(BEING CONTINUED FROM 18/09/15)
B. Re-Imagining Education, Democracy, and Citizenship: Social Ecology and Libertarian Municipalism
Within anarchism and, more specifically, social ecology/libertarian municipalism, there is
a wholly different framework for thinking about democracy, citizenship, and, thus, education.
While liberalism holds as its irreducible unit the self-determining, autonomous individual and the state as guarantor of individual liberty and freedom, social ecology maintains as its foundation the social interdependence of individuals and an unswerving faith in the ability of people to work together to manage their own lives. As Janet Biehl and Murray Bookchin (1998) explain,Libertarian municipalism [the political dimension of social ecology] proposes that passive dependence on an elite State is not, after all, the final condition of human
political existence. A more active way of being is possible, it maintains, precisely
because of some of the features that distinguish human beings as social, especially
their capacity for reason, their mutual dependence, and their need for solidarity.
Their independence and solidarity, in particular, can become the psychological,
indeed moral groundwork for citizenship – and thus for the recreation of the
political realm and direct democracy. (85)
In other words, liberalism, with its primary focus on the self-determining, autonomous
individual, has been progressively distorted (by the State, urbanization, atomization, hierarchy,and capitalism) and has resulted in equating a ‘citizen’ with being a voter, a taxpayer, a consumer, and in rare instances, one who is able to actively participate in the shaping of community life within the parameters the State itself has defined.
The notion of direct democracy and the formulation of a type of citizenship and
citizenship education that it requires which are explicitly called for by the philosophy of social ecology and the politics of libertarian municipalism raise a whole host of questions and require a detailed examination. The bulk of the dissertation engages just such an exploration and attempts to answer some of those questions. I will now move into a description of the forthcoming theoretical and empirical portions of the study.
II. Methodological Design
A. Humanities-Oriented Research Methodologically, I have situated the conceptual portion of the dissertation within what has come to be called Humanities-Oriented Research. As explained in the 2009 “Standards for Reporting on Humanities-Oriented Research in AERA Publications”, Humanities-oriented research includes, but is not limited to, “studies of education that have a relatively heavy interpretive-theoretical emphasis” (482). As this dissertation project has attempted to examine a body of social theory and philosophy that is not directly related to education but that may have
important implications for the field, it certainly meets the criteria of having a “heavy
interpretive-theoretical emphasis”. The AERA document also explains that Humanities-oriented research “undertakes investigations into the relationship among…the ethical life, the good life,the just society, the characteristics of the good citizen” and “is often intended to foster dissonance and discomfort with conventional practices and, in some cases, to suggest alternatives” (482). As has hopefully been made obvious, my intention has been to use social ecology and libertarian municipalism as a lens through which to not only re-examine the relationship between education and democracy but also to re-define such fundamental concepts as citizen, politics, and citizenship education. In that the project aims to question some of the normative assumptions in existing approaches to citizenship education and to offer concrete alternatives to these approaches, my work fits nicely into the area of Humanities-oriented research.
Murray Bookchin had set out for himself the project of re-examining and re-defining
such fundamental social and political concepts such as democracy, politics, citizen, and city and of moving the Left away from the Marxist focus on economic exploitation to focus more squarely upon broader notions of hierarchy and domination. He undertook this project through a historical and anthropological examination of the multiple origins of these ideas and the lived realities to which they gave rise. That said, a significant portion of my work is devoted to mapping the exact contours of Bookchin’s thought, the influences upon his thinking, the lineage of social theorists of which he is a part, and the gaps, oversights, and/or contradictions that may exist in his work. Having gained an understanding of Bookchin’s work that has both breadth and depth, I attempt to draw out the implications for education generally and citizenship and ecological sustainability education more specifically.
This portion of the study involved engaging in a close philosophical reading of a number
of Bookchin’s seminal texts including but not limited to The Philosophy of Social Ecology:
Essays on Dialectical Naturalism (1990), The Ecology of Freedom: The emergence and
dissolution of hierarchy (1982/2005), From Urbanization to Cities: Toward a New Politics of Citizenship (1995), The Politics of Social Ecology (1998), and Social Ecology and Communalism (2007). More specifically, I engaged with these texts to delineate Bookchin’s conceptions of the relationship between the social and the ecological; his anthropological and historical tracing of the origins of domination and hierarchy within human societies; his unique definitions of politics, democracy, and citizenship as viewed through an ecological and libertarian lens; and,finally, a close examination and explanation of his libertarian municipalist agenda and the implications for a form of citizenship education that might help move toward its realization.
B. Project Description of Empirical Study
The Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School’s use of social ecology as the conceptual
centerpiece of the curriculum across subjects is the aspect of the school upon which my research was focused. My investigation and exploration of the use of social ecology as a curricular framework in this small, urban alternative high school provided an opportunity to observe the real-life application of some of the central ideas in my dissertation. Much of the dissertation is devoted to exploring, explicating, and drawing out the educational implications of the philosophy of social ecology particularly as it relates to preparing students for participatory democracy and ecological sustainability within the life of their communities and beyond. As PACHS is the only secondary school I have discovered that explicitly utilizes social ecology as a curricular framework, I believe an overview of the school’s mission and vision, unique approach to curriculum and pedagogy, close ties to other organizations within the immediate community,
academic success of its students, and commitment to education for self- and social
transformation provide vital empirical insight into the real-life application of social ecology in an educational setting.
The Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School (PACHS) was founded in 1972 in order to
serve the Latino youth of the area who, for a variety of reasons, were not finding success in the large, comprehensive high schools of the Chicago Public Schools system. According to 2009 data from Chicago Public Schools, the dropout rate among Latino students in the city has hovered around forty percent
. PACHS was established with the goal of attempting to remedy this situation by
providing students with what John W. Fritsche (2008) describes as a “standards-based multicultural curriculum of intensive academic and community-oriented learning experiences in the context of Puerto Rican and Latino life”
The central questions guiding the empirical portion of this study were as follows:
• How has the philosophy of social ecology come to be understood and utilized as the
framework for educational practice, curriculum, pedagogy, and school organization in an
alternative urban secondary school setting?
• How do the faculty and staff at PACHS understand social ecology and its relationship to
the education of largely disenfranchised urban youth?
• How is social ecology related to the mission and vision of PACHS based as it is upon
“the philosophical foundation of self-determination, a methodology of self-actualization,
and an ethics of self-reliance”?
(TO BE CONTINUED)
By Kevin J. Holohan
A DISSERTATION (EDUCATING TOWARD DIRECT DEMOCRACY AND ECOLOGICAL SUSTAINABILITY: THEORY OF SOCIAL ECOLOGY AS A FRAMEWORK FOR CRITICAL, DEMOCRATIC, AND COMMUNITY-BASED EDUCATION)
Michigan State University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY