-within, I see my “service” role as one that is critical of the powerful and a servant of the disempowered. I will not use my academic status to gain power over those with less power than me; thus my degree, education, and other privileges will not be employed to get better treatment or access from those with less privilege than I. Conversely, I will hold the powerful accountable to truth and the people. Where there is silence in public discourse, I will go and say the uncomfortable words, especially when other voices are being ignored. I need to advocate for those who are marginalized and being ignored, to help provide them a platform from which to voice their grievances. In doing so, I will help to contact the mainstream press to expose problems, yet will direct them to everyday people or activists who are working for social change on such problems. I will also respect and work with alternative media to lend my skills and insights when needed.
Finally, my true service role in society is to not just talk or research radical things, but to do those radical things—help out wherever possible. Connect academics and students to social movement organizations and struggles whenever I can. To foster institutional support for alternative projects when needed. To lend my body in protests, my heart in letters and speeches, my mind in meetings, and my wallet in fund-raising drives.
So long as I am a scholar, I will strive to do these things, by the best and most anarchistic means I can.