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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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Chapter One: A grassroots think-tank: Linking writing and community-building (reprinted from Democracy and Education) (Hal Adams)


In a small wooden structure across the blacktop playground from their children’s elementary school, a handful of adults smoke cigarettes, eat doughnuts, drink cof- fee, and talk about their lives. The focus of the discussion is a short piece one of them wrote last weekend. The author is 23 years old, pregnant with her third child. Her oldest is seven. She has no husband, no job, little formal education, and uncertain housing. Because of her situation she thinks she is a failure. Her writing is self-critical. She fears she has violated God’s plan for her life. She is weeping as she responds to others’ comments, though the comments are gentle. They say it is not God’s plan she has violated, but her own. They say she is following God’s plan by preparing for her baby’s arrival and providing for her other children as best she can. The con- versation alternately focuses on her writing, offering her emotional support, and debating religion. She begins to reconsider her writing and her views. Sometimes these meetings unfold as literary criticism sessions, other times as church revivals, coffee klatches, therapy groups, or political caucuses. But mostly they are writing workshops, which turn out to be a kaleidoscope of possibilities and enactments. The participants are preparing their work for publication in a magazine that will be distributed in their school and community. The magazine is called the Journal of Ordinary Thought. For three years I have been offering a parent writing program in local ele-...

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