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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 Five: Evidence of things unseen (Caroline Heller)


When I interviewed for a teaching position at the University of Illinois at Chicago in early 1993, there was not one person I talked to who didn’t mention to me the work of Hal Adams, the community writing classes he’d organized in the poorest schools in Chicago, and the Journal of Ordinary Thought (JOT), the magazine Hal published of the writing class participants’ work. I went back to my hotel room after my interviews, loaded down with copies of JOT. There was a lovely miniature refrigerator in my hotel room and I raided it for a jar of cashew nuts, then lay in my hotel bed, eating the luxurious cashews, and read the Journal of Ordinary Thought —the worlds described there so glaringly in contrast to my salted nuts and fancy hotel room. More than anything else, Hal’s work influenced my decision to come to UIC to work as a professor in the College of Education. People had mentioned Hal’s name because his work closely aligned with the work I’d done in San Francisco before I came to Chicago. There, I too participated in adult writing groups made up of writers who were poor and who had rarely experienced positive acknowledgment for their ideas, much less the public acclaim of being published. In fall of 1993, Hal and I finally met. He carried not a trace of the self-display or self-importance that is epidemic in academia. There was something so quietly authentic about his presence and this made me trust...

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