Sunday, 12 November 2017

Towards an Anti-Fascist Curriculum

Last month's Warsaw demonstrations were shocking in their scale (60,000 nationalists marched on Poland's independence day; many calling for 'a white Europe of brotherly nations'), but were also disturbing in the way that, whilst confronted with new displays of far-right extremism almost daily - we just don't seem shocked enough. Fascism is like that, of course. It is out-there in the Charlottesville marches, echoed in the words of Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson, yet it is also insidious. It creeps into lives - and becomes normalised in our language and behaviours. As Umberto Eco wrote in 'Ur-Fascism' (1995, p.8), 'Fascism..can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances – every day, in every part of the world.'

The warning signs

I won't use this blog to attempt to summarise important political discussions or try to analyse fascism in any detail; I am not a historian. But given the international rise of the far-right I believe that, as educators, we have a duty to be sensitive to these shifts and as a result should be reshaping our curricula and pedagogy to take account of it.

According to Merriam Webster, fascism is 'a political philosophy, movement, or regime... that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition'. Eco suggests a list of features that are typical of what he calls Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. As he states, 'These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it'. The first principle, that fascism derives from individual or social frustration, is enough in itself to set alarm bells ringing. Four other key features are:

1.The cult of tradition. The desire to return to a better age, and a fear of modernism: 'Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message'. (It should be noted that the first thing that fascist states seize is the curriculum).

2. Irrationalism, and the promotion of action over thought. 'Distrust of the intellectual world'.

3. Fear of difference (fascism is racist by definition). 'The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders.'

4. The fostering of a spirit of war, heroism and machismo. 'Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual 8 habits, from chastity to homosexuality).'

An anti-fascist curriculum

I suggest here that an anti-fascist curriculum should take account of warning signs such as Eco's, and should also pay heed to Lawrence Britt's 'Fourteen signs of fascism' which include Cronyism and Corruption, the suppression of organised labour, obsession with national security and identification of scapegoats as a unifying cause.

The word 'curriculum' here refers to more than just the syllabus; it incorporates all influences on a child (or adult's) education (buildings, pedagogy, classroom management, the implicit and explicit things that are taught). As teachers we often distract ourselves from the bigger picture; arguments about the specifics of practice give a sense that our classrooms operate as micro-entities, where children are unaffected by the social dysfunction surrounding them. Managing behaviour is seen as a battle of 'them versus us,' and the 'othering' of pupils causes us to neglect the development of our own self-awareness. For this reason, such a curriculum can only start with the teacher.

Below are a few ideas for what an anti-fascist curriculum manifesto might practically include. It can only ever be a guideline; wanting it to become policy or enacted in some way defeats the object of a movement that should sit outside the state. Likewise, it should not dictate the behaviour of teachers, only act as a stimulus that has the potential, not to make large-scale change, but to spark a 'line of flight' that disrupts the status quo. If any of the manifesto chimes with you or you want send any thoughts or ideas as I continue to extend it, please do not hesitate to comment or get in touch with me.

Towards an Anti-Fascist Curriculum - A Manifesto for Educators

1. We start by examining the 'fascist inside us all.'

“The strategic adversary is fascism... the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.” (Foucoult, 1983)

We recognise our own interior desire for power and accept our responsibility as educators to reflect on this with others in spirit of critical challenge. We undertake critically reflective processes that make us question our own assumptions and prejudices, such as tests of cognitive dissonance to expose gender, race, age, disability bias, and intersections of these and other identities. We examine our own values, as individuals and within our organisations and consider the roots of these and their influences on our practice. Our reflective activity extends to our roles as leaders; we aim to continually refine and develop ourselves as human beings, alongside our students.

2. We promote difference over uniformity.

This includes de-centring the Enlightenment idea of the 'perfect human' in order to augment the voices of oppressed 'others'. We celebrate the living knowledge of our students, and examine the genealogy of the subjects we teach to decolonise and diversify our curricula. We make efforts to connect with others globally to inform our practice and maintain perspective. We challenge the threat of toxic masculinity through deliberate educational approaches which liberate men and boys from the need to conform to 'gender-specific' ideals (which further male supremacy). We reflect on our own privilege.

3. We accept complexity and uncertainty.

Whilst welcoming research-informed practice, we reject the fetishisation of science and the search for the 'ultimate truths' of education theory, which can limit educational autonomy.

4. We resist the reduction of 'education' to instrumentalism.

We widen the purpose of education to take into account the socialisation and subjectification of our students (Biesta, 2010). We believe in education as the practice of freedom (hooks, 1994) and consider each subject we teach as a potential vehicle to promote agency and social justice.

5. We are pro-social, critical pedagogues.

We use teaching methods that place an emphasis on the building of community, togetherness and belonging, which have a strong critical and reflective focus. Specific teaching innovations may include philosophical inquiry, restorative practice and thinking environments (and would include the implementation of critical digital pedagogies).





Biesta, G. (2010). Good Education in an Age of Measurement. New York: Paradigm.

Eco, U. (1995), Ur-Fascism. [Online]. Available at: http://www.pegc.us/archive/Articles/eco_ur-fascism.pdf. Accessed [12 November 2017].

Foucoult, M. (1983). 'Preface to Anti-Oedipus - Capitalism and Schizophrenia'. Preface. University of Minnesota: Minnesota Press.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge.

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