As a teacher, I think a lot about school -- and not just the day-to-day routine of it, but the entire philosophy and structure of it. While I was still in my first years of teaching, I was simultaneously working on my graduate degree, and part of my course reading for one of my many (many) theory-focused classes was Althusser. There is a passage that still haunts me whenever I ask myself why we "do" school the way we do it.
What do children learn at school? They go varying distances in their studies, but at any rate they learn to read, to write and to add – i.e. a number of techniques, and a number of other things as well, including elements (which may be rudimentary or on the contrary thoroughgoing) of ‘scientific’ or ‘literary culture’, which are directly useful in the different jobs in production (one instruction for manual workers, another for technicians, a third for engineers, a final one for higher management, etc.). Thus they learn know-how.
But besides these techniques and knowledges, and in learning them, children at school also learn the ‘rules’ of good behaviour, i.e. the attitude that should be observed by every agent in the division of labour, according to the job he is ‘destined’ for: rules of morality, civic and professional conscience, which actually means rules of respect for the socio-technical division of labour and ultimately the rules of the order established by class domination....
To put this more scientifically, I shall say that the reproduction of labour power requires not only a reproduction of its skills, but also, at the same time, a reproduction of its submission to the rules of the established order....
This question was foremost on my mind when I created my most recent Crate Paper layout. Faced with a post topic that challenged me to find inspiration in something that I encounter often in my daily life, I focused on the lockers that line the halls at the school where I teach.
These locked "boxes" brought to mind the routines and patterns of students, who, essentially, spend most their days moving from box to box -- cars and buses, lockers, classrooms, houses, bedrooms, even computer screens and the pages of planners.
They wake up in boxes, sit in traffic in boxes, head toward their locked boxes, and then enter their assigned ones. They spend their days in boxes, staring at boxes, but somewhere in the midst of the day, let me be the one who helps them see beyond boxes. Let's unlock, let's defy compartmentalization, let's open up to the world.
All those years ago, reading Althusser, I realized my role in something so much bigger than myself. Though the idea is bewildering and sometimes overwhelming, I do accept that change begins with me. If we can begin to see the world differently, then we can begin to make a difference.