[iDC] Re(2): REFRESH! conference

John Hopkins jhopkins at neoscenes.net
Tue Oct 25 15:21:41 EDT 2005

Hi John, Simon, et al:

Although, as a Univ educator -- I agree with John's appraisal of the 
condition of the contemporary educational institution (having taught 
in around 50 institutions in Europe and the US), there is this 
critical area to consider:  yes, the classroom has not undergone a 
physical re-design, but perhaps it doesn't need one.  When the door 
closes, it has the potential to be a space for transcendent 
encounters between the participants IF the oppressive effects of the 
fear that is instilled by the dominant educational system in both 
student and teacher -- the fear of nonconformity, the fear of 
personal idiosyncrasies, and the fear of the unknown.  I believe this 
fear is a result of the accumulation of pathologic (unbalanced) 
relationships that are mandated between humans when operating in 
hierarchic situations.  If, as a facilitator, I can make even a small 
breathing space by establishing a trusting relationship among the 
participants, a space that allows at least a consideration of the 
powers that cause the fear to begin with, I feel that I have been 
successful.  Of course, it is important to go beyond an awareness of 
the effects of oppressive social relations, and move into a radical 
praxis that opens all possibilities, especially the possibility of 
fearless encounters between the Self and the Other.  This, I believe 
is the essence of learning -- the fearless opening of the Self to the 
unknown Other, the willingness to empathetically share a point of 
view with that Other.

The physical/material nature of the room itself does indeed have 
built-in the accoutrements and arrangements of power and control. 
But it is possible to do simple things like re-arrange the furniture. 
this simple act alone cracks open the situation.  Sometimes, for 
example, I take all the furniture in a space and before class I pile 
it all up in a corner.  Watching the reactions when people come in 
the door, and in the instant that there is a the registering that the 
situation is anomalous, the participant facing an unknown.  It is in 
that moment where something can happen.  It's also nice to have 
participants "curate" changes of venue where everyone can meet. 
Having a 'class' in someone's livingroom is sure to shift things.  It 
is called a Living room for a reason...

Too often I have seen "new media" curriculums that miss the crucial 
ramifications of what "new media" has inflicted on the social 
structure -- where there is the teacher and the students, interacting 
in the same old form of power relation. Yes, the subject of inquiry 
is 'radical' and suggests other 'radical' ways of behavior within the 
greater social system, but often the dynamic of classroom 
relationships do not reflect the suggested realities of the subject 
of inquiry.  I have found that it is of paramount importance to 
facilitate (and participate in) a evolutionary set of relationships 
that may start from the traditional teacher:student model, but 
transitions to a distributed human network during the course of 
studying "new media."

Furthermore, without establishing a lived praxis, the radical 
possibilities of personal and social transformation are largely 
missed.  I think this is a fundamental weakness of the vast majority 
of academic programs that seek to engage "new media":  That within 
the classroom, it IS business-as-usual.  Of course, there are 
exceptions which usually are a result of the efforts of individual 
teachers.  It is rare for an institution to move itself into a space 
which denies the efficacy of its institutional structure.  It does 
happen, but it is rare.

I have found crucial to my own praxis is my position within the local 
hierarchy -- for the last ten-plus years I have maintained 
connections to institutions through personal relationships of people 
in those institutions.  From this, come invitations to conduct 
workshops or seminars, where I am able to maintain a degree of 
independence from the local politic.  This independence has great 
value as my relationship with the students can be much more frank and 
open in most cases.  Often, the workshops include in-depth critics of 
the hierarchic situation that the students are in -- discussions that 
evolve openly from the content of the workshop (for example - 
networking and creative action) -- and discussions that lead to 
practical awareness and actions that are immediately relevant to 
actual situation of their lives.

Of course, I personally pay for this independence in the lack of 
economic security that the social system mandates for people who 
follow non-traditional behaviors...  Sometimes the price seems too 
much, and a "permanent" position seems attractive, but usually I can 
dispel that illusion with a phone call to tenure-track friends. ;-)

As for the history issue --  I would make a remix of Emersons intro 
to "Nature":

Our age is simulation. It builds on the protocols of the fathers. It 
modifies codes, programs, and interfaces. Generations before beheld 
the Other face to face; we, through their surveillance monitors. Why 
should not we also enjoy an original relation to the network? Why 
should we not have a stream and dialogue of insight and not of 
tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the remix of 
theirs? As we are carried for a time in this sensual presence, whose 
floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the 
energy they supply, to action, why should we search among the 
overwritten drives of the past or put the living generation into a 
simulation of its simulations? The sun shines to day also. There are 
new nodes, new humans, new thoughts. Let us demand our own networks 
and paths and protocols.

more 2-cents...


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