The Idea in its Entirety:
The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility (bell hooks)
Night School is an experimental evening school that thinks, teaches and learns from minoritarian, marginalized, rebellious and vulnerable positions. This small school opens its doors every week, to interfere with hegemonic regimes of knowledge. The curriculum covers forms, bodies, methods, positions, geographies and fantasies, which contribute to what we could call a decolonization of knowledge and learning (and perhaps Popular Education), and hopefully, pedagogies of possibility. This means it is an education that insists on the possible.
In our program we refer to the concept of the Evening School. One of the earliest was founded in Vienna in 1925, initially as a “high school course for the socialist worker” developed by Wanda Lanzer, a protagonist of the “Red Vienna” and workers movement, and exiled to Sweden for 25 years. The school was for working-class children, dropouts, housewives, employees in adult education, refugees with academic degrees, the jobless, and migrants, in other words all those deemed poorly educated (or rather, who are kept uneducated) were then packed off to special-needs schools.
The “teaching machine” (Gayatri Spivak) itself contributes to the perpetuation of these social gaps and inequalities. Pierre Bourdieu, for instance, relentlessly investigated the “myth of the liberating school” and exposed how the established order is exercised, even within the physical body and space, this included the classroom’s bright whiteness (Araba Johnston-Arthur), in which other bodies, subjects, and ideas appear, at best, as exotica. School education thus has a long history of complicity with the imperialist and colonial project. And what prevails, in as much as it is overlooked: “Racism forms” (“Rassismus bildet”, Paul Mecheril), especially in the neoliberal era. This alliance between capitalism, colonialism, racism and sexism, especially within the school, will be addressed by our guests, teachers and students.
In spite of everything, Night School counts on the body of the school. It considers school to be a place that allows us to rethink an unjust and oppressive order. That allows a thinking beyond the already established, as a school is a place not just for perpetuation but for change. A change in school is being fought for by committed educators, activists, and movements: by a movement of secondary school students in Brazil, a campaign against white curricula in Britain, the school and university students’ protest in South Africa and Chile, by Uni Brennt Austria, or the No-Debt movement against the economizing of education.
How an emancipatory, transformative education can be shaped is a point of discussion in various traditions and theories of Popular Education and Critical Pedagogy. Among those theorists are Paulo Freire, Gayatri Spivak, Frigga Haug, bell hooks, Rubia Salgado, Marina Gržinić, Antonio Gramsci, Lefö, Grada Kilomba, Belinda Kazeem, trafo k., Nikita Dhawan, Peggy Piesche, Maria do Mar Castro Varela, Paul Mecheril; and progress has been made since the last century in terms of organizations: for the education of workers, schools for the landless, literacy courses, adult education centers, indigenous universities, alternative schools, community colleges, Campus in Camps, the We Are Here Academy, the Universidad de la Tierra of the Zapatistas, and many, many others.
The Night School is a training course, taught by educators, collectives, artists, activists who ask first and foremost: What is recognized as knowledge? Who decides what knowledge is? What other forms of knowledge are there? In this course it is clear that thought is situated in lived experience, conditions, bodies, subjects, and that, when it comes to knowledge and it remains certain that: class matters, body matters, geography matters, race matters, gender matters, ability matters, sexuality matters, affect matters, power matters.
It is no secret that knowledge and power are allied in establishing and securing dominance, the production of knowledge involves a violence that debases, annihilates and renounces knowledge that is other, subaltern, noncompliant, stuttering, suffered, monstrous, dubious, filthy. What is inflicted “from above” on inconvenient knowledge is described as “epistemic violence”. What should not be forgotten here is that ignorance means power, or rather obtains power – “sanctioned ignorance” Spivak calls it. “A critical practice, in contrast, has to be capable to think what is un-thought in dominant discourses, and listen to those who are targeted by epistemic violence.” (Nikita Dhawan and María do Mar Castro Varela) For Night School this means to think and learn from lived and embodied experience, from daily encounters with humiliation, anger, irony, fantasy, and resistance. It is about the imaginary, of how to think and create against and together – intellectually, affectively, bodily, and existentially. It is about the possibilities of alliances and discord and the conditions for collective political thought and action.
Night School’s proposition to focus entirely on minoritarian and marginalized positions does not mean to idealise them nor does it mean to romanticize oppressed knowledge, nor to ignore dominant onse. All kinds of knowledge must be critically examined and developed further. We agree with the writer Anzaldúa in this: “It is not enough, to stand on the other side and to raise questions and to challenge patriarchal, white conventions… On our way to a new awareness we will have to, at a certain moment, leave the other side and somehow heal the separation of the two deadly fighters, to be on two sides at once and at once see with the eyes of the serpent and the eagle.”
We hope that Night School can create some moments (only moments seem possible in this compact, experimental format), where the unlearning – of certainties, conventions, power structures, dogmas, privileges – succeeds. This does not come quick, and has to be much more than a ritualistic purging of oneself of power and privilege. Having become skeptical of unlearning, its inventor Spivak goes on with “learning to learn from below”, and more intuitively, an “informal reorganization of desire” – a checking of the desire to rule or be ruled.
Marissa Lôbo, Catrin Seefranz