Building Education for the Commons

The Importance of Creating Unpredictable Concepts

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One of the seminal features in all accredited Universities is the ability to demonstrate the so-called, “measurable learning outcomes”.  Of course learning various subjects, history, anthropology and so on, will produce outcomes (i.e., differences in perception, shifts in consciousness etc.), but by forcing a meta-standardization onto the subject-material before it is even engaged from the vantage point of an alienating bureaucratization effectively undermines the dynamics of the learning process itself.  And this is so basically because the synthetic action of learning inherently doesn’t function in predictable ways.

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Learning or advancements in knowledge, innovations, genius insights and so forth, happen through the rupturing of standard “status quo” versions of acceptable knowledge.  So effectively, what the Ideological State Apparatus (ISA-in Althussar’s terms) is there to do is to undermine any advancement of knowledge the existence of which is not entailed by these “meta-standardization” set-up and enforced by administrators, accreditation agencies and so on.  To put this bluntly, these agencies who are there to ensure quality in the educational process, are attempts to control knowledge and stifle advancements and academic freedom.

Of course this is not to say that oversight of the learning process shouldn’t exist, of course it should, but not to the extent of preventing new truths from emerging by turning the learning process into a robotic form of predictability.  This is frankly insulting to both the professor and the student, which forces them into a framework of unlearning in which all they are there to do in the classroom is repeat and reproduce “acceptable forms of knowledge” that consequently reinforce the status quo.  This is the circulation of capital and the way it reproduces itself.

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Sadly, this is the extend to which “education” has come in our time.  It is a contradiction.  And why is this the case, how did we get to this point in history in which education is managed by a centralization of knowledge control?  I would submit that this is so because education has been hijacked by greed, that is the university has been transformed into a mine in which financial resources are extracted from the “workers” (i.e., professors and the students) to be pocketed by the rich 21st Century “robber barrons” the Boards of Trustees and their puppets, the growing army of administrators.  The accrediting agencies too are part of the problem.  In this sense, Karl Marx’s critique of capitalist relations has never been more relevant:  The surplus labor of the workers in university has effectively been extracted from us precisely by determining what “education” means and the precise outcomes of learning before that dynamic unfolds.

The Global Center for Advanced Studies is a school that seeks to reclaim the very meaning of the learning process, the “mode of production” by which knowledge, concept creations, and empowerment happens in the world.  We are here to reclaim the truth and power of learning by opening up the space of the “unpredictable” as the learning process itself.  This doesn’t mean that the learning structure should be reduced to the random and the chaotic, that we should just throw structure (syllabi) out the window.  No!  In fact a structured and careful approach to any subject must be maintained, but it does mean that as texts, lectures, interventions etc. are encountered that something new and unpredictable can and often does happen.  Academic subjects are not inert but alive and dynamic.  A disciplined approach does indeed give way to new formulations and the creation of concepts by all people engaged in the process.

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We are a school that continues to pursue accreditation: one goal  for us is to become a university, but one that is faithful to the event of learning as something that disrupts and overturns the status quo. In effect we want to overcoming the contradiction identify above. Part of that means that our school’s “mode of production” can never be about exploitation of neither the faculty nor the students; indeed the administrators of GCAS are here to carve out and protect the space in which the unpredictable ruptures happen so that, on a material level, knowledge becomes empowering for all people as we work to create space for the emerging commons–a community in the process of birthing itself through its very means of existence.

Learning is an infinite process because another question can always be raised.  It’s time a school embodied this truth.  It’s time for GCAS.

Creston Davis, PhD–Founder & Director

2 comments on “The Importance of Creating Unpredictable Concepts

  1. reasonio
    March 12, 2015

    I’d say that there’s some oversimplication here about “learning outcomes” and “assessment”, which is understandable, given that the same oversimplication tends to exist across our culture and educational institutions.

    That’s because neither “learning outcomes” nor “assessment of student learning” means just one single identifiable thing, or even set of things — they’re not univocal terms, you can say. For many people (both pro-assessment and anti-assessment), they do mean the paradigm of the standardized test, rigidly enforced bureaucratic approaches, etc. — and there are often relatively poorly informed administrators put in charge of the “assessment” processes, who then require faculty to incorporate rather extrinsic measures into their classes, report data, and do quite a lot of makework.

    For that kind of assessment, the criticism about ‘“meta-standardization” set-up and enforced by administrators, accreditation agencies and so on’ is dead-on. Add to it the political uses of poorly-conceived and -understood assessment, and things get even uglier.

    That’s not the only way that assessment can be understood, however — and that’s not what a genuine “culture of assessment” looks like (which is something that accreditation bodies look for, at least in theory, and aim to foster). Not only is it not the only way assessment can be understood, that’s also not the way it’s actually done in many institutions.

    It’s quite possible to have bottom-up, faculty designed means of assessment that actually measure something relevant to learning — I’ve seen it done, and I’ve taken part in building and even reporting such types of assessment myself. As it turns out, philosophers are often precisely the sort of people you want to get involved in authentic assessment of student learning.

    There will of course, still be tensions between unpredictability and creativity on the one hand, and assessment of student learning — but it’s possible for there to be much, much less of that (and certainly not outright contradiction, or forced dilemmas), when assessment is well-understood, well-thought out, and when you take the time to involve faculty in developing and designing it.

    I think there’s a much longer conversation to be had about this issue. . .

    Liked by 1 person

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