Monthly Archives: November 2012

keeping kids out of school and free from compulsory, curriculum-based, standardized education opens up an entire world of possibility – not only for the kids but for the parents too. i get so excited when i read articles like this one from frieze magazine . i hope you enjoy it too….

one of three essays from the frieze magazine article by a co-founder of the public school


The External Program, Los Angeles

Sean Dockray
An artist based in Los Angeles, USA. He is the co-founder of The Public School, Telic Arts Exchange and The External Program, an online education project due to be launched this autumn. 

In 1858, a message from Queen Victoria to us President James Buchanan was the first official telegraph to cross a cable laid under the Atlantic; it was a message applauding its own transmission. Within decades, a worldwide system of cables was woven beneath the oceans, connecting a quarter of the earth’s landmass – the British Empire was at its pinnacle. Queen Victoria launched another imperialist project in 1858 when she chartered the University of London’s External Programme, the earliest correspondence learning institution in the world.

Like contemporary online education initiatives – such as mit and Harvard’s partnership, edX – the External Programme was invested with the promise of levelling social and economic hierarchies. Charles Dickens characterized it as the ‘People’s University’, ‘extending her hand to the young shoemaker who studies in his garret’. What the institution offered were study materials and a degree from London, regardless of where one lived, contingent on passing an examination based on those standards established in the English capital.

Today, edX has become a model – in spite of the fact that it has only offered one class, ‘Circuits and Electronics’ – for the adoption of online education into many universities’ business plans. A recent Wall Street Journal article on massive online courses noted that: ‘The substitution of technology (which is cheap) for labour (which is expensive) can vastly increase access to an elite-calibre education.’ Based on this logic, the University of Virginia fired its president in June for being sceptical about moving online too quickly; board members said they needed a leader who ‘embraced strategic dynamism rather than strategic planning’. In this ‘dynamic’ educational landscape, the faculty is ‘unbundled’ into a package of services – curriculum writing, instruction, advising, examination and assessment – that are provided by licensed content, inexpensive adjunct faculty or graduate students and private contractors. If the university has been the last institutional bastion for the Left, that position is being absolutely eliminated by this neoliberal restructuring of education – unsurprisingly under the banner of increased access.

Perhaps there is a parallel here to Marx’s double freedom, whereby we are free to sell our labour and we are free from any control over the means of production. Our free access comes with institutions that are increasingly inaccessible, dominated by an unproductive administrative class, whose primary activity involves firing people and establishing lucrative intellectual property arrangements. Look at one of the massive open online courses (moocs, as they are known) with one teacher to 100,000 students (competing for visibility and grading each other’s work for free) to see the establishment of solid pyramidal structures, managed for profit by businessmen, lawyers and technicians.

A few years ago, the University of London decided that the name ‘External Programme’ sounded ‘out of date’, and so it was changed to the ‘International Programme’. This was a fortunate event for us at The Public School because it gave us a readymade name for our own new online learning project – the External Program, abbreviated as exP. The Public School was initiated in Los Angeles in 2007 as ‘a school with no curriculum’, which simply meant that the classes offered would not come from an institutional mission or disciplinary parameters, but from an open process where anyone could propose something that they wanted to learn about or teach. It was an engine for bringing small groups of people together, face-to-face.

In the past, The Public School has not only resisted moving into online education, some reasons for which are implicit in this essay, but has conceived of itself as an inversion of that very form. Rather than using the Internet to eliminate the classroom by broadcasting teaching outwards, The Public School uses the same technology as a platform for students and teachers to collectively develop a curriculum and organize classes, bringing people together into physical classrooms. The impulse to document seemed to reinforce the idea of a centre or origin, and so class documentation has been generally eliminated in favour of the idea that a group can collectively produce knowledge themselves without appealing to a higher, or central, authority.

Something now seems a bit self-satisfied by this position. After all, millions of people around the world are actually engaging with these forms of online learning. But they are forms that tend to exploit one’s paranoia about future employability and teach marketable skills or inculcate the viewer-student into the new religion of entrepreneurial, technological innovation. Where is the online educational space for learning for its own sake? For the development of critical thought? For the articulation and circulation of new concepts, languages and political possibilities? Contemporary distance education, bedeviled by the question of accreditation, seems totally incompatible with these questions. Instead we witness the survival of 19th- and early-20th-century colonial concerns over standardization, filtered through the Internet economy.

We are launching our External Program this autumn not simply as another player in the landscape of online education, but as a quasi-institution devoted to the study of its own conditions, and to ‘externalization’ in all its forms: the remote student body; passwords and profiles; contingent faculty; outsourced assessment systems; the move toward cloud computing; militarization of campuses; student loan debt; stress, depression and anxiety.

Gilles Deleuze observed in his ‘Postscript on Control Societies’ (1990) that ‘perpetual training tends to replace the school’ and that ‘young people strangely boast of being “motivated”’. This could not better describe our present moment in which one of the new, popular televisual genres that have emerged over the last few years is the video lecture – the elementary building block of online education. Interestingly, these videos are not simply broadcast out from the institution to the citizens beyond, but with growing frequency are consumed within the institutions themselves. Perhaps the reason that the original External Programme seems ‘out of date’ is precisely because it is no longer external or exceptional, but rather it describes the new normal condition of the university itself.



photo 1-3 photo 2-4

last night at capoeira a friend asked me this question. i am starting to recognize it as the most frequent question i am asked whenever i run into a friend.

i usually say something non specific and all encompassing like, “well, my days are hard to define. we usually wake up with no plan and at the end of the day we have some books that were read, an animal we researched, a person we looked up, many drawings or paintings we made, words that were written and of course many questions were answered (or thought about?). the girls play a lot. we see friends. we take walks and bike rides. we eat a few times both out and at home and in the evening they are into watching avatar: the last airbender. funny enough, jason and i are into it too.”

here i will try again to answer as best i can, more generally, more specifically…hah!

once we made the decision to not go to school, i signed up for a class on each day and left fridays for social stuff. the classes were noted in a previous post: trapeze in spanish, science at the exploratorium, capoeira 2x (viv and ida’s classes on different days) and then friday was free. the week ended up being quite busy and very social actually!

quickly i realized this was a mistake. after the first week it became clear we were right back into the same power struggles to leave the house as when we were getting ready to leave for school. the girls continually wanted to “stay home”. they were even avoiding playdates! it was when i finally gave into this desire that i started to understand what was going on. when you read about a child’s development you remember that they are still growing their little minds and bodies. the adult world, especially here in the city, is a little intense. i think if we had a huge field in our backyard the girls would want to be outside exploring more. i do not doubt as the world at large becomes more of a draw for them we will venture out beyond the neighborhood more.

it seems that viv (and ida) are happy to explore their inner worlds here at the house and in the backyard. a walk around the neighborhood is sufficient or a park visit or a bookstore exploration or just people watching on the corner. unschooling allows me to get back into my inner world as well which i have been missing a lot lately. reading, drawing, writing, etc… the structure will grow as they do i am sure. no doubt there will be ideas to pursue and plans to act out. i am noticing we move at the perfect speed for us. four days a week there are three people and it requires communication to make sure all needs are met. three days a week there are four of us – jason has sat, sun and mon with us. more negotiations!

i think the other major factor in the girl’s wanting to stay home during the week, is that when their dad is home, he is a big adventurer and loves to go hither and yon – all over the bay area really. saturday, sunday and monday you might find all four of us (or the three of them) down at the beach or up on san bruno mountain or on mount tam or in the east bay or in china town or even just downtown. jason likes to be on the move. so i think when tuesday rolls around, the three of us are ready for some serious down time.

unschooling just feels natural to us at this time. if the girls are hungry i encourage them to fend for themselves or ask me to help them prepare what they are in the mood for. usually i am the main cook. though earlier today they got smoked salmon, carrots and cucumber out of the fridge and ate them straight. now, it is 3 o clock and they are hungry again – they got cranberries out of the cupboard, i am warming up some miso and boiling water for some bowtie pasta. it won’t be long before they can do all of this on their own!

we walked around the block today in the rain. talked about how weather encourages different things – both going out and staying in are enjoyable in the rain. the light is different in the rain. people are in a hurry in the rain. people duck into bookstores in the rain – we did that and enjoyed two books illustrated by maurice sendak and written by sesle joslin – what do you say, dear? and what do you do, dear? they stomped in puddles and played with their umbrellas letting some rain drops hit their heads and some land on their tongues.

a lot of letting go is involved. whenever i ask myself what it is we are doing, i hesitate and wonder if it is because i am bored or directionless myself in that moment. then i try my best to not get too frustrated with the sensation and try to redirect myself. often when i feel this, the girls are completely engaged with something and i try and take it as a sign that it is time for me to do something for myself. that way, when they are ready to engage, so am i. or hopefully? there are moments when i want my alone time to continue, and this is where i have to practice both setting limits and being flexible. i am human and lose my cool and act like an animal too, but i am trying to be a good example now and again. i think it is important for them to know i am not perfect and that i do not know everything and that i am growing too.

they both still take a capoeira class once a week. they both still love it. viv still takes trapeze in spanish on mondays.

i am trying to go to yoga once a week and stretch every day. sometimes with success. some weeks with none.

oh right, social stuff! well, we are lucky that we have a lot of amazing people in our life. a day usually doesn’t go by without a visit to someone’s house or people visiting here. some are adults, many are kids, and really it is hard to keep up with making sure they get quality time instead of too many people at a time. when people express concern that the girls will not be properly socialized i have to giggle. these girls have plenty of friends. playdates several times a week and then on the weekend they are lucky to be exposed to our adult friends, some who have kids and some who don’t. that is one thing that city living provides – a lot of different people doing different things with their life. i feel a little guilty that ida doesn’t have many friends her same age, but that is the plight of the little sister. i am sure this will change with time. she is only four years old.

some recent happenings…

we made our halloween costumes. it took an entire day. ida was princess mononoke and i was her giant white wolf. viv was nausicaa – princess of the valley of the wind. jason was the comet that flew over the mission.

we marched in the day of the dead procession here in the mission. viv painted her own face – jason and i collaborated on ida’s. many good friends marched with us.

we also made a teepee on our garage roof out of bamboo clippings that were abandoned in the alley.

our cat passed away recently. we buried him under our fire pit in the backyard. in his honor, ida has been making many drawings of him on the iphone.

we ate apples on san bruno mountain.

how’s that for a ramble?!

photo 1-2 photo 2-3