Experimental Graduate-Level Education for Women

The Anhoek School is an educational experiment. It investigates alternatives to traditional American education at a moment in time when many experimental schools have closed (Black Mountain School and Antioch College) or ceased to develop inventive and/or radical methodologies.

In short, The Anhoek School is an experimental all-women's graduate school located in Brooklyn, New York. The curriculum is based on cultural production (political, aesthetic, and theoretical). Classes are small (5 to 7 people). Tuition costs are mediated by a barter system; that is students labor for the school in exchange for classes.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Anhoek School- The Mutinous Classroom- Brooklyn '09

An except from THE MUTINOUS CLASSROOM: A WORKSHOP held at the AnHoek School, in Brooklyn, in the Spring of '09. Here students Sanda Harper, Angela Perez, and Caroline Woolard are in conversation with Mary Walling Blackburn, the teacher.

The discussion began and deviated from the readings for the course: Marguerite Duras' Summer Rain, Ranciere's The Ignorant Schoolmaster, Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Chris Kraus's I Love Dick.


A main concern of schooling: How do we have data move through space?

For example, the chalkboard equals classroom. Just by applying chalkboard paint to a surface you are communicating that this object is also a surface of learning. It is possible just with that coat of paint. It moves learning beyond the institution because we do not want the same lesson over and over again. The classroom has escaped itself, but when do you need to have it gathered back into its source? There is an ebb and flow of something moving into and out of its space.


Is the goal recollection, or is the goal to ingest it–– to have it inside you in some way?

I have this image of painting in the bathtub. It is really beautiful to think about what kind of spaces you can record, knowing it is impermanent. So that is related to this context of memory, when you need to write in order to think. Sometimes, I think the most ephemeral thoughts are the strongest because they don't have to take themselves seriously.

It feels self-conscious to me. I can dive into certain moments without stepping outside. The two moments that I felt most comfortably inhabiting were the female writers, Duras and Kraus, because they are more of this strange memory. Where everything is happening at once and all the new tangents are linking up. The other readings felt too dogmatic. It actually said in the introduction to Ranciere, "Maybe you’re creating the structure by speaking it. If you think you can liberate someone, maybe you are already belittling them.”


Belittling them because you frame the person who has been designated as “the unliberated” as one that has a lack or a need and YOU, you’re THE ONE with the authority to liberate them. [laughter]

The assumption is that these people won't be able to teach themselves.

Who needs to be taught?

Is it that you are saying there already exists in the world a structure that is inherently flawed in the moment that someone believes they can teach someone else something? Suddenly there is the one that knows and the one that doesn't know.

With Duras, it is of course very simple: she never respects or believes in ‘the one that knows.’ ‘The one that knows’ never knows as far as she’s concerned, and ‘the one that doesn't know’, that’s the one to listen to. And it is also that Duras doesn't know. Is there a moment when we feel liberated by another telling us what they do know?


What does it really mean to know? Just because you know, doesn't mean you can teach it.



Talking about teachers teaching things, not necessarily things they already know. That seems more of an elementary school, high school phenomenon. You don't see that in college.


Not in art school. Not in a critique. Not in a studio class.


I can only speak for myself, but when I am teaching at an art school and it is time for me to critique, I don't think it is my responsibility or my position to critique form, a space of knowing. I think my job is to do as much as I can to orchestrate the entire room, to have everyone else talk more than me about that object and have them give the maker as much feedback as possible about the association that it stirs in them. As the teacher, it is about how I can work the classroom to be this sort of vital collective voice. That is my perspective.

I think that is an exception. The critique as a moment where a teacher does not speak from a place of knowing.


But knowing, that is how most critiques are supposed to be run, right?


There is the classic image in my mind of the teacher coming up and ripping a drawing off the wall, and saying, "THAT'S NOT CORRECT?" " WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT IS???!!!!!"


Is that good then because they are teaching from a space of not knowing? What does this mean to call for not knowing? What we mean, I think, is that we want the power dynamic to be: I never come at this from the notion of having the final word. We still want te├čachers to have data. We still want to think that the professor has had more time to study it than we had.

For example: biology in high school. When you are dissecting, that’s the moment where you want the person to know more than you. You want the person to say "Oh, no, you were supposed to take out the spleen, but you took out the heart". So you want that moment, and you’re not harmed by it. If you are in a Humanities situation, it isn't the spleen or the heart. The observation is "that line that you drew, I don't see the commitment in that line!" Where would you have seen commitment in the line? Is the pressure in my hand? What happens in that moment, when that student presses that space?


How do you do evaluation if you don't know? Evaluations are such a big part of education, grades. How does a teacher who doesn't know a subject evaluate someone’s work? By effort?


How do we know there is effort? We've all seen work where someone has really put a lot of time–– elaborate sketches of women being torn apart by dragons, like in Heavy Metal comic. We say, "There was so much work there, look at the abdominal muscles well defined!" But, we don't value it.

Because that work isn't vulnerable, because it is a reproduction of something we already know. Dragons tear up women. We are saying to an art student, tell me something I don't already know. Make me feel something I have never felt. Make me feel aware. I think that is a lot of the demands that we are making. That is why it gets so intimate. We are also saying your intimacy is not my intimacy. What you consider a risk is not what I consider a risk. There becomes this real push and pull.

What happens when education is not art based? What kind of risk can a science teacher ask a science student take? Years ago, I sent a little card in the shape of a palm with a diagram indicating what each line represented within the palm reading. I sent it to a person who taught med students dissection at a medical school. I wrote in it, “You are welcome to try this out with your students. They can look at the corpse and see if the medical record aligns with the palm reading.” I was being glib, but he took it literally. He brought it in. They read the palms of the corpses then decided that this was not the ethical thing to do. There was too much of the comical there. What is the risk of reading the palm of the corpse?


Or how do you feel that you have really learned something? Like with the dissection example, maybe it would be better if everyone felt they were pioneering that dissection. One student who’s leading the discussion for the day says: "Does anyone know what this is? Let's all figure it out. Lets look at things and find out.”


That is amazing and insane. It is amazing to imagine.


Maybe they just become totally isolated and decide it was a toe, and the next group says "but it’s not a toe, we called it...!". So there could be problems. Maybe that would be really exciting.


Maybe they go on wikipedia and decide: 'it’s a heart!'