A Note on Ann Schubert

October 17, 2007



William Ayers

Distinguished Professor of Education

Senior University Scholar

University of Illinois at Chicago

Bernardine Dohrn

Founding Director of the Children and Family Justice Center

Associate Clinical Professor of Law

Northwestern University School of Law

What is worthwhile to know? And what does it mean to know? How can you be sure? What does it mean to be conscious? What is authenticity? What is false consciousness?

What’s worth experiencing and why? What constitutes an authentic experience as opposed to an inauthentic experience? Who could judge such a thing?

What is true? What is enlightenment? In a dynamic and expanding universe how can we be certain of anything?

What is freedom? Liberation? How do our various choices variously made reflect on the problem of freedom?

Ann Schubert was comfortable with questions. Answers were sought, but they always turned out to be contingent and tentative. They always opened to new questions. Whenever something seemed settled, Ann opened to a different angle of regard, and everything was once again up-for-grabs. This was as she liked it. Her mind was active and reaching, always wondering, marveling, imagining. She was powered by a long, continuous, “I don’t know”—the common human desire to discover. And she lived it. She didn’t want things settled, because in that direction lay dogma and a kind of death.

Her interests were broad and eclectic—the arts and culture, philosophy and history—but cohered around curriculum studies as an ethical and political enterprise. Curriculum suited her: it was large enough to become a home for her restless mind and her huge heart, and at the same time focused enough to offer important work to do here and now that might enable other human beings to think more deeply, to act more wisely, to move more powerfully into their own pursuits and projects. She promoted wide-awakeness. She believed in the infinite potential of human beings to make and then remake their worlds. She organized for greater awareness of the obstacles that constrain or enable full participation and action.

Ann’s interests as a scholar and as a citizen flowed simultaneously in many directions: 1) Enlightenment: knowledge of philosophy, history, the cultural and economic underpinnings of curriculum; literature, music, the plastic arts as critical and often ignored bases for making and integrating curriculum; curriculum designed with learners based on their own stated interests and perceived needs; insight into curriculum studies in the broad, general sense of engagement with the wide range of “what is worthwhile” questions; 2) Liberation: the need to fight the hierarchies of privilege and oppression based on race, class, gender and gender identity, sexual preference, language, ability, belief, age, ethnicity, nationality, and more; the influence of imperialism and militarism on educational opportunity, human identity, and world peace; 3) Humanism: sympathy for education as a process of composing one’s life; the central place of love in the educative process; mothering and parenting as powerful educational callings.

These diverse and wide-ranging concerns tumbled over one another, connected, separated, reunited, and circled back. The connections mattered: place was linked to asking “what is worthwhile” was connected to the arts was awakened in love. But the inevitable paradoxes also counted: we are what we are not yet; I can be free only as I become aware of my entanglements; I must act and I must doubt; I can’t go on, I will go on.

Ann was indignant about injustice, but she was not an innocent. She knew the terrible things people were capable of, but she believed nonetheless that people could be better. She nourished her capacity for outrage, and she never lost it. She practiced kindness, compassion, and simple decency.

Ann was a person whose own development was an inner necessity—she was rich in both abilities and needs, filled with capacities and pleasures and interior productive forces. Because she saw her own growth and development with clarity and insight—because she knew what self-motivation and self-construction could do—she imagined schools that might be structured toward the all-around development of the individual, places where the full development of each would be the condition for the full development of all.

What more is there to say. She was in motion, always with one foot in a world of her own creation. Her death leaves a large hole, but it doesn’t complete our conversation with her. That will continue, for it must.

A Teacher Education Class

October 17, 2007

  1. What do you think about same sex schools?

It all depends. There can be advantages in certain circumstances and the answer will always be in the details. But in general, and all things being equal, I think schools do best when they follow the natural rhythms of family and community life. In the world I want to live in, women and men are equal, work and play together, live and interact together, and therefore learn and grow together.

  1. Are progressive techniques and strategies useful in all schools (private, urban, independent, etc.) Is your experience from working with all different schools, or just urban schools only?

I’ve worked in many kinds of schools—never a parochial or religious school—and at every level. Tactics and techniques vary from class to class and student to student. What remains consistent is principles and values. For example, I want to hold to the value of the unity of humanity, that is, every human being is of incalculable value and must be seen as a dynamic, three-dimensional, unruly spark of meaning-making energy on a voyage of discovery and surprise. I have to approach my students with awe and humility and think of myself as fortunate to be able to share (and even help shape) a bit of our voyage together.

  1. How do you go about doing things in a public school when you don’t have “permission” (from the administration?) What advice do you have for a “loose canon?

First, the obvious: ask forgiveness, not permission. Don’t set out to learn the rules. Do your thing. Second, find the cracks, the places where no one cares (lunch, recess, break, before school, after school, social studies) and no one is watching to bring your teaching to life. Third, do what is asked of you, and more. Enhance the stated curriculum with performances, projects, and portfolios.

  1. Think back to a time when you noticed there was a flaw in your journey? How did you feel? How did you adjust?

Terrible. Criticize yourself at the end of each day. Forgive yourself at the beginning of the next day. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.

  1. Can any teaching style be affective when there are disruptive students in class?

There are always disruptive students in class. The challenge is to make your curriculum and teaching so compelling, so engaging, so interesting, and so finely calibrated for multiple entry points, that most kids will want to be there, eager to participate. The trick is to have the class become enough of a community so that most misbehavior isn’t a matter of Jake and Mary getting over on you, but rather each being brought back on board by everyone.

  1. What would be the one piece of advice for us as future teachers to keep us focused and not to give into complacency?

Focus on the kids—each an entire universe of ideas, capacities, dreams, needs, desires. So fun to be with. So smart and interesting. Take a look. Now, look again, more deeply this time.

  1. Give me two essential/most important aspects that a teacher should take in consideration to create a real learning environment.

Go visit the kids at home. Now hang out in the community. What informal learning/curriculum exists there? Replicate it. Now extend and expand it. Now blow it open.

  1. In a high school setting, what methods would you suggest be used to minimize gang activity in your classroom? (Especially if it has become a prevailing part of the sub-culture within one’s school.)

Build a curriculum around gangs. Begin like this:

—What’s a gang?

—Are all gang’s made up of youth?

—What gangs are for older people?

—What are some good things about gangs?

—What are some bad things?

—Could gangs work together?

—Could gangs work to make a better community?

—What 2 things would you suggest to turn the negative to the positive in gangs?

I’d also read “Romeo and Juliet”, “Always Running”, “Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun,” “Nip the Buds Shoot the Kids,” Claude Brown, Piri Thomas, and I’d see “West Side Story,” “Just Another Girl on the IRT,” “Once Were Warriors” and more.

  1. How can you use the community as a resource for teaching, if the community or school official does not allow you to?

You live in the community. You walk through it every day. You get the paper. You have a TV. Just use it.

  1. How can you maximize a child’s full potential in education if you don’t have the full support and cooperation of their parent(s)?

Careful about seeing the parents as negative. What does full support mean anyway? I’ve never met parents who didn’t hope for good things for their kids. Start by saying to each parent: “You know Jimmy better than I ever will…What advice can you give me to make me a better teacher for him?” The dialogue begins there.

  1. As a writer myself, I would like to know how to integrate my teaching philosophy into my writing.

To start, listen to the kids. Tape record them. Get them writing. Now you have raw material to ground your stories in. Read the great teacher-writers: Ashton-Warner, Kohl, Paley, Mike Rose, Herndon, McCourt, Septima Clark, Tolstoy…

  1. Have you found that public schools, that are so consumed with state test scores to the point that the curriculum focuses solely on the material that is on the test, to be receptive to alternate teaching methods, or are private schools more likely to embrace them?

All schools are entangled, none are free, so wherever you teach you will have to invert yourself in part in opposition. There is no easy path, no blueprint. Teaching is the most difficult and the most transcendent of all callings because no one can tell you how it’s done.

  1. How can a teacher find the space to teach children when they are given a set curriculum?

Find allies. Parents. Other teachers. Free kids. Work the cracks.

  1. What if the school doesn’t allow me to teach the way I want to, the way I learned in this book outside from following the usual school curriculum, and how do I get support to be able to expand this form of teaching?

Find allies. Parents. Other teachers. Free kids. Work the cracks.

  1. How do we engage students, get them to “want” to learn when they don’t care, and when no one supports them?

All kids want to learn. All of us are in fact learning all the time. We don’t always learn what we’re “supposed” to—often the lessons are boredom, irrelevance, alienation, and cynicism. You’re in class right now—you’re students—so you know what I mean. But what child didn’t want to learn to walk, talk, eat, run, and more. Wanting to learn—to become stronger, more capable, more powerful—is the human condition. Schools subvert this, and good teachers struggle to get back to it.

  1. How do you feel about the way society portrays teachers and if there is anything we as a society can do to change this stigma?

See You Tube: “Nice White Lady.” That’s a cliché all over our culture. Resist. Speak up.