- Bootleg Education:Para-Pedagogical Experimentation Outside the University Setting
Listen to this (from Goat Island’s “Letter to a Young Practitioner”):
You understand who you are.You understand who you could be.You understand the gap between the two.Sometimes, you close the gap.You become who you might be.You experience this for a moment.What if we call that moment: “the classroom”?(246)
Consider these words, offered to young practitioners by former Chicago-based performance collective Goat Island, as a presentation of the “classroom” as a materialist utopia. Removed from its daily connotation signifying a place within the walls of an academic institution, the “classroom” becomes a no-place. To transpose “classroom” from a location to a generative duration through which future and present combine, the young practitioner must transform herself from passive recipient of knowledge to active producer of meaning. The act of producing an understanding of who you might be, then, constitutes a materialist utopian gesture, but one perhaps best understood by anthropologist Stuart McLean, who, borrowing from Oscar Wilde’s thoughts in “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” views utopias as “one means of contributing to the realization of [a new world], not through speculative gestures of escapism but by performing new realities into being” (123). That is, for Wilde and McLean, utopian thinking yields no fruit by remaining at the level of abstract idealism; instead, to think the world anew, one must enact a temporal jump by living in the present as one would hope to live in the (more perfect) future. Goat Island’s injunction brings this political message to the body of the student and the space of the classroom while also placing the power of subjective change firmly in the hands of the learner, not the schoolmaster.
This spirited redefinition of classroom, however, once projected onto the lived experience of teaching and learning in the halls of higher education, reveals a particular failure. For while this new classroom has the potential to reinvigorate the practice of learning and to reframe the mission of cultivating critical-thinking and self-reflexive citizens of the world, it precisely does not describe the typical classroom space in, say, American colleges and universities. Projected onto the classroom spaces in which we (Joanne and Will) teach, Goat Island’s materialist utopian proposition reminds us that the commodification of advanced education, with its emphasis on quantifiable learning outcomes, frequently fails to help students understand the gap between who they are and who they might be, and to perform the union of those two states. Instead, the disjunction between administrative desires for glowing graduation rates and other shiny statistics and pedagogical desires for renewed, enhanced, and enriched critical thinking frequently leads to a bifurcated student identity: torn between finishing school in a timely fashion so as (ostensibly) to get a job and pursuing a life of experimental and exploratory thinking leading who knows where. [End Page 77]
Several scholars and organizations have dedicated their time and energy to addressing this problem. In 2008, in the pages of Theatre Topics, Branislav Jakovljevic, Wade Hollingshaus, and Mark Foster reflected on their roles in a year-long study of an overcrowded classroom. The title of the article speaks to their findings: “Financialization of Education: Teaching Theatre History in the Corporatized Classroom.” Articulated through a series of blog posts generated during the year following the study, each author offers observations to substantiate the heft of their title. Hollingshaus, then a graduate-student teaching assistant, writes that “what I want most from liberal education—to revel in thought—continues to become more and more obscured by the material demands of financialization. It seems as though liberal education has been forsaken for technical training. Grades and careers come before thought” (71). Foster, then an undergraduate teaching assistant, comments on a similarity between his experience communicating with students via the web-CT online platform used in the class and the argument made by David Noble in his essay “Digital Diploma Mills, Part 1: The Automation of Higher Education”: namely, that corporate sponsorship has pervaded the very software that mediates interactions between teacher and student. This invisible mediation means that...