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Every Person Is a Philosopher

Lessons in Educational Emancipation from the Radical Teaching Life of Hal Adams


Edited By Bill Ayers, Caroline Heller and Janise Hurtig

Hal Adams was a legendary radical educator who organized writing workshops with people who had been written off during much of their lives, marginalized for reasons of race, gender, class, and caste. Hal detested the carelessness and neglect his students endured and set about building spaces of respect and reparation. Fostering communities of local writers and publishing their work in journals of «ordinary thought,» the work brought pride and dignity to the authors, carrying the wisdom of their narratives into and beyond their communities. In the traditions of Paulo Freire, Antonio Gramsci, and C.L.R. James, Hal based his approach on the conviction that every person is a philosopher, artist, and storyteller, and that only the insights and imaginings of the oppressed can sow seeds of authentic social change. Every Person Is a Philosopher gathers essays by classroom and community educators deeply influenced by Hal’s educational work and vision, and several essays by Hal Adams. They explore diverse ways this humanizing pedagogy can be applied in a wide range of contexts, and consider its potential to transform students and teachers alike. This is an ideal text for courses in educational foundations, multicultural education, urban studies, sociology of education, English education, social justice education, literacy education, socio-cultural contexts of teaching, adult education, cultural studies, schools and communities, and popular education.


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Introduction: Hal Adams’ pedagogy of ordinary thought: Planting the seeds of change (Bill Ayers, Caroline Heller, and Janise Hurtig)


Introduction Hal Adams’ Pedagogy of Ordinary Thought: Planting the Seeds of Change bill ayers, caroline heller, janise hurtig We believe that every person is a thinker and an artist, that the stories people tell about their lives contain important insights for themselves and their neighbors, and that the seeds for change can be found in the artistic and intellectual renderings of ordinary people. —Mission Statement, Community Writing Project (founded by Hal Adams, 1999) Hal Adams (1939–2011) was a modest man who taught writing workshops— mostly to adults—in the unruly cracks of our fractured and far-flung society. His search for an effective and humanizing pedagogy that would allow participants in his workshops to become more purposeful and more powerful in their projects and pursuits—a practice that would invite them to become conscious authors of their own stories and deliberate artists of their own lives—has had a lasting impact on educators. He has influenced teachers from the elementary grades through graduate school and from preschool through community and adult education. Hal Adams was a consistent moral guide and mentor to students, colleagues, and friends—including each of us. One of Hal’s students described him as soft-spoken and attentive. That depic- tion points to a central element of his teaching: he was an active and conscientious listener, drawing out rather than forcing in, more eager to learn than to instruct. Hal had the wisdom to understand that the central challenge of great teaching is the ability to let-learn. He...

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