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Future of the Public School

Organizing Committee:


The destiny of social movements is to change the structure of human relations -- so be careful what you ask for! This class aims to look at the cultural roots of the current university crisis, and in that light, to explore the role that experiments like The Public School could play in re-imagining education. The class would be discussion based and the proposal can be expanded/completed/reoriented by other inputs. It's proposed for September 4-5, when I can visit LA.

Some deep reference points for the discussion are provided by the critical work by two UC professors, Christopher Newfield and Robert Samuels. Newfield develops an idealized historical figure of the public university as the cultural vehicle of an expanded, multi-ethnic middle class, and shows how its capacity to elaborate its own measures and values was strengthened by the social activism of the 1960s and 70s, before being eroded by the introduction of entrepreneurial conceptions of creativity and innovation in the 90s. He's particularly good on identifying dominant business practices and showing how they came to overdetermine cultural values; to go further with that we could look into the work of management guru Peter Drucker on the knowledge economy, as well as Henry Chesbrough's model of "open innovation."

Samuels begins with the mediated experience of networked society and examines the ambiguous mix of autonomy and alienation characterizing the individualized, semi-automated environment of games, movies and social media (the expression of what he calls "automodernity"). He critiques a lot of "high theory" and develops his own take on the psychopathology of everyday experience in the digital age; plus he is far more critical of faculty self-interest than Newfield. Samuels is really asking how to create critical social movements under the social and psychic conditions of what I call "the flexible personality."

Both these guys are active participants in the UC debate, and their arguments go a long way toward revealing what's at stake, both culturally and economically, in the current transformation of public universities. We could read them from a very specific perspective, asking not only whether they get it right, but what relevance their portrayals of contemporary society and its institutions might have for people trying to invent their own self-managed processes of education. By assessing the state of society's major institutions of higher learning we could ask which directions should be taken by vanguard experiments seeking a dialectical relation to the mainstream. In this way the class would feed back into the current campus movements while pointing toward further horizons.

Readings (to be completed by other proposals):

--Christopher Newfield, Unmaking the Public University: The Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class, esp. chapters 1-3, 5 and 8.

--Robert Samuels, New Media, Cultural Studies and Critical Theory after Postmodernism: Automodernity from Zizek to Laclau, esp. chaps 1, 5, 6, 8 and 9.



I'll type-up my notes from both days and post them by the end of the week.

ssbothwell's picture

micha, i would be into that. this is a class that could happen several times a year and maintain it's relevancy.

as for the people asking about notes and such.. there were several people in the room who i saw taking notes and we tried to make an audio recording but had technical difficulties. if anyone would be interested in writing a summary, or even just posting their notes, that would be great.

in general, i want to start getting more summary type material posted after classes occur. if this happens, at the end of the year we will produce some kind of collection of all the writing contributed.

azdelslade's picture

Hi all, this is micha in san diego, I wish I could've made it up for this. It also seems like a good thing to continue doing throughout the fall. October 7th is the big mobilzation. Would people be interested in doing another one before then?

sean's picture

At the beginning of each day I'll ask if it's ok to make an audio recording of the meeting (mentioning the requests for it) and then as long as no one objects we'll post it online afterwards.

In the past we've basically found that the recording/ broadcast technology can be a distraction (either to make sure it's all working, or people aren't as free to share their thoughts in the moment) and we have typically suggested that people hold mirror sessions instead. Even if there is a decision to prohibit recording this weekend though, someone will take notes and post those online so that any mirror session has some more material to work with.

I plan to come on Saturday. Bob Samuels

Can i add to the international sentiment on behalf of Glasgow, Scotland and request you skype stream this live to us too? The 'Public School' i'm involved with here is really keen to take part/ watch this with you guys!?
see our public school at

something like youtube or vimeo would be great. slowly we're creating a huge pool of resources in these platforms, which is completely open for whoever is interested.

Rebecca Gray's picture

If someone brought a laptop, is it possible to Skype and/or videostream and/or record, as felmagalhaes suggested? Would also love to see this disc. extended down the public school heirarchy--high school, middle school, and elementary school, where it seems the only way to secure some kind of real, living education is for the parent to become an active instructor, in the classroom + after school....

Can you guys film (or at leas record the audio of) this so that people in south america and elsewhere can have the privilege to see it too!?



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