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Interdisciplinary Journal on Human Development, Culture and Education
Revista Interdisciplinar de Desenvolvimento Humano, Cultura e Educação

ISSN: 1533-6476

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Book Reviews / Resenhas

janeiro / January / 2001



Red Chalk: On Schooling, Capitalism and Politics
by Mike Cole, Dave Hill and Glenn Rikowski
in discussion with Peter McLaren.
Brighton (East Sussex, UK): the Institute for Education Policy Studies, 2001, 83 pages

a review by Marcelo Guimarães Lima

This small book is a lively, engaging and intelligent work. It demonstrates that, in a time of
planned and administered obscurantism, of material and moral  enslavement of individuals and
social groups to the "religion" of the Money-God and the "worship" of the "sacred forces" of the
marketplace, the enormous obstacles in the path of human solidarity and social justice produced
by present day "globalized capitalism", can also encourage a redoubling of efforts from the part
of those who refuse to sacrifice their integrity, who refuse to give up their humanity, and to
conform to the present global  social (dis)order. 

The violence of present day social relations, founded on the separation of humanity, among and
within nations, into two groups: one destined to profit exclusively from the work and sacrifice
of the other, and to profit also from the destitution of the majority,  implicates all of us in the
workings of the system of universalization of commodified human relations, that signals  the
specificity of our historical context. In such a context, we are confronted daily by a form of 
"founding" social violence that negates the "human condition" of  a vast number of people 
around the world, not only in relation to their most basic material needs, but also in terms of the
practical negation of associated basic rights of human self-determination and the right to live in
peace and with a "modicum" of dignity. 

What Brazilian sociologist Florestan Fernandes once called "the process of the dehumanizing of
man by man" imposes itself  to the majority today as a sort of "natural catastrophe" affecting,
without exception, all of our spheres of existence and social practices. In this long night of
suffering and submission, we are told: "All resistance is futile!" Against our will and our
judgement, it imposes itself, unescapable and uncontrollable. As an  all embracing reality, the
present situation appears to leave no room for  alternatives.

Facing the interpellation (turned "inquisition") by modern (or rather, post-modern) day
ideologies of triumphant capitalism announcing the "end of history", the authors of the present 
book, like modern day Galileos collectively respond: "And yet, it moves!". Hesitant and/or 
confident, tentative or decided, fast or slow, in the open or  underground, exposed or
dissimulated, history moves! As night moves and passes, even the darkest night reflects its own
sort of clarity. And not only the authors state the present movement of history in the making:
like the restless ancient Greek philosopher, they demonstrate movement by walking!

Composed by interviews, conducted by Peter McLaren, with British educational writers and
activists Mike Cole, David Hill and Glenn Rikowski, the Red Chalk is a luminous piece of
 writing on the social-political groundings of Education today, aiming at clarifying  the
relationships between the universal educational malaise and the structural transformations of
capitalism. There are three main and related aspects of this book that define its relevance,
considering also the fact that it represents, in the form of interviews, a general introduction to
the authors' views, elaborated and exposed in numerous articles and books. The interview
format, we must say, allows for reading the interrelations between activism and writing, political
experience and theory, the exchanges between personal, public and textual interventions and
also the exchanges of  roles between the interviewer and those who are being interviewed. 

 The first main aspect here is the reflected wealth of different positions of each writer, within the
broader framework of a Marxist Theory of Education in progress. The second is the grounding
of such a theory in the proper foundations of what we may call, following Marx,  a "political
reading" of underlying "economic" realities ( Capital as the "critique of Political Economy"), a
non-reductionist (that goes without saying) grounding of theory in the structural determinants of
capitalism vital processes, that is in  the "basic" and larger foundations of Marxism as a theory
of society and of history.

 It goes without saying also, that such a move, contrary to the fashionable and tiresome recent
and not so recent "critiques",  "overcoming", and "funeral songs" of Marxism, proves that the
"renovation" of Marxism need not to be a type of disfiguration and neutering of Marxist theory,
a retreat from the "theoretical class struggle" (so to speak), but may instead be seen as a
"structural determinant"of Marxist theory itself, an internal, dialectical and vital dimension of
critical materialism. The "identity" of Marxism, understood as the theory of socialism, is, in a sense,
dialectically grounded in the future, not in the past: not the "eternal return", but the "eternal"becoming.

And this particular development of a Marxist theory of Education in the making shows,
 equally, and this is my third point, that the development of theory does not occur in "thin air",
nor is the sole consequence of the critic's good intentions, good will and good  actions, no
matter how "noble" or "tragic", but can only occur within "given" conditions, that is, as a
process of exchanges between "experience" and "reflection". An obvious point? And yet, one
easily overlooked, and not by chance, in a time of heteronomy and fragmentation of the
anticapitalist forces. As a dialectical product of a specific British context and historical
experience in the educational front, the Red Chalk invites us to examine the convergences and
as well as the dissimilarities between it and our context(s), as a necessary step for the productive
dialogue and exchanges between actors in the universal struggle for equality and justice, here
and now. The strength and the universal significance of the Red Chalk collective can only be
the result of  its embedding in the "movement of reality itself".  And we can say here that
theoretical mediation is a long, difficult, delicate, elusive and thankless job. And yet, most 
probably, the "only" essential one.

As an example of the creative developments of "Marxist educational theory" we can point out
Glenn Rikowski's focus on the social production of labor-power as one of the keys to
understand the role of education today: " Education and training, as I have argued many times,
are implicated in the social production of labor-power. They are elements entering into,
therefore, the generation of ‘socially average labour-power‘ that constitutes socially necessary
labour-time and hence value itself , as well as the equalization of commodities through
exchange-value. Education and training in capitalist society are that crucial." (P62)
Dave Hill's critique of "culturalist neo- Marxists" stresses the embedding of the educational
struggle within the larger context of political struggle against the powers of capital: "it is not
enough just to work within, with education. The struggle is wider; the role has to be wider, and
coordinated, organized. But not just that. There needs to be vision plus strategy- of identifying
and working with social forces." (P.56) No doubt a reasonable proposition, one would say, in
the spirit of a truly Marxist approach. And yet, one systematically ignored in much of the
debates, specially, for instance, in North America, around the issues of critical pedagogy and
social change!

As Peter McLaren writes in the introduction:"Schooling is very much an abstract form of
estrangement that has real, concrete effects on the lives of working people." We could say that
educational theory, when divorced from the knowledge of the real experiences of class
oppression, is also "an abstract form of estrangement" with no real effects against the structures
of oppression. Using the Red Chalk we can start to cross out these an other forms of political
alienation and hopefully start building the solidary actions and the clear knowledge we need
inside and outside the school.
 


copyright (c) 2001  Centro de Estudos e Pesquisas Armando de Oliveira Souza CEPAOS 
 

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