Liberatory Education Thrives in Micro-Structures
In this future, hyper-local affinity groups create an uneven patchwork of micro-educational structures that support liberatory learning experiences as an informal, decentralized shadow system. A combination of unresponsive public institutions and social disconnection within neighborhoods and among school communities encourages people to retreat to their closest allies and affinity groups.
Heavy use of automated interfaces (software bots) for public services has created a transactional society with few public communal experiences. In their absence, life is lived in enclaves. Groups are self-focused. Everyone is just trying to survive. Affluent gated communities fund their own schools, protective services and parks. The less affluent and privileged focus their energies on their most immediate, hyper-local family and affinity groups to find solutions to educational, health, transportation and other needs.
A mindset of scarcity, driven by climate volatility, entrenched political partisanship and information silos, has created a fractured world. As with broader society, the formal public education system has become increasingly splintered, with ZIP code determining access to resources and system responsiveness. Extreme self-interest, mistrust of public institutions and a lack of clarity of purpose have bred gridlock in educational decision making and have opened the way for the market to commercialize more and more of education.
Education providers, including large educational technology companies, niche educational service providers and independent and parochial schools, offer their services to affluent families and those middle-class families who can afford them. Everyone who can – teachers, students and administrators – is fleeing the fractured public educational system or is stretching to move to areas where affluent districts remain functional and effective. Highly effective teachers have been recruited by these districts, as well as by elite charter systems, employer-based schools and independent and parochial schools. Struggling public schools focus on helping students meet the minimum graduation requirements set by each state. Drastic teacher shortages require them to use automation, self-paced curricula, and auto-scoring and certification. Teaching in these schools is all about classroom management and monitoring student progress. Yet the technology available to schools and students does not always keep pace with the load.
In a society that fears difference, there has been an increase in control and policing. They especially target communities of color, low-income people, the LGBTQ+ community, disabled people and women. Schools in low-income districts and those with high percentages of non-White students have extensive digital surveillance systems and continue to use physical security measures such as metal detectors and video cameras. More positively, some schools still use restorative justice practices that were implemented in the 2020s to explore behavioral disruptions, but these programs never saw widespread use given budget cuts and changes in leadership priorities.
Amidst the crumbling of most public education, many children and youth simply stop going to school. However, they do not stop learning. They turn to the hyper-local, micro-education structures to meet their academic and developmental needs. The underground educational liberation movement is micro but mighty. Students, families, activist educators and rogue mayors lead abolitionist and revolutionary efforts in many cities and towns. Micro-structures, such as tiny schools, learning collectives and student-led forums, provide learning experiences that center liberation and anti-oppression. Their pedagogies are based in critical theory and inquiry about race, power, systems and environmental sustainability. The knowledge and ways of knowing that they seek to impart incorporate Black and Indigenous traditions, along with insights from queer theory about dismantling hierarchies, normalizing difference and pursuing social justice. While education liberation micro-structures are varied and diverse, ancestral wisdom is a shared value. For example, the Inner Soul Project in 2029 launched Virtual Ancestor, an artificially intelligent elder that provides youth access to ancestral perspectives, elder wisdom and support. In these settings, learning represents an act of resistance and an embracing of power.
Coalitions of micro-structures have leveraged technology to create networks that credential knowledge and experience. LiberateNet, an unindexed safe space on the web, is a vibrant online home for emancipatory micro-learning structures and the learners, parents and community members who seek them out. LiberateNet emerged as an alternative in response to excessive corporate control of the mainstream internet and toxic social media that fomented division, mistrust and fact-free information. This alternative web provides its users autonomy and an escape from corporate control, policing, hate speech and White supremacist culture. Loosely curated by volunteers, it has become an important repository of liberatory educational resources and strategies. Parents and students learn about it through word of mouth, friend and family connections and other informal networks. Those without roots and relationships in their communities risk missing out on access to dynamic, emancipatory tiny schools, learning pods and other educational experiences that are guided by liberatory pedagogies.
Voices from This Future
These quotes from fictional personas show what it might be like to live in this scenario.
“We have to figure out some better defense for our infrastructure, or else it will eventually be brought down by one of these attempts. My fourth grader uses LiberateNet to participate in reading groups and citizen science projects. We all use it to find out about local learning pods and civic action events and for general moral support – I don’t know what would happen if LiberateNet were brought down.”
“I don’t want to take the job, but with the public school’s upcoming pay cut, I don’t see how we would make our rent. I know I won’t be able to truly be myself there, but at least I can stay connected with my students on LiberateNet.”
“I can’t wait to keep building VR Soul Nation! It’s my daily go to! It makes me pumped to gain some dope knowledge from the Angela Davis Elder avatar there. Her take on the queer Black journey fills me with pride. I’m taking my friend Juan into the world next Saturday.”
“My school has scanners, cameras, metal detectors and mainly AI teachers. They’re always watching what we’re doing, and that has put everyone on edge. I only go because I have to. The only thing that keeps me motivated is the friends I’ve made on LiberateNet. I stay up way too late talking to them, but it’s where kids can talk about what’s going on with people who seem to really care. Some of my favorite teachers I had a few years ago host study groups there, and my LiberateNet friends are getting a credential on it. I need to check that out.”
Key features of “Liberatory Education Thrives in Micro-Structures” are listed below.
Status of Liberatory Education
With a breakdown of public education institutions and lack of social cohesion, liberatory education is kept alive in tightly knit affinity groups that are loosely interconnected as a patchwork shadow system.
Traditional power structures are giving way to more decentralized and localized sources of power. Those with privilege and social capital still hold power. However, people who belong to affinity groups or to focused place-based communities are able to organize to create liberatory educational experiences. Over time, people relying on traditional institutional power may find themselves with decreasing support and opportunities.
Potential for Liberatory Education to Spread
Without institutional barriers, micro-structures focused on liberatory education are able to flourish, yet their reach and impact are limited. Learners, families and caregivers who belong to, or can access, liberatory education micro-structures find support. Liberatory education spreads through word-of-mouth connections.
Signals of Change
Signals of change are happening now. They help us see possibilities for this scenario, including what liberatory education looks like in it.
The Lakota Oyate Homeschool Co-op
Lakota families unenrolled from their public school, where their children felt disengaged, and enrolled in the Oglala district of the reservation, where they created a remote learning pod to stay safe from the COVID-19 virus and embed learning in the Lakota language and cultural curriculum.
Virtual Freedom School
This program hosted by the Abolitionist Teaching Network introduces philosophies of freedom and race to nine to 14-year-old learners and shares ways in which Black people have expressed their freedom dreams throughout history.
LiberatEd: Homeschooling for Justice
A design team at Onward, a design group focused on building equitable and inclusive organizations, is creating a pilot homeschooling platform to help parents provide liberatory educational experiences for their children.