A Note on Ann Schubert



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.

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