Friday, April 24, 2009

Radical Possibilities - Jean Anyon

You know when you have a small shard of fiberglass in your finger and it only hurts when you move it a certain way – but then you keep moving it to see where it is and then it really hurts? That's how I felt reading this book. Many of the issues Jean Anyon (2005) brings up have been issues I've railed about before, but when looking at the complexities of bureaucracy, it always seemed impossible to change – poverty, transportation, incarceration etc. However, what I really appreciated in Anyon was she also gives hope – through the analysis of past social movements and the expectation of future collaboration, there seems to be, as she titles it – possibilities!

For most of my teenage years, I remember always hearing about the food shortages in Africa. Then as an adult, I found out that it wasn't so much a lack of food, but a lack of secure, transparent distribution of food, water and supplies that caused such terrible famine. This was caused, in many cases, by the countries' own governments, though sometimes by civil war. It was so frustrating to know that food etc. was available yet wasting away or resold for profit, rather than benefiting the people it was intended for. Currently, the food crisis has been prompted by large corporate farms and the desire for cash crops over food production. Again, governmental policy has allowed this to happen. So, why talk about food as compared to this book? Well, it seems to parallel a lot of what Anyon talks about – few problems are like waffles, with neat little squares, cordoned off from one another. Most problems are like a bowl of spaghetti – intertwined and messy.

Communism seems the way to go – to simplify all the problems of Western society. With a democratic, classless, stateless society with common ownership and control of the means of production and property in general, no religious fervor to divide people and no recognition of race to segregate. But wait, hasn't that been tried and failed? Why? “Communism . . . these alternate beliefs systems [to capitalism] flew in the face of human nature. Of even common sense. Anyone who has ever tried to share pizza with roommates knows that Communism cannot ever work. If Lenin and Marx had just shared an apartment, perhaps a hundred million lives might have been spared and put to productive use...” (Suarez, 2009, p. 289). So, if a truly classless society isn't a reality, what is?

In the 1993 movie Dave, Kevin Kline plays an ordinary man, Dave, who looks a lot like the American president. When the president has a stroke, Dave is asked to fill in for the president for a few days in order for the Chief of Staff to continue to hold power. However, this ordinary man begins to make changes, which drastically improve the lives of ordinary people, rather than just the rich. He diplomatically, forces the various departments to balance the budget while refunding public service projects and pushes through an employment program. However, the corrupt actions of the real president are revealed, and Dave, takes the blame stating:

“And while we're setting the record straight, I'd also like to apologize to the American people. I forgot that I was hired to do a job for you and that it was just a temp job at that. I forgot that I had two hundred and fifty million people who were paying me to make their lives a little better and I didn't live up to my part of the bargain. See, there are certain things you should expect from a President. I ought to care more about you than I do about me... I ought to care more about what's right than I do about what's popular...I ought to be willing to give this whole thing up for something I believe in...”

This, I think, gets to the core of why Communism and social reform has had a difficult time making positive changes for the whole of society. Too many people, including me, are more concerned about the immediate welfare of themselves and their own family, to look beyond and see the need to extend their caring to others. Anyon gives numerous statistics of how the wealthy have continued to protect their wealth, while the poor have continued to get poorer.

I know there is a mythology of the good ol' days, yet there was tremendous value in the need to depend on neighbors to share their thrashing machine, combine or other equipment. Neighbors and towns had to trust and work together to survive. Now, each household buys its own snowblower or lawnmower because no one trusts others to treat the equipment right or bring it back. I think Anyon (2005) has a good point that any social movement must start locally, with building connections and trust between the people involved before it can make connections to larger organizations. And this trust and connection building takes time and effort. In our mobile world of constant change, it is difficult to envision the future and commit to a plan.

How can teachers create a new social order? Although I totally agree that Anyon's multi-pronged approach is the only way to radically alter the way schooling and society runs, I think teachers can begin with building trusting, caring, and, dare I say, loving, relationships with their students and foster the same type of relationships between students, staff, parents and the local community. As Jackie DeShannon sang in 1968:

Think of your fellow man
Lend him a helping hand
Put a little love in your heart
You see it's getting late, so please don't hesitate
Put a little love in your heart
And the world...
Will be a better place
And the world will be a better place for you...
And me

Anyon, Jean. (2005). Radical possibilities: Public policy, urban education, and a new social movement. New York: Routledge.

DeShannon, J., Holiday, J. & Myers, R. (1968). Put a little love in your heart. Put a Little Love in Your Heart. MCA Records.

Reitman, I. (Director). (1993). Dave. [Motion Picture].Warner Bros. Pictures.

Suarez, D. (2009). Daemon. Penguin Group (USA) Inc.