The school that teaches rebellion

Graffiti workshop at the School of Rebellion. Photo: Marxism Conference/Facebook

The first School of Rebellion, held in association with Marxism 2013 over the Easter weekend in Melbourne, drew about 30 kids for a weekend of thinking, talking, making noise, art, music, poetry, mess and friends.

It was declared “awesome” by a random sample of kids, teachers and parents and the program will definitely be back, bigger and better, for Marxism 2014.

Teacher Jo Williams said the organisers were apprehensive on the first day. She said: “We didn’t know what to expect. Would the kids show up? Would they be interested and get into the sessions? Would this work? We were doing some pretty ambitious stuff — including philosophy as the first class. But this incredible group of young people really brought it to life.”

The school started with philosophy sessions for the younger group aged four to seven, and the older group aged eight to 12, facilitated by teachers from the Popular Education Network Australia (PENA).

“I learned about the difference between short-term and long-term happiness,” one six-year-old participant told organiser and PENA member Jorge Jorquera after class.

Next up was a graffiti workshop for the older group, run by Melbourne western suburbs graffiti artist Jo Harrison. The younger kids staged “the day of the toy rebellion”, supported by artist Thanh Van Rudd.

This involved the kids making their demands and ideas known with spray paint and making miniature placards held by a rag-tag picket of second-hand toys. Their demands included, “Free internet”, “Free Food”, “Free everything!”

The last session of day one was devised and run by Minecraft enthusiasts Miguel and Inti Williams. “Building a better world on Minecraft” was a creatively chaotic frenzy on the computer game that allows players to build their own world, limited only by their imaginations.

One of the keynote speakers at Marxism 2013, New Yorker and radical teacher Brian Jones, opened day two with a workshop in which the kids played out conflict scenarios.

“Imaginative play comes naturally to children,” said Jones. “We acted out many delicious conflicts: a child doesn't want to clean up her messy room, a bully wants lunch money — what should his friend do?

“One girl said, ‘If the bully pushes you, you should push him back.’ An adult who had joined us jumped up and said, ‘No, you should never push.’ Really? Never? My purpose was not to lead the children to any particular conclusion, but only to show them that dramatic play allows us to try out different possibilities.

“A later scene revealed that the bully had, himself, been the victim of bullying. At the end, we broke up into groups and the children were allowed to re-play any game or scene. Many of them chose to go back to the ‘messy room’ scenario — go figure.”

One of the younger kids hung back from the role-playing but his mother, Marni Jackson, reported that the session still made an impression.

“What started out as a fun way for kids to pretend to be the nagging parent evolved, with his skilful and respectful facilitation, into some thoughtful discussion about deeper issues … It demonstrated what a great tool role playing is. Even T — who was too overwhelmed to take an active part — observed and absorbed this part of the session with interest, and we had a good discussion about it later.”

In the afternoon, the younger kids illustrated and retold the story “Oliver Button is a sissy”, concluding that “boys can like pink, girls can like blue or any colour they want.”

The older kids rebelled in a slam poetry session, electing a 10-year-old girl as their spokesperson and demanding to go outside and play soccer. Which they did.

In a session on social change, teacher Jorquera reported the kids were “really moved” by the story of Iqbal Masih, a Pakistani boy sold into slavery at age four to work for a carpet factory, and who escaped at 10 and joined the Bondage Labor Liberation Front, where he played a leading role until murdered by the carpet companies at age 12.

One family travelled from the Blue Mountains in NSW for the school and, in an email to organizers, the mother, Roisin, reported that Iqbal’s story had made a great impression on her kids.

“The great thing is that they seem to have come away with an underlying sense that these problems are solvable — rather than just overwhelming things that we bear witness to. Can't quite put my finger on it, but in the month or so since they both seem more alert and interested in issues that were familiar before but were going over their heads a little — less bewildered, more empowered.”

Jackson was also struck by the positive and hopeful atmosphere at the school.

“I love the fact that these sessions included some kind of lesson about the value of cooperation. In a world that fosters divisions and normalises competition right from a very young age it is so important to me, as a parent, that this is countered by experiences which demonstrate the value, and necessity, of sticking together to make change for a better world.”

The school literally ended with a bang as students made their own instruments and honed their hip-hop skills with the Clandestine Voice crew.

Teacher and performance poet Santo Cazzati, who led the slam poetry sessions and instrument-making, said the school was “one of the most exciting educational experiences I ever had. It was also one of the most significant political experiences in my 23 years on the revolutionary left.

“While the education ‘experts’ of capitalism would say that only chaos and anarchy could result from allowing children to run amok, we found that they in fact had a natural willingness to learn. And that is a basic human need — one stifled by capitalism and its stultifying education system.”

Single parent and organiser Cathy Lewis said it was not only the kids who benefited from the School of Rebellion.

“While childcare has always been available at Marxism conferences, the fact is not all kids are comfortable hanging out with the babies and some resent the notion of babysitting! Providing a program targeted at older kids meant that a whole new generation of kids, and their parents, participated and engaged in the conference. Overwhelmingly the biggest age group was the seven to 12 year olds, a pleasant and unexpected surprise!”

Jorquera said the organisers learned a great deal from the first School of Rebellion and are looking forward to doing it better in 2014. “We want to give the kids more say in the program, have shorter sessions and more free play especially for the younger kids and separate the school from child care so we can really develop our community over the weekend.

“We are also organising a School of Rebellion contingent in the upcoming May Day march and have ideas for a family day, and maybe a camp, later in the year. Anyone interested in participating is welcome.”

[To be kept informed of future activities please join the School of Rebellion Facebook group.]

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