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Every Person Is a Philosopher

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


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 Two: Ordinary thoughts, whispers of revolutionary thinking



← 22 | 23 →Ordinary Thoughts, Whispers of Revolutionary Thinking


Hal was a man of contradictions. I use the word man advisedly because, as I’m sure he would readily agree, he struggled mightily with his own positioning as a privileged white heterosexual male educator working largely with poor women of color with less formal education. He was a leftist who couldn’t stand much of the left. He was a teacher who wanted to debunk much of what passes for teaching. He was scared and he was brave. He was flexible and he was dogmatic. He was arrogant and he was humble. He would have both loved and hated the fact that we are writing this book. Central among these is the contradiction between wanting writing workshops to contribute to social change and at the same time not wanting to impose a social change agenda. Hal struggled with questions about how to honor the power of workshop participants while also acknowledging his own position of power as a facilitator, about how to be a critical educator and hold on to his own ordinariness at the same time. Hal realized that these contradictions were generative, that the struggle with the contradictions pushes us forward.

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