THE PREFIGURATIVE EDUCATION PROJECT
A BRIEF HISTORY, OVERVIEW, and STATEMENT of PURPOSE
The Prefigurative Education Project (PEP) began to form in July 2021. The founders of the project had previously worked together on a variety of political education projects. Through a set of exploratory conversations, the initiators of this formation agreed there was a need for a stand-alone, liberatory political education initiative.
PEP was slowly, deliberately, and intentionally founded over the course of six months from August 2021 through February 2022. In addition to the aforementioned exploratory conversations, the group held monthly meetings and twice monthly internal reading groups. The texts for these groups were democratically nominated and chosen by the collective. The discussions of these texts and the founders’ shared values helped inform this group’s development, as well as the creation of this document.
Throughout the generative process that led to the founding of PEP, many mutually agreed upon conclusions emerged. One is our shared conception of education as something that is ongoing and much more expansive than what our society delineates as schooling. Humans are curious, creative creatures that perpetually engage and interact with the world around them. In so doing, humans construct knowledge and understanding. Viewed in this way, this ongoing construction can be understood as education. Education is thus embedded into and intermeshed with much of the human experience – we are always learning.
Political education is a constitutive component of this educational process and thus inherent in much of human interaction. It is something that is happening continually and is a key component of socialization. Concepts of domination and hierarchy are implicit and/or explicit in most human relations and thus pervade human consciousness. These limit people’s understanding of history, distort people’s views of their relationship to the world, and, most tragically, circumscribe people’s imagination regarding what a better world could look like. Without dismantling this intellectual prison and erecting a world of alternate possibilities in its place, we can never bring to fruition the type of society for which we strive.
The role of PEP, as we see it, is to contribute to an ecosystem focused on the development of a human society centered around liberation, freedom, and the maximization of human potential and happiness. This necessitates a focus on the examination and deconstruction of structures of oppression, domination, and exploitation. Our project must be rooted in deep analyses of contemporary structures of power, something that theoretically informed inquiry can provide. Similarly, our ideas must emerge from and be in dialogue with the lived experience of those subject to structures of power. The resultant educational outputs will seek to expand the political horizons of learners and stretch the boundaries of their political imaginations.
Because we see education as essential to the human experience, we view political education as a form of mutual aid. Mutual aid is the process by which people collectively meet basic human needs through cooperative efforts. The results of this process are beneficial to all who participate. In order for this to be the case, all parties who enter into these relations must do so on equal footing and have an equal say in how the project is conducted. By their nature mutual aid projects are educational and help to build critical consciousness among their participants. Therefore, mutual aid projects are educational and our political education projects should be forms of mutual aid.
For political education to rise to the standards of mutual aid, it cannot be prescriptive, nor can it commence as or degenerate into what Paulo Freire called the “banking concept of education.” Since “every prescription represents the imposition of one individual’s choice upon another, transforming the consciousness of the person prescribed to into one that conforms with the prescriber’s consciousness,” it is imperative for education to be dialogical.1
Learning is a lifelong endeavor. It is a process of constant growth and striving. It must be approached with humility and the acceptance that it will never be a journey we complete. Like a transformation in society, personal transformations occur both slowly in the course of our lives, and suddenly in moments of crisis that inspire reflection and action. Liberatory education necessitates patience: that is to say, a patience that is not passive, but actively transforming. It demands patience with ourselves and with others. The process of unlearning and remapping, alluded to herein, is one that takes time. It requires internal and external dialogues and deep reflection.
Truly metamorphosing education is experiential and collaborative. We are social beings, and our own self-realization must be situated within a process of the transformation of others. We learn best by doing, and therefore it is paramount that the educational process be one characterized by exploration and experimentation. Our learning process must be both learner-centered and collaborative. It is only in the equilibrium of these elements that we can most effectively learn.
Just as the learning process must be collaborative and experiential, it must also be participatory. Curriculum development is not the purview of “expert” teachers. Instead, it should be the product of the collective efforts and decisions of the learners involved in each project. Members of our group have long experimented with the democratic development of curriculum and are convinced of its effectiveness for producing learning experiences. Not only does the democratic construction of these experiences ensure the curriculum reflects the learning desires and interests of the group, but it also is experiential and prefigurative. In building these curriculums, groups increase their capacity to educate themselves and prefigure the type of horizontal decision-making necessary for the transformation of society.
PEP believes that political education projects, in addition to being understood as forms of mutual aid, must be prefigurative. We have adopted the definition of prefigurative politics, promulgated by Paul Raekstad and Sofa Saio Gradin, as: “the deliberate experimental implementation of desired future social relations and practices in the here-and-now.”2 We strongly believe that we must prefigure the social relations and organizational forms of the future in the here-and-now. The world we want to see is one that foregrounds human liberation and maximizes freedom, and the political education we produce must reflect this in its construction.
For education to be accessible to all, it cannot rely on a single learning modality. Too many “traditional” education programs are entirely oriented towards readings and lectures. The type of educational experiences we envision must be multi-modal.
We believe that there are multiple iterations of oppression. Systems of oppression are interwoven, reciprocally reinforcing, and mutually constitutive. We cannot simply address one without dealing with the other intermeshed structures of domination and oppression. We therefore believe that truly liberatory and emancipatory political education must be intersectional in its approach.
PEP believes strongly in the harmony of means and ends. Therefore, our internal processes, organization, practices, and culture must reflect this. This means that not only must the conceptualizations of political education that we disseminate be prefigurative, but our internal work must mirror this.
As described above, we believe the learning process to be a lifelong one that unfolds over time. This reflects our larger theory of change. Just as change in individuals is gradual and non-linear, so is change on the societal level. Transformations have long historical antecedental trajectories. As David Graeber said, “the process of one system replacing the other will not take the form of some sudden revolutionary cataclysm – the storming of a Bastille, the seizing of a Winter Palace – but will necessarily be gradual, the creation of alternative forms of organization on a world scale, new forms of communication, less alienated ways of organizing life.”3
We see ourselves as a contributing node within a burgeoning ecosystem committed to the long-term project of bringing about a new, more free human society. We hope to inspire and support the formation of additional nodes of political education, which share our pedagogical orientation. Although we plan to run our own outward-facing programs sporadically, we see our role primarily as a resource for groups seeking to develop their own educational programs and modes of operation.
Major historical transformations, like the transition from feudalism to capitalism, happen over time and are prefigured through small group actions. The changes prefigured by these acts become hegemonic via major shifts in human consciousness and world views. We believe that a better world is not only possible but imperative. In order for the transition to this better world to be realized, we need a radical reconfiguration of how human beings understand their relationships to each other and the natural world of which they are a constituent part. We hope to contribute to and catalyze this transformation in some small way.
1 Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968; repr., New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 1970), p.47.
2 Paul Raekstad and Sofa Saio Gradin, Prefigurative Politics : Building Tomorrow Today (Cambridge, UK; Medford, MA: Polity Press, 2020), p.10.
3 David Graeber, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (Paradigm) (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2004), p.40.
Revised & Ratified: Feb. 2022