Category Archives: Education

Social Action Alien Invasion Training Tool

About a month ago I did a training which was basically an introduction to social action.  As part of this training I wrote up a scenario about alien invasion which I gave out to prompt discussion about social action strategy, tactics, and the process of organizing.  I was very happy with how this worked, and want to share the scenario.

Here it is:

After a long protracted struggle, aliens from outer space have conquered the Earth.  In ___ (insert country where this training is happening) they have not changed the basic governmental structure.  However, they have established a society where the majority of people are paid less than what is necessary to survive; although most do survive through activity in the informal economy and/or through debt (which is largely owned by aliens; who now control the financial industry).  Many humans are also imprisoned, and the legal system (both the courts and the police) tend to primarily protect alien interests.   The highest offices of authority are held almost exclusively by aliens while a lower strata of authority is maintained by humans, most of whom have come to emphatically endorse alien rule.  Elections and voting still exist, although people must always choose between very pro-alien candidates.  The aliens also do not need this planet and are willing to push the Earth’s resources to their capacity in order to produce valuable goods in the overall alien empire.  As a result, climate change and energy scarcity have intensified.  Schools and the media largely portray alien rule as normal and natural, and the majority of humans accept this perspective.  While there are pockets of rebellion, most feel powerless to change things.  Many people say “that’s just the way it is,” when discussing perceived unfairness in their world.  However many people do wish for change, and they occasionally gather for this purpose.  You are a group of people gathering for change [Note, for this sentence I actually named the group I was working with in my original write-up, but you can insert whatever group you want here].  How might you direct your energy towards a better world?

The overt purpose of this scenario was to spark a discussion on strategy, tactics, and organizing.  The scenario also had a covert purpose of sparking social analysis.  It fulfilled both purposes better than I expected; with participants enthusiastically throwing out their ideas and very quickly realizing that the scenario actually described the world we already live in.

Feel free to use the scenario if you like.  If you do, realize that people will probably ask questions about things that are not stated in the scenario.  My answers reflected my understanding of the world we currently live in (with aliens basically replacing the world’s wealthiest and most powerful people).  Also, I treated the aliens as though they had both good and bad traits and were not all of one mind, even though they all did benefit (in some way) from the exploitation of humanity as a whole.  One of the pitfalls I see in this scenario is that it can dehumanize, which I would try to avoid.  But I think overall this is a very nice tool for sparking our social action imagination while deepening our analysis.

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I am no better or worse than anyone else

Over the holidays I went to the movies and saw Les Miserables.  It was an emotional experience which got me in the reflective mood.  As I watched the revolutionaries struggle and die I felt a strange sensation, a growing internal conviction that I no longer wish to think of myself as better or worse than anyone else.  Perhaps this is my newest resolution (which just so happens to fall near the new year).

Losing the desire to be better than others goes against much that I was taught growing up.  As a child I remember wanting to be special, and competing with other children to prove that I was.  I remember boys performing feats of strength in gym class or feats of numeric processing in math.  We measured each other in order to decide who was worthy and unworthy.  Such measurement then expressed itself in envy towards the achievers and abuse towards the underachievers.  And, as we measured each other, the school measured us with grades and test scores.  For me, I felt a desire to compete that I think came from other peoples’ expectations of me but my heart was never in it.  In school I saw the stress of the overachievers and determined that I did not want to be like them.  Outside of school my father enrolled his sons in wrestling.  I often won informal matches during practices but could not stand the pressure once there was competition between teems and an audience in the bleachers.  Yet looking back I realize that, while I became uninterested in competing with people athletically or scholastically, I embraced a sort of moral competition.  I did want to be superior.

I have spent a good deal of my life watching others and judging them in order to convince myself that I was better than them.  I have listened to the words of good people who meant me no harm and, from the safety of my unspoken thoughts, I have thrown litanies of vulgarity at them.  This includes things like,

  • Why are you wasting my time?
  • That thing she said was stupid
  • He is an idiot
  • I would never get myself in that situation
  • You are not as special as me, and also
  • racist, classist, sexist, and ableist epithets

These thoughts were never the only ideas I had about people but they would pop into my head, and they often disturbed me.  My mind went back and forth between, I deeply admire you, and, you’re a piece of shit; and these contradicting ideas would exist at the same time about the same person.  As I grew up I came to notice my judgmental hostility more and more.  Meanwhile I desired more and more compassionate ways of relating with people.  Through much meditation and self-help experimentation my ability to listen grew and my tendency to judge lessened.  Then, as I noticed these changes, I became oppressively smug.  I wore my moral victories as a badge to prove that I was superior.  This had always been a hidden motivation for me… or perhaps it was a motivation hidden from me though obvious to everyone who knew me.

Eventually I realized that the self was really constructed by society (for example, kids judging other kids is learned by how the school system judges kids via grades).  As I figured this out I shifted from a self-help focus to a social change/collective liberation focus.  Now I think that my desire to feel special was a predictable response to a society that runs off of artificial scarcity.  Basically, we need to prove that we are special in order to prove that we are worthy to receive the resources we must compete over (for example, money).  Only a small minority of us are able to have truly secure livelihoods, have our ideas represented in government or the media, find work that is appropriately challenging and fulfilling, and be taken seriously by the people around us.  In a socially just world these things would not be treated as scarce privileges but instead as basic human needs.  However we live in a world which normalizes and indoctrinates us into accepting less than we deserve; and we behave according to the world we are indoctrinated into.

I also came to see how my desire to be special reinforced racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism, and other forms of oppression.  The privileges afforded to me by my white skin, Y chromosome assigned male identity*, and parents’ income give me an upper hand in the competition for those scarce societal resources.  For example, as a man I am not expected to cook and clean and do the daily domestic work.  My father did not do this.  Many fathers and grandfathers I have known did not do this.  Unpaid and under valued domestic labor has been the role given to women.  This privileges me and other men because, without having responsibility for domestic chores, I am afforded more time, freedom, and respect when I chose to pursue the things which will actually earn me that scarce societal recognition.  I have more time to work and to play.  I have more time to network and more expectation that I will not be home with the kids.  I have more access to the language and culture of men who, overall, hold more power.  And it is a challenge for me to resist this privilege by, for example, spending an equal amount of time as my wife on domestic chores.  This is because I am scared of giving up the privilege that helps me to compete, get what I want from life, and not be as exploited as others.

Lessons about the basic mechanics of privilege and oppression were taught to me in my twenties.  But, even as I have learned how the competition for superiority is just a tool of artificial scarcity by a dehumanizing societal machine, I have held on to the child’s dream of being recognized as special and extraordinary (which are ultimately just nicer sounding ways of saying “superior”).  But I have a growing sense of the vanity in this child’s dream because convincing myself that I am special does not actually provide me with the world I wish to see.  I wish for true love, true friendship, and true camaraderie.  I wish to be with people, to share in their joys and their struggles.  I wish for no accolades, no shallow rewards, no teacher’s stars to measure zir favor (zir is a gender neutral pronoun; like his or her).  Liberation is my desire, and I believe it is only possible when we lose the ambition to become better than others and the fear that we are worse.

Like all good resolutions, I need help to maintain this.  I expect to fail often and don’t really care because failure is part of the learning process.  But I would like for people to show me where I am wrong because that helps me learn as well.  In later posts I will explore what it means to live as though I am not better or worse than anyone else.  This resolution entails an awful lot which I am excited to discover.

*I first wrote Y chromosome thinking that the Y chromosome was a trait that could represent many traits that are associated with being male.  It was brought to my attention that this was cissexist because it excludes people who identify as male but do not have a Y chromosome and people who have a Y chromosome but don’t identify as male.  In  other words, having a Y chromosome does not necessarily mean you have a male identity.  I found a link to another blog which describes cissexism in more detail.

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High School Students Changing the World

Life has been very busy recently and I haven’t posted in a while.  One of the things I have been busy with involves lending support and encouragement to the students at Northwestern High School in Prince George’s County Maryland (usually called “PG County”).  PG County has a very large immigrant population.  The schools are majority black and Latino.  It is not a rich county and many schools are underfunded, which creates problems for students, teachers, and everyone involved.  A group of Northwestern students got together to plan a walkout on March 1st this year, protesting large class sizes (frequently over 40 students to a class), the firing of Phillippino ESL teachers (who were then deported because they lost their work visas), and unsanitary conditions (one student said he found a tooth in his food).  300 students agreed they would leave during the last period of the school day on March 1st.  The school found out about the plan, kept 4 organizers in the office all day, threatened them with expulsion and ultimately suspended them, and prevented many students from walking out.  Police where there, including dogs.  I and others did some activities of support for the students.  I wrote the letter below which I thought I’d post on this blog

Dear Northwestern students,

When I was in high school, I remember my elders talking about how kids now a days don’t believe in anything.  I knew this perception was false back then.  You, students at Northwestern, have proven this perception false today

For 20 years I have struggled with the educational system, and over those 20 years I have seen it getting worse.  In school I learned reading and math.  I also learned how to follow the rules, even when they didn’t make sense, how to compete with my fellow classmates, even when I didn’t want to, how to value myself and others based on our racially and socio-economically biased grades, even when I could see this wasn’t fair, and how to survive in a world which didn’t give a damn about what I thought or cared for -it wasn’t until college when I was first actually asked what I wanted to learn.  With the passage and continuance of No Child Left Behind, the authoritarian tendencies of school have gotten worse as teachers, students, and schools are all rigidly judged by standardized tests which rarely measure the actual retention of meaningful learning.

My experience in higher education was much better than my schooling up to that point, but it came with a steep cost which will probably require many years of servitude to pay off.  And the cost of higher education is rising, making it increasingly exclusive.  In general, educational funding is being cut.  This is happening at Northwestern.  It is happening across the country.  Teachers are fewer.  Class sizes are larger.  There are also many efforts to remove the teachers with more experience (who cost more) and replace them with newer teachers who cost less.  Northwestern, your struggles are national struggles.

Many are aware of the problems I am outlining.  Few are willing to do anything about it.  You at Northwestern have done something, and I hope you feel proud of it.  I feel grateful for you.  You have done what many are scared to do.  You have stood up for your rights.  You are practicing real democracy.  I would love to see teachers, students, and staff across the nation stand up in protest of this broken system.  Perhaps you will be trendsetters.  Know at least that I support you, and that there is a community of people who support you.  Whatever ridicule, punishment, or fear you face, keep your head held high.  Many have been trained by the authoritarian world to fear that which represents real hope and possibility.  The resistance you faced is only proof that you represent something powerful.

With Deepest Love and Appreciation,
Andrew Batcher
Writer, Activist, Educator

After the walkout people sent letters like mine to both the students and the administration.  We also called the administration, and there was an open community meeting that supporters could come to.  At first the administration was saying they “would not discuss alleged disciplinary actions,” seeming to deny that the suspensions even took place.  But students made sure they got their voices heard and supporters were there to encourage them.  This week, the students planned a day of silence for Trayvon Martin and the principle decided to revoke their suspensions.  It was a victory with a complex web of players.  I think there is a lot to learn from this, and I hope there can be many more victories after this.

Making the Map While Walking the Path; Education, Social Change, and a University for the 99%

I believe quality education and effective social change cannot be separated.  For the occupy movement, if our vision is to make a world which does not serve the 1% at the expense of the 99%, we seek social relationships that have not existed for millennia.  Because the world we wish to see does not exist in our memory, we activists are stumbling in the darkness towards a destination there is no road map for.  Yet we still follow this journey because the goal is so important.  Hopefully, we make a map while walking the path, marking the wisdom we have gained so that the uncertainty becomes easier to navigate; so that others can better find their way and invent their own wisdom; so that our impact is not just on our own lives but on society at large.  This is a process of education, and of social change.

No matter how much we march, no matter how many actions we do, we cannot actually change the world unless we continuously realize lessons that change how we live.  For example, how can we have peace and justice without learning about the cruelty behind many of our privileges, the aspects of our culture which reinforce suffering, our ability to generate energy within ourselves that can resist oppression and promote healing, our prospects for being inviting to people so they will want to join our movement, our ability to act in the face of the fear which often paralyzes us, our ability to show love, and our ability to evolve our resistance according to the unique challenges of the time and place where we live.  Such learning is born from action and translated into action.  This is the perpetual cycle of praxis.  Learning becomes social change, social change becomes learning, and action without education is just as pointless as education without action.

All this is why I wish to work on creating a free University at Occupy DC, in order to help integrate learning into the daily activities of the occupation.  A couple of weeks ago I saw a a large sign which read “University of the 99%.”  People were talking about classes where “anyone can teach and anyone can learn.”  It was such a beautiful idea.  I also met people from Occupy Wall Street who were spreading a practice they called “Think Tank.”  This involved people discussing a subject, sharing their ideas, and those ideas being recorded, transcribed, and put online.  Lastly I have been involved in the national effort to train occupiers in how to be trainers, and have attended two trainings in Philadelphia given by Training for Change and the Ruckus Society.  This helped develop my own educational skills, and increased my appreciation for the value of education.

I believe our commitment to education astronomically enhances our ability to create change.  I believe an hour spent in a workshop is generally more productive than an hour spent at the GA, or at the majority of marches.  I also believe that our commitment to education is central to our ability to sustain ourselves for the long haul.  My hope is that there can be a lot of universities for the 99%.  This is needed, not only for the movement of 99%, but to salvage our faltering educational system.

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