In 1968, a utopian model of education was imagined.
This was a year of global rebellion, civil rights and student protest. The Anti-University was an idea born in Shoreditch, a working-class area of East London: it was to be a project that would radicalise education. It pulled together a rock star line-up of intellectuals (Alan Ginsberg, CLR James, Stuart Hall, RD Laing), and delivered a pedagogy that was accessible, inclusive, non-hierarchical and participatory.
It didn't last beyond two years. But it is a form fit for our troubled time.
Universities: the problem to be solved
Today, access to university education in the UK costs thousands of pounds. This makes it only available for the few.
Furthermore, course content is often geared towards measurable outcomes and student satisfaction surveys. This breeds short termism. Like soldiers, educators aim at hitting targets, instead of sowing seeds.
Yet, in an urgent age of conspiracies, misinformation, and existential threats, and with an unprecedented need to unlearn/relearn the ideas of the past, never has civil society needed access to education more.
The 'Anti-University Now'
The Anti-University model was reincarnated in 2015.
'Anti-University Now' is a platform allowing anyone to upload an event during its annual festival. Any idea that involves collaboration is encouraged. There is no money involved; this is about creating radical spaces for independent learning. The festival takes place on Sept 4th (we’ll be running our 3rd Gen Cultural Intelligence program through this platform).
If you look at the archive you will see the types of events that have taken part in the yearly festival. Stylistically, there is an anarchist/punk, DIY, fanzine aesthetic.
We can start to imagine a plurality of platforms like this: new imaginations of the Anti-University that expand the style, form and content; whilst maintaining the core spirit.
The Anti-University is a space where self-taught auto-didacts mingle with professors. Courses might range from darning your clothes to deconstructing reality. This is an ensemble of things remixed, folded, blurred and entangled; the conditions required to create new things.
Importantly, and in the face of such diversity of content, clarity of communication is essential. This is how to remain inclusive. Never shy away from advanced thinking, but insist that, given time and care, anyone can follow along.
And along with the content, there are the growing forms of delivery: classrooms, walk-arounds, reading groups, Slack groups, social media channels, festivals, presentations, video-games, immersive performance, parodies, DJ sets, psychological experiments, collages, art shows, animations, how-to’s, and so on…
A Supportive Infrastructure for Protest Culture
Every age remakes protest appropriate to the power it must fight. Within an Anti-University, we can collectively reimagine the tools of protest.
In 1968, protest was about authority, drugs, sex, and racial/class/gender discrimination. It was communicated through pop-culture, cheaply printed posters/zines, music and clothes. Today, we have the legacy of a sophisticated vocabulary, and the tools of social media, technology and virtual spaces.
The Anti-University model can provide a supportive and experimental backbone for the various protest movements that surround us. Extinction rebellion, Black Lives Matter, MeToo, Pride and other critical projects can begin sharing, collaborating, and expanding by using these self-organised spaces as connective tissue.
Creating Social Connection
Universities focus on creating workers for the economy. The social connections between students becomes an afterthought, often left to student unions. The Anti-University moves this concern to the forefront by building around different needs and desires: it is a social form, not an economic and spiritless form.
This shifts the emphasis towards the ‘feeling’ and ‘experience’ of being at a university. Meeting new people, collaborating, spending time in spaces of learning, helping each other with work, and developing shared comprehension of advanced concepts. A different type of teacher-student relationship emerges as we all teach each other.