Liberation and Educational Change

No group’s liberation will succeed unless schools become a force for liberation. Achieving a just society requires that schools be transformed. Mao knew that when he initiated the Cultural Revolution. Most reformers and revolutionaries, however, do not realize the importance of educational change. The reactionaries do, however. Martin Bormann, the German Nazi leader, understood it well. He wrote: “Education is a danger . . . At best an education which produces useful coolies for us is admissible. Every educated person is a future enemy.” Bertrand Russell explained why the Nazis were so afraid of teaching people to think: “Thought is subversive, and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless to the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid.... Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of humanity.”


Over the past twenty years RC educational change has contributed considerably to improving schools and life in schools for many teachers and students. Starting with Harvey’s The Nature of the Learning Process and continuing with the articles in Classroom and the work done at workshops, we have developed considerable insight into:

·      The nature of the learning process,

·      The systematic interference with the learning process,

·      How institutionalized and individual oppressive patterns affect learners and teachers,

·      How to use counseling to recover from learning distress,

·      How everyone (teachers, parents, students, and administrators) is oppressed—all in different ways,

·      How to develop leadership and achieve change in schools.

Two goals underlie our accomplishments.

1. Schools must become a force for human liberation.

2. Schools must be nurturing communities for all the people who work in or relate to the school. They should be places where people are respected and where they want to be.

Many individual educators, parents, and students have taken RC theory and practice into their learning and educational activities with excellent results. Many RC insights and practices are finding their way into educational practices. Educational change support groups are meeting regularly in dozens of RC Communities, and similar support groups are being held in the wide world. The need for teachers to “be listened to” is being advocated by people who have never heard of RC. We can (and deserve to) take pride in the gains we have made and to celebrate the benefits we have provided students.


It is inherent in our nature, however, to seek new challenges especially when the existing institutions are still oppressing young people and teachers. At the present there is increasing dissatisfaction throughout the society with our schools. This provides a magnificent opportunity to influence the development of new institutions of learning that will grow within and replace the existing ones. Doing so will require not more work, but more intelligence at work—and more powerful actions. In the next stage of our work, I think we need to focus more attention on plans, programs, and strategies for change (and then carrying these out) while continuing to discharge on the distress. Putting our attention on what we are going to do will provide increased leverage (contradiction) against the distresses. Carrying out our plans will change the oppressive situations that continue to affect us in ways we are and are not aware of. For example, you may be spending considerable time counseling young people and time worrying or clienting about them. If schools were more nurturing and respectful of young people you would probably not have to spend so much energy in that way.

Sometimes well-meaning, but patterned, attempts to reform education can divert people from addressing the fundamental issue—how the mission of schools is distorted by classism, racism, and sexism. These efforts often attempt to focus attention on improving test scores, increasing the numbers of people of color in scientific fields, rewriting curriculum, changing school governance and schedules, etc. Some of these efforts are important and even essential. But they are analogous to treating the symptoms of disease rather than the causes. The solution is not to abandon or criticize meaningful reform efforts. Rather, I encourage you to find effective ways of bringing liberation issues into the discussion of all educational reform efforts. Send descriptions of your endeavors to me or Ruth McNeil for Classroom. I also encourage you to find ways to resist the attempts of businesses to commercialize education by providing technology and curriculum (along with advertisements and control of content).

There is another challenge that I am aware of in the United States. That is an organized effort of the religious right to get control of school-governing bodies and stop attempts to foster respect for different cultures and life styles. They are particularly adept at restimulating people’s homophobia around issues of AIDS education.


When I work with non- RC groups, people respond enthusiastically to being asked to talk about their early memories of seeing discrimination, and it leads to a more open discussion of whatever other issues they have on their agenda. My sense is that it is a relief for people to have permission to talk about their personal experiences (in mixed groups, no less!) about this “secret” that everyone knows is there but no one is acknowledging. In this regard racism is like incest or alcoholism. I encourage you to bring racism, classism, and sexism “out of the closet” in your educational work.

At a recent seminar I led, a black woman talked movingly about her grief and confusion at learning about the Holocaust from a TV program, and a white man spoke about not being able to make sense of the poverty in a certain part of his city that he rode through regularly on his bicycle. Another spoke of his parents’ “paternalistic” racism toward their housekeeper. Teachers of color talked about their experiences growing up and when applying for college. Women spoke about the sexism they encountered in school.

I am becoming much more relaxed during these discussions and able to better handle the unaware racism and Jewish oppression that sometimes gets played out. Recently a white, Gentile woman was telling a story about her sister who married a Jew and how disturbed she was about the racism of her brother-in-law. Afterwards she came up to me and told me that she was not prejudiced toward Jews and that she had many Jewish friends. (She actually said this!) I gently told her that I thought it unlikely that she could grow up in this society without absorbing some of the prejudice against Jews, but that I knew that she did not want to be prejudiced. I then smiled and said, “Would you believe me if I told you that I wasn’t sexist?” She laughed.


I think educational change will move forward faster if we speak out more about what we believe. This is especially important now. As the unworkability of capitalism becomes more apparent and the ruling classes become more fearful that their material privileges are in jeopardy, there will be increasing attacks on public education. This is happening in many countries. In the USA there is a concerted effort to destroy public education. It is no coincidence that this is happening at a time when even fairly conservative organizations are making the phrase “all students can learn mathematics and science” a cornerstone of the reform movement. We need to organize against attacks on public education and policies that oppress young people and teachers—for example, vouchers for private schools, tracking and grouping, standardized testing, budget cuts. We also need to speak out strongly for generous funding and fair allocation of funds to all schools.

At one workshop I led I became aware of how nice everybody was. Of course it was pleasant having everybody be nice to me. It is better than rudeness. But they were also being nice to their patterns and to the existence of oppression. In one demonstration a middle-class man had great difficulty getting angry at me when I was role-playing as a personification of class oppression. I said some awful things, and he was still nice. We finally broke through it. (I had to yell and push him before he was able to express some rage and finally discharge fear.) There was a good discussion afterward with deeply felt speakouts by working-class people. I encouraged the people to commit themselves to not let “being nice” interfere with their speaking out about what is happening in education. I think “niceness” is prevalent in many educational environments. People often do not say what they believe because it is uncomfortable. I know that when I speak out at educational gatherings I feel very uncomfortable. I think I sometimes make others uncomfortable as well, but frequently people (usually people of color) will thank me. I think I can do a better job of presenting my ideas, but I don’t think we can afford to wait until we have discharged all the pain of being a member of an oppressor group until we say what we believe in public. There are a lot of people I know (some in positions of responsibility) who understand how oppressive current practices are, but are not speaking out on the issues. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Many people fear nothing more terribly than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion. The tendency of most is to adopt a view that is so ambiguous that it will include everything and so popular that it will include everybody. Not a few people who cherish lofty and noble ideals, hide them under a bushel for fear of being called different.”

Don’t hide your ideals under a bushel basket—or behind a timidity pattern either.

Julian Weissglass
International Liberation Reference Person for Educational Change
Santa Barbara, California, USA 

Last modified: 2015-07-21 17:19:19+00