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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 Nine: Making the ordinary extraordinary: Youth writing, publishing and performing poetry (Peter Kahn)


I never enjoyed, nor understood, poetry until 1992, when I was a 23-year-old so- cial worker in Chicago. I had recently been promoted to Education Coordinator from Caseworker/Counselor at the Neon Street Center for Youth. We worked with homeless teens and wards of the state—youth ages 14–21 who had not made it in the foster care system. These were kids abandoned and abused by their fam- ilies, kids who dropped out and were kicked out of school. They were suicidal, depressed, angry, and often violent. Some went on to prison (one for murder) and others went to an early grave. I was asked to organize Black History Month events and saw a review of a performance troupe called “In the Spirit,” comprised of a songstress, poet, and sto- ryteller. I brought them in to work with my kids and saw them open up in ways I never thought possible. It was a respite from the turbulence of their lives and a way to reconcile the wrongs that had been done to them and that they had done. That creative trio of adults got our kids to write stories and poems about what their lives had been like prior to being abandoned, kicked out or running away, about the trauma they had faced, and about their hopes and dreams. The songstress in- corporated spirituals such as “The Storm Is Passing Over” and “Motherless Child” that kids sang with her, tears streaming down their faces. Through this project, coined “Voices...

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