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FatCamera / istockphoto
FatCamera / istockphoto

"The Alternatives Project: Education Justice for Societal Transformation"

by Mark Ginsburg and Steven Klees, on behalf of TAP Facilitation Group.

written by: Steve Klees Mark Ginsburg published 2021-06-11 updated 2021-06-11

The coronavirus pandemic has upended many aspects of life, including education, around the world. Many students and teachers are still out of school, vaccine distribution is very slow, virus variants are developing, and the future course of the pandemic is uncertain. In particular, teachers have been greatly affected by the pandemic, facing stressful challenges in their personal lives, while needing to develop new ways of facilitating learning and addressing the socio-emotional needs of their students.

However, even before the pandemic, our world was at a crossroads. We face multiple, truly existential crises – life-destroying poverty and inequality, climate and environmental catastrophe, systemic global racism and sexism, widespread violence, war, and the threat of nuclear annihilation. We desperately need to find alternative ways of living and being if humanity is to survive, let alone to thrive. Education must be seen as embedded in these crises and as key to their transformation.

The Alternatives Project (TAP) was initiated in August 2019 by a group of 20 progressive academics, union leaders from Education International, and other civil society activists, who are frustrated by decades of neoliberal education reform and the complete abandonment of education as the basis for just and democratic societies. We felt it was important to seize this unique historical moment and be part of struggles and efforts that are ongoing in different parts of the world that seek to reconceptualize and radically change public education as an entry point to deeper societal transformation, and find ways to amplify these. In short, we began planning for a radical rethinking of education and building on advocacy campaigns that place sustainable ecosystems and climate justice along with social justice at the core of radically redesigning education, economic, and political systems.

The Alternatives Project is an international and geographically diverse network of progressive academics, union members, civil society activists, and social movement participants concerned with building a global collective critical voice oriented towards education and societal transformation at the local, national, and global levels. We seek to contribute to efforts that collectively challenges dominant ideas and policies on education and development, through grassroots struggles and campaigns. We envision a long-term initiative to build and promote a new vision of alternative approaches as well as a clearinghouse for alternative ideas and actions championed by a wide range of progressive and radical organizations and movements that will become a force for equitable learning opportunities and outcomes, participatory democracy, as well as economic and social justice in a more sustainable world.

As a first step, we put together a sign-on statement intended to show the world that there are many, many people who have fundamental concerns about the current directions of our education, economic, and political systems. The Statement, entitled “Education Justice for Societal Transformation: A Framework for Action.” is available in 13 languages. We have over 300 signers (including Noam Chomsky) from around the world. An excerpt follows:

We, the undersigned, believe that current social, economic, political, and educational arrangements reproduce relations of power that engineer profound inequities and will ultimately threaten life on the planet. We stand for alternative pedagogies and for just, regenerative education systems that will support the social transformations we need in order to create a richer, more equitable, and sustainable world.

Co-existing and inter-related global crises are pushing humanity and the living planet towards political, social, economic, and ecological collapse. These crises – currently seen in the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, structural inequalities, police brutality and racism, entrenched patriarchy, accelerating climate chaos, and the constant threat of wars – are driven globally by capitalism and militarism. We must seize this unique historical moment to reconceive and radically change public education as an entry point for deeper transformations that will build human solidarity and cooperation and bring an end to racism, patriarchy, and capitalism. We reject the notion that education’s priority is to build ‘human capital’; we assert that education’s priorities should include regenerative ecosystems and further social justice for current and future generations. This requires the creation of just education systems, which we can only achieve as a part of a broader struggle for social transformation in all other spheres, especially the economy and in politics….

The world needs a radical revisionsing of education that will help to transform and create regenerative societies. This will require a new social contract that values social spending above military and security spending and goes beyond the narrow interests of the business sector, Edtech firms, private school chains, and other edu-business actors. We call for reversing the movement towards the privatization of education and other social services and keeping business logic out of education and social policymaking.

We instead draw on struggles and lessons from organised students and teachers, the trade union movement as a whole, democratic community-based organisations - including associations of minorities, migrants and refugees - as well as independent media, organisations, and professionals that share our commitment to advancing justice in the flawed, real societies in which we live. These groups have already developed alternatives for educational justice, including schools and non-formal education programs that support 21st century socialist, indigenous and black sovereignty, decolonialism, Black Lives Matter, abolitionist, and critical pedagogies…

These initial ideas do not point to a distant, utopian mirage; rather they build upon the thoughts and actions of many progressive groups and organizations around the world. We, the undersigned, see these ideas for a radical re-envisioning of education and society as necessary directions to counter and overcome the severe crises the planet is facing.

Teachers are the backbone of education and need to be the source of its transformation. We invite you to join us by signing the Statement and by getting involved in TAP!

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.