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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 Eight: Listen to me, listen to us: Lives made better (Janet Isserlis)


l i s t e n t o m e , l i s t e n t o u s In late November 1994, Lee Weinstein, part of the founding team of Voices maga- zine1 in Vancouver, BC, told me about Hal Adams, a man in Chicago doing com- munity writing, adding that he’d be at the family literacy conference in Ottawa we were about to attend. Before we’d even left Vancouver, I was angry at the family literacy people, at the rhetoric that normalizes family in prescriptive ways. Family Literacy? That’s so heteronormative, I’d come to believe, and with good reason. I’d been to other conferences and participated in listserv discussions dominated by uncritical assumptions about parenting, teaching, and learning, and especially about what comprises family. I’d come to wonder why we didn’t just change the language—what about communities? What about families that don’t look like families? Who decides and in whose interest? Why can’t we just acknowledge family literacy as a form, an element of community literacies? We arrived in Ottawa the night before the conference began. I remember the lobby’s shiny beige and brown tiles, the linoleum, the plants, though I can’t recall the name of the hotel. It bothers me, this forgetting, because I learned from Hal Adams the importance of the specific, the small particular. In that tiled lobby, looking for coffee the next morning, I ran into Lee walking with Hal. This is Hal, he said. To which I replied, Delighted to meet...

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