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Occupy Education: Occupy the Future

Guest blogger Saulo Colon considers the twin roles of vision and practice in social movements. In public education, an institution designed from the start as a way of prefiguring society's future in the here and now, such lessons are of crucial importance -- the values we prioritize and reward in schools, good or ill, will eventually manifest themselves in society at-large. --Greg


In this post I elaborate on an issue that Greg and I think is critical for real reform work.

Hypothesis 1: Movement success starts with visionary shifts in thinking and behavior (prefigurative praxis).

In order to think about what educational reforms we need, we first have to envision the society we want those reforms to help create.

Transformative thinkers and leaders see and embrace possibilities for our collective future that seem beyond the realm of conventional wisdom. Transformative solutions come from visionary, "outside the box," and utopian thinking. They require a capacity and a willingness to consider changes of a sort and scale beyond mainstream discourse. In many ways, this is analogous to what Thomas Kuhn described as "paradigm shifts" in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. When existing ways of conceptualizing the world no longer work, or, in a society, do not promote justice and equity, newly-minted ideas are needed.

Social justice thinkers and organizers have visions of a changed world when the future looks unclear to most. They approach current social problems as challenges to be overcome in order to move towards and shape the future, as the visionary utopian Edward Bellamy did in Looking Backward and William Morris did in News from Nowehere.

Transformative movements help usher in a better tomorrow by creating alternatives to life today and enabling us to see new possibilities for our collective futures. Such movements model the future that they envision, and act on this "future" before it has come. Such "prefigurative" movements foster behaviors and create structures and institutions that are a microcosm of the future they are trying to build. They plant seeds that grow the future.

"The crux of prefigurative politics . . . [is] to create and sustain within the live practice of the movement, relationships and political forms that 'prefigure' and embody the desired society," New Left theorist Wini Breines wrote. Activists not only advocate for change but the structure and actions of the movements they create are microcosms of the more humane society they want to bring into being.

They "walk out" of failing systems, as authors Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze write. They not only refuse to work for oppressive, alienating circumstances but also "walk on" to "champion values and practices that respect people, that rely on people's inherent motivation, creativity, and caring to get quality work done." They are already creating a better future through the ways they live and act in the present.

Many communal movements, from the kibbutzim to the Bruderhof Communities, attempt to prefigure a changed social order through the very ways that they live. Thus, the form and practice of those participating in the movement become a template and even an advertisement for the larger goals of the movement.

This is what inspires many about the Occupy Movement. The fact that while it resists the status quo of capitalist realism, it also develops the People's Library, the Communal Kitchen, the General Assembly that point the way to how society could be. In order to Occupy the future we have to build it now.

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